Crown woos punters in Sydney RSLs as Barangaroo opening nears

“We are looking forward to opening our doors later this year and playing our part to help boost the domestic travel and tourism economy,” he said.

Crown has held events at some of Sydney's biggest RSLs and Clubs.

Crown has held events at some of Sydney’s biggest RSLs and Clubs. Credit:Peter Braig

Alliance for Gambling Reform chief advocate Tim Costello said Crown’s involvement with clubs appeared to be an “attempt to enlist locals” for its new casino. “Loyalty programs are just absolute gold and this, in my view … there’s no doubt it’s just to sign up people for Barangaroo,” Mr Costello said.

Questions about the viability of Crown Sydney’s VIP business were circling before the coronavirus pandemic prompted the Morrison government to halt arrivals from mainland China in January and close the borders more broadly to tourists and business travellers in March.

A Chinese government anti-corruption drive has stemmed the flow of cash out of the country, while Crown has been tainted by the arrest of 19 staff in China in 2016 for promoting gambling and revelations last year that it went into business with Asian crime-linked high-roller tour companies.

An expected influx of offshore high rollers was a core element of Crown’s business plan for Sydney’s second casino, construction of which is set to finish this year ahead of a scheduled opening in February 2021.

Mr Costello said he had concerns that Crown Sydney would try to lure general punters rather than just the VIP or high-end table gamers, especially now that its international high-rollers business would be damaged by COVID-19.

Fairfield RSL is number 21 on the list of NSW’s most profitable pokies clubs. The Fairfield council area has the highest poker machines profits for clubs in the state and the second highest for hotels, with combined profits of $132 million in the three months to December last year.

Crown’s members-only casino will have around 120 gaming tables when it opens in February next year and minimum bets of between $20 and $30, which casino industry experts say is on-par with general recreational gambling, not the VIP or premium market.

Crown’s licence does not permit poker machines but it will have “multi-terminal gaming machines”, which allow several players to compete at once against an electronic dealer. They have grown increasingly popular in Sydney pokies venues.

Richard Errington, chief executive of West HQ – the recently rebranded Rooty Hill RSL – said his club had also worked with Crown as it started to develop a local customer base for Barangaroo.

That included holding an event on February 10 for about 70 Crown Rewards club members, of whom around 30 were also members of the RSL, as it sought to develop a “footprint into the western Sydney area but also in the Sydney area”.

“It was all part of Crown, I dare say, cultivating potential clients and to reward their customers by having them in Sydney [at] a venue that will be very similar – though on a much smaller scale – to what they have in Crown,” Mr Errington said.

He said only existing Crown members attended events held at his dining, entertainment and gaming complex.

Crown has in recent years divested its Asian casino assets while its relationship with Hong Kong group Melco – which was to direct more customers to Crown’s Australian casinos – fell apart last month when Melco sold the last of its Crown shares.

Mr Barton told analysts in April that the Barangaroo business case would “obviously look a lot better if we were able to open with the international travel being allowed,” but if not, it would still have access to the local and interstate “premium tables” market.

Under the terms of Crown’s licence, granted in 2013, the casino must pay $1 billion in taxes and licence fees to the NSW government over the first 15 years of its operations.

While Crown will go head-to-head for punters with incumbent casino The Star at Pyrmont, it has also guaranteed it will grow Sydney’s total gaming market and that government tax revenue from the two casinos will be greater in the first three years of Crown opening than it was in the prior year.

In 2013 Crown’s then chairman James Packer said that about half Barangaroo’s earnings would come from local table gamblers and half from VIP players.

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