Australia gaming mogul Packer quits for 'mental health' reasons

Martin PARRY
Tycoon James Packer, who has quit as director of Crown Resorts, and the gaming empire's executive chairman John Alexander

Australian tycoon James Packer abruptly quit Wednesday as director of his gaming empire Crown Resorts for "mental health issues", stepping back from all commitments indefinitely.

No further details were given although the billionaire mogul, the scion of a media dynasty, has previously spoken about his battles with depression and how movie star Tom Cruise helped him cope.

"James Packer today resigned from the board of Crown Resorts Ltd for personal reasons," said a spokesperson for his private investment vehicle Consolidated Press Holdings, which is Crown's largest shareholder.

"Mr Packer is suffering from mental health issues. At this time he intends to step back from all commitments."

One of Australia's richest people, with a personal fortune estimated at Aus$3.9 billion, Packer has long sat at the head of the media and gaming empire built up by his family over three generations.

The 50-year-old had returned to the Crown board last year after earlier moving aside to focus on international interests.

"We have appreciated James' contribution to the board and respect his decision to step down from his role as a director at this time," said Crown's executive chairman John Alexander in a brief statement.

Packer has enjoyed a playboy lifestyle in recent years, hobnobbing with Hollywood royalty including Robert de Niro and Brad Pitt.

In a 2013 interview he detailed how Cruise help him through a tough period when he was "depressed and emotionally exhausted" over the collapse of his first marriage to bikini model Jodhi Meares.

Packer flirted with the Church of Scientology around the same time, but has since distanced himself from the group.

His high-profile engagement and subsequent split from American diva Mariah Carey in 2016 kept him in the public eye, a place he has admitted to finding uncomfortable.

"I have always been shy. I have never liked the publicity," he told The Australian newspaper last year. "I get more publicity than anyone and have for 20 years. Most of it is negative. And you get gun-shy of getting hit."

- Punch-up -

The son of late media baron Kerry Packer, James Packer never been far from the news.

In 2015 he found himself splashed on the front pages after an ugly public punch-up with his former best man David Gyngell, the head of Australia's Nine Network.

A photographer, who had been hoping to see Packer with then rumoured new love interest, model Miranda Kerr, captured the two men trading punches and wrestling on the ground outside the magnate's multi-million dollar Bondi Beach waterfront home.

Reports at the time said they fell out after Packer's split with second wife Erica six months before.

He was also dragged into a corruption probe involving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is suspected of receiving luxury gifts from wealthy supporters, but the Australian is not accused of criminal conduct.

Packer has been married twice, and has three children.

Since his father's death in 2005 Packer has moved the business away from its traditional media operations -- the family company used to own the Nine Network -- and focused on creating Crown, a worldwide gambling empire.

He returned to the Crown board last year to help oversee a revamp of the company during a tumultuous period after 19 current and former employees were held for 10 months in China on charges of luring rich Chinese to Australia.

They were released last August, but the case hurt Crown's high roller revenues.

Crown has since been focusing on its casinos in Melbourne and Perth, and developing a Aus$2.4 billion (US$1.9 billion) gaming resort in Sydney.