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Reformed Crown on track for Sydney casino

Gamblers are likely to be welcomed to Crown’s Sydney flagship casino at Barangaroo within months as the company undergoes a major transformation, a NSW regulator says.

The chair of the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority says Crown has had a “massive change of heart” since a damning inquiry report was published in February.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Philip Crawford told reporters on Thursday.

“We’ve extended the liquor licence to the end of October and I think you can assume that we are hopeful and confident that the opening of the gaming rooms will happen well in advance of the end of October.”

The regulator’s praise comes as the gaming giant entertains at least two takeover bids, most recently from its rival Star Entertainment, which has not faced the same probity issues as Crown.

Star pitched a $12 billion merger plan to Crown this week while US investment firm Blackstone increased its takeover offer to $8.2 billion.

Both Star and Crown have agreed to go completely cashless to address money laundering risks.

They’ve also pledged to stop working with international junket operators.

Mr Crawford said his investigation of any merger with Star would not be a “tick and flick exercise”.

“We want to know a lot more about the merged entity, what it looks like, and make sure from the regulatory viewpoint that we’re comfortable,” he said.

Star would also need to the competition watchdog to sign off on it running both of Sydney’s casinos.

“We all remember how hard Star tried to stop the casino at Barangaroo going ahead,” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chief Rod Sims said on Thursday.

“Clearly they saw … the Crown casino as competition.”

He said he’d give any submission a “very serious look”, including examining the overlap of table, electronic and high-stakes gambling between the two entities.

An inquiry by former judge Patricia Bergin found in February that Crown was unfit to run a casino at its luxury Barangaroo complex in Sydney.

The company had facilitated money laundering at its Melbourne and Perth casinos, put staff in China in danger of being detained and allowed major shareholder but non-director James Packer a say in some board matters, the report said.

Crown walked away from junket operators in response to the damning findings, which means its VIP program is no more.

Crown said in a statement on Thursday that it would contribute $12.5 million to cover the costs of the Bergin inquiry and would also pay a two-year, $10 million “Casino Supervisory Levy”.

“While we recognise we have more work to do, we welcome ILGA’s indication today that Crown’s reform implementation is well-advanced towards suitability to operate gaming at Crown Sydney,” Crown chair Helen Coonan said.

Independent auditors are now combing through Crown’s books to report on changes to the company’s culture, corporate governance and anti-money laundering processes.

They’re also ensuring organised crime hasn’t infiltrated Crown’s bank accounts in ways overlooked by the inquiry.

Mr Crawford suggested Crown would be considered suitable to host gambling activities when those processes wrap up.

He credited Ms Coonan, a former federal senator, with steering the company around from its earlier “unnecessarily aggressive and adversarial” approach to the regulator.

He also praised Mr Packer for his conciliatory approach to Ms Bergin’s recommendations.

The billionaire has indicated he is open to selling a 37 per cent stake in Crown held by his investment vehicle Consolidated Press Holdings.

The gaming authority has entered a three-year agreement with CPH to “address issues around its influence and control over the management of Crown”.

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