Doubts cast over Crown Resorts’ Sydney VIP market

by Charlotte Lee Last Updated
Crown Sydney opens its hotel and restaurants 

Gaming giant Crown Resorts has been wooing punters at some of Sydney’s largest clubs and RSLs, as doubts grow about visits from Chinese high rollers when its new Barangaroo casino opens next year.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports the $6 billion group held an invite-only event at one of the city’s most profitable pokies venues, Fairfield RSL, on February 6.

It invited 24 of the club’s loyal patrons and around 100 of Crown’s existing loyalty members who visited its existing Melbourne and Perth casinos.

Crown representatives were on hand to sign RSL members up to its Crown Rewards loyalty program at the event.

The casinos group also recently held an event at West HQ – formerly known as Rooty Hill RSL – which was limited to existing Crown customers.

It also approached Bankstown RSL early this year about holding an event but it never went ahead because COVID-19 forced the club to shut, according to club chief executive Mark Condi.

The ASX-listed casino giant declined to comment on its relationship with clubs and RSLs and would not say whether additional events will be held at Sydney locations.

In a statement, Crown chief executive Ken Barton said that Crown Sydney “has always, at its heart, been a destination designed for both Sydneysiders and visitors alike.”

“We are looking forward to opening our doors later this year and playing our part to help boost the domestic travel and tourism economy,” he said.

Alliance for Gambling Reform advocate Tim Costello said Crown’s involvement with clubs appeared to be an “attempt to enlist locals” for its new casino.

“Loyalty programs are just absolute gold, and this, in my view … there is no doubt it’s just to sign up people for Barangaroo,” Mr Costello said.

Crown staff visit NSW pokies venues, including Fairfield

Questions about the viability of Crown Sydney’s VIP business were circling before the coronavirus pandemic prompted the Morrison government to halt arrivals from mainland China in January and close the borders more broadly to tourists and business travellers in March.

A Chinese government anti-corruption drive has stemmed the flow of cash out of the country, while Crown has been tainted by the arrest of 19 staff in China in 2016 for promoting gambling and revelations last year that it went into business with Asian crime-linked high-roller tour companies.

An expected influx of offshore high rollers was a core element of Crown’s business plan for Sydney’s second casino, construction of which is set to finish this year ahead of a scheduled opening in February, 2021.

Mr Costello said he had concerns Crown Sydney would try to lure general punters rather than just the VIP or high-end table gamblers, especially now that its international high-rollers business would be damaged by COVID-19.

Fairfield RSL is number 21 on the list of New South Wales’ most profitable pokies clubs.

The Fairfield council area has the highest poker machines profits for clubs in the state and the second highest for hotels, with combined profits of $132 million in the three months to December last year.

Crown’s members-only casino will have around 120 gaming tables when it opens in February next year and minimum bets of between $20 and $30, which casino industry experts say is on-par with general recreational gambling, not the VIP or premium market.

Crown’s licence does not permit poker machines but it will have “multi-terminal gaming machines:, which allow several players to compete against each other and an electronic dealer.

They have grown increasingly popular in Sydney pokies venues.

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