The simmering feud between Australia’s two biggest casino operators has finally boiled over with James Packer being accused of plotting to build a “casino tower on steroids” at Barangaroo (pictured above), with gambling floors the equivalent of two football fields in a project which risks “over-running” public space at the prestigious Sydney harbourside development site.
John Redmond, the chief executive of Packer’s chief local rival, Echo Entertainment Group, issued the warning last week at a Sydney business lunch. Echo, owner of the Star casino at Pyrmont, is battling Packer’s company, Crown Limited, for dominance of the high-end Sydney gambling market.
Crown has lodged a proposal with the state government to construct a 60-storey tower comprising a six-star hotel, luxury apartments and VIP-only casino. Echo has lodged an alternative plan to expand the Star and extend the period of its exclusive casino licence beyond its expiry date of 2019.
Premier Barry O’Farrell has said only one project can proceed. Premier O’Farrell has played down the scale of the proposed VIP-only casino in Packer’s plan, insisting it would be “an invitation-only, high-rollers room”.
Redmond told a Sydney Business Chamber lunch that Crown’s plans had “transmogrified significantly” from what was first unveiled early last year to the final design proposal unveiled a fortnight ago. The designs revealed Crown is planning a 250-metre tower at Barangaroo with luxury apartments and gaming rooms in both the tower and the podium, which encroaches on the southern cove of the planned shoreline.
“Now the ‘hotel’ is only a small part of the project, which has substantially become a casino. The casino tower is on steroids and the podium appears to be over-running the public open space, filling in a large part of the Southern Cove. The boutique VIP gaming facility is clearly now a significant casino at risk of over-running Barangaroo,” Redmond said.
The NSW Government has said Packer’s plan should not be regarded as a casino proposal as it will not include poker machines. But this logic was questioned by Redmond, who warned if Crown was given the go-ahead it would “go on changing and evolving and growing and expanding, as it has done to date, in every direction”.
Redmond’s attack came a day after Packer publicly questioned how Echo planned to pay for its proposed expansion of the Star now that Crown had sold its 10 per cent stake in the company.
Crown recently ran an international design competition for the proposed six-star hotel and VIP casino complex, which has been won by British architects Wilkinson Eyre (pictured top). Packer has promised to spend USD $1.23 billion on the complex.