This submission was started in response to the recent (on or around May 30th, 2019) news of James Packer selling nearly half of his stake in Crown Resorts, to Hong Kong gambling mogul Lawrence Ho, chairman and CEO of Melco International and Melco Resorts and Entertainment.
I was already aware of Scientology's proximity to Packer some time ago and as such, have kept an eye out for anything Packer-related which might make news.
Hence, I decided to dig into this deal; looking at Ho and the background of Packer's/Crown's dealings with Hong Kong/China/Melco.
- Scientology and James Packer.
- Packer, Crown, Ho, Hong Kong, Macau and Melco.
Scientology and James Packer
(2012 article) Kelly Preston, John Travolta and Robert De Niro vacation together in exotic ports:
Kelly Preston is living the high life on the high seas these days, relaxing on a giant yacht in Tahiti with her family and friends, including Robert DeNiro.
The actress and wife of John Travolta was photographed on Sunday holding her son Benjamin on an enormous boat owned by Australian businessman James Packer.
Benjamin was born in what is called a “silent birth” in November of 2010, a practice common among Scientologists in which everyone in the room refrains from speaking while the baby is being born.
(2016 article) Scientology secretly 'audited' billionaire James Packer, wooed him in Tom Cruise's penthouse and 'even spied on him' before making him their top recruitment target:
Steve Cannane, in his book Fair Game: The Incredible Untold Story of Scientology in Australia, details an alleged plot to recruit James Packer and his friend Lachlan Murdoch.
'The big project we were working on was Jamie (Packer),' said Marty Rathbun, the Church's former second in command, who described himself in the book as Mr Packer's auditor (or counsellor) in the United States.
Mr Rathbun said: 'Jamie would come by from time to time when he was in the States and we would after session go up to the President's suite.
'It's the penthouse suite at the Celebrity Centre (in Los Angeles) - Tom had it reserved for that entire several month period.'
Mr Cannane told Daily Mail Australia recruiting Mr Packer - and getting in the ear of his friend Lachlan Murdoch - was the religion's highest priority at the time.
'He was the top priority... on every level they were dedicating massive resources into getting him (Mr Packer) in and keeping him happy.'
The book also contains claims from a former staffer, Lucy James, who claimed three 'handpicked' Scientologists were recruited to work for Mr Packer ‘essentially… as spies, reporting on Packer’s movements and actions’.
‘One report covered the fact that James was sleeping in until 11am every morning, which for some reason was considered a really big deal by Scientology executives,' she said.
Mr Packer has long since severed ties with the religion, with the book pegging his departure at about 2006.
(2017 article) James Packer quietly severs business ties with the Church of Scientology - after former fiancee Mariah Carey blamed the controversial religion for their split:
- James Packer has quietly severed business ties with the Church of Scientology.
- Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis left Packer's CPH investment company.
- Packer's former fiancee, Mariah Carey, [in 2016(?)] blamed Davis for their split.
Packer, Crown, Ho, Hong Kong, Macau and Melco
Packer first left Crown's board in 2015, the year he was briefly engaged to singer 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, Aus $8.9billion firm to reverse a decade-old global expansion into the Asian gambling hub Macau and Las Vegas, to focus on Australia. 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 Ltd and Hollywood film company RatPac Entertainment.
Packer forged Crown by selling his father's media empire to private equity firms a decade ago and buying casino interests from Vegas to Macau.
His personal stake in Crown, which once topped 50 per cent, made Packer responsible for decisions that have crimped the company's growth prospects.
'Packer is the company,' said a former Melco executive who did not want to be named due to the sensitivity of the situation.
Crown sold its third-stake in Macau-based Melco for $1.16 billion in May last year, just as it was about to recover from a slump in Chinese VIP gambling. Those shares are worth $4.6 billion at Melco's current valuation.
(2016 article) Crown employees held in China after late-night raids on homes:
A visiting Australian executive was also picked up en route to Shanghai's international airport after attempting to flee the unfolding crisis.
As first reported by Fairfax Media, most senior among those detained was visiting executive Jason O'Connor, who heads up a program designed to lure "high-roller" gamblers to Crown Casino in Melbourne.
"Crown believes that Jason O'Connor, the head of Crown's VIP International team, is one of 18 Crown employees being questioned by Chinese authorities," a Crown spokesperson said on Sunday.
The arrests come amid a sweeping anti-corruption crackdown in mainland China that has targeted the illicit flow of capital overseas through underground banks and casinos, particularly in the gaming enclave of Macau.
In the wake of that crackdown, overseas casinos have stepped in aggressively to court the lucrative business of high-worth Chinese gamblers – known as "whales" in industry parlance – who now avoid Macau.
An influx of Chinese high-rollers appears to have buoyed Crown's operations in Australia.
In its latest financial results, the gaming giant said its lucrative "international VIP" program had surged in 2014-15, to a turnover of $71 billion, largely due to increased overseas marketing, helping to offset weaker revenues at its casinos in Macau.
(2019 article) James Packer sells Crown Resorts stake to Hong Kong casino mogul Lawrence Ho:
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 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.
I emphasized Lawrence's claim because it may only be partially true, if not an outright lie:
(2005) Clarification Announcement from Melco International Development Limited regarding inaccurate claim in Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper:
As at the date of this announcement, the Board of the Company comprises three executive directors,namely, Dr. Stanley Ho (Chairman), Mr. Lawrence Ho (Managing Director) and Mr. Frank Tsui, twonon-executive directors, namely, Mr. Ho Cheuk Yuet and Mr. Ng Ching Wo, and three independentnon-executive directors, namely, Sir Roger Lobo, Mr. Robert Kwan and Dr. Lo Ka Shui.
According to wikipedia, Lawrence Ho took over operations at Melco International Development Limited in 2001 and was later, in 2006, named chairman & CEO; succeeding his father, Dr. Stanley Ho.
Notable from the wiki entry for Dr. Stanley Ho:
His wealth is divided amongst his daughter Pansy Ho ($5.3 billion) who owns MGM Macau, fourth wife Angela Leong ($4.1 billion) who is managing director of SJM Holdings, and son Lawrence Ho ($2.6 billion) who owns City of Dreams.
He made his first fortune smuggling luxury goods across the Chinese border from Macau during World War II.
Given the familial relationship between Lawrence and Stanley, the historical links Stanley has had to Melco and their monopoly on gambling in Macau, it stands to reason that Stanley is still linked or otherwise has a vested interest.