SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian mogul James Packer's A$1.5 billion (S$1.75 billion) Sydney casino has been given the green light by the state gaming regulator, taking it one step closer to winning final approval.
The billionaire, who runs Crown - a worldwide gambling empire already operating casinos in Melbourne, Perth and Macau - won backing from the New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority late on Tuesday.
The state body said in a statement that the casino, which is aimed at Asian high-rollers and is being built in a prime location on Sydney Harbour, would be awarded a 99-year gaming licence and could start operating from Nov 15, 2019.
The last hurdle is to secure planning approvals that include community consultation.
While the regulator said it had investigated Crown and Mr Packer for "any criminal or related incidents" the tycoon's ugly punch-up with former best man David Gyngell at Bondi Beach in May did not appear to have hurt the approval process.
Following the public brawl, Mr Packer and television executive Mr Gyngell were slapped with criminal infringement notices that carry a fine of A$500.
Crown's development, when completed, will be the second casino in Sydney after The Star at Darling Harbour.
The approval comes as Australia emerges as the latest hotspot for casino operators looking to attract Asia's big spenders to their resorts and the country's tourist sites.
Crown and a Hong Kong consortium, as well as Echo Entertainment - which runs The Star - are bidding for the right to build a second resort in the Queensland capital Brisbane.
Two other casinos in Queensland have recently received state backing, with Asian-led consortiums winning the bids.
Mr Packer, meanwhile, has been courting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his current visit to Australia, after travelling to Tokyo in May with Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
He has said he wants to expand his empire into the lucrative Japanese market in the form of resort-casinos to tap the country's love of gambling.
Mr Abe is set to dine with officials at Mr Packer's Crown casino complex in Perth later Wednesday.