News State NSW News James Packer unfit for casino, inquiry hears
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James Packer unfit for casino, inquiry hears

James Packer should not be associated with a new $2.2 billion casino in Sydney, an inquiry has been told. Photo: AAP
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James Packer’s “shameful” and “disgraceful” conduct mean he is not suitable to be associated with a new $2.2 billion Sydney casino, an inquiry has heard.

The NSW casino regulator had previously approved the billionaire to be a “close associate” of the company, a subsidiary of casino giant Crown Resorts, which was awarded a licence to run the new casino.

But counsel assisting an inquiry into Crown Resorts’ suitability to run the casino says the state’s Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority should reconsider that approval.

Mr Packer admitted to the inquiry last month that aggressive emails he sent to an unidentified potential investor in Crown Resorts were “shameful” and “disgraceful”, but blamed his bipolar disorder.

Counsel assisting, Adam Bell SC, says Mr Packer provided no evidence to show his medical condition led that conduct. Emails sent on the same day were expressed in “perceptive and businesslike terms”.

“The difference was that Mr X had conveyed information to Mr Packer which was bad news, which Mr Packer did not want to hear,” Mr Bell said on Thursday.

Even after Mr Packer resigned from the Crown Resorts board in 2018, he remained a de facto director with “extraordinary influence” on the company, Mr Bell argued.

A controlling shareholder protocol allowed Mr Packer to receive confidential information, which meant he had at least as much access to confidential information as the executive chairman, John Alexander, and more than the other directors.

“In fact, if anything, Mr Packer’s access to information was even more extensive to that of Mr Alexander,” Mr Bell said.

Mr Packer also demanded information and work from directors and executives.

Ken Barton, who was chief financial officer and is now CEO, did not tell shareholder about the protocol at Crown’s 2019 AGM even when asked directly about it.

It was “remarkable” that the board decided to enter an agreement like this, opening the door to the “extraordinary influence” of Mr Packer and his private company, without telling shareholders, Mr Bell said.

Mr Packer personally campaigned for the casino in Sydney’s Barangaroo precinct to be approved and for the licence to be granted to Crown.

The inquiry was told on Thursday that Crown is “not suitable” to hold the licence for the premises.

Mr Bell said the “damaging” influence of Crown’s major shareholder James Packer on the company was partly to blame.

The inquiry has examined money laundering at Crown casinos and its business ties with people linked to organised crime.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is seeking urgent advice on the matter and has not ruled out pushing back the December opening date for the Barangaroo development.

Closing submissions will continue on Thursday, with the commission at this stage expected to deliver a final report on February 1.

-AAP