PBL executive chairman James Packer
and his consort of the past four years, model Erica Baxter, have
decided to “take a break” according to a column in Saturday’s SMH and other papers over the weekend. That raises the question: has Erica been “rested”? This is, of course, a question that New Idea will try to answer at some stage, being owned by Kerry Stokes, but you won’t see those PBL-owned women’s giants, Australian Women’s Weekly or Woman’s Day chasing this yarn: it’s a little too close to home.

In
the last decade James Packer has split from a relationship with Kate
Fischer and marriage with Jodi Meares: both of which ended with the
women concerned reportedly receiving multi-million dollar settlements.
Erica, though, seemed more special. There she was, by his side at that
nasty One.Tel hearing late last year, supporting him during the anguish
of his father’s death in late December. And then there was evidence of
this closeness in a financial sense judging by this Stephen Mayne
report in Crikey last August:

In one of the more bizarre Friday specials, check out the top 20
shareholders list released by the newly floated Challenger
Infrastructure Fund late last week. Why on earth would model, singer
and James Packer girlfriend Erica Baxter spend $1 million buying shares
in the Packer-backed group?

Shelling out $1 million buying
580,000 shares, or 0.64% of the company, to be the 20th biggest
shareholder won’t be the end of it because they are partly paid shares
and she’s only put $1.75 a share down so far, with another $1.75 due
next year. What odds Erica will have sold out before the second $1
million is due?”

Let’s hope Erica wasn’t called on to help get
the numbers up. Surely her shareholding will have to be grouped with
the Packer interests. So far the investment is holding up as the stock
closed on Friday at $1.78, but eased back to $1.76 in morning trade.

That’s
been a great investment for Erica if she’s hung on to the 580,000
shares – they are now worth around $2.05 million, enough to say
goodbye, if they are still held.

And hard on the heels of this
news James Packer has appeared on yet another list – of Billionaire
Bachelors. Of course, the listing could only be in Forbes magazine. This is how Forbes
explains James Packer: “Billionaires can also come with their own
unique set of baggage. Some may feel the need to prove themselves in
their father’s shadow. James Packer, Australia’s richest man, has a
tough act to follow: his recently deceased father, media mogul Kerry
Packer.”

Meanwhile, PBL and James Packer are not resting in
their determination to build a gambling empire that spans the world.
There’s the two casinos in Australia, half of Betfair Australia,
ambitions to own or control TVN (the breakaway TV racing broadcaster in
Australia), investments in casinos in Macau and the family company has
a casino venture in Britain.

Now reports from Moscow
tell of perhaps the hairiest ambition of all, the management of a hotel
and casino business in Russia, one of the least predictable places to
do business in the Western Hemisphere. What’s Russian for “place your
bets”?

Peter Fray

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