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Big casino landlord acquires Australia’s Crown Resorts

The landlord of several megaresorts on the Strip has completed its buyout of billionaire James Packer’s Crown Resorts Ltd., an Australian casino operator with its own history in Las Vegas.

Blackstone announced Friday that it closed its acquisition of Crown, saying this marked its largest transaction to date in the Asia-Pacific region. The acquisition was announced in February.

The New York financial conglomerate acquired Crown for $13.10 Australian dollars per share, valuing the firm at about AU$8.9 billion, the seller previously announced.

Crown operates resorts in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney and a casino in London.

“Australian tourism has entered a recovery phase, and we believe this trend will continue. … With Blackstone’s investment and expertise, we’re confident Crown will cement its place on the global stage as one of the world’s leading owners and operators of integrated resorts,” Crown CEO Steve McCann said in a news release Friday.

Blackstone wasn’t the first company with close ties to Las Vegas to set its sights on the Australian firm. In spring 2019, Wynn Resorts Ltd. called off a possible deal to acquire Crown.

Las Vegas holdings

Blackstone has a heavy presence on the Strip, having acquired several hotel properties for billions of dollars over the past several years. It owns Bellagio, Aria, Vdara, Mandalay Bay and MGM Grand, the latter two in a joint venture with casino landlord Vici Properties.

All of those properties are operated by casino giant MGM Resorts International.

Blackstone also owned and operated The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, which it acquired in 2014 for $1.73 billion. Last month, it completed its $5.65 billion sale of the flashy casino-resort.

Packer, meanwhile, was Crown’s largest shareholder with 36.8 percent of its stock as of last summer, the company reported.

He also ventured to Las Vegas multiple times over the years with mixed results. His latest attempt to gain a foothold on the Strip was with the never-built Alon Las Vegas project.

Packer acquired the vacant former New Frontier site through foreclosure in 2014 and set out to build an 1,100-room hotel-casino. But he reportedly had trouble raising project funds, and Crown bailed on the development in late 2016.

A year later, Wynn Resorts announced it was acquiring the Alon site and some adjacent property — about 38 acres — for $336 million.

Big plans

Long before Alon fizzled, Packer teamed with Texas developer Chris Milam in 2007 on plans for a 142-story casino-resort on the former Wet ’n’ Wild water park site on the north Strip.

That same year, Packer also put $250 million into the company developing the towering Fontainebleau next door for a nearly 20 percent ownership stake. However, Las Vegas’ frenzied real estate bubble soon burst, and Packer’s plans, like those of countless others in the valley at the time, was derailed.

The skyscraper with Milam, Crown Las Vegas, was never built, and the unfinished Fontainebleau went bankrupt in 2009. The Fontainebleau’s original developer, Jeffrey Soffer, reacquired the still-unfinished project in early 2021, after it changed hands a few times over the years, and plans to open the 67-story hotel-casino next year.

Crown also reached a $1.75 billion deal in 2007 to buy the company that owned Las Vegas’ Cannery casinos. The sale fell apart in 2009, though Crown invested in the company.

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter.

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