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‘Safest place’: Crown chief’s bold claim

Covid Sydney
A decision has been made about the future of Crown Sydney’s suitability to hold a gambling licence.

Senior figures at Crown Casino have responded after Crown Sydney was allowed to keep its casino licence.

NSW Independent Casino Commission (NICC) chief commissioner Philip Crawford made the announcement on Tuesday morning after months of speculation of the future of the casino’s licence.

The state’s independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) in 2021 determined Crown was unfit to hold a gaming licence for its $2bn Barangaroo casino.

It followed damning allegations of money laundering at the venue being exposed during a public inquiry.

Crown Sydney was granted a conditional gaming licence in June last year after it “rebuilt its gaming model from the ground up”.

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These reforms included major structural overhauls along with anti-money laundering measures and changes to its corporate culture, Mr Crawford said last year.

Covid Sydney
NSW Independent Casino Commission chief commissioner Philip Crawford has delivered a major update regarding Crown Sydney’s (pictured) casino licence. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Dylan Coker

In a statement, Crown acknowledged the decision and reiterated its $200m investment in reforms to harm minimisation, financial crime, governance, compliance, and risk.

“Crown Sydney has introduced rigorous standards to deter and detect money laundering as part of its ongoing focus on financial crime prevention,” a Crown spokesman said.

“As part of this, Crown Sydney was the first in NSW to introduce cashless gaming on all electronic table games.”

Crown Sydney chief executive Mark McWhinnie said it was “the safest place to gamble in the state”.

“Since opening the Crown Sydney casino in August 2022, we have worked tirelessly to implement wholesale reform across our business, delivering 432 remediation activities to the NICC,” he said.

“The NICC’s decision today recognises the genuine and sustainable changes we’ve made and our ongoing commitment to operating at the highest industry standards.”

Crown Resorts chief executive Ciarán Carruthers said: “We must continue to build and maintain trust and respect while showing that success and commercial viability go hand-in-hand with trust, care and integrity.”

CROWN RESORTSÕ BARANGAROO CASINO
Mr Crawford said a provisional licence had been granted to Crown Sydney after a major overhaul of its gaming model last year. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett

Mr Crawford said Crown must now demonstrate its long-term commitment to maintaining suitability.

“The NICC is confident the Crown we deemed suitable today has a strong model to keep operating into the future,” Mr Crawford said.

“Hard work and transformation aside, the NICC has not forgotten the level of misconduct exposed in 2021 when Crown was found unsuitable.

“Crown Sydney has ongoing work to reach steady state and it must continue to lift standards and maintain its cultural transformation.

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

On Tuesday, Mr Crawford said there was a need for a review of the regulatory framework surrounding Crown Sydney at the time, which included negotiations in “good faith” once their licence was refused.

“We had a contractual requirement to negotiate in good faith with Crown,” he said.

Mr Crawford said Crown had outlined a “path to suitability” which led to the major changes, including major overhauls of the board.

CROWN RESORTSÕ BARANGAROO CASINO
He said Crown was a changed business. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett

He said he was satisfied Crown had demonstrated it could retain its casino licence.

In addition to the implementation of hundreds of new internal controls, the reforms have been reflected in a new licence and new regulatory agreement between Crown Sydney, the NSW government and the NICC.

These agreements include updated settings, such as the removal of fetters to the NICC’s powers, as well as previous compensation trigger clauses that are no longer part of the casino legislation.

American equity giant Blackstone took control of Crown in 2022 in an $8.9bn purchase.

Since then, more than $71m has been pumped into the casino giant in response to its multiple legal dramas.

Crown was handed a $450m penalty – the largest fine given to a casino globally – over failings related to their Melbourne and Perth casinos to stop money laundering and terrorism financing.

At the conclusion of a two-day hearing at the NSW Federal Court at the time, Judge Michael Lee ordered that the casino pay the fee – as per the agreement – in instalments, with $125m paid upfront.

Crown Sydney first opened in 2020, with the casino opening two years later in August.