Posted on: December 17, 2020, 02:21h.
Last updated on: December 17, 2020, 02:21h.
The US$1.6 billion Crown Sydney will open on December 27, as planned, just without the casino. On Wednesday, the regulator for the state of New South Wales, ILGA, announced it had granted embattled operator Crown Resorts an interim liquor license for the property’s hotel, bars, and certain restaurants.
Gaming will have to wait until February, at least. ILGA will not approve casino operations for the property until it receives the recommendation of a months-long public inquiry into the casino giant’s suitability to hold a gaming license in the state.
“Last month ILGA decided against approving a range of regulatory items related to the casino’s gaming activities prior to the release of the Bergin inquiry’s findings in February 2021,” ILGA chair, Philip Crawford said in a statement. “At the time, ILGA agreed to work with Crown Resorts to enable opening this month of all non-gaming areas including accommodation, restaurants, bars and entertainment areas.
“This will enable ILGA to consider any suitability concerns arising from the Bergin inquiry following the handing down of the report due early next year, before making a further decision regarding an extension to the license,” he added.
The project, located on the waterfront in Sydney’s Barangaroo district, has always been controversial. At 890 feet, it is Sydney’s highest building. Critics say its initial license was awarded too easily back in 2013 and there was a lack of public consultation about a project that would become so transformative to the Sydney landscape. Its construction has been delayed by legal challenges and planning regulations.
Now, the suitability inquiry has suggested there is a very real chance Crown could lose its license. It has been examining whether the company turned a blind eye to criminal elements among the junket operators that brought a steady stream of Chinese high rollers to its properties. And whether the ruthless pursuit of profit led to Crown willfully ignoring the occurrence of money laundering in its VIP segment.
Crown chair Helen Coonan admitted to the inquiry last month that her company had facilitated money laundering, but she blamed it on “ineptitude” rather than criminal intent.
Inquiry chair Patricia Bergin is expected to deliver her recommendation on Crown’s license to ILGA on February 1. The regulator will have the final say in the matter.
License revocation could mean Crown would have to sell the property. But it’s more likely that the company will squeak through, albeit with conditions.
These could include the removal of certain executives whose presence on the board is representative of previous bad corporate governance. There also could be a change in ownership structure. The inquiry has already hinted that billionaire former CEO and chairman James Packer, who shaped Crown’s corporate identity and VIP strategies, may not be permitted to continue to be the company’s biggest shareholder.
Packer, who testified to the inquiry via video link from his private yacht, intimated that he would be prepared to sell his shares to save Crown Sydney.