James Packer is almost certainly going to leave Crown Resorts, writes Terry McCrann.
James Packer is almost certainly going to leave Crown Resorts, writes Terry McCrann.

Crown will stay but James Packer will go

Crown is not going to lose its licence to operate its Melbourne casino - the biggest, lushest and until 2020 arrived, easily the most profitable in Australia.

What the 'bolted horse' Royal Commission into Crown and its casino, finally called by the Andrews Labor Government, will most certainly end up doing is to force the total and final separation of James Packer from Crown - if by then he hadn't already sold out already.

Now the Bergin enquiry, which determined that both Crown the company and Packer the controlling shareholder were 'not suitable' - bluntly, were unfit - to hold the Barangaroo casino licence in Sydney, did chart a path back, again for both of them, to become 'suitable'.

As I've explained, Crown the company will go down that path; indeed Helen Coonan was all-but charged by Commissioner Patricia Bergin, to lead the company down it and she has set about doing exactly that, starting with the board cleanout.

She will in due course have to follow them out as well.

 

James Packer gives evidence before the NSW Casino Inquiry on Tuesday, September 6, 2020.
James Packer gives evidence before the NSW Casino Inquiry on Tuesday, September 6, 2020.

 

Despite the endorsement of Bergin, Coonan's been inside that boardroom too long, even in basic director terms, far less the compromised boardroom circumstances at Crown.

More simply Coonan is 73 years old.

But as I've also explained, while Bergin did lay out a path for Packer also to become 'suitable', in practical terms there is no way he's going down it.

He would have to accept being a totally passive, totally hands-off shareholder; there is no way he or indeed any other billionaire would leave their money - in Packer's case, almost all his money - in a company they could not control.

So Packer was always going to depart Crown; indeed he had tried to do exactly that twice already by first selling to his 'brother' and former Macau casino partner Richard Li; and then again in early 2019 to the Las Vegas Wynn group.

That would have been his second (almost beyond) perfectly timed deal, coming less than a year before the virus erupted, at $14.75 a Crown share.

They are now selling at $9.95.

The difference adds to a cool $1.3bn for Packer.

 

Crown Resorts executive chairman Helen Coonan. Photographer: Adam Yip
Crown Resorts executive chairman Helen Coonan. Photographer: Adam Yip

 

What the Victorian RC will do is to cement a Packer exit, but it won't strip Crown of its licence whether or not Packer has gone by the time it reports.

For starters that would be too onerous. Yes, it might - probably, will - impose some significant penalty, either in cash or in licence or casino operational terms or some of all three.

The idea that the casino might be turned into an entertainment and hospitality-only facility might be the hope of anti-gamblers but it is fanciful in practical terms, short of Victoria embracing a gambling temperance future.

Very simply, just as the Victorian RC itself will now trail after the Bergin enquiry - when it clearly should have well preceded it: all the bad behaviour was happening in Victoria on the Victorian government's (absent) watch - so now will the penalty and long-term outcome.

That the casino's governance has to be totally overhauled: that's happening.

That it pays some sort of penalty.

And that Packer's goes.

The two real issues are who or what emerges in ownership of the 37 per cent Packer stake and the casino's licence to print money.

They are tightly linked.

The simplest outcome on the first would be Packer selling the 37 per cent 'into the market'; he would hope and prefer to sell in one hit to a new controlling shareholder.

This feeds into the second issue.

Crucial to the casino are the high rollers who were at the heart of the money-laundering and indeed all then bad behaviour.

Will they come back in a post-virus world? Will they be allowed to come back?


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