Gaming group Crown has been given the green light to finally open the casino in its luxury skyscraper overlooking Sydney Harbour.
But the approval by the NSW Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority for the members-only gaming facilities inside the upscale Barangaroo complex is conditional for up to two years.
“Crown has rebuilt its gaming model from the ground up, which has meant deep structural change around governance, anti-money laundering measures and corporate culture,” authority chair Philip Crawford said on Wednesday.
“After more than one year’s work with Crown, the authority is pleased to have reached a stage where Crown can open its casino operations on a conditional basis.”
The conditional period, which will run for 18 to 24 months, will allow the authority to monitor changes made at Crown Sydney and ensure these are “embedded” in the business.
The regulator will then consider giving full approval to the casino.
It’s a step forward for the once-listed Crown, which is being taken private by US investment firm Blackstone after a successful $8.9 billion takeover was ticked off earlier this month.
Blackstone had to demonstrate it could deliver on the NSW regulator’s proposed reforms to keep the Sydney casino free from criminal influence.
Crown has been prevented from opening the casino in its $2.2 billion dining and hotel tower in Barangaroo for more than a year.
The opening was delayed and then blocked after an inquiry led by former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin found Crown was not fit to operate a casino.
Mr Crawford noted the Bergin inquiry highlighted the scale and scope of issues to be remedied by Crown, with potentially billions of dollars having been laundered through its casinos.
“With a complete clean-out of the board and senior executive, Crown has made significant progress and has agreed to ongoing work to regain its casino licence,” he said in a statement.
Advocacy organisation Alliance for Gambling Reform labelled the approval “disappointing and dangerous”, adding that the NSW regulator lacked the “teeth” of some of its interstate counterparts.
The NSW government on Wednesday announced plans to reform the state’s oversight of casinos.
They include the establishment of an Independent Casino Commission which will have enhanced and wide-ranging compliance and enforcement powers.
Casinos will be banned from dealing with junket operators under the reforms.
The new commission will appoint an independent auditor and monitor for every casino licence holder, and casinos will be required to submit suspicious activity reports to both the authority and federal financial transactions watchdog AUSTRAC.
Casinos will also be required to monitor patrons’ accounts for suspected criminal activity and identify the source of their funds before allowing them to gamble.
Similar reforms were also announced on Wednesday in Western Australia, where Crown operates the state’s only casino.
A royal commission this year found Crown was unsuitable to run the Perth casino but gave the operator two years to clean up its act under independent monitoring.
It found Crown and its subsidiaries facilitated money laundering at the casino and permitted junkets with criminal links to operate at the Burswood complex.
An independent chair will be appointed to WA’s gaming regulator and tasked with overseeing the remediation process, while the maximum fine for non-compliance with state regulations will increase from $100,000 to $100 million.
“Given today’s decision on Crown, such a move to increase the maximum penalty to $100m is more important than ever,” alliance chief advocate Reverend Tim Costello said.
The opening date for the Crown Sydney casino will be announced soon.
Crown CEO Steven McCann said the group had worked closely with the regulator to get the Sydney gaming operation up and running.
“We will continue to work with them on our reform program to showcase our suitability as a casino operator,” he said.
Blackstone officially takes over as the new owner of Crown on Friday.