Crown Sydney, Australia opens under a close eye; Mixed response from great to concern depending upon what business and community sector
The NSW casino regulator has warned that its independent monitor installed to watch Crown’s Sydney casino will scrutinise every move Crown makes at the $2.2 billion Barangaroo tower when its high-roller gambling floor opens for the first time today.
As gaming group Crown's flagship skyscraper casino on Sydney Harbour finally opens its doors to VIP customers, anti-gambling groups are concerned about the harm caused by gambling.
Only Crown members and guests will be allowed to wager when the Crystal Room gaming floor opens on Monday, with patrons having to undergo comprehensive checks.
Crown had been prevented from opening the high-end casino in its $2.2 billion dining and hotel tower in Barangaroo for more than a year.
The opening was blocked after an inquiry led by former Supreme Court judge Patricia Bergin found Crown was not fit to operate a casino.
The inquiry heard evidence of foreign junket operators with likely organised crime links being allowed to do business through the casino.
The approval was finally granted earlier this year by the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (LGA) for the members-only gaming facilities inside the upscale Barangaroo complex.
This week the NSW government will introduce legislation designed to improve transparency and accountability for casino operators and clamp down on organised crime and money laundering risks.
The centrepiece of the reform will be the establishment of the NSW Independent Casino Commission, which will have enhanced and wide-ranging compliance and enforcement powers likely to extend beyond the existing powers of the existing authority.
Casinos will be banned from dealing with junket operators under the reforms.
The chief advocate of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, Tim Costello, said the Royal Commission into Crown Casino Melbourne exposed a pattern of predatory behaviour that caused great harm.
"Gambling harm was front and centre of the inquiry, it was clear that Crown failed to protect people and instead systematically sought to exploit them," he said in a statement on Monday.
"With the opening of Crown Sydney, we hold deep concerns about the gambling harm its operations will cause, and we are fearful that the NSW government will not put in place strong enough measures to protect people, their families and communities across the state."
Wesley Mission general manager Jim Wackett said he had no confidence in Crown's commitment to minimising gambling harm.
"Crown Sydney is pitched as an 'exclusive high roller' venue, but with minimum table game bets starting from as low as $20, the casino will be accessible to many more people than they imply, increasing harm to the community," he said.
"It is just another example of why we can't trust Crown to administer their products in a way that protects the community.
"To be clear, there's nothing exclusive about gambling harm - it affects high rollers to everyday punters, and we see the full impact on individuals and families through the services we provide."
NCOSS chief executive Joanna Quilty said more needed to be done to address the scourge of gambling.
"Problem gambling destroys individuals, families and communities, and it's often the social services sector that is left to pick up the pieces," she said.
Crown's conditional period, which will run for 18 to 24 months, will allow the LGA to monitor changes made at Crown Sydney.
The once-listed Crown has been taken private by US investment firm Blackstone after a successful $8.9 billion takeover was ticked off in June.
More than 18 months after the launch of non-gaming operations, Crown Resorts will open the casino at its AU$2.2 billion (US$1.6 billion) Crown Sydney development today.
The VIP-only casino will set over two high-end VIP gaming rooms – the Crystal Room and Mahogany Room – with 12 additional exclusive private Sky Salons located on levels 28 and 29. The facilities feature approximately 160 gaming tables and 70 electronic table games, as well as premium dining options and outdoor terrace areas for members.
However, only the Crystal Room will welcome guests today with Mahogany Room to open at a later date.
The long-waited launch of Crown Sydney’s casino comes some time after non-gaming operations commenced in December 2020, with Crown Resorts having been found unsuitable to hold a NSW casino license following the Bergin inquiry.
The company since undergone a substantial corporate makeover, prompting the NSW Liquor and Gambling Authority to recently issue Crown with a conditional license which it said would give the regulator additional time to monitor the final phase of Crown’s restricted gaming licence suitability assessment.
Crown Sydney CEO Simon McGrath said the property’s casino “sets a new standard in luxury and elegance – from the design of the room to the overall member experience. The salon floors are flooded with natural light to highlight our unparalleled waterfront views, while the finishes and furnishings are of the highest quality and standard.”
‘Huge step forward’: Government clears way for The Star Sydney’s luxury tower
The Star Sydney is gearing up for the development of a six-star Pyrmont hotel and entertainment precinct after the NSW Government last week cleared the way for the proposed site.
As part of a 20-year framework to revitalise the Pyrmont area and drive visitation, the state government has made changes to planning rules that will allow The Star to enter a development application and approvals process to build a 105-metre hotel, new theatres and a rooftop dining area.
The Star Sydney’s recently-appointed CEO, Scott Wharton, welcomed the decision saying it supports The Star’s ambition to become ‘Australia’s leading tourism and entertainment destination’.
“It represents a huge step forward to eventually realising what have been long held ambitions to increase our tourism and entertainment offerings while creating jobs and delivering other significant economic and community benefits,” Wharton said in a post on Linkedin.
“This means that The Star could in the future with the necessary approvals add a new luxury hotel – it would be the property’s fourth – to its suite of award-wining accommodation offerings, expand its dining portfolio with rooftop dining experiences and additional theatres to complement the Sydney Lyric Theatre.”
Wharton believes that the addition of these new entertainment venues will draw more visitors to the city and help support the arts industry’s COVID recovery.
“Not only would a buzzing theatre precinct such as this be a wonderful asset for Sydney, attracting both international and local productions and advancing the city’s vibrant arts and culture scene, it would also act as a catalyst to create more jobs and further support the state’s tourism sector,” he said.
In 2020, The Star’s hotel proposal was evaluated to be aligned with the strategic intent of the Pyrmont Peninsula Place Strategy, subject to certain requirements, including a maximum height of 105 metres so that it would not overshadow public and open spaces.
During public consultation, government found that business and industry groups mostly supported The Star’s hotel proposal and the economic opportunities it could bring, while many residents and community groups objected due to concerns around building height, overshadowing and wind impacts.
On announcing the planning changes that will facilitate four major sites within the Pyrmont Peninsula, NSW Planning Minister Anthony Roberts recognised the ‘significant potential’ of the area and the economic opportunities that lie ahead as a result of new developments.
“We’re giving industry and the community the certainty they need to bring to life incredible new assets, including an Indigenous residential college at the University of Technology Sydney, and The Star’s planned six-star hotel which will be located next to a proposed new theatre, as well as new dining and retail spaces,” said Roberts.
“This milestone means we have completed the first stage of implementing our 20-year strategy, which aims to unlock 23,000 new jobs and 4,000 new homes for the area.”
The planning changes also support the introduction of two sites for the new Sydney Metro Station, one of which includes an integrated tower.
The Star is currently awaiting the findings from the Bell Review, an independent review of processes at The Star Casino, which are expected next month. The review considers how effectively The Star is complying with its statutory obligations and whether it remains suitable to hold a casino licence.