Crown on track to open Sydney casino

Gaming is likely to go ahead at Crown Sydney within months as the company undergoes a major transformation, a NSW regulator says. 

The Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority is yet to make a final decision on the gaming giant’s suitability to hold a Sydney casino licence following a damning inquiry. 

But ILGA chair Philip Crawford says the changes Crown chair Helen Coonan has led since February have convinced him it’s serious about reform.

“Crown … is addressing many of the issues which caused Commissioner (Patricia) Bergin to find that it was unsuitable to hold a casino licence in NSW,” he said on Thursday.

“We’ve extended the liquor licence to the end of October and I think you can assume that we are hopeful and confident that the opening of the gaming rooms will happen well in advance of the end of October.”

The Bergin inquiry examined allegations Crown junket operators brought in high-rolling gamblers from China with links to organised crime and other matters.

In February it found Crown was unfit to run a casino at its luxury Barangaroo complex in Sydney. 

The company facilitated money laundering at its Melbourne and Perth casinos, put staff in China in danger of being detained and allowed major shareholder but non-director James Packer a say in some board matters, the report said.

Crown has now agreed to stop international junket operations, go cashless, phase out smoking, and partly cover the costs of the inquiry. 

Mr Crawford is also pleased it turfed its chief executive Ken Barton, James Packer’s nominated board directors, and other directors singled out for criticism by commissioner Patricia Bergin. 

He said it was “line-ball” in February whether the company would ever be suitable to run the casino, criticising the adversarial way in which the company engaged with the inquiry.

But he credits former senator Ms Coonan with changing the company’s attitude. 

He also praised billionaire James Packer for his conciliatory approach to Ms Bergin’s recommendations. 

Mr Packer has indicated he is open to selling a 37 per cent stake in Crown held by his investment vehicle Consolidated Press Holdings.

The gaming authority has entered a three-year agreement with CPH to “address issues around its influence and control over the management of Crown”.

An independent accounting firm is combing through Crown’s books to report back to the gaming authority on changes to the company’s culture, corporate governance, and anti-money laundering processes. 

This week, rival Star Entertainment pitched a $12 billion merger plan to Crown while US investment firm Blackstone increased its takeover offer to $8.2 billion.

Star, which owns a casino complex within sight of Crown’s, has agreed to stop international junkets if the merger gets the green light, Mr Crawford said.

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