June 29, 2022 | By Bronwen Largier

The Star Entertainment Group – operators of The Star Sydney, The Star Gold Coast and the forthcoming Queen’s Wharf Brisbane – has appointed a new managing director and CEO, following the departure of Matt Bekier, who left in the wake of issues raised in the current review of The Star Sydney, which has just closed public hearings into the Sydney casino’s conduct.

Subject to regulatory approval in both New South Wales and Queensland, where the business operates, current CEO of Tyro Payments Robert Cooke will take on the top job for The Star Entertainment Group.

The group’s interim chairman Ben Heap said Cooke had emerged as the best of a number of quality candidates considered for the role.

“Following a thorough process, the Board concluded that Robbie was the standout candidate with the ideal combination of experience, capabilities and attributes to lead The Star,” said Heap.

“Robbie is a trusted, respected and highly experienced chief executive. He has been the CEO of major ASX 200 listed companies and brings extensive commercial experience in operating and driving transformation programs within highly regulated environments, overseeing large workforces and building executive teams in multi-jurisdictional locations.

“As CEO of the lotteries, wagering and gaming operation at Tatts Group, he led a comprehensive transformation program and secured valuable licence agreements with various State governments. In his role at Wotif.com, Robbie helped build a market leading business across the hotel sector during a period of significant industry disruption.

“Most recently at the Australian bank and payment fintech, Tyro Payments, he led the company through the post Financial Services Industry Royal Commission environment with a focus on risk culture, cultural alignment and employee engagement whilst driving strong transaction growth from [approximately] $13 billion to in excess of $30 billion over four years.”

With the tumult of the review into The Star by the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) not yet fully played out, Heap said Cooke was well placed to lead the business.

“Given The Star’s significant investments to develop world-class tourism and entertainment destinations in South East Queensland and Sydney, the company will benefit significantly from both his understanding of the industry’s regulatory environment and extensive insights and experience across the hotel and broader hospitality sector.

“Robbie is well placed to lead The Star and restore confidence in the organisation. He is an outstanding choice to guide the company through its critical ongoing renewal program, a body of work already underway that will deliver a number of near and medium-term initiatives focused on governance, culture, training, systems and technology.”

Cooke says he is delighted to be returning to the gaming and hospitality industry, where he has spent the majority of his career.

“There are challenges for The Star that have been well documented,” he said.

“They will be my priority and focus. Ensuring continuity of the business through a comprehensive renewal program is of paramount importance. This is also an incredibly resilient business with thousands of team members providing the commitment, enthusiasm and inspiration that helps deliver outstanding customer service.

“Major development projects are also underway or in planning across The Star, and in South East Queensland they represent transformational opportunities for the company and the state. It’s all the more exciting with the Olympics on their way in 2032.”

The Star operates significant event space in both Sydney and on the Gold Coast at its two flagship integrated casino and resort properties and will increase its event space footprint when the Queen’s Wharf development opens in Brisbane next year. The Star Entertainment Group also manages the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre (GCCEC) on behalf of the Queensland government.

Given the cloud hanging over the company’s operations and processes and its significant ties to the business events industry, strong leadership during a likely period of business reform will also benefit the reputation of the business events industry.

Meanwhile, the destination marketing organisation for Queensland’s Sunshine Coast region has appointed Ali Thompson as its new business and leisure events manager, with Maureen Brennan to transition out of the existing business events manager role.

With more than two decades experience in the business events space, Thompson has held positions with Reed Exhibitions, Arinex, Screen Producers Australia, CWT Meetings and Events and cievents. She is also a founding member of Influential Women in Events and Marketing and has been a committee member for industry association Meetings and Events Australia (MEA) and previously sat on the Asia Pacific Incentives and Meetings Event (AIME) advisory board.

“We are very fortunate to be able to attract such a passionate industry professional as Ali, and her experience and contacts will ensure she hits the ground at a really crucial time for the destination as we rebuild our business events market,” said Visit Sunshine Coast CEO Matt Stoeckel.

“With a landscape that is ideal for high-end incentives, the Sunshine Coast has enormous potential to grow its business and leisure events sector.

“Ali will work closely with the events team at Sunshine Coast Council, Tourism and Events Queensland, and business and events operators across the Sunshine Coast to strengthen our position as a leading business and event destination.”

In 2022, the Sunshine Coast has seen a return of national business events to the region, including the United in Compassion 2022 Symposium and the annual Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Summit, which have already been delivered and the Australasian HIV and AIDS conference, which takes place at the end of August and beginning of September.

The destination is also beginning to elevate visibility of its boutique incentive offering, with exclusive experiences and stays suitable for groups of up to 50.

Cooke’s and Thompson’s appointments are the latest in a flurry of industry moves and promotions.