Packers gambling: fact or fiction? - Thursday 29th of December 2005

Attempting to separate fact from fiction when it comes to tales of Kerry Packers gambling is hardly worth the trouble.

Because you can safely assume that those stories that are true are as brightly coloured as those that are not.

Whether they are about winning and losing, of tipping casino card dealers enough to buy a house or of confrontations with loud-mouthed Texan tycoons, the Packer punting fables are characterised by the same thing: vast amounts of money and the fearless staking of it on an opinion.

The story of the time Packer cleaned up at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas in 1997 is typical.

He won something between $20 million and $40 million.

One source that claims to know the "real truth" puts it US$26 million and that it was won playing blackjack six hands at a time for $200,000 a hand - and it resulted in the house-sized tip to the dealer.

The most notorious of the Packer losses suffers from a similar lack of authentication.

But Mark Latham claimed to have it right when he publicly questioned Mr Packers morality over his supposed loss of $34 million in one session.

One of the more colourful stories that went with those visits to Las Vegas can also be taken fairly lightly. Or it can be enthusiastically adopted.

It involves a Texan who approached Packer at the tables in Vegas and started making a nuisance of himself.

When asked to give it a rest, the Texan supposedly replied with the old, "Do you know who I am", to which the Packer reply was, "No".

"I happen to be worth $100 million," said the Texan.

"Toss you for it," said Packer. Allegedly.

What are true are the punting sprees Packer engaged in on Australian racecourses.

It is fact that Packer lost as much as $30 million to the Sydney bookmaker Bruce McHugh.

Over a period of time, he began to win it back, so McHugh retired, knowing that the well was virtually bottomless and that Packer would eventually retrieve it all.

In the late 1990s one of Packers favourite punts was on the Melbourne Cup.

Bookmakers grew to dread the Cup Day call that began with two words: "Packer here." For a couple of years at least, the big man got it right.

In 1997 he had an estimated $1 million on Might And Power who won at 7-2 and the next year he backed Jezabeel who landed the cash at 6-1.

In recent years though, Packer has gone from poacher to gamekeeper. And he has done so in his own inimitable style.

Twelve years ago he bid for the tender to build and run the Sydney casino, putting his son James in charge.

A Four Corners investigation into the process revealed various aspects of the Packer approach, including an alleged phone call made by James Packer to a then minister in the NSW Liberal government.

"The old man told me to ring," James Packer supposedly said. "This is the message. If we dont win the casino, you guys are f...ed."

The Packers lost, and, coincidentally, John Faheys Liberal government got tossed out at the next opportunity.

Mr Packer then waged a three-year battle that won control of the Sydney Casino which it duly sold to Victorian-based TabCorp.

But his companies still control Melbourne Crown Casino and Perths Burswood Casino.

Mr Packers companies are also a partner in a casino in Macau which is seen as a stepping stone into China.

More recently he has thrown in with the English-based betting exchange operator, Betfair.

In a move reminiscent of World Series Cricket, Mr Packer has taken on the establishment which is trying to outlaw Betfair, an operation which allows punters to accept bets as well as place them.

None of it, though, should be surprising.

Mr Packers grandfather Robert Packer apparently got the whole empire started when he paid his familys fare from Tasmania to the mainland with the proceeds of a bet he made on a horse after finding ten shillings in the street.

So they say.

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