Perhaps there is a downside to no longer being a media magnate. In the old glory days of the Packer family Consolidate Press it is hard to think that a state Liberal Party branch would baulk at giving approval to a deal made between James Packer and a Victorian Premier — even a Labor Party one. Fear of retribution used to keep criticism of Crown Casino by both sides of politics to a minimum.
Now the Government is being forced to get the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation to conduct an after-the-approval inquiry into an expansion of the casino. As Gaming Minister Tony Robinson put it yesterday “it became clear that a report would be necessary to secure the bill’s passage through Parliament.”
In the end presumably Crown will get the go-ahead to increase the number of its gaming tables from 350 to 500 in return for paying a higher share of poker machine winnings to the State but it is a bit embarrassing nevertheless.
Uncertainty about the future of his key remaining asset is the last thing James Packer needs at the moment when he is facing a takeover battle with Seven Network boss Kerry Stokes for the control of the remaining media assets in his Consolidated Media Holdings and things keep getting worse in Las Vegas where he has attempted to diversify his casino interests, I note that the Los Angeles Timesovernight has reported on page one that Vegas’ ability to weather economic declines is no more.
“The carnage left by the economic downturn that began last year is unlike anything this town has seen. Tourism is down for the second year in a row, and the people who come aren’t spending with the abandon of the past. … In 2007, the peak year, 39.2 million people visited. Last year 37.5 million visitors came to town. Tourism officials say convention business is down about 27% from a year ago. If current trends continue, Vegas may barely break 35 million visits this year, the lowest level since 1999.”