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James Packer’s Barangaroo suddenly not such a ‘VIP-restricted gaming facility’

No gamble: John Alexander says Crown will remain one of ‘s ”most valuable tourism assets”. Photo: Rob Homer The original Barangaroo concept was for a 168-metre hotel. At last count, it had grown to 271 metres. Photo: Supplied

15 Crown employees were detained in China over alleged gambling crimes. Photo: Dave Tacon

The new chief dealer at James Packer’s Crown Resorts seems to have a flexible view of what “VIP” might mean at Crown’s Sydney casino when it finally opens in 2021 or so.

And that view, as quoted in a Daily Telegraph interview over the weekend, doesn’t sound like the “VIP-restricted gaming facility” announced by then Premier, Barry “Don’t-Call-It-A-Casino” O’Farrell. It reads more like predictable mission-creep by Crown chasing more than it pitched to win the gambling licence in controversial circumstances.

The Murdoch newspaper reported Crown executive chairman John Alexander “dismissed concerns about the impact the four-month detention in China of 15 Crown employees over alleged gambling crimes would have on the high-end Barangaroo casino” and that Barangaroo would appeal to “more than just VIP high-rollers”.

“We expect to have a lot greater clarity of our VIP operations by then,” the paper quoted Alexander as saying. “Our Barangaroo project will be the principal attraction for our customers.

“VIP is very important but it is not the only arm and leg of Barangaroo. We expect to capture our share of the local market, which is strong and growing.”

That quote is similar to what Alexander was saying when Crown’s results were released last week.

“It would be wrong to see Barangaroo as solely as a VIP property,” he said then. “We believe it will be very attractive to the local market, the local VIP market, which is quite strong and growing.”

The Barangaroo licence won by Packer’s media and lobbying blitzkrieg was for a VIP-only gambling facility and no poker machines.

The “local market” presumably means the existing all-comers Star casino with its 1500 pokies, never mind every other pub and club in the city with many thousands more.

Mission creep and “flexibility” has been a common theme for Crown’s Melbourne operation and the Barangaroo project even before it is built. The original Barangaroo concept was for a 168-metre hotel. At last count, it had grown to 271 metres.

That original pitch for what sounded like exclusive VIP rooms morphed into one big floor of tables in the fat podium level, because Crown’s Melbourne and Macau experience showed split-level gaming isn’t as profitable.

In the wake of the arrests in China, Crown’s latest results showed a collapse in VIP income at its Melbourne and Perth casinos of 47 and 39 per cent respectively. The company is unleashing a round of cost cutting that’s expected to wipe out hundreds of jobs.

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