Billionaire Packer Wins Final Approval to Lift Echo Casino Stake

Crown Ltd., the gambling company controlled by billionaire James Packer, won approval from Queensland state to lift its stake in Echo Entertainment Group Ltd., intensifying competition to control Sydney’s only casino.

Queensland’s attorney general will let Crown, which holds 10 percent of Echo, raise its stake to as much as 25 percent, the Melbourne-based company said in a regulatory statement. Packer won backing from New South Wales state last week to increase its holding to 23 percent.

Genting Hong Kong Ltd., the cruise ship company controlled by Lim Kok Thay, has also applied to lift its stake in Echo to 25 percent, and the Brisbane-based target is challenging Packer’s plans to build a new casino and hotel on the shores of Sydney Harbour. Packer, Echo, and Lim, who controls Singapore’s Sentosa casino and resort, are all competing to profit from high-rolling Asian gamblers as disposable incomes rise in China.

Packer yesterday unveiled the winning design for his planned casino, saying it would be “instantly recognizable around the world.”

The hotel, by Wilkinson Eyre Architects who also worked on Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay project and the 440-meter Guangzhou International Finance Center, will cost about A$1 billion ($974 million) and sit on the harbor shore at the Barangaroo development site west of Sydney’s main business district.

Echo, whose Star casino sits on an adjacent stretch of shore, has promised to invest in upgrading the site in return for New South Wales state government extending a licence to operate Sydney’s only casino until 2019. That proposal would block Packer’s plans if granted.

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