Packer Distances Himself From Junket Trade

james packer and john alexander

 

Crown Resorts’ major shareholder James Packer had a “rare and superficial” relationship with Asian junket operators.

That is what the New South Wales Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority probe heard last Friday during closing submissions.

Barrister Noel Hutley, acting for Mr Packer and his private investment company Consolidated Press Holdings, said the billionaire’s dealings with junket operators were only to build rapport to help C brown increase its market share in the high roller gaming sector.

It has been suggested Crown’s junket partners had links to organised crime in Hong Kong and Macau and laundered huge amounts of money at its Melbourne and Perth casinos.

It has also been suggested by Commissioner Patricia Bergin that Mr Packer, despite resigning from the Crown board in 2018, was the driving force behind the company’s push to lure more VIP gamblers to the venues.

“The contention that Mr Packer and CPH had some overbearing influence over the affairs of Crown Resorts is simply not supported by the evidence,” Mr Hutley said.

He asserted it could not be said that any influence Mr Packer had on the company rendered Crown unsuitable to hold the licence for its new $2.2 billion development in Sydney’s harbourside, which is slated to open next month but could be delayed, with Ms Bergin to hand down her decision in February.

“In addition, there is no evidence that Mr Packer had any adverse impact on Crown Resorts or the public interest, and in fact…Crown and its shareholders had benefited from the involvement of Mr Packer and CPH over many years,” Mr Hutley said.

Counsel assisting Adam Bell has previously urged the commissioner to recommend to ILGA that it reconsiders its approval of Mr Packer as a “close associate of the licensee,” having regard to threatening emails he sent to an unnamed businessman in 2015 around privatising Crown.

When Mr Packer testified at the inquiry, he labelled the conduct “shameful” but said his behaviour was a direct result of his battle with bipolar disorder.

Ms Berginn questioned why Mr Packer’s mental health issues were not disclosed to the board and senior management after he stepped down as a director.

Mr Hutley said: “He left quite appropriately at that stage when he realised he wasn’t up to the job.”

The reclusive billionaire remains Crown’s biggest investor and the inquiry has heard he was given special treatment over others through a “controlling shareholder agreement” under which he and CPH were handed sensitive and confidential information.

Crown Wins Battle at Federal Court Against Junket Taxes

Crown Resorts’ battle at an NSW government inquiry remains ongoing but it is now entering into a legal battle with the Australia Taxation Office over $100 million in GST from dealings with junkets.

The Australian Financial Review reported in early November that the ATO lodged an appeal against a decision of the Federal Court that sided with Crown on whether commissions and rebates paid to junkets should fall under normal GST rules or special rules for gambling revenue.

Junkets refer to gambling promoters who organise tours for international high rollers to Crown casinos in Australia.

The legal stoush started in 2018 when Crown Resorts contested the GST rulings made by the ATo for its Melbourne and Perth casinos over several years.

In September, Justice Jennifer Davies ruled in favour of Crown, but the ATO now says her judgment should be put aside.

The ATO said Justice Davies erred in her judgment that the relationships between junkets and casinos were “one integrated and indivisible transaction” and that the “commissions and rebates” should be considered a separate contract unrelated to gambling.

The issue turned on the interpretation of how the revenue stream between Crown and junkets – external companies that provide trips for international high rollers to casinos in exchange for commissions and rebates from wins and losses – should be constructed.

Crown said its use of junket operators should be taxed under a section of GST legislation that applies a tax to the margin of the operator of gambling services to avoid the complexity of calculating the GST liability for every bet wagered minus what is paid out.

But the ATO contended that as Crown paid commissions and rebates to junkets which were in turn used for promotional activities, the transaction could not be considered a typical gambling activity and fell under normal GST rules.

William Brown

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