Crown Sydney forced to delay opening as regulatory withholds licences

By Charlotte Lee Updated
ILGA chair talks up Crown’s progress in its bid to open Barangaroo casino

The New South Wales gaming authority has withheld Crown Resorts’ licences to run its luxurious high roller casino in Sydney amid an inquiry to determine whether or not the casino giant is suitable to hold its licence.

The Guardian reports that Crown intended to open its new facility in December, but the opening has been delayed until February at the earliest.

Crown’s board has subsequently agreed to delay the opening.

The gaming authority met for several hours on Wednesday to hear submissions from Crown about why it should be permitted to open as planned.

While Crown has a current gaming licence, it also has applications on foot with the authority for a number of other approvals it needs to run the casino, including liquor licenses, approval of the gaming floor area and probity checks on some of its directors.

“We are hopeful that Crown Resorts will agree to our request to postpone opening of all gaming activities, which would be unable to begin without approval of these regulatory matters,” ILGA chair Philip Crawford said.

Crawford said he was “disappointed” that Crown hadn’t taken the decision itself to delay the opening.

“They are not picking up the vibe,” he said before crown announced the delay.

“There is a lot of serious stuff floating around.”

Asked what this said about Crown’s culture, the head of the regulator said: “the Melco transaction clearly required our approval, but they didn’t seek it.”

Potential Melco deal triggered government inquiry

Last year, Crown’s biggest shareholder, James Packer, proposed selling part of his stake to Hong Kong Group Melco Resorts.

The move sparked governance concerns because of alleged links between organised crime and Stanley Ho, the father of the Melco boss Lawrence Ho.

Crawford said it was open to Crown to come back to ILGA if it wanted to open the hotel and restaurants at Barangaroo, but it would not give permission for gaming to commence ahead of the authority’s decision in early 2021.

“There is the potential for litigation, but I don’t think this would be a good idea in this environment,” he said.

Asked if all options were on the table, including revoking Crown’s licence, Crawford said: “That’s certainly available to us.”

Pushed on whether the regulator was really considering revoking the licence, given Barangaroo’s advanced stage and potential importance to the NSW economy, Crawford said: “Yes, we have the power to revoke and we are looking at whether they are fit and proper.”

He said he hoped common sense would prevail.

“The biggest concern, quite frankly, is money laundering,” he said.

ILGA”s move came after counsel assisting an inquiry run under the authority’s auspices by the former judge, Patricia Bergin, recommended that Crown and major shareholder James Packer be found unfit to be involved in running the new casino.

Crawford said evidence to the inquiry was “extremely concerning” and the authority would not have enough information to determine Crown’s application for licences needed to open the casino until after Bergin reported.

Her report is due on February 1.

The decision followed Crown’s bombshell admission on Wednesday morning that dirty cash had probably been laundered through its bank accounts.

Crown-commissioned expert reports examined two of Crown’s bank accounts and concluded that “more likely than not” money laundering had occurred.

Bergin criticised Crown for serving the report on the inquiry at 11pm on Tuesday without notice.

While Crown has argued that many of its problems were in the past, the fact it delivered reports so late revealed a “present problem, with ramifications of the most serious kind,” she said on Wednesday.

Bergin suggested Crown had wasted taxpayers’ money by allowing the inquiry to proceed for so long before the company conceded there was enough evidence to suggest money laundering took place.

“I’ve only read a few pages but it looks like money laundering occurred through those accounts,” Crawford said.

Crown Resorts shares went into a trading halt before the ILGA announcement on Wednesday afternoon, with the company saying it had received a letter from the regulator.

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