Australian billionaire Packer reduces stake in Macau casino group

James Packer will step down as co-chairman of Macau casino operator Melco Crown.
James Packer will step down as co-chairman of Macau casino operator Melco Crown.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Australian billionaire James Packer is to step down as co-chairman of Macau casino operator Melco Crown after Crown Resorts cut its stake raising US$800 million (S$1.07 billion) to fund overseas gaming developments, the companies said on Wednesday.

Crown's stake in Melco will fall to 27.4 per cent from 34.3 per cent after Melco International Development repurchases 155 million shares from a subsidiary called Crown Asia Investments. After the deal, Melco International's stake will increase to 37.9 per cent from 34.3 per cent.

Crown Resorts stake sale comes at a time when revenues in Macau, the world's biggest gambling hub, have slumped. Macau is the only place Chinese nationals are allowed to gamble legally in casinos. But revenues have tumbled over the past two years due to slowing economic growth and Beijing's crackdown on corruption, which has hit demand from wealthy gamblers.

Analysts said the move was largely positive for Melco as it gives full control to Lawrence Ho for operations and strategic direction of the company.

Aaron Fischer, gaming analyst at CLSA in Hong Kong, said Crown's move was likely to help it to fund other projects in Australia and Las Vegas.

James Packer took over the running of Crown, then a media conglomerate called Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd, following his father's death in 2005, and transformed it into one of the world's biggest casino developers and operators.