It would be fair to say that the late Kerry Packer could be described as ‘legendary’, both metaphorically and literally, because it is difficult to know which of the countless tales of his gambling exploits are entirely fictitious and which contain at least a grain of truth. One of the most oft-recounted, and believable, anecdotes of his derring-do at the gaming tables involves an encounter with a Texan, who had made his money in cattle, or oil, depending on whose account you believe, while playing baccarat in Las Vegas in the Nineties. Apparently, when Packer spurned his approach, the Texan boasted that he was a ‘big player’, worth $100 million; in response, Packer said calmly, ‘If you really want to gamble, I’ll flip you for it.’
What is definitely true is that, at the time of his death in 2005, Packer was the richest man in Australia, with a estimated net worth of A$7 billion, or approximately £5 billion by modern standards. Born in Randwick, New South Wales in 1937, Packer became chairman of a media empire, which included Australian Consolidate Press and the Nine Network, following the death of his father, Sir Frank Packer, in 1974. Aside from his business interests, Packer was known as a larger-than-life gambler, prone to turning up a casino at any time of the day or night and playing baccarat or blackjack, several hands at a time, for up to $US150,000 or $US200,000 apiece.
Known as the ‘Prince of Whales’, Packer won, and lost, millions of dollars; so much, in fact, that he could, single-handedly, affect the quarterly earnings reports of the casinos in which he gambled. In 1997, he reportedly won $US26 million playing blackjack at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and, two years later, suffered the biggest loss ever sustained in Britain, £11 million, or $16.5 million, over a three-week period at Crockfords in Mayfair, London. Back in Las Vegas, he also reportedly lost $US20 million playing baccarat at the Bellagio in 2000, followed by another $US29 million at the same venue a year later.