The New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority confirmed on Wednesday that Crown Resorts has gained permission to open its flagship Sydney casino, just days before Blackstone’s takeover is completed. The news comes as a suite of measures to reform the NSW gaming industry were announced by Hospitality and Racing Minister Kevin Anderson.
Crown can now conditionally begin supervised casino operations and is expected to take into account these reforms, stemming from the Bergin inquiry into the company, which made 19 recommendations to improve transparency and accountability for casino operators and clamp down on organized crime and money laundering risks.
The new legislation is not expected to be introduced until August. It will also result in the creation of the NSW Independent Casino Commission, which will have enhanced and wide-ranging compliance and enforcement powers likely to extend beyond the ones of the existing authority, according to Australian Associated Press.
The new commission will appoint an independent auditor and monitor every casino license holder, and venues will be required to submit suspicious activity reports to both the authority and federal financial transactions watchdog AUSTRAC. Casinos will also be required to monitor patrons’ accounts for suspected criminal activity and identify the source of their funds before allowing them to gamble.
Anderson stated that the government would introduce “tough new measures to parliament," in a reform that “will ensure the people of NSW have confidence that casino operations are free from criminal influence." He also added that anything less than 100% compliance “will not be tolerated”.
In the meantime, Crown will conditionally operate its Sydney casino as gaming authority chair Phillip Crawford said the casino had new owners and had rebuilt its gaming model to provide structural change, as well as having reformed its corporate culture and governance. The authority will consider Crown’s suitability for up to two years before granting formal license approval.
As reported by the Blue Mountain Gazzette, opposition treasury spokesman Daniel Mookhey said he expected ILGA to have placed "the utmost scrutiny" on Crown before making the decision, and stated they will now judge them according to their results. Independent upper house MP Justin Field also said the government should have enacted the legislation it was yet to introduce to parliament before Crown was allowed to open.
ILGA chair Phillip Crawford
The Sydney casino’s opening has been on hold since late 2020. Back in early 2021, Crown was found unsuitable to hold a license after the public inquiry it faced uncovered broad governance failings and money laundering at other Crown properties.
Blackstone is buying the company for AUD 8.9 billion ($6.2 billion), starting it afresh as an unlisted Australian entity, and billionaire James Packer exiting the business. Having also gained approvals from gaming regulators in the states of Victoria and Western Australia, where Crown owns casinos, Blackstone will assume ownership of Crown on June 24, the ILGA said.
ILGA is conducting a separate inquiry helmed by Adam Bell SC into whether casino rival Star Entertainment is suitable to retain the license for its Sydney casino. It heard evidence of foreign junket operators with likely organized crime links being allowed to do business through the casino. Under the new reform, casinos will be banned from dealing with junket operators.