The CEO of a leading Asian casino giant has revealed he is still “very, very good friends” with James Packer, calling the embattled billionaire a “brother” despite the ending of their decade-long partnership.
Last year, Mr Packer’s Crown Resorts sold its interests in a joint Macao casino venture with Melco Resorts and Entertainment after Chinese authorities fined Crown $1.67 million and arrested 19 employees for allegedly chasing high roller gamblers.
Commentators predicted the two companies, one led by Packer and the other by Hong Kong billionaire Lawrence Ho, would face-off for a foothold in the lucrative Japanese gambling market.
But since withdrawing from Macao, Crown has faced sanctions in Australia over alleged poker-machine tampering and Packer has resigned from the company board citing mental health issues.
When asked whether they had fallen out by a CNBC journalist this week, Mr Ho said: “Not at all, James and I are still very, very good friends.
“We consider ourselves brothers and I think it was just at a point in in time where James wanted to focus on his domestic Australian assets and I wanted to continue to grow so it was very happy and amicable unlike the other gaming partnership dissolving that we see in the industry.
“There was no yelling or anything it was just very happy, and to be honest with James, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to partner with him again on another project.”
Mr Ho revealed the pair had originally planned a joint foray into the Japanese market saying: “We were definitely doing Japan together. We were in Japan a lot having meetings together.”
Asked by journalist Christine Tan if the arrest of Packer’s staff in China had led to the break up, Mr Ho said: “Well, it’s hard for me to say what caused his change of view on China.
“I feel bad for James because he was such a huge supporter of China.
“He spoke very highly of the future of the Chinese economy and the relationships; he was trying to bridge the relationship between Australia and China.
“So I felt really bad for him and I don’t know the details of what had happened with his local operating teams because we ran our marketing teams separately, but it could have had an impact.”
Mr Ho said his former business partner, son of the late media mogul Kerry Packer, had divested a number of international assets including his Hollywood ones to focus on domestic interests and debt reduction.
Mr Packer was involved in an ugly engagement break up with singer Maria Carey last year, which resulted in a multi-million-dollar payout to the pop diva.