Packer unfit for casino, inquiry hears

Hannah Ryan
·3-min read

Billionaire James Packer was once casino giant Crown Resorts' executive chairman, then later a major shareholder so involved in the company he received daily reports on its finances.

Now the company may need him to sell his shareholding so it can run a new $2.2 billion casino in Sydney.

As the inquiry by the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority into Crown nears its end, commissioner Patricia Bergin is being told that both Mr Packer and Crown are unfit to be associated with the casino at Barangaroo.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Adam Bell SC, on Thursday said Mr Packer's "shameful" and "disgraceful" conduct means the regulator should rethink its approval of Mr Packer as a "close associate" of the Crown subsidiary licensed to run the casino.

Mr Bell argued on Wednesday that the company is "not suitable" to hold the licence for the premises.

The evidence painted a picture of Mr Packer's "profound influence" over the company, which ultimately compromised its culture and governance, Mr Bell said on Thursday.

A controlling shareholder protocol agreed between Crown and Mr Packer's private company, Consolidated Press Holdings (CPH), led Crown directors and executives to share confidential information with him even after he resigned from the board in 2018.

He received financial information from chief financial officer Ken Barton on practically a daily basis.

In return, Mr Packer issued executives with instructions, reprimands, and requests he expected to be fulfilled, Mr Bell said.

Mr Packer had more extensive access to information than elected board directors, perhaps even including executive chairman John Alexander, Mr Bell said.

Mr Packer acted so much like a director that he was a de facto board member, he argued.

Other shareholders were never informed of the information-sharing agreement, an omission Mr Bell described as "remarkable".

Mr Packer previously admitted to the inquiry that aggressive emails he sent to an unidentified potential investor in Crown Resorts were "shameful" and "disgraceful", but blamed his bipolar disorder.

Mr Bell said Mr Packer provided no evidence to show his medical condition caused that behaviour. Emails sent on the same day were expressed in "perceptive and businesslike terms".

"The difference was that Mr X had conveyed information to Mr Packer which was bad news, which Mr Packer did not want to hear," Mr Bell said.

The conduct meant Mr Packer was unfit to be a close associate of a casino licensee, he argued.

The inquiry examined whether Crown's NSW licence was violated when CPH attempted to sell 19.99 per cent of its stock to Melco Resorts last year.

Crown board directors nominated by CPH failed to perceive clear conflicts between their duties to Crown and to CPH when negotiating the Melco sale, Mr Bell said.

The inquiry has also examined money laundering at Crown casinos and its business ties with people linked to organised crime.

Mr Bell suggested one solution may be for Crown to make enforceable undertakings, including that CPH can only nominate one director.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is seeking urgent advice on the matter and has not ruled out pushing back the December opening date for the Barangaroo development.

Closing submissions will continue on Friday, with the commission at this stage expected to deliver a final report on February 1.