Story transcripts

Packer's Punt

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Reporter: Karl Stefanovic
Producers: Stephen Taylor, Ali Smith

In the high-stakes world of big business, wins don't get much bigger than a new casino license, especially on prime Sydney real estate.

And this year, Billionaire James Packer has been playing a game of corporate poker, to add a third Australian casino to his empire.

In May, he told us that a high class hotel, with tables only gambling, right in Sydney's dress circle was a sure fire way to attract rich Chinese visitors to Australia, and revive our struggling tourism sector.

Well, now it seems, the NSW Government agrees with him.

Full transcript:

JAMES: We done?

STORY – KARL STEFANOVIC: James Packer hates doing interviews and rarely agrees to them.

JAMES: We done? No, that’ll do, mate.

KARL STEFANOVIC: But earlier this year, he made an exception for ‘60 Minutes.’ You right to go?

JAMES: Yep.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Alright. He wanted to talk about his plan to help Australia's ailing tourism industry by targeting the increasingly affluent and gambling-obsessed Chinese market. How lucrative is the Chinese middle-class?

JAMES: You know, it's like saying, “How big a deal is the Internet?” The Chinese middle-class is going to change the world.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Packer owns successful casinos in Melbourne, Perth and Macau. They are opulent operations which reinforce the adage that you have got to spend money to make it. But Packer says this is what tourists, especially the Chinese, now want, and they want it much more than our natural attractions.

JAMES: The successful tourism around the world is about man-made attractions. The biggest tourist destination in America is New York. You go to Europe - the biggest attractions in Europe? London - man-made, Paris - man-made, Venice - man-made. You go to Asia - the biggest attractions in Asia? Dubai, Macau, Hong Kong. It just is what it is.

KARL STEFANOVIC: James Packer wants Sydney to join that list, and he's willing to stump up a billion dollars to build a 6-star hotel - the best we've ever seen - here at Barangaroo. The only catch - it must come with a high-rollers’ casino.

JAMES: If we built an iconic hotel in Sydney, it would be great for Sydney, it would be great for New South Wales.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Does it need a casino, though? Sydney needs the infrastructure, but does it need the casino?

JAMES: Well, what we're talking about is a tables-only casino. No slot machines. And tables because that is predominantly the game of choice for Chinese gamblers. And the reality is if you're going to build a hotel for - call it a billion dollars - the rooms alone won't pay for it.

BARRY: Can I announce that the Crown proposal for a 6-star world-class hotel -

KARL STEFANOVIC: After months of lobbying, Packer seems to be convincing the NSW Government -

BARRY: Will proceed to stage two.

KARL STEFANOVIC: Of the benefits of his proposal.

JAMES: There will be jobs, there will be taxes, there will be tourism, there will be more people coming to Australia looking to spend money, and I think that's a good thing.

KARL STEFANOVIC: But there will also be more gambling, and two casinos in Sydney worries the welfare groups. You know that there's feeling in Australia that there is something inherently wrong with gambling. How do you overcome that?

JAMES: I push back on that. I'm really sick of people, you know, looking at me as though our business is some sort of sinful business. I am hugely proud of our business. Our business made, in 2011, $340 million after tax. We paid $680 million in tax. We paid twice as much tax as we made in profit. We've got 17,000 employees. And, you know, 66,000 people a day, on average, come to Crown, and to pretend that all 66,000 of those people have either got a problem, or we've got some sort of kinetic hold on them, or they don't know what they're doing. You know what, those people – the vast majority of them – are betting within their means, and they’re there having fun.

KARL STEFANOVIC: When it comes to success - in business and the casino - there’s been few better than James’ father Kerry. When he died in 2005, many thought the Packer empire might end too. But if he can pull off this latest deal, James Packer will well and truly prove like father like son.

JAMES: My dad was the smartest bloke in the room. He was the smartest bloke in the room. But he loved being in a casino. It was his – it was the most fun thing he did. It was the most fun thing he did. He knew what he was doing.

KARL STEFANOVIC: If you had him here, would he be punting in your casino?

JAMES: Mate, if he was here, it wouldn't be my casino, it would be his.

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