O’Farrell backs Packer’s casino dream

An impression of James Packer's casino on Sydney Harbour.

James Packer’s $1.4 billion Crown Casino development at Barangaroo on Sydney Harbour was approved by the NSW government on July 5.

The high-rollers’ casino will reach 70 storeys, with 350 six-star rooms and 80 luxury apartments. It will be designed to attract the so-called whales of the gambling world.

Premier Barry O’Farrell approved the project, saying it would boost the state’s economy. Packer will pay a $100 million upfront fee, and $1.4 billion will end up in government coffers over 15 years. The casino itself is expected to generate Packer $1 billion revenue a year for the first 10 years.

The development proposal has not yet met any community consultation or environmental assessment. O’Farrell told the ABC on July 4 the approval was “not a licence to build”.

It’s “a licence to go to stage three of the process and consider some conditions that the government have imposed.”

The conditions include a 29% tax on non-rebate gaming and no licence for pokies.

The casino’s go-ahead rules out a counter-proposal by Echo Entertainment. Echo’s $1.1 billion bid was to transform The Star, its casino at Pyrmont, into a major integrated resort, featuring two new luxury hotel high rises.

But O’Farrell said a review by a business panel concluded that “competition would improve the tourism dollar in NSW”. So a second casino was approved rather than a revamp of the current one.

The project remains controversial.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is investigating an alleged secret proposal by Packer to Echo executive John O’Neill. The Sydney Morning Herald said on July 13 Packer allegedly proposed to “keeps his Crown casino empire out of Brisbane if the executives of Echo Entertainment, owner of the Star, agreed to let him into the Sydney market”.

Packer denies the charge. But an ACCC spokesperson told the SMH that investigators would probe “potential breaches of international and cartel law”.

The investigation is in response to O’Neill telling the Australian Financial Review: “James Packer categorically said that if we behaved ourselves vis-a-vis Sydney, he would stay out of Queensland.”

NSW Australian Institute of Architects president Joe Agius said the Barangaroo casino is an “assault on public interest”. “What will be the impact of such a monumental building on the low-scale and people-friendly community facilities proposed for the harbourside of Barangaroo Central?''

The Conversation said on July 9: “If Crown’s latest venture is to be a financial success, it is likely to ultimately come at the cost of the well-being of a large number of Sydneysiders.”