Australian James Packer Expanding Gambling, Media Interests

Written by:
Greg Tingle
Published on:
James Packer

Australian and Asia Pacific gambling and lifestyle king, James Packer, is further expanding his mainstream media interests, with Network Ten appearing to be a key focus. It's a move that has the world's casino and media billionaires wondering what's next for Australia's most famous gambling tsar, with many pundits previously starting Packer had lost his passion for media, preferring his luck at the likes of Crown Limited and Melco Crown's City of Dreams, Macau. This news follows Team James Packer's halt to strike action at Crown Casino just days ago. Media Man and Gambling911 get you up to speed on one of the world's most successful and newsworthy gambling and media figures...

Australian gambling and lifestyle 'king of the castle', James Packer is now set to be one of Australia's, if not the world's, kings of mainstream media.

Packer has jumped on (in a smart and friendly fashion) Network Ten in a massive $245 million share raid that also sets him up for next year's AFL broadcast rights, and much more.

The move is an exciting return for Packer as one of the Australian media's heavyweights some 4 years after he started selling off his family's famous share in PBL Media, including the main event attraction, the prestigious Nine Network.

Analysts now expect the move will spark more maneuvering and "fun and games" in the industry by competitors ahead of key changes to Australian sports broadcast laws, notably the anti-siphoning regime that restricts pay-TV's shadow.

Communications Minister, you're friend and ours (satire) Stephen Conroy said the purchase of Ten shares was a matter for Packer. Media and gaming insiders have noted its great to see Conroy stop attacking the gaming and media sector, and be balanced and non confrontational once again. Just maybe Conroy may like the fact that Australian television is easier to censors and "filter" than the internet, but that's only speculation, but regular Media Man and Gambling911 readers will get the point.

Packer's Consolidated Media Holdings purchased the 15.6% stake in the network through investment bank UBS, a favorite of JP.

A block of some 163.3 million Ten shares was traded in a single transaction at $1.50 a piece, according to the Australian Securities Exchange. Packer mate, David Gyngell, recently purchasing a modest $100,000 or so worth of Crown Limited shares.

Numerous in the know sources, leaks et al confirmed Packer's company was indeed behind the sale.

The move also comes amid heavy speculation Packer is planning to privatise his gaming empire, Crown Limited, in which he has also recently increased his stake, leading by example, say the Packer supporters.

Packer and Kerry Stokes began wrestling for Consolidated Media, which holds online and pay television assets in the middle of last year.

The move got people talking about Packer moving into position ahead of the next round of AFL television rights that are up for grabs in 2011. They do say the early bird catches the worm, so Packer might be feeling a like a very confident worm as of late.

CMH currently also owns a 25% stake at pay TV operator Foxtel.

BBY media analyst Mark McDonnell was prepared to go on record and advised the purchase put Fox Sports into a strategic position for the AFL rights.

"It's very interesting, particularly with the AFL rights coming up again next year and, of course, Ten teamed up with Seven and Fox Sports the last time the contract was being renewed. Packer effectively owns Fox Sports and the AFL rights are going to be one of the big stories over the next 12 months."

McDonnell said CMH may have also "simply" thought Ten's shares were going for a good price and Packer may have seen potential in the network's future.

However he also said every free to air channel wanted the football broadcasting rights and the move positioned Ten into a strong position to again team up with Foxtel.

The purchase also coincides with the Gillard Government's review of anti-siphoning laws governing sports broadcasting on Australian television.

Both Foxtel and the AFL have been lobbying for changes to the anti-siphoning legislation so pay-TV stations can bid for a minimum of 4 home-and-away matches a week.

Packer is surrounded by media and sports on the home front, owning a pad overlooking Bondi Beach, world class pro surfers, favorite of NRL Sydney Roosters, mate Gyngell, the Bondi Rescue (Network Ten inked lads), and much much more. Yeah, Media Man has a pad there too, and Bondi Beach is constantly becoming home to Australia's best entertainment and sporting talent. Warnie, are you here yet mate? Poker in the beach park perhaps or a few slots at Bondi Icebergs Bergs Gaming?

Changes to the anti-siphoning legislation could allow the 3 big free-to-air networks to broadcast AFL matches on their digital channels and AFL games on their secondary digital channels.

Senator Conroy's spokesman said the anti-siphoning review would be released "shortly".

Network Ten declined to comment, while Media Man said "coincidences don't normally happen, be it in gambling, media or the internet business. Packer is smart and clearly his relationship and lines of communication with Sen Conroy are excellent, so you have to give the devil his due."

This current Packer has one heck of a fire in the belly, and his passion for news media has certainly bounced back. Insiders also tipped he enjoys seeing the balanced and positive coverage of his Crown Casino empire on Ten News and The 7PM Project, giving him a fair go, when some other Australian media companies choose to go more down the "attack journalism" path. Packer also has plans to offer Australian's a full online casino offering via his 50% owned Betfair, which have noted the success of other online gambling operators servicing down under such as PartyGaming. Interestingly, PartyGaming's PartyPoker last year in a b2b type arrangement directed a number of their online poker players to Packer's poker tournament, Aussie Millions. Packer mate, Shane Warne, is also tipped to have a poker room and / or tourney named after him at Crown Casino, and its speculated other deals are on the radar with even some tipping Media Man, Casino News Media, Richard Branson - Virgin b2b and website portals in the mix. PartyGaming and NextGen Gaming are expected to also pitch to Packer and his team on the new media - internet front, and the brands 'Underbelly', 'Kerry Packer' and 'Casino Jack' keep coming up. Yep, Packer is a busy man and taking on the world and winning by all accounts.

A Media Man spokesperson said "James Packer's latest business plays have been brilliant. It's risk management, brand building, convergent media, relationship leveraging and more all in one. He's also buying entities at the right price, and has a global business model which helps ride out the world's financial storm, while also having an Australian - Asia Pacific focus, which is one of the strongest markets in the world at the moment, away from the chaos of sorts in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. From here on up it should be pretty smooth sailing for Packer and Billionaire Inc. Punters should likely expect some gambling or gaming reality TV shows, as Packer's passion for both having a punt and news media is pretty contagious. Packer is making exciting and smart business moves and has a world class team of advisers around him. He's also spending millions upgrading Crown and Burwood casinos, to help further cement them as the leaders, while Tabcorp tries to chase him with their Star City. Packer once again proves the knockers wrong, and we can't wait to get back down to Crown Casino to congratulate the Packer powers that be in person. From Bondi Beach to Palm Beach, Macau, Perth, the internet, to TV land - the world is his oyster. Watch this space".

Greg Tingle is a Special Contributor to the website and a proprietor of Media Man International.

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