Crown Sydney Opens VIP Casino Nearly Two Years After Originally Planned

Posted on: August 9, 2022, 12:05h. 

Last updated on: August 9, 2022, 11:20h.

Crown Sydney is officially a gaming resort. That’s after the Barangaroo property commenced table operations at the AU$2.2 billion (US$1.5 billion) destination on Monday, Aug. 8.

Crown Sydney casino Crown Resorts Australia
Crown Sydney CEO Simon McGrath opens the property’s VIP casino space to its first guests on Monday, August 8, 2022. The New South Wales resort was forced to push back its casino opening almost two years after government officials concluded that its parent company Crown Resorts, was unsuitable to conduct gaming operations until it underwent a substantial corporate makeover. (Image: Crown Resorts)

Billionaire James Packer, Crown Resorts’ founder and former chairman, made it one of his lifelong goals to open a casino in Sydney, a career ambition of his late father Kerry Packer. But not even the Packer family’s vast wealth and political connections could get the deal done for decades.

That changed in June 2016, when New South Wales (NSW) finally agreed to issue a second commercial gaming license to Packer the younger and his Crown Resorts empire. A condition of the concession was that gaming rival Star Entertainment, which owns and operates The Star Sydney in Pyrmont, would maintain a monopoly on slot machines through 2041.

Crown won over NSW officials in pitching a Barangaroo project that is as much about non-gaming as gaming. The integrated resort was designed as a luxury hotel and VIP casino resort, but also a high-end residential complex with various amenities catering to the city’s wealthiest inhabitants.

But scandal-plagued Crown Resorts ahead of Crown Sydney’s December 2020 opening, which led to the VIP casino’s opening being mothballed.

Inquiry Exposes Regulatory Shortcomings

New South Wales probed the suitability of Crown Resorts to hold a casino license in the Australian state after allegations surfaced that the company’s track record of preventing its Melbourne and Perth casinos from being used to launder money was not exactly glowing.

Known as the Bergin Inquiry, the investigation overseen by former NSW Supreme Court Judge Patricia Bergin concluded that the Crown often looked the other way when it came to alleged criminal networks frequenting its casinos for illicit purposes. The inquiry also found that Crown Melbourne and Crown Perth engaged with VIP junket groups that had known links to organized crime throughout Asia.

Crown Resorts was clearly facilitating money laundering, exposing staff to the risk of detention in a foreign jurisdiction, and pursuing commercial relationships with individuals connected to organized crime,” Bergin wrote in her summary. “It is obvious that such attributes would render an applicant quite unsuitable to hold a casino license in New South Wales.”

Bergin ruled that Crown needed to greatly overhaul its corporate governance before NSW should allow the company to possess gaming privileges. The company agreed to the numerous conditions imposed by the inquiry.

Some 16 months later, Crown Sydney, in June, was issued a provisional gaming concession for its VIP gaming space. The casino opened yesterday with about 160 table games and 70 electronic versions of baccarat, blackjack, roulette, and other popular casino table formats.

Conditional License

The Crown Sydney casino license held by Crown Resorts is a provisional concession, as the Aussie state plans to keep close tabs on its gaming operations for the foreseeable future. If regulators determine the VIP gaming space to be running smoothly without any regulatory shortcomings, the casino is expected to receive an unconditional casino license at some point next year or in 2024.

“Under the NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority’s (ILGA) supervision, Crown has rebuilt its gaming model from the ground up, which has meant deep structural change around governance, anti-money laundering measures, and corporate culture,” said Philip Crawford, ILGA chair.

Given the need to observe the changes in operation as well as ensure changes are embedded in the business, the authority will consider approval of Crown’s suitability until the end of the conditional gaming period, which could run between 18 months and two years,” Crawford explained.

The VIP casino at Crown Sydney is open only to property residents, overnight hotel guests, and casino members. Each approved patron is limited to gambling for up to 12 hours in a single day and 48 hours per week.