Labour shortage leads Crown Resorts to flag staggered Sydney casino opening

By William Brown Updated
Crown Resorts off the ASX as Blackstone takeover confirmed

A nationwide labour shortage will see Crown Resorts open its Sydney casino in a staggered manner, as it prepares for the reinstatement of its suspected casino licence before the end of March.

The Australian Financial Review reports Crown CEO Steve McCann said he was planning to open the first of the two rooms in the $2.3 billion Barangaroo tower when the NSW licence was reinstated “shortly”.

The second room would open when there were enough workers to service the casino at full capacity, McCann said.

He was speaking after Crown reported its half-year results, which could be its last as a listed company after the board recommended shareholders accept an $8.9 billion bid for the beleaguered casino empire from US private equity group Blackstone.

McCann said the labour shortage had also hit its restaurants, which had been forced to close midweek because there were not enough staff to plug the gap.

“There is a bit of a challenge at the moment. We’re not at full capacity. Some weeknights restaurants are closed and that will remain the case until we get past this phase of the virus.

“But we’re encouraged by what we’re hearing about labour, clearly international borders opening will provide opportunities.”

Star prepares for competition in town

While McCann did not reveal a timeframe to open Crown’s Sydney casino, rival casino group and one-time Crown suitor The Star said it was bracing for the new casino to open its doors in four to six weeks and ruled out a counter bid.

Star chief executive Matt Bekier branded Blackstone’s $13.10 bid for Crown “a very rich price”.

“At that price, we’re out,” he said, but he would not rule out dusting off plans for a $12 billion merger with Crown if the US private equity giant’s offer fell through.

The imminent reinstatement of Crown’s Sydney licence caps a tumultuous few years for the company, which had its new Sydney casino licence suspended in late 2020 after it emerged the James Packer-backed group had been infiltrated by criminal gangs and money launderers at its flagship Melbourne casino and in Perth.

That sparked the Victorian royal commission, which found it unfit to run the Melbourne casino, but fell short of cancelling its licence.

Instead, it made a range of recommendations to limit criminal activity and gambling harm including the appointment of a powerful special manager with board veto powers.

McCann, who said he met with the special manager, Stephen O’Bryan, QC, on a number of occasions, is pushing for a key recommendation from the inquiry, designed to target problem gambling and money laundering, to apply to all Victoria’s pubs and clubs.

He said pre-commitments, which limit poker machines losses at its Melbourne casino, should be industry-wide.

“The objective of mandatory pre-commitment is to provide a more responsible gaming environment and also to reduce the risk of money laundering,” McCann said.

“If that is confined to one destination, clearly that will simply divert that activity elsewhere.”

In the six months to December 31, Crown Resorts reported a $196 million statutory loss, thanks to higher compliance and tax costs following the damning investigations into the malfeasance and the closure of its flagship Melbourne property for 96 days due to government COVID-19 restrictions.

Revenue was up 34 per cent to $778.6 million, beating Goldman Sachs’ expectations for revenue to increase 19 per cent to $696 million.

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