Australia Regulator to Check Report on Echo Chairman Comment

Australia’s competition regulator will look into a newspaper report that Crown Ltd., the gaming company controlled by billionaire James Packer, sought a pact with a rival over plans to develop a Sydney casino.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said it will consider the issue after the Australian Financial Review newspaper quoted Echo Entertainment Group Ltd. Chairman John O’Neill as saying Packer pledged not to expand into Brisbane if Echo withheld objections to Crown’s plan for a A$1.3 billion ($1.2 billion) project in Sydney. Crown said Packer refutes the allegation.

“We will always consider matters that raise issues such as are alleged in the article,” ACCC spokesman Duncan Harrod said today in an e-mailed statement. “The ACCC does not ordinarily comment on matters it may or may not be investigating,” he said. Harrod said by phone he could not comment on whether the regulator would open an inquiry.

Melbourne-based Crown on July 4 won approval to submit its plan for a hotel and casino tower west of Sydney’s main business district to the third stage of a government approval process, beating a rival proposal made by Echo. Final approval for Crown would strip Echo of its exclusive right to operate Sydney’s only casino after 2019, forcing it to compete for the dollars of high-rolling Asian gamblers.

“Mr. Packer refutes the claims made by Echo, saying they are untrue,” Crown said today in an e-mailed statement. Echo Entertainment spokeswoman Michelle Pillonel declined to comment.

Crown’s planned project, at the Barangaroo development facing Echo’s Star casino across a stretch of Sydney Harbour, would be its first site in the nation’s biggest city, after resorts in Melbourne and the West Australian capital of Perth.

The two companies are considering expansion in Queensland’s capital city Brisbane, where Echo already operates a casino. Acting Queensland Premier Jeff Seeney has urged both to hold talks with state officials.

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