Sydney’s Crown casino opening blocked
Billionaire James Packer's Crown casino will not open its gaming floors in December as planned after the gaming regulator expressed concerns the Sydney Harbour high rise could be a "magnet" for money laundering.
Crown on Wednesday night confirmed to the Australian Stock Exchange it would not open the gambling side of the $2.2 billion Barangaroo venue but "will continue to focus on opening the non-gaming operations at Crown Sydney".
The NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority chair Philip Crawford said the regulator was "not comfortable" with Crown's gaming operations opening next month as planned after the casino admitted that accounts it had set up for VIP customers could have been used for money laundering.
"Because when we talk about money laundering … we're talking about potential drugs, child sexual exploitation, people trafficking and financing terrorism … you can see why we have concern," he said.
Mr Crawford said the authority would wait until the findings of Commissioner Patricia Bergin, SC's inquiry into the fitness of Crown to hold a 99-year casino licence were handed down in February and would reassess its decision after reading them. "The authority has found ongoing evidence before the Bergin Inquiry to be extremely concerning," Mr Crawford said.
"We are concerned that this particular type of business is a magnet for money laundering.
"It affects liquor licences and importantly it is about whether certain key people are fit and proper to be associated with a casino."
It could mean Crown has to cut ties to Mr Packer, its major shareholder. Counsel assisting the inquiry has argued that Mr Packer should be banned from having anything to do with the Sydney casino, due to prior poor behaviour, including sending threatening emails that he admitted were "shameful" and "disgraceful".
In closing submissions to the NSW ILGA inquiry yesterday, Crown's counsel Robert Craig said there had been "mistakes and shortcomings" in its money laundering oversight.
And he said two reports had shown "cuckoo smurfing" could be seen in the accounts of two Crown subsidiaries. Cuckoo smurfing is a form of money laundering where large transactions are split into small transactions in a bid to disguise them.
NSW Minister for Customer Service Victor Dominello said: "We support the ongoing Bergin inquiry and await the final report early next year."
Originally published as Sydney's Crown casino opening blocked