Crown Casino at Barangaroo in Sydney (Image: AAP/Dan Himbrechts)

It is hard to believe the blot on the landscape that is Sydney’s Crown casino — colloquially known as Packer’s Pecker — is as obscene on the inside as it is on the outside.

A bit like the company itself really.

The gaming rooms might be shuttered thanks to the inconvenient lack of a casino licence, but the public spaces, the restaurants and hotel rooms have all recently opened to the public.

The lavish Pearl Ballroom sits empty waiting for the post-COVID, post-Bergin inquiry celebrations to begin. It’s all a bit sad. A gaudy spectacle designed specifically for classy Asian high-rollers who may never get to enjoy it.

As you walk through the revolving door, the first thing that confronts you is an overwhelming fragrance that permeates the entire building. It can only be likened to a cheap aftershave.

The sensory assault continues in the small, underwhelming foyer and check-in area which sits beneath a gaudy display of coloured lights — the kind usually only seen in suburban streets at Christmas time. The wee winding staircase in the middle of the first five floors drips with even more tacky silver lights. 

There’s a lot of marble. Five different kinds of marble, boasts one of the staff.

It’s a long way from its Melbourne counterpart, known for a spacious foyer of dark elegant woodwork and the sweeping grand staircase. The taste police are not the only controls that have disappeared at Crown in the 26 years since Melbourne was opened.

Still, the Sydney venue is marginally more attractive than its ugly competitor across the harbour, The Star, despite a billion-dollar refit some years ago.

Crown Sydney’s main attraction (some would say its only attraction) is the magnificent 360-degree harbour view. James Packer has fully capitalised on this with his penthouse apartment sitting atop it all. At least he doesn’t have to look at the tacky gold crown now hanging over the Sydney skyline, like the rest of us.

Tourism chiefs are welcoming Crown as Sydney’s first “six-star” hotel and there are plenty of people who actually like the swirling skyscraper which has a similarity to London’s controversial Gherkin. The founding architect of the Sydney structure, Chris Wilkinson, originally described the design as “a sculptural form that will rise up on the skyline like an inhabited artwork, with differing levels of transparency, striking a clear new image against the sky”. 

The key words there being “different levels of transparency”. The current Crown board must have taken that a bit too literally.

Whatever happens to Packer’s shareholding in Crown, it is premature to think we are rid of the family name around Sydney.

Just around the corner is the Roslyn Packer Theatre. Owned by the state government and managed by the Sydney Theatre Company (STC), the building was originally the Sydney Theatre until, 10 years later, the Packers made a $15 million donation and it was renamed after the family matriarch and arts philanthropist. 

The name change in 2014, in the midst of Crown’s efforts to win planning approvals for the casino, could be seen as purely coincidental.

Sydney is a small town, which is why it needs such a big phallic piece. Or maybe we’re seeing James Packer giving us all the giant finger.

Either way, thanks for the legacy.