Saturday, May 16, 2009

Second high-roller deal for Crown casino, by Michael Warner - Herald Sun - 16th May 2009

EXCLUSIVE: CROWN casino has hit the jackpot for the second time this week.

The state's gambling watchdog revealed it had given preliminary approval for Crown to expand its rich high-roller Mahogany Room.

It comes just days after Premier John Brumby announced the casino would be granted an extra 150 gaming tables in a sweetheart deal with its billionaire owner, James Packer.

The Mahogany Room expansion will see a new VIP facility built above the Crown Towers driveway at the casino's eastern end.

High-stakes roulette, blackjack and baccarat tables will cater for bets of up to $280,000.

And smoking will also be permitted under special international exemptions, despite the vast majority of patrons hailing from Victoria.

"We've told them (Crown) that, based on how they've described it to us, we see no impediment to it proceeding," Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation chief Peter Cohen said.

"They've sought some boundary changes to the room."

Mr Cohen revealed sections of the casino's public gaming floors were also set to increase.

But a spokeswoman for Gaming Minister Tony Robinson said last night the two rulings were unrelated.

"I've just had a few more discussions, and my understanding is that all of this is at very preliminary stages between Crown and the VCGR. And so at this point, the minister has not been formally advised of any expansion of the Mahogany Room," Rebecca Harrison said.

Mr Brumby revealed on Tuesday - just hours before the handing down of the federal Budget - that he had handed Crown 150 new tables in exchange for higher tax on the casino's poker machines.

He defended the timing of the announcement and rejected criticism that he had tried to hide the deal.

But sources suggested the agreement was signed more than 10 days ago, and its announcement delayed until Budget day.

Mr Brumby admitted to private discussions with Mr Packer at a taxpayer-funded suite at the Albert Park Grand Prix six weeks ago.

He initially refused to detail the discussions, claiming they were private, but has since said they talked about Tiger Woods' visit to Melbourne in November and not the lucrative casino deal.

Mr Packer described the talks as "casual" and unrelated to the arrangement. (Credit: Herald Sun)

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