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Crown Resorts Receives Approval to Operate Sydney Casino

crown-resorts-receives-approval-to-operate-sydney-casinoIn a decision that echoes through the Australian business landscape, Crown Resorts has finally secured approval to operate its Sydney casino. This long-awaited green light, granted on April 23rd, 2024, by the New South Wales Independent Casino Commission (NICC), signifies a turning point for the company.

However, the path to this point has been controversial, forcing Crown to undergo intense scrutiny and implement significant reforms. The approval will have significant implications, not only for the company but also for the broader Australian gambling industry and the local economy.

A Look Back at Crown’s Tumultuous Journey

Crown’s Sydney aspirations were initially met with enthusiasm. In 2013, the development of a $1.5 billion luxury resort with an integrated casino at Barangaroo, a prime location in Sydney Harbour, was approved.

However, the path to opening wasn’t smooth. In 2021, a devastating inquiry led by former judge Patricia Bergin, SC, exposed a series of concerning practices within Crown Resorts. The issue unearthed evidence of money laundering, irresponsible gambling practices, and connections to organized crime syndicates through the company’s dealings with high-roller junket operators.

These revelations sent shockwaves through the Australian public and regulatory bodies. Crown’s license for the Sydney casino was suspended, and its suitability to operate in New South Wales was called into question.

Regaining Trust

Faced with the potential loss of its Sydney venture, Crown embarked on a comprehensive reform program. The company underwent a leadership overhaul, with a complete restructuring of its board and senior management.

Furthermore, the organization focused on cultural change. It puts a high priority on responsible gambling, anti-money laundering, and strong governance. Crown also implemented stricter compliance protocols and risk management strategies.

This commitment to reform was further strengthened by a change in ownership. In June 2022, US private equity giant Blackstone acquired Crown Resorts for $8.9 billion. Blackstone, known for its focus on responsible investment, pledged to uphold the highest standards of governance and compliance. This commitment resonated well with regulators, demonstrating Crown’s dedication to reform.

What’s more, this shift brought in new leadership and significant investment. It includes $200 million specifically allocated to support responsible gambling initiatives and anti-financial crime initiatives.

Notably, Crown Sydney adopted cashless gaming for all electronic table games, a first for casinos in New South Wales. This demonstrated its commitment to addressing money laundering concerns.

A New Dawn for Crown

The NICC’s decision to grant Crown Sydney its license reflects confidence in the company’s reform efforts. However, the approval comes with a set of stringent conditions. The NICC will maintain close oversight, and Crown will be obligated to demonstrate ongoing adherence to new regulations and compliance protocols.

This period of conditional operation serves as a probationary phase. During this time, Crown must consistently prove its suitability as a responsible casino operator.

For the Australian gambling industry, Crown’s Sydney approval signifies a potential turning point. The industry has faced increased scrutiny in recent years, with calls for stricter regulations to curb problem gambling and enhance anti-money laundering measures.

Crown’s experience serves as a cautionary tale. It highlights the severe consequences of non-compliance and the importance of responsible practices. The industry will likely see a ripple effect with other gambling operators, including the online casino in Australia. They will re-evaluate their own internal controls and compliance measures to avoid a similar situation.

The economic impact of Crown Sydney’s opening is expected to be substantial. The casino complex is projected to create thousands of jobs and generate significant tax revenue for the New South Wales government. It should also contribute to the revival of Sydney’s tourism industry.

However, concerns remain regarding potential social costs associated with increased gambling activity. Measures to mitigate problem gambling addiction and ensure responsible practices will be crucial in the long run.

The Public’s Verdict: A Jury Still Out

While the green light for Crown Sydney signifies a step towards regulatory reconciliation, the court of public opinion remains in session. The controversies that engulfed Crown have left a deep scar on the company’s image. Regaining the public’s trust won’t be a quick fix; it will be a long and arduous process demanding sustained commitment from Crown.

