Billionaire quits Crown Resorts board due to mental illness

Mr James Packer has had a tumultuous time, with the failure of Crown's growth strategy and a break-up with singer Mariah Carey.
Mr James Packer has had a tumultuous time, with the failure of Crown's growth strategy and a break-up with singer Mariah Carey.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Mr James Packer has had a tumultuous time, with the failure of Crown's growth strategy and a break-up with singer Mariah Carey.
Mr James Packer (above) has had a tumultuous time, with the failure of Crown's growth strategy and a break-up with singer Mariah Carey.PHOTO: REUTERS
Mr James Packer has had a tumultuous time, with the failure of Crown's growth strategy and a break-up with singer Mariah Carey.
Mr James Packer has had a tumultuous time, with the failure of Crown's growth strategy and a break-up with singer Mariah Carey (above).PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SYDNEY • Australian billionaire James Packer has quit the board of casino operator Crown Resorts due to mental illness, following a rough period, including a break-up with singer Mariah Carey and the failure of Crown's expansion strategy.

The unexpected departure by the 47 per cent owner of Crown comes as the world's seventh-largest listed casino company tries to rebuild after the arrest of 18 staff in China in 2016 triggered a global pullback.

"Mr Packer is suffering from mental health issues. At this time, he intends to step back from all commitments," a Packer spokesman said.

Crown shares dropped 1 per cent to their lowest close in a month. The stock was already under pressure as it went ex-dividend on Tuesday.

The company gave no details on Mr Packer's health, but recent years have not been smooth sailing for Crown or its high-profile director.

Mr Packer, 50, the only son of late media mogul Kerry Packer, first left Crown's board in 2015, the year he was briefly engaged to Carey, and rejoined 14 months ago while the company was in crisis following the arrest of staff for breaches of gambling marketing laws in China.

The arrests prompted the Melbourne-based firm to reverse a decade-old global expansion into Macau and Las Vegas, to focus on Australia. Mr Packer declared the company's global strategy a failure.

He began selling assets to pay off his debts, including stakes in Macau-based Melco Resorts & Entertainment and Hollywood film company RatPac Entertainment.

He told The Australian newspaper in October that "it has been a tumultuous four or five years for me".

"I've got China falling apart, the Australian casino businesses missing budgets by big amounts, I've got Mariah breaking up with me."

Last month, he was also named by Israeli police as a witness in a bribery investigation against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Packer's personal stake in Crown, which once topped 50 per cent, made him responsible for blunders that have crimped the company's growth prospects.

"Packer is the company," said a former Melco executive who did not want to be named.

Crown sold its stake in Melco for US$1.16 billion (S$1.5 billion) in May last year, just as it was about to recover from a slump in Chinese VIP gambling. Those shares are worth US$4.6 billion at Melco's current valuation.

"It was a bad trade," said Mr Mathan Somasundaram, market portfolio strategist at stockbroker Blue Ocean Equities. "In theory, that was the cash cow that was going to fund growth in other regions."

Business setbacks and relationship woes have triggered mental health issues for Mr Packer in the past. After the break-up of his first marriage and the collapse of telecom company One.Tel, a joint venture with Mr Lachlan Murdoch, son of media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, in 2001, Mr Packer told Australia's Seven Network that he "became depressed" and "emotionally exhausted".

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2018, with the headline 'Billionaire quits Crown Resorts board due to mental illness'. Print Edition | Subscribe