Crown Sydney to open doors on December 28 but casino to remain shut

by Charlotte Lee Last Updated
Crown Sydney to open doors on December 28 but casino to remain shut

Crown Resorts will be able to open its Barangaroo hotel in Sydney before the new year, but the casino is to remain dormant.

The Guardian reports that the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority granted an interim liquor licence, but gambling remains forbidden at the venue.

Non-gaming operations have been permitted at Crown’s new high-roller casino just weeks after the ILGA said it would wait until the findings of an inquiry into Crown’s suitability to hold a casino licence were handed down in February before making a decision on whether to approve a range of regulatory items related to the casino’s gaming activities.

ILGA chair Philip Crawford said last Wednesday that the authority was also considering two further liquor licences for other “non-gaming areas of the casino” which were due to be decided “within the week”.

“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,” Crawford said.

“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.”

Crawford said the authority’s position on Crown’s gaming operations had “not changed” and that the interim liquor licence would only apply until April 30, 2021.

“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 licence,” he said.

In a statement to the Australian Securities Exchange after the ILGA decision, Crown said it was “finalising its pre-opening activities and expects to progressively commence non-gaming operations at Crown Sydney from December 28, 2020.”

Former judge Patricia Bergin has been investigating Crown’s suitability to hold a Sydney gaming licence and heard allegations that the company had ignored warning signs of money laundering within its casinos.

In November, the counsel assisting the inquiry, Adam Bell SC, recommended that Crown and its major shareholder James Packer be found unfit to be involved in running the new casino.

Crown had previously indicated it would push ahead with opening parts of the new venue in December despite the inquiry’s findings not yet being handed down, and Crawford had previously said it was open to the company to apply for licences, which would allow it open its hotel and restaurants at Barangaroo.

During the inquiry, Crown made a number of concessions on its operations, including saying it said it would not deal with junkets unless they were approved by regulators, something that would require changes to the law in Victoria and NSW.

In November, Crown’s counsel told the inquiry that it had already taken steps since 2017, when allegations of money laundering were raised in Nine media, to improve its anti-money laundering processes and that more steps had been taken since the inquiry had begun.

The company also made a bombshell admission that dirty cash had probably been laundered through its bank accounts.

Class action launched against Crown by shareholders

A class action lawsuit by some of Crown Resorts’ shareholders alleges investors were misled and harmed by the casino’s possible breaches of anti-money laundering laws.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported in mid-December that on October 19, shares in Crown Resorts dropped eight per cent, wiping $500 million off Crown’s market value, when it was revealed that financial crimes watchdog AUSTRAC launched an enforcement investigation into breaches of anti-money laundering laws at its Melbourne casino.

Law firm Maurice Blackburn lodged a claim in the Victorian Supreme Court last Friday, accusing Crown of engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct from December 2014 to October 2020 by telling investors it had “robust” or effective controls in place to ensure compliance with anti-money laundering laws.

The firm also alleges Crown acted contrary to its shareholders’ interests and, in a novel legal approach, will ask the court to consider ordering Crown to buy back shares from affected investors.

Crown declined to comment.

Maurice Blackburn is already pursuing Crown through the Federal Court seeking millions of dollars for shareholders who lost money in a $1.3 billion share price crash after 19 Crown employees were arrested for gambling crimes in China in 2016.

That case is set to go to trial in 2022.

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