NSW gaming regulator ready for Crown hearing

by Charlotte Lee Last Updated
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The New South Wales gaming regulator says the first hearing of an investigation on whether casino firm Crown Resorts breached its gaming licence for its Barangaroo project will take place on Tuesday, January 21.

GGR Asia reports that authorities are said to be looking particularly at the decision of Crown Resorts’ largest shareholder to sell a 19.9 per cent stake in the company to Asian casino operator Melco Resorts and Entertainment.

Crown Resorts is developing what will be its third Australian casino resort in the city.

Australian billionaire James Packer controls the largest shareholder in Crown Resorts, and said earlier this month that the Crown Sydney project might open by Christmas this year, ahead of its previously announced first-half 2021 target.

The New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority published in August the “terms of reference” for its inquiry, saying that it would probe whether the transfer of shares in Crown Resorts to Melco Resorts constituted a “breach” of the restricted gaming licence or any other regulatory agreement.

The inquiry is headed by former judge Patricia Bergin.

Mr Packer was quoted earlier this month by The Australian as saying that the next 12 months would be “challenging” with some “issues to be resolved”.

The entrepreneur also said he would attend the public inquiry if he was called.

The hearings will look at whether Melco Resorts and Mr Ho – or other Melco Resorts representatives that could join the board of the Australian gaming firm following the share purchase – are of “good repute, having regard to character, honesty and integrity”. “Have any business association with any person ,body or association who is not of good repute,” and “are otherwise not suitable to be associated” with the wholly-owned unit of Crown Resorts that holds the gaming licence in New South Wales.

The regulator said additionally that the probe ought to review whether Crown Resorts should be allowed to retain the licence to operate a casino in Sydney.

Crown under the microscope

Aside from the probe into the share sale, the ILGA will also review the suitability of Crown Resorts in light of media reports alleging that the company was involved in criminal activities.

The probe will investigate whether Crown Resorts engaged in money laundering, breached gaminbling laws or partnered with junket operators with links to criminal activities.

Crown Resorts has denied the claims.

Melco Resorts, a company controlled by gaming entrepreneur Lawrence Ho, announced in May that it was paying US$1.2 billion to acquire – in two installments – a 19.99 per cent stake in Crown Resorts.

CPH Crown Holdings, controlled by Mr Packer, is the seller.

Under the original agreement, the closing of the first tranche of 67,675,000 shares – equivalent to a nearly 10 per cent stake, occurred on June 6.

The closing of the second tranche was scheduled to occur on or prior to September 30, but the involved parties announced the deferral of the acquisition of that second tranche of shares.

Melco Resorts said in an August announcement that the parties decided to postpone the acquisition of the second tranche of Crown Resorts shares “to allow more time for the relevant Australian regulatory processes to be completed”.

The company said in a statement sent to GGR Asia at the time that it would participate in “any probity review process and cooperate with any inquiry” that was required in relation to its investment in Crown Resorts.

Crown Resorts also faces a separate inquiry by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, which has a role to investigate corruption within law enforcement bodies.

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