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The Age
Following the money whale

Following the money whale

Sun June 17, 2012 12:23am

The gambling industry's titans are locked in a battle for the high-roller dollar. Will James Packer come out on top?

THEY are the so-called ''whales'', fabulously rich gamblers who are jetted into town to be pampered and cosseted by their eager hosts. Often demanding, sometimes quirky and superstitious, they attract the very best and attentive service, and enjoy the trappings of the high life, often gratis: six-star luxury accommodation, fine dining, live shows, top-brand shopping.

They can win or drop millions of dollars at the gaming table during a single visit. Wagers of several hundred thousand dollars are not uncommon. Occasionally, as much as $1 million is bet on a hand of cards. Baccarat is a favourite game.

Predominantly ethnic Chinese, their money also buys privacy, discretion and exclusivity. Little is ever revealed publicly by casino operators about their identity or their gambling habits, but in a single year, at Crown alone, these VIP punters turn over an extraordinary $30 billion - around $600 million a week.

''It's simply another world,'' says an insider, still agog after a decade's close involvement in the industry.

It's a world, too, that is fast expanding, as China's exploding wealth and the rising prosperity of other emerging nations - India, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, for example - spawn a new and vast generation of high rollers.

That reality, and the intensifying competition for their business, lies at the centre of a stoush over control of Sydney's Star casino, one that has several elements, both commercial and political, and which is flavoured also by a hint of hoary Melbourne-Sydney rivalry.

At its core is James Packer's ambition to retain his dominance over VIP gaming in Australia by having a key say in Sydney's newly rejuvenated casino business.

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