Billionaire Packer, Nine CEO Fined A$500 Each in Bondi Brawl

Crown Resorts Ltd. Chairman James Packer and Nine Entertainment Co. Chief Executive Officer David Gyngell have been fined A$500 ($468) each over a May 4 street brawl near Sydney’s Bondi Beach.

New South Police issued criminal infringement notices for offensive behavior to a 46-year-old man and a 48-year-old man over the incident about 2:00 p.m. local time on Sunday, according to a website statement. Photographs of Packer squaring up to his former best man and wrestling with him on the ground were splashed across newspaper front pages this week after the two clashed outside the Bondi apartment of Australia’s richest man.

The notice is “almost like a parking fine” and wouldn’t decide whether Packer gets licenses for casinos he wants to develop across Asia, Jamie Nettleton, a partner specializing in gaming at Addisons Lawyers in Sydney, said by phone. Crown Resorts, controlled by Packer via a 50 percent stake, has interests in casinos in Australia and Macau and is weighing new resorts in Brisbane, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Japan.

Traditional links between casinos and organized crime -- prohibition-era mobster Bugsy Siegel helped establish Las Vegas’s gambling sector -- mean that most countries license the industry and insist owners pass probity tests.

Packer’s involvement in the fight may be “problematic in terms of ongoing and future casino licensing” Stephen Mayne, a spokesman for the Australian Shareholders’ Association, a group representing small investors, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio May 6.

Probity Tests

The fine isn’t likely to be a serious impediment to future casino developments, Nettleton said.

“The regulators do have complete discretion, but they will exercise it in accordance with objective criteria and, frankly, how serious any issue is that is brought to their attention,” he said. Probity tests are set up “really in respect of organized crime, money laundering, and connections with those things.”

Crown shares rose about 0.2 percent in the first three days after news of the fight broke, outstripping a 0.4 percent decline in the S&P/ASX 200 index from May 2 to May 7. They fell 2.6 percent yesterday amid a sell-off of Macau casino stocks driven by fears that a crackdown on illegal money transfers will pare demand.

Crown, which has a stake in Macau’s City of Dreams resort via its 34 percent share of Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd., fell 0.8 percent to A$15.82 at the close in Sydney today.

‘Low-Grade Fight’

“What is the nexus between a low-grade fight with a friend and ability to operate or manage a casino?” David Green, principal of Macau-based gaming adviser Newpage Consulting, said by e-mail. “I very much doubt that it would be something which, in the eyes of a regulator, would adversely reflect on Mr. Packer’s suitability” for a casino license.

Gyngell “is pleased the process is now resolved”, Madeleine Clark, a spokeswoman for Nine, Australia’s largest broadcaster by market value, said in an e-mailed statement today.

“Mr. Packer hasn’t yet received a penalty notice and will consider it in due course,” Karl Bitar, a spokesman for Crown Resorts, said by phone.

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