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James Packer opens up on Hollywood, China, Casinos, Netanyahu and finally being debt-free

Anthony De Ceglie
The Nightly
7 Min Read
In today’s episode, what James Packer told The Nightly about life after Crown, and why he’ll never do business in China again. Plus, Australia’s Ukraine shame and why NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb can’t get out of her own way.

James Packer is debt free for the first time in his life.

And he says the impacts on his “physical health and mental health” have been extraordinary.

In a wide-ranging and candid interview with The Nightly, the “more relaxed” and now self-described “passive investor” billionaire vowed to never do business in China or the casino industry again.

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He also ruled out a return to Hollywood – saying he had “tried my arm and I wasn’t successful”.

James Packer, Australian billionaire and Melco Crown co-chairman speaks during a press conference at the newly-opened City of Dreams mega-casino in Manila on February 2, 2015. Six gleaming golden towers surrounding a giant egg-shaped dome opened as the Philippines' newest playground for the obscenely rich on February 2, dwarfing the capital's vast slums.  AFP PHOTO/TED ALJIBE (Photo by Ted ALJIBE / AFP)
James Packer. Credit: TED ALJIBE/AFP

The man who says he has a “special” relationship with Israel also questioned when the country’s response to the “horrific and unforgiveable” October 7 attacks “becomes disproportional” and breeds “more terrorists”.

Packer said he wanted to spend more time with his kids too; and spoke of being “proud that I am close to my ex-wives”.

And he even revealed he was at “the very beginning of seeing someone again”.

Yet Australia “doesn’t feel like home” anymore for one of its most famous, beloved and complicated sons who said he would never reside again permanently Down Under.

DEBT-FREE AND FINALLY ‘RELAXED’

“I haven’t got any debt for the first time in my life,” an energised Packer says from Los Angeles to The Nightly, adding that “life’s pretty good”.

“I think it’s helped my physical health and mental health.

“I’ve lost a lot of weight over the last year.

“Mentally I think I’m better than I’ve been for a while.

“I am just trying to be sensible and enjoy life more and be more relaxed.”

Packer’s battles with drinking and painkillers have been well-documented, as have his struggles with inner demons.

The 56-year-old said that in the recent past there were times when he obviously had “too much debt” and it was “very stressful”.

This debt was compounded, he said, by “obligations to build things” as part of his sprawling Crown Resorts casino empire.

In the face of numerous public inquiries into the casino industry, Packer pocketed $3.3 billion for his 37 per cent share of Crown when he sold it to US private equity giant Blackstone in 2022.

“It’s a big weight off my shoulders,” he said.

“I’m much more of a passive investor these days.

“I am probably 30 per cent in listed equities, 10 per cent in unlisted equities, 30 per cent in credit … and the last 30 per cent in houses and boats and cash.”

Some of Packer’s more recent investments have paid off handsomely.

He told The Nightly he was excited about backing health startup OpenEvidence, which was founded by Canadian tech entrepreneur Daniel Nadler.

OpenEvidence says it will use artificial intelligence to break through the “information overload” in medical research.

Packer says the company wants to have “the best database of clinical trials in the world” and use that to “accelerate drug discovery”.

He also said that it was Nadler whose lead he had taken with investments in technology stocks like Nvidia and Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta.

Nvidia recently posted a record revenue figure of $US22.1 billion for the December quarter giving it a market value of $US1.97 trillion.

“So far, so good,” Packer said.

CROWN, CHINA AND HOLLYWOOD

One investment that Packer won’t be making again is the casino industry.

The public inquiries revealed a litany of ugly wrongdoing — from industrial-scale money laundering linked to criminal enterprises flowing through the gambling floors, to routinely preying on problem gamblers.

“I accept Crown did things that it shouldn’t have done and I apologise for that,” Packer told The Nightly.

“But the way the governments changed tax rates, changed deals, broke contracts … is a lesson to me in never wanting to be in regulated businesses again.

“I never want to go near a business like that again.”

James Packer leaves the Crown Resorts AGM in 2017.
James Packer leaves the Crown Resorts AGM in 2017. Credit: TRACEY NEARMY/AAPIMAGE

Packer kept his most severe reservations for the changing economic landscape of China – which he dubbed now “uninvestible”.

He said that at his peak at Crown they were the biggest Australian company “on the ground in China”.

