Now that James Packer is extricating himself permanently from the Crown Resorts drama, he has some interesting things to say about the company. The casino operator’s founder and former CEO has publicly accused Australia’s Nine Entertainment of being a paid lobbyist for the company.
Nine Entertainment is behind media outlets such as The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. Its chairman, Peter Costello, acted as a lobbyist for Crown in 2011, according to Packer. Costello reportedly received AU$300,000 (US$210,900) to help Packer get close to Michael O’Brien, Victoria’s gaming minister at the time.
There’s some debate over what actually transpired and who influenced whom. O’Brien alleges Costello never contacted him. In addition, Nine told The Guardian that Costello’s involvement with Crown stopped at offering financial advisory services to a company Packer owned.
The Walls Crumble
Packer allegedly revealed the relationship with Costello as part of a larger email exchange he had with several media figures, including several at Nine. The emails were a response to an exposé by Nine that revealed the troubles plaguing Crown’s operations.
That story, Crown Umasked, led to the casino operator facing inquiries and license suspensions across Australia. However, Packer asserts that Costello was intrinsically involved because of his relationship, even though his name never surfaced during royal commissions.
Coincidentally, Nine is the successor to Publishing and Broadcasting Limited (PBL), a Packer family-owned company. PBL became Nine in 2010, two years after the Packers broke off their relationship with the company.
Costello wasn’t the only one allegedly doing Crown’s bidding. Packer asserted that Mark Arbib, a former New South Wales (NSW) senator, and former NSL Labor General Secretary Karl Bitar also helped influence the company’s course.
Packer needed to get to O’Brien in order to protect Crown’s future. Whether he was successful will be a topic for debate. But, in 2013, Crown and O’Brien reached a deal that resulted in Packer agreeing to make “unconditional additional one-off payments of $500 million, plus up to $200 million in further revenue-linked payments in exchange for a 17-year licence extension to 2050, a cut in high-roller tax payments, and a modest expansion of pokies and table games,” according to media outlet Crikey.
Private Media Partners own Crikey, a company The Sydney Morning Herald’s former editor-in-chief, Eric Beecher, owns. Stephen Mayne, who founded Crikey, still provides content and wrote about the Packer emails as well.
Nine In Damage Control Mode
Now that Packer’s emails have risen to the surface, Nine is scrambling to protect itself. James Chessell, the company’s managing director of publishing, distributed an email today to media outlets in the Nine family to shed some light on the subject.
Chessell, who has been caught up in a tug-of-words with Packer via email over the past few days, asserted that he never discussed “Crown Unmasked” with Costello at any time. However, he acknowledged that he had backed the story “to the hilt.”
What happens next is open to theories. Beecher believes that perhaps it’s time for Australia’s entire gaming industry to suffer a royal commission. Others will chalk up Packer’s ramblings to that of a man who admitted having mental health issues.
Crown’s activities, and those of Star Entertainment, already led to individual inquiries that put the companies under the microscope. Some of these are still in the works, with decisions coming anywhere from now through next February. By then, there will likely be new priorities for regulators and authorities to deal with.
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