Packer casino gamble - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

Joint venture aims to snare new licence in Welsh capital

KERRY Packer has added a British casino complex to his rapidly expanding global gambling empire only this time hes taking a punt on whether the casino will even be built.

A joint venture backed by one of Mr Packers private investment companies has been selected as the operator for a planned casino in the Welsh capital Cardiff, part of a $1.65 billion sporting and entertainment complex for the citys waterfront.

The joint venture, Aspers, will now lobby the British Government for one of only a handful of regional casino licences in order for the casino to go ahead.

The Cardiff casino comes as Australias richest man moves hard and fast into the British gaming industry, hoping to cash in on a relaxation of the gambling laws.

It also follows a gambling expansion by Mr Packers Australian media group Publishing & Broadcasting Ltd, which announced just two months ago it planned to open a casino in the Asian gaming haven Macau.

Thats on top of PBLs other casino interests: Melbournes Crown Casino and Perths Burswood Casino, which it bought last year.

But analysts say its unlikely at this stage that Mr Packer would want to combine the British casinos with PBLs gambling portfolio.

One analyst said PBL had been interested in Britain, but now had its hands full with the Macau development.

Aspers was formed three years ago as a joint venture between the Packer familys Consolidated Press Holdings and the Aspinall familys private company Aspinalls.

Aspers quickly formed plans to develop an entertainment complex in Britains Newcastle upon Tyne and a small casino in Swansea, as well as a larger complex at Brierley Hill.

The Cardiff win is Aspers biggest yet and ensures the Packers and Aspinalls are in with a chance to score one of a maximum 17 licences for “new style� casinos the British Government is considering, after the new gambling laws came into force amid some controversy in April this year.

Aspers was selected as casino operator for Cardiff against tough competition from 10 other gambling groups.

Cardiff council said the final choice came down to Aspers and US group Ameristar, but Aspers won after officials visited Mr Packers casinos in Australia.

PBL shares closed 1c lower at $14.85.

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