Packer Eyes Strip Casino

Australian casino magnate James Packer and his Crown Resorts company are reportedly eyeing the former Frontier casino site (l.) across the Las Vegas Strip from Wynn Las Vegas for its first U.S. operation. But Packer has been here many times. What makes this different?

With Genting building a Resorts World property on the Las Vegas Strip (on the site of the old Stardust), another gaming company from the Pacific Rim may also make a U.S. play. Union Gaming Group reported last week that Crown Resorts and its chairman, James Packer, is investigating building a large casino resort on the site that once held the former Frontier casino on the northern end of the Strip, just across the boulevard from Wynn Las Vegas.

The Sydney Morning Herald last week reported that Packer has bought part of a loan backed by the property and is talking to several of the property creditors, including Oaktree Capital Group, according to an unnamed source.

Israeli businessmen Nochi Dankner and Yitzhak Tshuva purchased the Frontier from casino owner Phil Ruffin for $1.2 billion and imploded it, planning to build a $4 billion Las Vegas version of New York’s Plaza hotel, but the deal was never finalized, and the 34.5-acre property has sat vacant for the last seven years.

For Packer, entry into the U.S. market has been painful. In 2006, he agreed to buy Cannery Resorts, which included at that time a North Las Vegas property and several regional casinos. The deal fell through, and Packer was required to pay a breakup fee. Later, he invested in the Fontainebleau, an Ill-fated property further north on the Strip. All told, he lost over $2 billion in those investments. Earlier this year, his attempt to buy the Cosmopolitan were turned away when the property was later sold to the Blackstone Group.

Packer is the majority shareholder in Australia’s Crown Resorts, which is half owner of the Macau casino company, Melco Crown, which operates the City of Dreams and Altira casinos in Macau, as well as currently building a City of Dreams in Manila.