City News

Inquiry leads to questions over Crown opening

Crown Barangaroo looms over the harbour as an investigation looms over the Crown. Photo: Allison Hore

By ALLISON HORE

Questions have been raised as to whether Crown Casino should go ahead with its December opening while the investigations into the group’s NSW licence are ongoing.

The new $2.2 billion Crown Casino in Barangaroo is due to open on the 14th of December- months before the ongoing investigation into whether or not the Casino’s licence is appropriate is due to end. 

Last year a series of reports by The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and 60 Minutes exposed Crown’s junket partners, its failure to stop money laundering at its Perth and Melbourne casinos and how the casino group put its staff at risk of arrest in China. 

As a result, the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority launched an inquiry to look into what was revealed in the investigation and a deal James Packer made in may to sell off one fifth of the company to Melco Resorts, another Casino group.

Ultimately, the inquiry led by supreme court judge Patricia Bergin will determine whether Crown should keep its NSW casino licence. A final decision is due to be revealed on the 1st of February next year (2021). 

Despite the ongoing investigation into Crown and James Packer, Crown seems set to press ahead with the December soft-opening of the casino’s gaming facilities, some restaurants and the hotel. 

While giving evidence at the inquiry this week Crown director Jane Halton was asked if it was appropriate to go ahead with the opening of the Casino while a suitability inquiry is ongoing. She replied she is aware the court’s report is due in February and said delaying the opening is not something she’s “aware of having been discussed”.

In addition to the casino floors, the 75 storey Barangaroo building will include a 6-star hotel with 350 hotel rooms and suites, restaurants, bars and retail outlets.

Commissioner Bergen pressed further saying she was “not talking about the opening of the building and the opening of the restaurants and all the other wonderful aspects” but the casino floor itself.

“Has any thought been given to the propriety or good sense – whichever you wish – in proceeding to open a casino at a time when there is an inquiry into the suitability of the licensee?” she asked.

Ms. Halton said she was not aware of any discussions relating to delaying the opening of the casino floor either.

In response to questions about whether or not she thought it appropriate that the casino open its gaming floor before the results of the inquiry are revealed, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she did not want to pre-empt anything. She said “at the appropriate time the government would get advice and act according to that advice.”

Even if February’s ruling deems the licence suitable, COVID-19 travel restrictions have also led to questions about the Casino’s future. A closed border means the international high rollers who were expected to provide around a third of the Casino’s profits will be shut out.

After days of being grilled on the stand, on Thursday Mr. Packer admitted that he might have to sell at least some of the 36 percent of Crown shares he owns to save the Sydney licence. 

When he finished giving evidence at the inquiry Mr. Packer left the country on his yacht bound for the USA. 

He said he has no plan to return to Australia for the opening of Crown’s Barangaroo casino.

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