Echo chair slams Packer, Crown

War of words escalates as John O'Neill accuses Packer of insulating Qld govt.

The ongoing rift between casino giants Echo Entertainment Group Ltd and Crown Ltd has escalated further, with Echo chairman John O'Neill accusing Crown chairman James Packer of privately denigrating the Queensland government, according to The Australian Financial Review.

Mr O'Neill also questioned the decision by investment bank UBS to advise Crown in its casino-building efforts.

The two companies have long been at odds, but tensions have sharply escalated of late as Crown's bid to build a second casino in Sydney, ending Echo's monopoly there, has received provisional assent from the New South Wales (NSW) government, though further approvals are necessary before the project can go ahead (see Cliona O'Dowd's Collected Wisdom).

Now the two companies are jockeying to build a second casino in Brisbane, turning their focus to Queensland.

The latest spat relates to a private lunch held on Mr Packer's boat on Sydney harbour in March, where a Crown source told the AFR that Echo raised the possibility of splitting Echo and selling its The Star casino to Crown.

However, Mr O'Neill denied such an offer was raised, insisting that Mr Packer insisted during the meeting that Crown would win the NSW casino fight.

“James Packer categorically said that if we behaved ourselves vis-a-vis Sydney he would stay out of Queensland,” Mr O'Neill told the AFR, with Echo chief executive John Redmond reportedly corroborating Mr O'Neill's version of events.

“The chairman of Crown said that he was 110% confident of winning Crown Sydney at Barangaroo,” Mr O'Neill reportedly added.

He added that Mr Packer “had nothing much nice to say about the Newman government”, according to the AFR.