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Victoria and New South Wales regulator approves $8.9 billion takeover of Blackstone Crown Resorts

BlackstoneThe Victorian and NSW casino watchdogs have both given the green light to Blackstone’s $8.9 billion takeover of Crown Resorts, with the third and final state-based regulator in Western Australia expected to approve it within weeks.

It all but clears the way for the buyout after Crown shareholders – including billionaire James Packer – overwhelmingly voted for it at a scheme meeting last month. A court date to ratify the deal is not yet set, as the casino giant waits on the approval of the WA’s Gaming and Wagering Commission (GWC).

However, NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) chairman Philip Crawford told The Australian Financial Review he did not expect that sign-off to be far away.

“We have found Blackstone is now suitable to hold a casino licence in NSW, and that is pretty much a key step for it to become the operator of Crown Sydney,” Mr Crawford said.

“I understand Victoria has signed off today too, and WA wouldn’t be far off.”

The regulator said the probity checks of Blackstone took almost 15 months after the investment management firm launched its first takeover offer in March last year. The checks included an in-depth look at Blackstone’s other casino business, Cirsa, and Blackstone’s key people, Mr Crawford said.

“We’ve got the necessary sign-offs from our consultants, and it sounds like the other states are much the same,” he said.

‘Stringent conditions’

The Victorian Gambling and Casino Control Commission (VGCCC) said in a statement it had approved the “Blackstone Group as a suitable associate of Melbourne’s casino operator and its takeover of Crown”.

The approval comes with a number of legally enforceable conditions, such as the mandatory application of ASX corporate governance principles over Crown even when it is privately owned, and enhanced anti-money laundering reporting.

VGCCC chair Fran Thorn said the regulator had put “many months” of work into the decision, and that the approval came with “stringent conditions which balance delivering stronger controls on the casino and ensuring it continues to be the flagship casino in Australia”.

The Victorian approval follows the introduction of new laws to beef up the powers of the VGCCC and lift the consequences for Crown should it break the law, as recommended by the state’s royal commission into the company.

“We will take action should any of these conditions not be met by either Blackstone or Crown,” Ms Thorn said.

Mr Crawford said the NSW approval came with similar conditions.

The regulatory approvals will be a comfort for Crown, given it this week expected to get a provisional licence to open the gaming floors at its Barangaroo tower on Sydney’s waterfront for the first time.

The licence was expected earlier this week, but The Australian reported that a disagreement in the NSW cabinet over the merits of having two casinos in Sydney delayed the decision.

The building’s hospitality and retail spaces are open, but Crown has been unable to open the casino floor since it was completed, after a probe found the company unfit to hold a licence as it had facilitated money laundering in its casinos and partnered with junket operators linked to organised crime.

It is understood the ILGA does not believe the delay in granting the licence will be too significant, and thinks the matter will be resolved before the end of this month.

Crown declined to expand on a single-page ASX release noting the approvals and Blackstone declined to comment. The buyout proposal has already been delayed in the past because of the time it was taking for state-based gaming regulators to sign off on Blackstone as a close associate of Crown Resorts.

Crown shares were up 2.1 per cent to $13.02 just after 3pm on Thursday.

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