Billionaire James Packer returns to Crown Resorts' board

Australian billionaire James Packer, will return to the board, weeks after the casino group effectively scrapped ambitious global plans and retreated from Las Vegas and Macau.
Australian billionaire James Packer, will return to the board, weeks after the casino group effectively scrapped ambitious global plans and retreated from Las Vegas and Macau.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Crown Resorts' biggest shareholder, Australian billionaire James Packer, will return to the board, weeks after the casino group effectively scrapped ambitious global plans and retreated from Las Vegas and Macau.

Packer had left the board just over a year ago to focus on the international expansion, and returns as part of a broader executive reshuffle designed in part to ease investor concerns about the direction of the Crown group.

Crown, which has focused its gaming strategy on Asia's richest gamblers, has been battered by China's anti-corruption drive and now its efforts to control capital flight.

In December, it scrapped plans to build a casino in Nevada, said it would sell half its stake in Macau-focused Melco Crown Entertainment and cancelled plans to spin off its international assets.

Packer is a 48 per cent shareholder, having cut his stake from 53 per cent in August 2016.

Crown said in a statement that the group would now focus on its core assets in Australia, where it has casinos in Melbourne and Perth and another soon to be built in Sydney.

But questions remain among analysts and investors over Crown's growth, even as he reasserts control and focuses on home turf. Crown shares dropped as much as 2.1 per cent in morning trade, underperforming a weaker broader market.

"I think the local growth plan would be very limited ... I don't see a growth story there," said Mathan Somasundaram, a strategist with stockbroker Baillieu Holst.

Crown will report 2016 earnings on Feb 23. It has already warned of a 45 per cent slump in VIP turnover for the six months to December at its Australian casinos.

As part of the broader reshuffle, Robert Rankin will step down as chairman to be replaced by long-time Packer lieutenant John Alexander on Feb 1, the company said in a statement. Rankin would remain on the board.

Rankin also stepped down as chief executive of Packer's private company, Consolidated Press Holdings.