But on Monday the focus was on the non-gambling operations that Crown was allowed to open. “Happy opening day,” a Crown employee joked to other staff members who were the only customers at Il Caffe at 7am.
It was a similar situation inside the surprisingly compact main lobby and closed-off retail strip. The hotel was open for business, but not a single guest could be spotted among the bustling staff.
Along the wharf area, staff were preparing the downstairs bars and restaurants such as a’Mare and Nobu that were open to customers for lunch.
The swarm of staff in action, outnumbering the customers, at Crown Sydney on Monday is a reminder of what is at stake for the NSW government, which was providing a COVID-19 update on the other side of the CBD. Crown has said it expects to employ 2000 workers at Barangaroo “once it is fully operational”.
There is also the tourism angle on which Crown first sold its audacious plan.
“Sydney is one of the world’s great cities, and it deserves a great hotel,” said Crown Sydney chief executive Peter Crinis in a statement announcing its opening on Monday. “We are excited to open the doors and let Sydney experience it.”
The phrasing echoed lines used in 2012 by Mr Packer as part of his brutal but effective campaign to ensure his family’s dynastic ambitions to build a casino were fulfilled after missing out on a 1994 casino licence, which was awarded to what is now The Star.
In November, The NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority (ILGA) forced Crown to delay the opening of the casino portion of the resort until the inquiry into Crown’s suitability as a licence holder reports back to the regulator early next year.
The probe uncovered evidence of money-laundering at Crown Melbourne and in associated bank accounts. The inquiry also examined the company’s partnerships with “junket” tour operators linked to organised crime and exposed the risks it took in doing business in China before 19 staff were arrested there in 2016.
Commissioner Patricia Bergin is due to deliver her recommendations on whether Crown is fit to keep its gaming licence by February 1. However, Crown has already suffered contagion from the NSW inquiry, with the Victorian regulator bringing forward its five-year review of Crown Melbourne’s casino licence in light of the evidence presented to the Bergin inquiry.
But for now, Crown’s management and Mr Packer will take solace from the fact that its operations in Barangaroo are finally open. It’s a start, albeit a modest one, and something for Crown to hang on to as Mr Packer’s last major gamble as a casino operator plays out in the new year.
Colin Kruger is a business reporter. He joined the Sydney Morning Herald in 1999 as its technology editor. Other roles have included the Herald’s deputy business editor and online business editor.