Kerry Packer: An Australian high-roller with cash to splash
When we think of the biggest ever gamblers, Kerry Packer is not really a name that comes to mind. And yet, this Australian media tycoon has spent significant sums of money on gambling, and so is certainly deserving of a mention. Kerry Packer was renowned for his lavish spending on gambling games, and it is that that we are going to look at.
The Early Years
Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer was born in Sydney on December 17, 1937. His father was already a hugely successful media proprietor who owned the Australian Consolidated Press and the Nine Network. His mother was the daughter of a Scottish Rugby Union player. Kerry was very athletic in his youth but was not as strong in his studies. Nonetheless, when his father died in 1974, Kerry Packer inherited the family estate, which at the time was worth $100 million, as his father had had a fall-out with his eldest son, and Kerry’s older brother Clyde, two years prior.
Despite being a lousy student, Packer proved himself to be a very clever businessman. His grandfather and father had done a lot of work developing the family business, but Kerry took it to another level. Packer expanded the family empire to include magazines and television networks, telecommunication companies, petrochemicals, heavy engineering and he even had plenty of land, upon which was found a precious collection of rubies! Everything Packer touched – it seemed – turned to gold. His most astute piece of business came in selling the Nine Network to Alan Bond in 1987 for A$1.05 billion. Three years later, with Bond’s own empire collapsing, Packer bought it back for just A$250 million! He is later quoted as saying “You only get one Alan Bond in your lifetime, and I’ve had mine.”
Other ventures of Packer’s included World Series Cricket (which he founded), and Ellerston&Ellerstina. Kerry Packer was no stranger to controversy, just like his chief rival, Rupert Murdoch. Some of Packer’s controversy though, stemmed from the gambling world.
The Controversial Gambler
Kerry Packer was an avid gambler, though even with his wad, he couldn’t guarantee success. Packer was known for his titanic losses. He had some good wins, too, but nothing really seemed to stick. In the early nineties, he commandeered four roulette tables for his own use, wagered £15 million on them, and lost the lot. After this, he reportedly walked out of the casino, and didn’t look back. Witnesses are claimed to have said he didn’t even seem to care.
In 1999, he went on a three-week losing streak in various London casinos, which set him back almost A$28 million. At the time, it was described in the press as being the biggest gambling loss ever reported in British history! It didn’t seem to faze Kerry Packer one bit, though.
Other reports claim that Packer had won A$33 million playing at the MGM in Las Vegas, and that he regularly pocketed wins of up to $7 million when playing in the United Kingdom, whilst on holiday. What is certainly true is that whenever Packer was in town, there was a certain element of nervousness for the casinos. If he spent big and lost, they would have a field day. But if he spent big and won, their profits would be well-down. This applied to the casinos’ rivals too, as they could also be made or broken by what happened to the big-spending Australian.
One of the more famous titbits about Packer’s gambling habits stems from a poker tournament with a big Texan. At the Stratosphere Casino, an oil investor tried to lure Packer to play poker. When the Texan proclaimed that he was worth $60 million, Packer allegedly pulled out a coin and said “heads or tails?” He was offering the Texan a coin toss for $60 million. It was the kind of bet that Packer became known for as he courted controversy.
Controversial or not, Kerry Packer seemed to have a real love of a good bet. He didn’t really seem to care if he won or lost, as long as he was allowed to play. His financial situation was far stronger than many others who’ve wagered as much and lost more. In his life, he was a heavy smoker, loved to gamble.
Packer suffered eight heart attacks. After a nasty one in 1990 whilst playing polo in Sydney, he was clinically dead for six minutes. Afterwards, he donated large sums of money to charities, including ambulance services. Kerry Packer suffered from a chronic kidney condition, and even received a transplant from his long-serving helicopter pilot, Nick Ross. Nonetheless, Packer died of kidney failure on December 26, 2005; he was 68.
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