James Packer Defends Crown Resorts from Accusations

Saturday, October 28th, 2017 | Written by April Bergman
James Packer Defends Crown Resorts from Accusations

Billionaire gaming mogul James Packer called out Australian MP Andrew Wilkie for “a lie”, after the Independent lawmaker accused Crown Resorts of misconduct in a parliamentarian debate last week. Packer defended Crown after testimony from a problem gambler.

Mr. Packer inherited his role as majority shareholder of Crown Limited Resorts from his father, Kerry Packer, the legendary Australian media mogul. James Packer sold the media assets to devote more time to his gaming enterprises and has had an up-and-down ride in the ten years since.

In 2015, Packer left the board of his company, despite remaining as Crown’s leading shareholder, in order to pursue other ventures and enjoy his engagement to American pop diva, Mariah Carey. He returned to control Crown in December 2016, after 18 Crown employees were arrested in China.

Crown Resorts’ Various Scandals

Packer announced his company would focus on Australian operations in 2017 and beyond, but the Aussie operations have been troubled since. Crown faces a landmark lawsuit by problem gambler Shonica Guy, while Andrew Wilkie and 3 former Crown employees accused the company of manipulation of high roller gaming in a way that would help VIP players avoid money laundering protocols. Now, Packer’s confrontation with retired businesswoman Anna Bardsley is receiving attention.

In a public encounter, Anna Bardsley described her addiction to poker machines, saying it took 10 years for her to overcome her pokies addiction. Bardsley said the struggle still is not ended, adding, “If I see or hear a poker machine accidentally, because I don’t go anymore, they still have the power to trigger my brain. How much do you know about the real people that are harmed by poker machines which are addictive?”

“Impossible to Run Casinos without…Slots”

James Packer replied that Bardsley’s story was moving, but he has a business to run. Packer told the problem gambler, “I’m very sympathetic for the difficulties that the last 10 years has put you through. It’s impossible to run casinos without tables and slots.”

He added that gambling addiction undermines the casino industry, because it hurts them in a public relations sense. Packer added, “We have a real responsibility to make sure people aren’t harming themselves because, in truth, if that happens it becomes bad for our business because of the political backlash, let alone the human cost.”

Visibility Draws Criticism

Crown’s leader said that his company’s position as the number one casino operator in Australia draws criticism, despite Crown being more responsible than some of its lesser rivals. Packer then pivoted to an attack on Andrew Wilkie, as he said, “Maybe because we’re a bigger company, maybe because we’re more well-known, or maybe because I’m more well-known, Andrew Wilkie throws something into parliament which is a lie.”

Andrew Wilkie’s Accusations

Andrew Wilkie, an Independent MP from Tasmania, used parliamentary privilege — which protects the accuser from defamation suits — to allege that Crown Melbourne uses illegal methods to make bigger profits. By giving high rollers preferential treatment, Crown Melbourne had the chance to make tens of millions of dollars more each year, if Andrew Wilkie’s allegations are true.

In the same parliamentary presentation, Andrew Wilkie accused Crown Melbourne of unethical conduct, such as looking the other way while patrons engaged in recreational drug use and prostitution in the resort.

James Packer said that his company might be more willing to share poker machine data and statistics on problem gambling to the public in the future, “because we are living in a world of more and more transparency”.

James Packer on Chinese Ad Scandal

During the same public appearance, James Packer discussed the Chinese scandal and Crown Resorts’ departure from China. Crown sold its minority position in Melco Crown (now Melco Resorts), which had been a major factor in the company’s growth over the past 10 years. At a point, James Packer’s wealth inflated from $3.5 billion to $7 billion, which made him the wealthiest person in Australia.

Speaking of the Chinese advertising scandal, Packer said, “That, in truth, forced the Crown directors’ hand to a large degree in relation to Macau.”

Questions about Crown Barangaroo

Packer also discussed his confidence in another of his big gambles, the Crown Barangaroo in Syndey Harbor. Crown Resorts won a bidding process against the former Echo Entertainment (Tabcorp) to build the $2.4 billion Crown Syndey casino in Barangaroo, a suburb of Sydney. To preserve the Star Sydney’s viability, though, Crown agreed to make the new casino a VIP-only gaming resort.

At the time the license was awarded, Asian VIPs were pouring into Australia to gamble. The same crackdown by Xi Jinping that hurt Macau’s casino industry from 2014 to 2016 also slowed the traffic from Chinese high rollers to Australia, putting Crown Barangaroo’s viability in doubt.

Addressing those concerns, James Packer said, “As every day passes, I become more confident. That’s because VIP volumes are starting to increase again into Australia, and that’s because Sydney real estate prices continue to hold up.”