Regaining trust requires more than just regulatory compliance. Crown needs to demonstrate a genuine commitment to responsible gambling practices. As part of this effort, it is important to implement effective player identification and monitoring systems as well as provide support services for problem gamblers. It should also encourage a culture that prioritizes player well-being over maximizing profits.

Transparency will be a key factor in this process. Open communication with the public about Crown’s reform efforts, including detailed information on implemented changes and their effectiveness, is crucial.

Crown should be proactive in engaging with stakeholders. This includes community groups, problem gambling organizations, and the media. Regularly publishing independent audits and reports on its compliance efforts would also demonstrate a commitment to transparency.

A Second Chance, a Continued Watch

The story of Crown Sydney goes beyond the fate of a single casino. It represents a critical moment for the Australian gambling industry. As Crown Sydney prepares to open its doors, the industry as a whole face a period of heightened scrutiny and potential reform.

Whether Crown can capitalize on this second chance and the industry can navigate a more responsible path remains to be seen. Only time will tell if the lessons learned from Crown’s tumultuous journey will lead to a more sustainable and responsible future for Australian gambling.

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Iconic Mirage Casino to Close for Hard Rock Las Vegas Transformation

the_mirage_casino_which_ushered_era_of_las_vegas_strip_megaresorts_is_closingThe iconic Mirage hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip will shut its doors this summer, marking the end of an era for a property that played a pivotal role in transforming Sin City into a premier luxury resort destination.

The closure on July 17 will pave the way for extensive renovations and new construction on the 80-acre (32-hectare) property. In 2027, the site will reopen as the Hard Rock Las Vegas featuring a hotel tower shaped like a guitar, rising nearly 700 feet (about 210 meters) above the Strip.

“We’d like to thank the Las Vegas community and team members for warmly welcoming Hard Rock after enjoying 34 years at The Mirage,” Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International, said in a statement on Wednesday.

This will be the second casino on the Strip to close this year. The Tropicana Las Vegas ceased operations in April after 67 years to make way for a $1.5 billion baseball stadium, planned as the future home of the Oakland A’s, who are relocating.

From Polynesian Themes to Mega Resorts

The Mirage, developed by former casino mogul Steve Wynn, opened its doors in 1989 with a Polynesian theme, becoming the Strip’s first megaresort. This milestone spurred a building boom on the famous boulevard throughout the 1990s. The Mirage’s volcano fountain was among the first of the Las Vegas Strip’s sidewalk attractions, setting a trend that would later include the Venetian’s canals and the Bellagio’s dancing fountains.

For years, tourists flocked to the Mirage to witness Siegfried and Roy taming white tigers or to enjoy a Cirque du Soleil performance set to Beatles music. The final performance of the Beatles-themed show, which brought Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr back together for public appearances during its 18-year run, will also be in July.

Employee Transition and Future Plans

Hard Rock International announced that more than 3,000 employees will be laid off, with an expected $80 million in severance payouts. The Culinary Workers Union, representing about 1,700 Mirage employees since its opening, stated that last year’s contract ensures laid-off workers will receive $2,000 for each year of service. Additionally, the contract offers these workers the option to be called back to work and retain their seniority when the hotel reopens.

“Culinary Union will continue to ensure workers are protected and centered in the property’s future,” the union stated.

The Mirage made history in 2022 as the first Strip property to be run by a Native American tribe. Hard Rock International, owned by the Seminole Tribe of Florida, purchased the Mirage from MGM Resorts in a cash deal worth nearly $1.1 billion. At the time, Hard Rock assured that the property would remain operational under the Mirage brand while renovation plans were finalized.

The Mirage is currently accepting no bookings beyond July 14, with all reservations past that date to be canceled and refunded.

Source: “Mirage, a landmark Strip resort, prepares to vanish”. May 15, 2024.

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Off-Strip Casino Sues F1 Over Las Vegas Grand Prix

The owners of Ellis Island Casino are suing F1 for monetary damages it claims to have suffered at the hands of last year’s inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix.

