His father was the media tycoon who revolutionized cricket. But Sydney’s tallest tower looms as a testament to the son’s follies.
The 75-floor structure designed by WilkinsonEyre, the London architects, was to have had a glittering opening this month as James Packer unveiled the casino, intended to lure Asia’s biggest gamblers.
Packer, 53, ended decades of his family’s near domination of Australia’s media after his father, Kerry, died in December 2005. He sold its magazine and television empire and embarked on building a gambling empire of which Sydney’s Crown casino was to be the jewel in his $1.7 billion waterfront tower. He even spent $46.5 million in 2017 to buy two upper floors for his own apartment.
After 15 years of misfortune, humiliation and scandal, the dream lies in ruins. Packer has been embroiled in a costly love affair with Mariah Carey, the singer, and struggled with health and addiction problems. Gifts to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, led to bribery and fraud charges.
Packer, who has left Australia, spent time at his Aspen ski lodge while his Crown Resorts company was ruled unsuitable to operate as a casino after a public judicial inquiry that has lasted months. Patricia Bergin, the judge overseeing the investigation, exposed a corporate culture at his businesses that was either ignorant or indifferent to the hundreds of millions of dollars that criminals were laundering.
She found that there was a web of subservience that protected the Packers. “Whatever the late Mr Kerry Packer and then Mr James Packer wanted was what was done,” she wrote.
After 15 years of misfortune, humiliation and scandal, the dream lies in ruins.
She dismissed Crown’s chief executive as “appalling”, “quite improper” and guilty of “a breathtaking lack of care”. Packer has not resigned and retains his 36.8 percent stake in the gambling empire.
The future of Sydney’s tallest building is unclear after a low-key opening in December. Packer has described it as “a gift to the city” and “the thing that will draw me back”.
No one is expecting his return in the near future.
Bernard Lagan covers Australia and New Zealand for The Times of London