“I’m not going to go back to China – no way,” he said bluntly.

“I think (President) Xi Jinping has set China back 20 years.

“Fifteen years ago, the Communist Party got their legitimacy from delivering economic growth.

“You had people from all around the world looking to invest in China.

“I think Xi Jinping has made China uninvestible.

“It’s very scary. He’s clearly a strong man. Where it all ends up with Taiwan I don’t know … he’s obviously become a dictator for life.”

Packer said the Chinese economy was “not growing the way it was forecast to grow and not growing the way it used to grow”.

“When you look around for people who are going to invest large sums of money into China – there isn’t a big, long list of people who want to do that anymore,” he said

“And that’s very different to 15 years ago.”

THAT’S A WRAP FOR HOLLYWOOD, TOO

Packer also said he was done with Hollywood, adding ruefully that he “picked the wrong partner” in disgraced former Hollywood director Brett Ratner and “paid the price”.

“I tried my arm and I wasn’t successful,” he said.

“The movie business is a very tough business.”

However, Packer did reveal he had teamed up with former NBC Universal chair Ben Silverman to produce documentaries for streaming services like Netflix or Disney+.

“In one sense that’s an entertainment business … I’ve committed $25 million to that joint venture,” he said.

THE MIDDLE EAST DILEMMA

Packer described his relationship with Israel, where he has lived for various periods, as very special.

He said its residents were “some of the most, if not the most, impressive people I have ever met”.

They were “incredibly kind and good to me”.

The October 7 terror attacks by Hamas were “horrific and unforgivable”.

But months later he was now circumspect about Israel’s response.

It’s a marked departure from his more strident commentary in the days immediately after the attack where he called for “Australia’s total support” for any retaliation.

“If there’s 30,000 casualties in Gaza from Israel’s response … when does that response become disproportional? I don’t know the answer,” he said.

“Hamas is saying they want to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth from the river to the sea. It’s very difficult to negotiate with someone saying they want to kill you.

“(But) how many more terrorists is it breeding when you’re killing 20 or 30,000 people so far and you haven’t stopped?”

Packer’s close links to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have also been well documented.

He hopes to “rekindle” the relationship, over which a local corruption probe known as the “gifts affair” hangs.

But he doesn’t think Netanyahu will remain as leader.

“He’s obviously got to take some of the blame for security failures that occurred,” Packer said.

“I doubt he will be prime minister a year from now, but I hope to rekindle my friendship with him in the future.”

EX-WIVES, CHILDREN AND A NEW ROMANCE

Of all the words (and words and words) written about James Packer, a lot of it has focused on his relationship with his tempestuous legendary media tycoon father Kerry.

For his part, James said he was still navigating his own path as a father.

His three kids now live in London with his second ex-wife Erica.

“I’m not as good as father as I should be,” he said.

“I don’t spend as much time with my kids as I should.

James and Erica Packer arrive at Paul Ramsey's funeral at St Thomas Aquinas Church in Bowral. Picture Craig Greenhill
James and Erica Packer in 2013. Credit: Craig Greenhill/News Corp Australia

“I have got to try to spend more time in London because they’re at a very formative age.

“Their mother does an amazing job and I’m very, very lucky that I’ve been married twice and I’m exceptionally close to Erica and Jodhi (Meares).

“That’s a source of real happiness in my life.”

Packer’s relationships have been the stuff of tabloid fodder for decades, especially his whirlwind and ultimately short and painful engagement with US superstar singer Mariah Carey.

Yet Packer remains an optimist on finding love again.

“I hope so,” he said.

“I’m at the very beginning of seeing someone again so we’ll see what happens.”

I WON’T CALL AUSTRALIA HOME

His is one the most famous Australian surnames, but James Packer said can’t see himself residing permanently Down Under again.

For the most part his base will remain Los Angeles, although he shares that he now has five homes on the go.

“LA is one of them,” he said.

“I’ve got a home in Mexico, home in Argentina, apartment in Sydney and a house in Aspen.

“I’m very lucky. I get to move around.

“I built Crown Sydney and I’m proud of that because we tried to build something that was truly world class.

“I’ve got a great apartment in Crown Sydney that makes me happy.

“I hope I will start spending more time in Australia in the future … but Australia isn’t going to be home for me

“I might come and visit, but it doesn’t feel like home.”

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