The grandstands Ellis Island erected in front of its property for Las Vegas Grand Prix viewing. (Image: Nevada Independent)

The suit — filed last month but first reported on Friday by the Las Vegas Review-Journal — seeks more than $50,000 in compensation and also names Clark County and the State of Nevada as defendants.

Ellis Island claims that the race, and the six months of setup and teardown on either side of it, impeded both employees and customers from accessing its property, which is located on Koval Lane right next door to F1’s now-permanent, $500 million paddock building.

The night before the first practice round, according to the lawsuit, “plaintiffs’ graveyard shift team was informed by F1 or its agents that no one [was] allowed to come or go” for three hours.

The lawsuit also faults the county for categorizing the race as a special event without requiring F1 to file for a special use permit, and faults F1 for promoting this year’s race before the county held a debriefing on the first one.

Ellis Island was a Grand Prix sponsor that erected a 1,000-seat grandstand in its parking lot for viewing the race — reportedly paying a handsome but undisclosed sum for the right to do so and charging $1,500 per three-day pass.

“We saw the value of Formula One and having the facility right next door, we knew we wanted to find a way to get involved,” Ellis Island VP of Development Christina Ellis told the Nevada Independent last September. “We got into conversations pretty early on how we could be good neighbors.”

Not the First

This is the second lawsuit against F1 over the race. Last November, a group of 35,000 fans filed a class action suit last November for being cleared out of a grandstand because of a delayed practice round they paid hundreds of dollars each to view.

The outcome of that lawsuit was never reported.

In February, more than a dozen businesses near the circuit threatened to sue F1 for the $30 million they claim to have lost when race preparations cut them off from their normal customer base.

No lawsuit has yet been filed on their behalf. However, six of the businesses filed a petition calling on the Clark County Commission to deny a special use permit to close the streets for this year’s Las Vegas Grand Prix, which is scheduled to take place Nov. 21-23.


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MGM Will Be Held to Host City Agreement in Possible Springfield Casino Sale, Say Officials

Nearly two months ago, reports surfaced that MGM Resorts International (NYSE: MGM) is mulling the sale of its regional casinos in Ohio and Springfield, Mass. Officials in the Massachusetts city said they intend to hold the gaming company to the terms of the host city agreement should a transaction materialize.

Chang Goo Yoon, physical therapist, casinos
MGM Springfield. City officials said the gaming company must abide by the host city accord if it opts to sell the casino. (Image: Boston Globe)

In March, it was reported that MGM could be evaluating the sale of MGM Springfield and MGM Northfield, a racino near Cleveland. MGM Springfield opened in August 2018 as the first traditional casino in Massachusetts. That venue, which generated $278 million in sales in 2023, hasn’t lived up to the operator’s expectations.

In a recent interview with Western Mass News, Springfield City Council President Michael Fenton, who also chairs the casino oversight committee, said MGM cannot unilaterally decide to leave the city.

I don’t think the public should be concerned because we have safeguards at the city and state level to make sure there’s no unilateral movement by MGM,” Fenton told the media outlet. “MGM doesn’t have the right to decide to move out on their own.”

The Massachusetts venue cost the operator $960 million to build. MGM sold the real estate assets to MGM Growth Properties (MGP) for $400 million in 2021. VICI Properties (NYSE: VICI) acquired MGP for $17.2 billion that same year, gaining control of the property assets of MGM Northfield Park and the Springfield casino, among other MGM venues.

How MGM Can Do Right by Springfield

While MGM has acknowledged that the Massachusetts and Ohio casinos haven’t lived up to expectations, it hasn’t publicly confirmed it’s shopping those venues. The topic wasn’t addressed on the operator’s first-quarter earnings conference call earlier this month.

The obvious avenue through which MGM can assuage Springfield’s concerns about a possible sale of the casino is to line up a buyer from the gaming industry, which would be likely assuming the operator is looking to sell. That’s also important because the property is zoned to be a gaming venue.

