Packer to face inquiry
James Packer will be called to give evidence at an inquiry into the proposed sale of his $1.76 billion stake in Crown Resorts to a Hong Kong based casino operator.
ABC News reports that the New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority is investigating after it was announced in May that just under 20 per cent of Mr Packer’s CPH Crown Holdings would be sold to Lawrence Ho’s Melco Resorts and Entertainment Limited.
It represents almost half of Mr Packer’s stake in the casino giant.
The move has raised questions due to ownership restrictions on Crown’s casino project in Barangaroo.
Crown is prevented from starting any new business activities with 55 companies and five individuals under an agreement with the ILGA, which includes Lawrence Ho’s father, Stanley, and any of his associates.
The probe will examine whether the proposed sale constitutes a breach of the restricted gaming licence or any other regulatory agreements.
During opening statements, the inquiry was told Mr Packer would be called to give evidence at a later date and the inquiry would continue in late February.
“One of the matters is the extent to which Mr Stanley Ho, Lawrence Ho’s father, or persons or entities associated with him, have corporate or business connections with the Melco entities,” Counsel Assisting Adam Bell SC said.
Mr Bell said Stanley Ho had consistently denied allegations he is connected with organised crime and that he’s never been convicted of a criminal offence.
“Mr Lawrence Ho has always stressed the independence of Melco Resorts from Mr Stanley Ho,” he said.
“He has also pointed out that Melco Resorts operates casinos in Macau in competition with casinos associated with Stanley Ho.”
The inquiry will also consider media reports on Crown from July last year that raised allegations of money laundering, breaches of gambling laws and links to human trafficking.
The company denied those allegations.
The ILGA investigation will also consider Crown’s anti-money laundering measures, how it vets junkets – or large groups of high rollers – brought into its venues, and the general vulnerability of casinos to money laundering.
The inquiry heard previous investigations found no evidence that either Lawrence Ho or Melco are not of good repute, having regard to his character, honesty and integrity, or that either of them had any “undesirable or unsatisfactory financial sources.”
Mr Packer this month returned to Sydney to meet with Crown executives and reaffirmed his commitment to the Barangaroo project.
It is scheduled to begin operating in 2021.
Melco a leading contender for Yokohama casino
Melco Resorts is upping its presence in Japan, as the company announced that it’s adding a third office to its operations in the country that’s readying to legalise commercial reasons.
Casino.org reported in September that in a filing made with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the casino giant revealed it is opening an office in Yokohama, one of just three prefectures that has expressed interest in welcoming one of the integrated resorts.
“Japan counties to be the group’s core focus,” the Melco filing explained.
“With offices in Tokyo and Osaka and an upcoming one in Yokohama, along with a local leadership team, the group is now fully engaged to explore local partnerships and to further build up our local presence.”
Melco, founded in 2004 by billionaire Lawrence Ho, one of 17 children by Macau’s “King of Gambling” Stanley Ho, operates casinos in the Chinese enclave and in the Philippines.
Melco Resorts isn’t the only game in town for Japanese officials.
The world’s largest casino operators, including Las Vegas Sands, MGM Resorts, Wynn Resorts, Galaxy Entertainment, Genting Group, Hard Rock, and SJM Holdings, are all readying bids to land one of the licences.
The official bidding will likely begin sometime next year.
For now, CEOs of the frontrunners are making verbal pledges to woo over both federal and local Japanese lawmakers.
“In the past few months, we have released designs of our proposed Osaka integrated resort and participated in the Yokohama’s request-for-information and Osaka’s request-for-concept,” Ho said.
The casino magnate added that he believes Melco is in a “strong position to be a partner” with local businesses interested in “Japan’s journey” into the commercial gaming industry.
Ho said Melco is focused on a “unique Japanese touch” for its property.