SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian billionaire James Packer has sold nearly half his stake in Crown Resorts casinos to Hong Kong gambling mogul Lawrence Ho for A$1.8 billion (S$1.8 billion), their companies announced.
Mr Packer's investment company, Consolidated Press Holdings, said late on Thursday that the sale to Mr Ho's Melco Resorts and Entertainment involved 19.99 per cent of Crown Resorts, bringing its holding in the group down to 26 per cent.
Mr Packer, who stepped down from the Crown board last year to deal with what his company called "mental health issues", said he remained committed to the casino business despite the further reduction in his involvement.
"Crown has been a massive part of my life for the last 20 years and that absolutely remains the case today," he said in a statement.
"I am still vitally interested in Crown's success as a world class resort and gaming business," he said, adding that the sale to Mr Ho's Melco allowed him "to better diversify my investment portfolio."
Lawrence Ho, the son of Hong Kong gambling tycoon Stanley Ho, said in a separate statement that the investment in Crown was "an incredible opportunity to purchase a strategic stake in what I believe to be Australia's premier provider of true integrated resort experiences."
Ho singled out Crown's newest casino, still under construction in Sydney's Darling Harbour, as "an architectural icon for the city, the country and the world."
Mr Packer and Mr Ho have already been partners in a joint casino operation in Macau, though Crown sold its interest in that venture in 2017.
The selldown of Mr Packer's stake in Crown came after negotiations to sell the entire Crown group to US casino operator Wynn Resorts for some A$10 billion fell through in April after news of the talks leaked to the Australian media.
Mr Ho's investment in Crown comes as the Australian group struggles with falling revenue at its Melbourne and Perth casinos due to a drop in spending by so-called "high roller" gamblers, mainly from China.
The Hong Kong magnate's knowledge of the high-roller market is seen as a key to the success of Crown's operations, and especially to the launch of the A$2 billion Sydney casino.
Lawrence Ho said Melco would seek representation on the Crown board once the sale gained regulatory approval.
But that could be complicated by a 2014 agreement between Crown and the government of New South Wales state, where Sydney is located, barring any involvement in the casino operator by Stanley Ho or any of his companies due to allegations he has links to organised crime.
Mr Ho denies the allegations, and Lawrence Ho says his father has no links to his own companies.