As for potential buyers for MGM Springfield’s operating rights, names haven’t been floated, but it’s probably fair to rule out Penn Entertainment (NASDAQ: PENN) because it runs  Plainridge Park Casino in Massachusetts.

It’s possible that tribal gaming entities in New England could be interested in MGM Springfield, but for now, that’s just speculation.

Springfield Wants ‘Same Pedigree’ as MGM

Fenton told Western Mass News that should MGM opt to depart Springfield, the city will require that the replacement operator be of the “same pedigree” as MGM. That’s a subjective term, but there are some hard details.

Under the host city agreement, MGM is required to deliver $25 million in annual payments to various groups in the city and book at least 12 acts per year at entertainment venues near the casino. Fenton said a new gaming operator of the Springfield casino would be held to the same standards.

A transaction involving MGM Springfield materializing over the near term is a possibility, but analysts believe gaming industry mergers and acquisitions are currently hamstrung due to high interest rates. That implies prospective suitors that need financing to buy the operating rights to the venue might be put off and eschew bidding, thus dwindling the pool of potential buyers to those that can pay in cash.

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Wynn Sees UAE Spend of $900M, Confirms Interest in Thailand Casino

Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ: WYNN) expects to contribute approximately $900 million to the Wynn Al Marjan Island integrated resort in Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Wynn Resorts
Wynn and Encore on the Las Vegas Strip. The operator said it will spend $900 million in the United Arab Emirates and that it’s interested in a Thailand casino. (Image: Luxury Lifestyle Magazine)

That’s according to comments made by Craig Billings on the gaming company’s first-quarter earnings conference call late Tuesday, and that estimate is in line with the operator’s minority stake in the $4 billion project.

Budgets move here and there, but no substantial movement. Our capital contribution will be round numbers, call it, $900 million, that heavily depends on the construction leverage,” said Billings in response to a question from CBRE analyst John DeCree. “So we’re in the midst of figuring that out now. But you can figure something like 50-50 debt to equity and then we would be 40% of the equity.”

Wynn’s local partners in the UAE are Marjan LLC and RAK Hospitality Holding LLC., while Wynn Design and Development is running creative and design operations.

Wynn Making Fast Progress on UAE Casino Resort

Billings’ comments regarding Wynn’s financial commitments to the UAE  project arrived after the Las Vegas-based company said construction there is advancing rapidly and that the hotel tower could be topped off in late 2025.

Wynn Al Marjan Island could be the first casino hotel in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region and, if it’s approved to operate a gaming venue, it could be a significant long-term earnings driver for Wynn while potentially touching off a spate of casino development in the Emirates. The property is expected to command 5.6 million square feet, but the casino would account for just 4% of that space.

Billings called Wynn Al Marjan Island “a meaningful high return on investment (ROI) project” while adding that more updates could be made public later this year. Last year, Wynn said the UAE endeavor can generate up to $600 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) — a forecast that’s not been altered.

Additionally, gaming won’t be the centerpiece of the integrated resort. Dubai, which is located just an hour away from Al Marjan Island, is one of the most visited parts of the Middle East, and the tourists that flock to the emirate embrace high-end dining options, luxury retail, and other glitzy amenities, all of which are synonymous with Wynn’s Las Vegas properties.

Wynn Interested in Thailand, Too

Against the backdrop of a rapidly evolving regulatory process in Thailand, Billings confirmed Wynn is monitoring that situation and could eventually make a play to open a casino resort in the Southeast Asian country.

In Thailand, it’s early days and we have yet to see the regulatory and licensing structures,” said the Wynn chief executive officer on the earnings call. “Thailand is already a major tourism destination with significant tourism infrastructure and a world-class service culture. So we will continue to closely monitor advancement of the legalization process. I remain incredibly bullish about the future of our company.”

Billings added that Thailand is a compelling market with sound infrastructure and a robust tourism industry while acknowledging a variety of gaming companies could pursue casino licenses there.

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