Blackstone closes in on $8.7b Crown Resorts bid after Australian regulatory approvals

Crown Resorts has been under pressure for years since damaging inquiries found it enabled money laundering. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australian gambling regulators have cleared private equity giant Blackstone to run the troubled casinos of Crown Resorts in the country's two largest cities, a crucial but largely expected step in its US$6.3 billion (S$8.7 billion) buyout.

Crown Resorts, 37 per cent owned by billionaire James Packer, has been under pressure for years since damaging inquiries found it enabled money laundering, while Covid-19 lockdowns and border closures battered its profit and shares.

Crown has since backed Blackstone's buyout offer as a way for investors to exit what has become a volatile investment, while analysts have said the sheen of new ownership might speed up efforts to show regulators it has overhauled its governance.

The new approvals, though widely expected, remove concern of the buyout facing more regulatory headaches in Crown's two main markets. Already, Crown's Sydney casino has been banned from taking bets since opening in 2020, while its Melbourne resort is under government supervision.

Regulators in Perth, where Crown operates its third casino, which is also under state supervision, have not made a decision about Blackstone.

In a statement, Crown said only that Blackstone received two regulator approvals and was awaiting a third. Blackstone did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Crown's share price rose nearly 2 per cent to A$12.99 in Thursday morning trade, against a 1 per cent decline in the broader market. It is hovering just below Blackstone's A$13.10 offer, signalling growing expectation of the buyout going ahead.

"These approvals are a key step... to ensure Crown Sydney is able to fully meet its undertakings for major operational, governance and structural reforms," said Mr Philip Crawford, chair of New South Wales' Independent Liquor & Gaming Authority, which suspended Crown's Sydney gambling licence.

"Blackstone has been required to demonstrate the highest standards of probity," he said in a statement.

"This commitment is vital to ensure Crown Sydney is free from criminal influence and properly manages the risks of harm associated with casino activities," Mr Crawford added.

Crown shareholders have endorsed the takeover but the deal must be approved by the federal court, which will not set a hearing date until Perth's regulator greenlights Blackstone.

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