Why Crown Sydney was allowed to retain its licence

Adrian Lowe
The Nightly
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 19: A general view of Crown Sydney is seen at Barangaroo on November 19, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. NSW's Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) on Wednesday ruled that Crown Resorts would not be allowed to open its gaming facilities at its new $2.2 billion Barangaroo development in mid-December as planned. The announcement came following an inquiry into the company's casinos in Perth and Melbourne and concerns over money laundering. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 19: A general view of Crown Sydney is seen at Barangaroo on November 19, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. NSW's Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) on Wednesday ruled that Crown Resorts would not be allowed to open its gaming facilities at its new $2.2 billion Barangaroo development in mid-December as planned. The announcement came following an inquiry into the company's casinos in Perth and Melbourne and concerns over money laundering. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images) Credit: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

After three years of intensive work, Crown Sydney has finally been deemed a “changed business” and suitable to hold onto the licence for its upmarket harbourside casino.

Declared unsuitable in 2021, the NSW Independent Casino Commission has now set Crown a new challenge: continue to improve.

Crown Sydney has ongoing work to reach steady state and it must continue to lift standards and maintain its cultural transformation,” chief commissioner Philip Crawford on Tuesday said.

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“There is and will always be room for improvement, but Crown is a changed business that is looking toward the future.”

Crown Sydney opened for entertainment only from December 2020 after an inquiry determined it was unsuitable for a casino licence. Approval to open for members-only gaming facilities was only granted in August 2022. This conditional period was for up to 24 months to allow regulators sufficient time to be satisfied of cultural change at the company.

The standing of Crown’s Melbourne casino has also taken a battering after a royal commission found “illegal, dishonest, unethical and exploitative” conduct, but held onto its licence, while its Perth casino is still working through a remediation plan due for submission in January.

Crown, formerly an ASX-listed company chaired by billionaire James Packer, was in mid 2022 sold to US private equity giant Blackstone in a near $9 billion deal.

The overhaul has been rigorous: Crown has delivered 432 remediation activities to satisfy regulators at a cost of $200 million.

Former Virgin Australia chief executive John Borghetti now chairs Crown Sydney’s board.

“Crown Sydney is the safest place to gamble in the State,” chief executive Mark McWhinnie said.

“Our transformation has laid the pathway for the future so we can exceed the expectations of our guests, team members, stakeholders and the community.”

Crown Resorts chief executive Ciaran Carruthers said a commitment to ongoing transformation remained.

“The Crown of today has rebuilt from the inside out,” he said. “We’ve spent the past two years pioneering a monumental transformation unlike anything seen before in corporate Australia.”

Mr Crawford said the regulator would retain its focus on Crown, emphasising the level of misconduct exposed when found unsuitable.

Crown’s reversal of fortune comes amid a disastrous run for major competitor, The Star Entertainment Group, which is facing a second inquiry about its Sydney conduct.

Sparked by concerns about whether long-term reforms were being introduced, the Star inquiry has heard allegations of financial impropriety and text messages by key executives plotting about “prepping for war” with its regulators.

The ongoing inquiry has wreaked havoc on Star’s share price, now at an all-time low just above 40¢.

Star also operates Treasury Brisbane and Star Gold Coast, with another Brisbane site slated to open in August.

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