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Crown opening blocked over money laundering admission

Crown will not be allowed to go ahead with the opening of its Barangaroo casino. Photo: Crown Sydney

By ALLISON HORE

Following allegations of money laundering NSW’s gaming regulator has banned Crown from opening its $2.2 billion Barangaroo casino next month.

NSW’s Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) made the decision less than 24 hours after Crown admitted accounts it set up for VIP players may have been used to launder money. 

The admission came to light as part of the ongoing investigation into the appropriateness of Crown’s 99-year casino licence for NSW. The IGLA has now formally requested that Crown wait until the report of the current inquiry into the gaming giant is handed down in February next year before opening the casino.

“We are hopeful that Crown Resorts will agree to our request to postpone opening of all gaming activities, which would be unable to begin without approval of these regulatory matters,” ILGA chairman Philip Crawford said.

The use of accounts associated with Crown to bank criminal funds was first exposed by the Sydney Morning Herald investigation last year which triggered the ILGA’s investigation. Crown had previously denied its accounts set up for use by customers (Riverbank and Southbank) could have been used for money laundering, however, in its submissions to the investigation on Tuesday, Crown accepted that it had likely occurred. 

“Crown accepts that an inference can be drawn that at some point in time deposits into the Southbank and Riverbank accounts were more probable than not part of cuckoo smurfing,” said Crown’s counsel Robert Craig.

Cuckoo smurfing is a form of money laundering where criminals move vast sums of illicit cash through networks of people making smaller transactions (under $10,000) which are harder to detect as they don’t need to be reported.  

Mr. Crawford said he was surprised by Crown’s admission and had no notice such a confession would be made during the inquiry. He said given the serious implications of the new information he was “not comfortable” with Crown going ahead with the casino’s December open.

“It’s come at the 11th hour – literally. That gives us great concern because we’re talking about money laundering,” he said.

“We’re talking about potential drugs, child sexual exploitation, people trafficking and financing terrorism … you can see why we have concern.”

Mr. Crawford said the ILGA had been in talks with Crown about a plan to allow other parts of the development, including 14 bars and restaurants, and a 350-room hotel, to open. However, the Crown seemed adamant about a graduated opening, including its casino floor.

“We did suggest originally with Crown we would be happy to talk to them about a limited opening, that is their hotel, their bars, their restaurants,” he said.

The ILGA and Crown will continue discussing a plan to open the development’s non-gaming spaces.

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