The Packer name is one of the most famous in Australia and it’s one that is synonymous with gambling. These days Kerry’s son James is the Chairman of Crown Resorts, owner of Crown Casino in both Melbourne and Perth amongst many others. However it’s the stories of Kerry Packer’s gambling that are the ones of legend in Australia.
Kerry was born in 1937 and was the son of Sir Frank Packer. Sir Frank’s father had got his start in newspapers, and by the time Kerry was old enough to be involved in the business the family ran Australian Consolidated Press. The company boasted names like the Australian Women’s Weekly, the Daily Telegraph and the Channel Nine Television Network.
The Boofhead Son
Kerry had a difficult relationship with his father and a tough childhood. Frank wasn’t a nurturing father and was incredibly hard on Kerry. His brother Clyde was the one earmarked by his father to take over the business and his father never thought much of Kerry – not that he ever admitted it. Kerry was dubbed the ‘boofhead’ by his father, however, ultimately Clyde left the family business as he couldn’t handle dealing with his father. Kerry was left to try and forge a path under the heavy shadow of Frank.
In 1972, one of the first projects Kerry got started on, alongside Ita Buttrose, was Cleo magazine. The magazine went on to become wildly successful. What made it even more special to Kerry was that his father never thought much of the project. This was the turning point for him in a business sense and he set an ambitious goal for himself and that was to become richer than his father.
The next big landmark for Kerry was World Series Cricket. His breakaway cricket competition might have only lasted for two years in the late 70s, but it changed the course of cricket history. He poached the world’s biggest names and turned a quiet pastime into a professional sport with a new style of broadcast to match. It also marked his coming of age as a businessman. By 2005, Kerry had built up his fortune to more than $6.5 Billion and was one of Australia’s richest people.
Kerry’s tough childhood haunted him throughout his life. Those close to him say he struggled with self-esteem and always felt he was living in his father’s shadow. Over the years he developed a tough personality and had a number of different outlets to blow off steam.
While he loved polo and was a heavy chain smoker, his biggest outlet was punting. Packer was known worldwide for this betting and also for his oversized tips. There are many stories floating around that are legend, however it’s fair to say that most are actually true.
The Gambling Tales
It’s been suggested that Packer would bet bigger than anyone else in the world. That included the likes of the Sultan of Brunei, Asian high rollers or even the Middle Eastern Oil Sheiks. He had both huge wins and huge losses, however he was feared by casinos worldwide as they knew he had the bankroll to keep on betting. And Packer would – because he hated to lose.
It was reported that in 1987 Packer had a private room at the Ritz in London. He was playing two tables of blackjack at once at 10,000 pounds per hand. He got on a losing streak early and kept on calling for more chips. Eventually, he started writing one million pound cheques and by the end of the session he was down 19 million pounds.
But Packer didn’t always lose. There was a similar story of him taking on another London club. This one was much smaller and Packer walked away with nearly $1 million Australian dollars. A week later they shut their doors and it’s been suggested that Packer broke them.
Some casinos even banned him because of the sheer size he was betting. After taking near on 10 million pounds out of Crockfords in London over the course of a few weeks, management politely asked him if he would go elsewhere to place his bets. That apparently made him smile because he saw that as a win.
In 1995, Packer had one of his biggest ever winning sessions when he took $20 million from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Apparently, he was playing seven tables of blackjack at once and in a 40-minute stretch was up $25 million. Rumour has it that he left a $1 million tip to be split amongst the dealers.
And it’s not the only big tip he’s given out. There’s speculation that he tipped a female croupier $150,000 because she was deeply in debt and about to lose her home. He’s also given a Mercedes to a valet and many oversized tips to waitresses.
Tangle with a Texan
Packer has had many famous punting stories. There might be none better, however, than his famous tangle with an oil magnate out of Texas.
Packer was gambling at the tables in Las Vegas when a Texan approached his table and started becoming a nuisance. When asked to cool it, the Texan said to Packer, “Do you know who I am”? When Kerry said no, the Texan let him know that he was worth $100 million.
Packer looked at him and calmly and said, “Toss you for it.”
Dreaded Melbourne Cup Phone Calls
Aside from Casinos, Packer also loved to bet on horse racing especially the big Australian carnivals. In the late 90’s, in particular, it was the Melbourne Cup that he loved to bet on most of all. The bookies all knew Kerry and after a few years they began dreading getting a phone call that started with, “Packer here.”
Packer had $1million the win on Might and Power in 1997 who took out the Cup at 7-2 and then backed it up the next year with Jezabeel, who won at the even longer odds of 6-1. The size of Packer’s bet’s alone slashed the odds of both runners and were some of the biggest plunges we’ve had on Melbourne Cup day.
However he didn’t always walk away ahead. In the late 80s, Packer was betting so big that the bookies weren’t able to take his bets. A consortium of bookies out of Sydney got together, to pool their funds as they needed $5-10 million per day, just to keep up with him at the major carnivals. He earnt himself the nickname, “The Big Fella”, as a result.
At the Golden Slipper Stakes day in 1987 it’s been said that Packer lost $7 million, including a $2 million bet on his own horse. By the end of the racing carnival, Packer was allegedly down around $28 million with Sydney bookmaker, Bruce McHugh. In famous Kerry Packer fashion, he simply asked if he could raise his limit from $5 million to $10 million, and he promptly won it all back in three races.
Handing over the Reins
As Kerry began to age, he slowly handed over the reins of the Packer empire to his son James. His health slowly started to decline and his punting slowed down.
Kerry Packer passed away in 2005 and will go down in Australian history as not only an incredible businessman but also one of the most famous high rollers in history.