James Packer Sours on Friend and UBS Australia CEO Matthew Grounds

James Packer has reportedly severed ties with UBS Australia CEO Matthew Grounds, who has long been one of the closest advisers of the Australian businessman.

Local news outlet the Australian Financial Review reported citing unnamed sources that Mr. Packer had sent “angry and aggressive” emails to Mr. Grounds, criticizing him of providing poor investment opportunities. It seems that the correspondence had also contained sharp comments about Mr. Packer and Mr. Grounds’ business relationship and accusations that the investment banker had been profiting off the casino mogul and his business.

Mr. Packer is the largest shareholder in Australian casino operator Crown Resorts. The company currently manages casino resorts in Perth and Melbourne and is developing a A$2-billion integrated resort on the Sydney waterfront.

UBS Australia and Mr. Grounds, who is considered one of Australia’s most influential advisers, have brokered deals for Mr. Packer’s private investment vehicle Consolidated Press Holdings for over a decade. Their business relationship also evolved into a friendship.

It is still unclear when and why exactly the casino billionaire had approached his friend and advisor with the angry comments. However, it is believed that Mr. Packer’s disposal of his stake in Melco Crown, the joint venture between Crown Resorts and Hong Kong’s Melco International Development, may have been the reason why the Australian businessman soured on his friend and advisor. According to sources, the emails might have been sent a year or so ago.

Reports about the severed ties between Mr. Packer and the UBS Australia CEO emerged as the casino billionaire reduced his holding in Crown Resorts on Monday. It was reported that the businessman has sold 1.2% of the casino operator’s shares or 8.24 million shares at a price of around A$107 million. Mr. Packer used Goldman Sachs to broker the transaction instead of UBS Australia.

Trouble in Melbourne

The first days of the week have proved eventful for Crown Resorts, as news broke that the company could face revocation of its casino license in the state of Victoria.

The state Commission for Gambling and Liquor Regulation has initiated disciplinary proceedings after it had found out that the operator had used blanking of buttons on certain gaming machines on the floor of its Melbourne gambling venue in 2017. The regulatory body will now have to determine whether Crown Resorts had breached state gambling regulators.

Generally speaking, blanking of buttons means that certain buttons on the gaming devices, known as poker machines or pokies in Australia, are removed. The Victorian gambling commission has said in a statement that Crown Resorts should have sought permission from the regulator before blanking buttons.

In a Monday statement, the casino operator said that it had indeed trialed 17 gaming machines by changing certain button options at its Melbourne casino in the period between March and April 2017, but argued that it had not breached the state’s gambling regulations.

The disciplinary proceedings were launched after an investigation prompted by previous claims that Crown Resorts had tampered with gaming machines at its Melbourne property. The claims were tabled in Australia’s federal government last summer.

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