Laundering fears halt landmark Sydney casino opening

Sydney (AFP) –


A multi-billion-dollar casino in Sydney will not be allowed to open as planned next month after admissions of money laundering prompted regulators to step in Wednesday.

New South Wales gambling regulators said there were concerns that profits from drugs, child sexual exploitation, people trafficking and terrorism may have been laundered through operator Crown Resorts, one of Australia's largest gambling and entertainment groups.

Authorities said they were as a result "not comfortable" with operations beginning at the gleaming 75-storey tower on Sydney's waterfront.

Trading in Crown shares were halted on the Australian Securities Exchange after a company lawyer told an inquest that illicit funds were "probably" laundered through two high roller accounts through the company's operations in Perth and Melbourne.

In a statement, the troubled company -- long run by media magnate James Packer -- said it would not attempt to open gambling operations in Sydney before February 2021.

Crown could yet be barred from operating the casino entirely when a New South Wales commission investigation wraps up by February.

Moody's Investors Service analyst Maadhavi Barber said this week's ruling "highlights the potential severity" of the commission's findings "and the risk of meaningful sanctions and/or limitations on Crown's ownership and operations".

Crown insists it has fixed shortcomings and reformed its risk management operations.