Crown denies Packers role in Philippine casino project - Tuesday 24th of June 2008

JAMES Packers role in a proposed $1.5 billion casino development in the Philippines now appears to be on a knife edge, following his offices denial of speculation yesterday that a deal was only weeks away from being finalised.

The South China Morning Post said Mr Packer, executive chairman of Crown, was in advanced talks with a company called Bloombury to sign a deal to build a $1.5 billion casino resort in the Philippines.

That followed a statement by a spokesman for the government-run Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp (PAGCOR), Dodie King, saying he expected a deal will be signed with Packer "within the next few weeks."

But last night, Crown issued a statement hosing down the extent of its involvement in the project, saying that neither Mr Packer nor Crown was in advanced talks to build a $1.5 billion casino and that neither had entered into any binding agreements.

Crown clarified its position by saying that the commercial arrangements between Bloombury and Crown "are still not finalised" and that any potential investment in the project would involve "minimal equity on the part of Crown."

Crown also made the point of saying it was "currently reviewing the nature and extent of any involvement with the Philippines Casino proposal", which suggests a veiled threat to pull out altogether. However, if the deal goes ahead, it will be Mr Packers first casino development in Asia outside Macau. Japan and Thailand are also said to be target markets for Mr Packer, who has wasted no time forging a global casino empire since the demerger of Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd.

His casino and gaming company, Crown Ltd, has secured two footholds in the key US market -- the Cannery Casino Group, which operates four casinos in Nevada and Pennsylvania, and a 19.6 per cent stake in US Fontainebleau Resorts. Fontainebleau is reportedly planning a $US2.8 billion casino development.

However, key to his global aspirations is Asia. That has so far been limited to Macau, after missing out on the last casino licence in Singapore in late 2006.

The Bloombury resort will form part of a $20 billion project, which PAGCOR hopes will turn 120 hectares of reclaimed land on Manila Bay into one of Asias biggest gaming destinations.

Japans Aruze Corp, Genting Berhad Group of Malaysia, Star Cruises, and SM Investments of the Philippines are said to be interested in the project.

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