Crown plans for mid-December opening on track 

by Ethan Anderson Last Updated
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The planned opening of Crown Resorts’ new $2.2 billion casino in Sydney has drawn criticism, as the operator ploughs ahead with its expected December opening.

The Guardian reports that Crown Resorts is under growing pressure to delay opening its high roller casino until a NSW government inquiry decides on its suitability to hold a licence.

Crown chairman Helen Coonan confirmed at the annual general meeting last week that Crown was “on track” to open in mid-December, despite the fact it will not know the outcome of the NSW inquiry, conducted by former supreme court judge Patricia Bergin, SC.

While Bergin made no direct comment, counsel assisting Naomi Sharp, asked Coonan whether the board “has had any discussion regarding the prudence or appropriateness of opening the Crown Sydney casino in mid-December this year given that this suitability review will be reporting after that date.”

Coonan replied that the date was a “matter exercising everyone’s mind” but noted it was not entirely in Crown’s hands because a government milestone required it to open by mid-February 2021.

The December opening appears to have become something of a stalemate between the casino regulator, the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority, and Crown.

Crown is still planning to proceed with the casino opening unless it is directly told by the gaming authority not to open.

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Crown is continuing to recruit staff for its gaming operations on its website and as in regular discussions with the ILGA over other matters including liquor licences for the casino, hotel and restaurant precincts.

Bergin must make her recommendations to the ILGA by February 1, but it is the ILGA board that makes the final ruling on suitability and Crown argues this could take more time.

There is nothing to prevent Crown opening the hotel and restaurant complex in December, but opening the casino ahead of the ruling could see it then shut down if it’s found unsuitable, or if the ILGA says more measures are needed for Crown to become suitable.

The federal MP and anti-gambling campaigner, Andrew Wilkie, said it would be entirely inappropriate for Crown to open its Sydney casino before Bergin completes her inquiry.

“That Crown is even talking about opening is more startling evidence of the company’s brazen arrogance and alarming confidence that it has political top cover from the federal and state governments,” he said.

“In the circumstances, Crown shouldn’t even be assuming it will have a licence for Sydney.”

NSW Independent MP Justin Field, who has also campaigned for gaming reforms, described any opening before the report was finalised as “highly inflammatory.”

“It is clear from Bergin’s statements to date that the question as to whether or not Crown should retain a casino licence in NSW is an open one,” he said.

“But regardless of the position taken by the commissioner on that point, it is clear major changes to operating conditions and to the state’s gambling laws and regulations are needed.”

Bergin will hear final submissions next week from counsel assisting the inquiry.

They could provide some insight into her possible findings.

Bergin made it clear on the last day of hearing that she wanted to hear arguments on whether Crown, the licensees and any close associates were still suitable to hold the second casino licence in NSW.

She wants submissions on what the evidence shows as to criminal links and money laundering.

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