Lawrence Ho sells his Crown sales

by Charlotte Lee Last Updated
Lawrence Ho

Casino tycoon James Packer has seen his potential exit from Crown Resorts go up in smoke after its single largest non-institutional shareholder, Lawrence Ho, sold his stake amid a high-stakes inquiry.

The New Daily reports that Mr Ho’s departure leaves Mr Packer in the firing line, with the possibility that regulators could force him to divest Crown’s casino interests.

Less than a year ago, Mr Ho’s Melco Resorts group signed a deal with Mr Packer to buy 20 per cent of Crown for $1.8 billion.

The first half of the deal went through, but it piqued the interest of regulators who demanded a look behind the corporate veil at Melco’s operations.

Mr Ho balked at that and took the regulator, the New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority, to court, only to have the judge tell him he had to comply with the request.

Mr Ho responded that he would not buy the second stake and on Wednesday sold the 9.9 per cent he did own to global investor Blackstone.

The move puts Mr Packer in a lonely position with 35 per cent of the company in his hands, his relationship with Mr Ho dissolved and without a formal board position at both Crown and his private CPH group, after he quit citing mental health issues in 2018.

He has also lost the guidance of long-time Packer family lieutenant, John Alexander, who has stepped down as executive chairman and will be gone from management later this year.

There are two factors driving the Ho exit, according to Monash University expert Charles Livingstone.

“Macau has been hit hard by internal travel bans and 80 to 90 per cent of its economy depends on gambling,” Dr Livingstone said.

That means Mr Ho will be very focused on saving his Macau operations.

Secondly, there is the investigation.

He wouldn’t want to have his business exposed to the investigation which could result in he, or even Crown, to be found not a fit and proper person to hold a gambling licence,” Dr Livingstone said.

“The NSW investigation wrong footed the deal and it will be followed by similar measures in Victoria and Western Australia.”

Crown dealer loses unfair dismissal claim

A Crown Casino dealer who said he was bullied with emojis for uploading his “Pornostar” rap to a work Facebook group has had his unfair dismissal claim denied.

Harkirat Singh was sacked for refusing to work after claiming a colleague derisively called him “prawnstar” – something the colleague denied – on the Melbourne Crown casino floor in late 2018.

The Brisbane Times reported that six months earlier, Mr Singh had uploaded a music video of rap he wrote titled ‘Pornostar’ to a Crown employee Facebook group, where it was mocked by other employees.

“One particular comment to which Mr Singh took offence included an extract of certain lyrics from Pornostar, followed by the inclusion of a prawn and a star emoji,” the Fair Work Commission finding reads.

In late 2018, Mr Singh complained to his superiors that a colleague allegedly called him “prawnstar” and left him too distressed to continue working, but when it was suggested he take the rest of his shift off, he refused.

The casino dealer then refused to leave after being told his shift would be paid out, and also refused to participate in a discussion with a human resources representative about his welfare, even with a union delegate present.

The Fair Work Commission heard evidence that Mr Singh “shushed” his manager several times, refused to accept a letter confirming he would be paid for the remainder of his shift because it was without a letterhead, and was at one point surrounded by eight to ten security guards.

“Dealers are calling me Prawnstar without fear and the management is taking action against me instead of handling my complaint,” the former employee wrote in an email a day after he was told he would be suspended.

“I raised an issue and I was the one who got suspended for 10 days.”

But Janine Young, the Fair Work Commission deputy president who wrote the judgement, found Mr Singh’s right to complain was “overtaken” by his behaviour for the rest of the night, “during which he failed to comply with multiple lawful and reasonable directions.”

Ms Young described Mr Singh’s behaviour on the night as “baffling and unreasonable.”

Back to top