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James Packer confirms Crown Resorts privatisation talks

Billionaire James Packer is exploring options for a privatisation of casino operator Crown Resorts. Photo: Pat ScalaJames Packer’s Consolidated Press Holdings is pushing for a full privatisation of casino operator Crown Resorts, with several partners remaining in talks with the billionaire about executing a deal before year-end.
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Mr Packer has been courting cashed-up buy-out firms and sovereign wealth funds to see if he can raise part of the estimated $5 billion or more he would need to privatise his sprawling business empire. Mr Packer’s private company CPH owns 53 per cent of Crown.

CPH, Mr Packer’s private investment vehicle, released an ambiguous statement on Thursday stating it had held meetings with third parties regarding Crown while not specify a timeframe around the talks.

CPH said no buy-out or privatisation deal has been put to Crown’s board.

“From time to time CPH has confidential discussions with third parties regarding CPH’s investments, including its shareholding in Crown Resorts,” CPH finance director Michael Johnston said. “[These talks] should not be taken as any indication that any proposal of the nature that has been the subject of the media speculation will be made by CPH in the future.”

A source close to Mr Packer said he expected the casino magnate to push ahead with plans to take Crown private if he thought a different structure would provide a better value proposition.

“He’s a businessman at the end of the day and will not be sentimental about changing the formation of the empire if he wants to,” the source said. “There are at least two parties who he remains in talks with.” Potential co-investors

While talks that took place in the last few weeks explored funding options with potential co-investors to buy all or some of Crown Resorts’ assets, it is understood Mr Packer is leaning towards a full privatisation as his favoured outcome.

CPH said it will submit a proposal to Crown directors should any deal eventuate.

“If CPH intends to pursue a buy-out or privatisation of Crown Resorts, as speculated in the media, it would put forward a proposal to the Crown Resorts independent directors for their consideration,” Mr Johnston said. “CPH has not put forward any proposal of the nature speculated in the media to the Crown Resorts independent directors.”

A separate source said both private equity and pension funds may be open to funding a deal given the attraction of predictable cash flows coming from Crown’s domestic casinos.

Deutsche Bank said CPH may look to acquire Crown’s 34 per cent stake in the Macau-focused casino player Melco Crown, despite revenues from the world’s largest gambling hub being hit by a crackdown on corruption.

“We believe CPH could acquire Crown’s 34.3 per cent interest in Melco Crown at market (total cost of $4.1 billion) in order to make the value in Crown more transparent,” Deutsche analyst Mark Wilson said. “Melco Crown is trading at an implied discount of 31 per cent to market value.”

Crown said it had not received any offers for a possible joint bid for the company.

“Crown is unaware of any proposal for a possible joint bid for Crown, which is the subject of the media speculation, and has not received any such proposal from any party,” Crown’s general counsel Michael Neilson said.

Crown shares fell 1.6 per cent on Thursday to $11.58 after surging 10.5 per cent on Wednesday, giving the gaming company a market capitalisation of $7.5 billion.

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