It has towered over Sydney: a gleaming, twisting harbour-side skyscraper that was supposed to host some of the world’s biggest high-rollers.
But Crown Resort’s $2.2 billion Barangaroo development is in danger of becoming a giant white elephant, after it was yesterday thwarted from going ahead in a bombshell ruling.
Yesterday, the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) ruled that Crown Resorts will not be allowed to open its gaming facilities at Barangaroo in mid-December as planned.
It came after an almost-11-month-long inquiry into Crown Resort casinos in Perth and Melbourne.
But it wasn’t until Tuesday night that Crown admitted to the ILGA inquiry for the first time that money-laundering was “likely” occurring through the accounts Crown set up for VIP gamblers.
Crown Barangaroo’s business is in a holding pattern until the inquiry hands down its findings in February.
Here are three things that could happen after that.
The casino is allowed to open as normal
The building was due to be home to a casino, 14 bars and restaurants and a luxury 350-room hotel, all to open mid-December.
Although the regulator has barred Crown from opening the casino on that date, that could change in February 2021.
That’s when Commissioner Patricia Bergin, who has been overseeing that 11-month inquiry, will decide whether Crown is fit to keep their gaming licence.
If she finds in their favour, the gaming floors in the 72-storey building would be free to open next Autumn, though don’t expect slot machines.
The casino will be exclusively for the world’s high-rollers, who might think twice before visiting.
The casino is allowed to open as long as James Packer is not involved
If Crown can salvage its core gaming business, it may be forced to cut ties with James Packer.
The former chairman resigned as director of Crown Resorts in 2018 and sold off a large portion of his shares but remains a major stakeholder today.
Yesterday, the Counsel Assisting Adam Bell SC urged the Commissioner to ban Mr Packer from associating with Crown.
Threatening emails sent by Mr Packer to an anonymous businessman were presented to the inquiry, which Mr Packer admitted were “shameful” and “disgraceful”.
Mr Packer also said he knew of at least four junket operators during his tenure — Suncity, Song, Meg-Star and Qin Si Xin — some of which were reportedly linked to organised crime.
Mr Packer said the junket operators were “good for business” but admitted he had no understanding of Crown’s oversight of them.
In 2016, nineteen employees of junket operators were arrested and charged in China for promoting gambling to find VIPs for Crown’s high-roller business, with 16 of them going to jail in China.
Throughout the enquiry, Crown’s board has maintained it knew nothing of the concerns raised by staff in China.
Earlier this month, Mr Bell said the lack of action showed the reporting lines within the company were “compromised”.
The casino is blocked from opening altogether
Earlier this month, Mr Bell told the inquiry he believed Crown should not be allowed to open their Barangaroo casino.
“In summary, we submit that the evidence presented to this inquiry demonstrates that the licensee is not a suitable person to continue to give effect to the licence and that Crown Resorts is not a suitable person to be a close associate of the licensee,” he said.
Yesterday, that recommendation was pencilled in: Crown Resorts will not open their new casino unless the inquiry finds Crown fit to hold a licence next year.
If their 99-year licence is revoked, the casino element of the tower could be taken over by another operator or repurposed.
For now, the fate of the harbourside tower remains unknown.