Billionaire Packer gets Crown exit path

NEW YORK: James Packer has a potential new exit path from troubled casino operator Crown Resorts Ltd after Oaktree Capital Management LP offered to help Crown fund a purchase of the billionaire’s shares.

Oaktree has offered as much as A$3bil (US$2.3bil or RM9.5bil) in financing for the deal through a “structured investment, ” Crown said.

According to the proposal, Crown would use the funds to buy some or all of Packer’s 37% stake in Crown.

Removing Packer from Crown’s shareholder registry might go some way toward rehabilitating the company as regulators across Australia assess its suitability to run casinos.

A report for the gaming watchdog in New South Wales state in February found widespread management and cultural failings at Crown and said Packer’s influence had “rather disastrous consequences for the company.”

Crown hasn’t been allowed to start gaming operations at its new A$2.2bil Sydney casino resort.

Crown said it will assess Oaktree’s offer. Packer’s Crown shares are held by his private investment company, Consolidated Press Holdings Pty.

It’s not clear whether Oaktree – an alternative investment manager that focuses on credit strategies – plans to invest directly in Crown or just finance a buyback of Packer’s stock. But the US firm’s offer puts the billionaire’s cornerstone stake at the centre of a bidding war.

Blackstone Group Inc, which owns 10% of Crown, last month offered to buy the rest of the company in an A$8.02bil deal.

Crown shares rose 0.4% to A$11.97 at 12:04pm in Sydney trading yesterday, valuing the company at about A$8.1bil. Blackstone offered A$11.85 a share in cash for Crown stock.

Oaktree’s offer is a possible quick fix for Crown before independent inquiries into the company’s fitness to operate casinos in Perth and Melbourne deliver verdicts this year.

Buying Packer’s stake would solve some of the conflicts of interest identified in the report for the New South Wales regulator – without ceding control of the entire company. Blackstone also needs to wait for permission from regulators to own and operate Crown’s casinos.

Packer has already distanced himself from Crown since the explosive report in February, and his board nominees have quit Crown’s board.

Last week, the New South Wales gaming regulator said Packer has also agreed not to strike information-sharing arrangements with Crown or start discussions with the company other than through public forums.

A representative for Consolidated Press declined to comment on Oaktree’s proposal. Oaktree’s press office didn’t immediately reply to an e-mail seeking details of its proposal and asking whether the firm planned to own a stake in Crown. — Bloomberg

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