Crown’s Sydney gaming floors no closer to opening

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

Crown Resorts’ bid to be granted its gaming licence in Sydney continues to struggle, as the state’s regulator said the group still needs to undergo significant change in order to open its gaming floors.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the news that Crown would have to wait longer to open its gaming floors came as the Victorian regulator fined the group $1 million for failing to vet its junket tour partners for criminal links.

Crown was set to open its newest casino in December, but was blocked from doing so by the Bergin Inquiry, which revealed evidence of criminal infiltration and money laundering at its existing Perth and Melbourne casinos.

The NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority said it had renewed three interim liquor licences for the bar areas and restaurants at Crown Sydney, which opened last year, along with the tower’s hotels.

The casino remains shut.

ILGA chairman Philip Crawford said the authority was still not satisfied Crown had done enough to address the Bergin Inquiry’s explosive final report, which found it was unfit to hold its casino licence.

“We’re comfortable with the progress we’re seeing with the company reshaping itself and employing good people, but they’ve got a way to go yet,” Mr Crawford said.

It would take time for Crown to implement the “significant changes” required in its business and for ILGA to consider those changes, he said, which have to far included a clean out of its board and senior management.

Mr Crawford said he would be disappointed if Crown had not done the work required to regain its licence by the end of October.

Crown executive chairman Helen Coonan said the company was “continuing to work through the consultation process with ILGA” to restore its casino licence.

The long-running Bergin enquiry was triggered by a series of reports that led to the resignation of five Crown directors and its chief executive Ken Barton.

Royal commissions in Victoria and Western Australia are now examining Crown’s suitability to operate its casinos in Melbourne and Perth.

James Packer, who owns 37 per cent of Crown’s ASX-listed shares, agreed in April that he would step back from the running of Crown for the next three-and-a-half years after the Bergin report found his influence contributed to dysfunctional corporate governance with “disastrous consequences”.

Multiple groups lob bids for Crown

A number of private equity companies have indicated their interest in a takeover of the embattled casino operator, with Oaktree Investments, Blackstone and BGH Capital vying for Crown’s attention

Oaktree’s proposal details an investment funding of nearly $3 billion to Crown to buy back some or all of the shares held by James Packer’s Consolidated Press Holdings.

CPH’s share ownership in Crown is 37 per cent, making Mr Packer the largest investor in Australia’s biggest gaming group.

American private equity giant and 10 per cent Crown shareholder Blackstone Group proposed an $8 billion buyout of Crown and was the first of the three takeover bids offered to Crown.

The buyout specialist offered to buy Crown shares it doesn’t already own for A$11.85 each.

Any proposed takeover bids would face numerous hurdles and regulatory risks, including several inquiries into Crown by state-based regulators, looming class actions and an investigation by financial regulator AUSTRAC into potential breaches of Australia’s anti-money laundering and counter terrorism financing laws.

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