Packer sets sights on New York

His father was a whale, one of the biggest Las Vegas gamblers of all time. Now James Packer wants to go one better by claiming a slice of casino action in NYC.

Mr Packer’s Crown Gaming is negotiating to become the casino partner of Australia’s Capital Play consortium, one of four groups battling for the 20-year rights to operate horse racing at New York’s three premier racetracks, Belmont Park, Aqueduct and Saratoga.

The winner will take home a grand prize indeed: a slot machine monopoly in the US‘s biggest city, courtesy of the 4500 video lottery terminals (VLTs) the state Government has approved for installation at Aqueduct.

The 113-year-old racetrack in Queens is accessible from all over New York for just USD 2 on the subway, a guarantee of packed houses in a gaming market estimated at 50,000 machines.

The Government is also likely to approve another 4500 VLTs at Belmont Park in the near term and, eventually, allow fully fledged hotel-casinos to be developed at the racetracks.

Race still on

Capital Play president and chief executive Karl O’Farrell refused to confirm or deny the Packer negotiations but a source close to the group said the Australian billionaire was one of four potential casino partners.

However, he said Crown Gaming had been a „late arrival“ to the negotiations and may not get to the line in time, given that Mr O’Farrell is anxious to name a casino partner as soon as possible.

Mr O’Farrell yesterday announced that millionaire New York property developer Steve Ross had bought 20 per cent of Capital Play and would be a partner in property developments at the three racetracks.

Both Aqueduct and Belmont Park have substantial land holdings to cater for future expansions but there is the irritant of an ownership dispute between the state Government and the long-time holder of the operating franchise, the New York Racing Association.

Mr Ross joins a consortium that now comprises an Australian-based racing and integrity division, the prominent Connecticut-based equity partner Plainfield Asset Management and debt financier CIBC World Markets.

Mr O’Farrell said the appointment of an experienced casino partner to maximise the potential of the Aqueduct VLTs and to prepare for future expansion of casino gaming at the racetracks would round out his team.

Governor Eliot Spitzer had been expected to make his selection by the end of May but his recent suggestion that the 113-year-old Aqueduct should be shut down has delayed the decision. A timetable of mid-to-late June is now being talked about.