* Criminal conviction could hit Packer's casino business
* Nine: Gyngell accepts responsibility for initiating fight
* Fight not to have impact on Packer's Colombo investment
(Adds comments from Sri Lanka partner, official)
By Maggie Lu Yueyang
SYDNEY, May 7 Police are investigating a public
brawl between James Packer, one of Australia's richest men, and
a television executive, which could jeopardise regional
expansion plans for Packer's casino business if it leads to a
The fight on Sunday between Crown Resorts Ltd
Executive Chairman Packer and David Gyngell, chief executive of
Nine Entertainment Group, left Packer with a black eye
and a bruised reputation after photographs of the violence were
published around the world.
Police on Wednesday confirmed they had launched an
investigation even though the old schoolmates have issued a
statement saying they remained friends despite their "ups and
Nine said Gyngell - seen in the photographs looking
dishevelled and barefooted as he wrestled with Packer outside
the casino mogul's Bondi beach apartment - had accepted
responsibility for initiating the fight.
Any resulting criminal convictions could complicate Packer's
plans to expand his casino operations in Japan, Sri Lanka and
Packer's Melbourne-based Crown has won initial approval to
build a $1 billion luxury hotel complex with a VIP gaming
licence in Sydney, pending the outcome of a probity inquiry into
the firm's fitness to operate a casino. It is also bidding for a
$1 billion-plus casino project in Brisbane, in addition to its
two existing casinos in Melbourne and Perth.
The Commission for Gambling and Liquor regulation in
Melbourne is watching the police investigation, a spokesman
said. But he said it was "a bit speculative" to say the brawl
would have an impact on Packer's casino licence there.
"We are just aware of the police investigation. We are
waiting to see what happens," he said.
In Sydney, the Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority said
it had no comment on the brawl.
The probity inquiry is looking at whether Packer is a
"suitable person" to run Sydney's second casino, including
whether he is "of good repute, having regard to character,
honesty and integrity".
A Crown spokeswoman said she was unable to comment on the
investigation or its potential impact on Packer's business
New South Wales state parliamentarian Alex Greenwich, who
opposes the new casino, said he hoped the gaming authority
considered "recent events" when making its decision.
Sri Lanka, which approved Crown's plans to build a $400
million resort complex without any explicit permission to
operate casinos, said it sees the fight as a personal one.
"We do not have any problem with regard to his investment,"
an official at the island-nation's Investment Promotion ministry
told Reuters on condition of anonymity. "It has been signed and
we are working on that accordingly."
Packer's local partner Ravi Wijeratne, the owner of Rank
Holdings, with which Crown is expected to establish a joint
venture in its Colombo resort, declined to comment on the
Opposition from politicians and Buddhist leaders fearful of
the cultural impact of casinos have already hampered Packer's
push to expand into Sri Lanka.
In Japan, Packer is hoping his Macau-based joint venture
Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd will be chosen as one of
the few foreign firms allowed to enter the potentially massive
market, as parliament considers liberalising the industry.
Australian Shareholders' Association spokesman Stephen Mayne
told ABC radio that Packer's punch-up had added an extra layer
of risk to his operations.
"He's one of the three biggest casino moguls in the world,
and the biggest risk management question for casino licensees is
probity, and being seen to be a fit and proper person," he said.
"So clearly being involved in a violent street brawl is
potentially problematic in terms of ongoing and future casino
(Additional reporting by Shihar Aneez in Colombo)