Spotlight on New Hotels

No Gambling Allowed in the Newly Opened $1.7bn Sydney Casino Hotel

Crown Towers Sydney

Betting is a very popular pastime for a lot of Australians, but a new casino hotel in Sydney has opened its doors without gambling being permitted.

The Crown Sydney became the tallest building in the city when it opened its doors, with around US$1.7 billion having been spent on the development in total.

However, with a licence yet to be granted for gambling at the site, visitors are not yet going to be able to play casino games like roulette, poker and blackjack.

But why is it that the Crown Sydney has not yet been given the green light to open fully? A raft of problems have been experienced at the Crown Sydney since the project was first announced.

Issues relating to governance

Alleged links to organised crime and money laundering operations meant that an inquiry was set up to look into whether or not a gambling licence should be awarded to the site.

Corporate governance failures have also been cited among the many reasons why the casino hotel has not yet been permitted to offer any gambling games. Hong Kong's Melco International Development teamed up with Australian casino operator Crown Resorts for the project but it looks set to become a major flop.

Until the 75-story tower on Sydney Harbour gets the gambling licence, gambling enthusiasts can enjoy playing at online casinos. Billionaire James Packer is the man behind Crown Resorts but, in early February, it was confirmed Crown Sydney Gaming was not deemed a "suitable person" to hold the licence.

Commissioner Patricia Bergin said the executive team in place at Crown Sydney Gaming - a subsidiary of Crown Resorts - would need to be replaced if the licence was to be granted. Bergin's final report said organised crime agents had "infiltrated" Crown's casinos. The company was also informed that it had breached several gambling laws.

Helen Coonan, who is now in charge of the Crown's board, said compliance and anti-money laundering practices will be overhauled as a result of the report's findings. The Packer family have been trying to open a casino in Sydney since 1994 but the denial of a gambling licence for the Crown means they have been foiled in their attempts yet again.

What happens next for the Crown Sydney?

While the report is damning, it does not mean gambling will never be allowed to take place within the walls of the Crown Sydney. Instead, reform will be needed at the company operating the site, with the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA), the state regulator, willing to work with Crown Sydney Gaming.

LGA head Philip Crawford said: "We now have a contractual obligation to consult with Crown and talk the issues through. One of you [reporters] had a headline in your report last night about the Crown needing to blow itself up to save itself. That's probably pretty close to the mark."

Some people have suggested that the Crown could be a success regardless of whether or not the building is ever granted a gambling licence. The hotel is considered to be one of the most luxurious in Australia and it has confirmed the appointment of one of the country's top chefs Guillaume Brahimi as its Culinary Ambassador. As Australia emerges from the global pandemic relatively unscathed, Sydney hotel rooms are likely to be in high demand due to the city's raft of sporting events on the calendar for 2021.

"We have amazing bars and restaurants that will make this an incredible destination for Sydney," said Crown Sydney chief executive Peter Crinis. "Sydney is one of the world's great cities, and it deserves a great hotel. Crown Towers will deliver that and so much more."

Gourmet over gambling

While the Crown Sydney waits for its gambling licence to be granted - which could take some time - the focus could shift on providing world-class food, rather than entertainment. With a range of top dining options, the Crown is intending to become a destination in its own right. Brahimi's appointment is a sign of just how seriously food is being taken at the site.

"I am very fortunate and proud to work with Crown for 11 years now," he said recently. "And as a Sydneysider, I'm so proud of this grand hotel. How many world-class resort openings do you get to be part of in your lifetime?"

There are already nine restaurants open at the Crown, though they are operating at a reduced capacity as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. More openings are set to follow in the future.

A gambling licence might still be needed if the Crown Sydney is to fulfil its potential, but fine dining offers another route to success for this mammoth project.

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