Blackstone clears regulatory hurdles in NSW and Victoria

By Charlotte Lee Updated
Crown Resorts off the ASX as Blackstone takeover confirmed

Gaming regulators in Victoria and New South Wales have given their tick of approval to Blackstone’s $8.9 billion takeover of Crown Resorts.

The Australian Financial Review reports that WA is expected to be the final state-based regulator to give its approval within weeks.

It all but clears the way for the buyout after Crown shareholders, including billionaire James Packer, overwhelmingly voted for it at a scheme meeting in May.

A court date to ratify the deal is not yet set, as the casino giant waits on the WA Gaming and Wagering Commission’s approval.

However, NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority chairman Philip Crawford said he did not expect that sign-off to be far away.

“We have found Blackstone is now suitable to hold a casino licence in NSW and that is pretty much a key step for it to become the operator of Crown Sydney,” Mr Crawford said.

“I understand Victoria has also signed off and WA wouldn’t be far off.”

Blackstone checks take months to complete

The regulator said the probity checks of Blackstone took close to 15 months, after the investment management firm launched its first takeover offer in March 2021.

The checks included an in-depth look at Blackstone’s other casino business, Cirsa, and Blackstone’s key people, Mr Crawford said.

“We’ve got the necessary sign-offs from our consultants and it sounds like the other states are much the same,” he said.

The Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission said in a statement that it had approved the “Blackstone Group as a suitable associate of Melbourne’s casino operator and its takeover of Crown”.

The approval comes with a number of legally enforceable conditions, such as the mandatory application of ASX corporate governance principles over Crown even when it is privately owned, and enhanced anti-money laundering reporting.

Victoria spends “many months” on decision

VGCCC chair Fran Thorn said the regulator had put “many months” of work into the decision and the approval came with “stringent conditions which balance delivering stronger controls on the casino and ensuring it continues to be the flagship casino in Australia”.

“We will take action should any of these conditions not be met by either Blackstone or Crown,” Ms Thorn said.

Mr Crawford said the NSW approval came with similar conditions.

The regulatory approvals will be a comfort for Crown, given it is soon expected to get a provisional licence to open the gaming floors at its Barangaroo tower on Sydney’s waterfront for the first time.

A disagreement in the NSW cabinet over the merits of having two casinos in Sydney delayed the decision to grant the licence this week.

The building’s hospitality and retail spaces are open, but Crown has been unable to open the casino floor since it was completed after a probe found the company unfit to hold a licence because it had facilitated money laundering in its facilities and partnered with junket operators linked to organised crime.

It is understood the ILGA does not believe the delay in granting the licence will be too significant, and thinks the matter will be resolved before the end of this month.

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