Crown’s Barangaroo casino blocked from opening over money laundering concerns

The NSW gambling regulator has blocked Crown Resorts from opening its new $2.2 billion Sydney casino next month until a review of its licence is completed in February.

The chair of Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority Philip Crawford said the regulator was “not comfortable” with Crown opening its gaming operations until the Bergin Inquiry had been completed.

Crown was set to open the Barangaroo Casino in mid-December.
Crown was set to open the Barangaroo Casino in mid-December.
Credit:Wolter Peeters

Crown intended to open its casino at Barangaroo in the middle of December, but ILGA held an emergency meeting on Wednesday in light of the serious evidence the inquiry has uncovered.

Mr Crawford said it was disappointing that Crown did not take it upon themselves to delay the opening. “They are not picking up the vibe,” Mr Crawford said.


The decision on Wednesday came after Crown’s legal team conceded to the Bergin Inquiry that criminals likely used two of its bank accounts to launder dirty cash.

Crown’s lawyers had previously urged Commissioner Patricia Bergin against finding that its bank accounts had, more probably than not, been used for money laundering despite being riddled with suspicious transactions.

However the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry heard on Wednesday morning that Crown tendered new statements at 11pm on Tuesday which outline a major about-face, based on two reviews of the accounts by consultancies Initialism and Grant Thornton.

“Crown accepts that there were funds deposited into the Riverbank and Southbank accounts that Initialism has found to be indicative of ‘cuckoo smurfing’ – it is indicative of a form of money laundering,” Crown’s counsel Robert Craig, SC, said.

“Crown accepts that an inference can be drawn that at some point in time, deposits into the Southbank and riverbank accounts were more probable than not part of cuckoo smurfing.”

The concession from Crown on Wednesday came as ILGA was set to meet to decide whether to prevent Crown from opening its new casino at Barangaroo next month, until the inquiry reports back on its findings by February next year.

Counsel assisting the inquiry have argued that Crown’s failure to stop money laundering at its Melbourne and Perth casinos is one reason why it is unfit to keep the licence for its new $2.2 billion Sydney casino.

It is a most serious development.

Commissioner Patricia Bergin

Crown’s 180-degree turn on Wednesday enraged Commissioner Bergin, who demanded the company produce the legal advice which appeared to have told it not to conduct its own review into the suspected money laundering.

The use of the two accounts to bank criminal funds was first exposed by The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald last year as part of a series of reports that triggered the ILGA inquiry.

“What has happened over the last 12 months, is that the counsel assisting have trawled through bank accounts with every single witness,” Commissioner Bergin said.

“And if this had happened – what happened last night at 11pm – that wouldn’t have been necessary.”

Commissioner Bergin said that in itself was relevant to her decision on Crown’s suitability to hold a casino licence in NSW.

The former Supreme Court judge said the legal advice Crown had received over the past 12 months was of “very serious concern”, including what appeared to be advice from Minter Ellison that Crown should not conduct the review of its bank accounts that led to Wednesday’s admission.

“This is in the face of an inquiry – the seriousness of it cannot be understated,” Commissioner Bergin said, while ordering that copies of the advice be produced.

“It is a most serious development.”

Mr Craig said Crown regretted that the updated evidence was produced only on Tuesday night, but said it was the result of a review which “we accept should have occurred earlier”.

The Southbank and Riverbank accounts set up for patrons to deposit money for use at Crown’s Melbourne and Perth casinos have become a major focus of the inquiry.

The inquiry has heard that ANZ closed the accounts in 2014 after they were used for a series of cash deposits indicative of money laundering. Crown did not review the suspicious transactions, but opened new accounts with the Commonwealth Bank.

CBA shut the new accounts last year after they were also used for a string of suspicious cash transactions.

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