SYDNEY: Billionaire James Packer quit the board of his casino operator Crown Resorts Ltd due to mental health issues, the latest turn in a turbulent private and business life that’s seen his overseas gaming empire unravel.
The 50-year-old Australian plans to step back from all commitments, said a spokesman, who didn’t elaborate on Packer’s illness. Crown stock fell 1.7% in Sydney trading.
Twice-divorced Packer has endured a tumultuous few years, from the public breakup of his engagement with pop diva Mariah Carey, to the conviction of Crown employees in China in 2017 for illegally promoting gambling.
The announcement comes about seven months after Packer returned to Crown’s board in the wake of the China crackdown. That ultimately led to Crown’s exit from Macau and the closure of most of its Asian offices to focus on its Australian business.
“Now that they’re more focused on their Australian assets, it’s a company that tends to run itself,” said Daniel Mueller, a fund manager at Vertium Asset Management in Sydney who down-played the significance of Packer’s departure from the board.
“He’s got a lot of people around him, some of whom are on the board.”
Packer has had an on-again, off-again involvement with Crown Resorts since stepping down as chairman and then as a director in 2015.
The billionaire’s private investment company, Consolidated Press Holdings, owns about 47% of the casino company.
“Mr James Packer today resigned from the board of Crown Resorts Ltd for personal reasons,” a Consolidated Press spokesman said by e-mail. “Mr Packer is suffering from mental health issues. At this time he intends to step back from all commitments.”
A separate statement by Crown executive chairman John Alexander didn’t elaborate further on Packer’s reasons for quitting.
“We have appreciated James’ contribution to the board and respect his decision to step down,” Alexander said.
Crown shares were down 1.7% at A$12.85 at 3.04pm, valuing the Melbourne-based company at A$8.9bil (US$6.8bil).
Packer was born into a media dynasty that owned Australia’s biggest magazine publisher. He took over the family business on his father Kerry’s death in 2005, and within three years sold most of its broadcasting and publishing stakes, as well as its cattle ranches, for more than US$5bil.
He used the funds to build the stake in Crown. Since the company’s retreat from a Macau joint venture with billionaire Lawrence Ho, Crown is now focused on its existing casinos in Perth and Melbourne and a new six-star casino in Sydney, due to be completed in 2021.
The clampdown in China “shook me to the core,” Packer said in a rare interview with the Australian newspaper in October last year. He wasn’t on the board at the time and felt “let down,” he said.
In the interview, Packer also said he wanted a more “simple life” and acknowledged he’d lost friends, put on weight and had led a reclusive life at his polo estate in Argentina.
“It has been a tumultuous four or five years for me,” Packer told the newspaper.
Packer was interviewed as a witness as part of an investigation into Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a spokesman for the billionaire said in February.
Netanyahu had received gifts from Packer, who wasn’t accused of wrongdoing, and police last month recommended the prime minister be charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Evan Lucas, an independent market analyst and consultant based in Melbourne, said Packer endured more public scrutiny than most other Australian executives because he’s “a large figure in the business world.”
“He has been under a reasonable amount of pressure,” Lucas said. “It’s a sad story to hear.” — Bloomberg