The Australian Tax Office (ATO) caught billionaire James Packer’s Crown Resorts completely by surprise when it sent across an amended tax bill that hit them with $250 million in back taxes for the period between 30th June 2009 to 30th June 2014. The ATO also sent across another bill for $112 million in fines, bringing the total amount due to $362 million.
The back taxes and fine relate to a period when Packer decided to venture into the United States in 2007 and purchase the Cannery Casino Resorts (CCR) after paying $1.75 billion to acquire the CCR portfolio which came with four casino resorts located in Nevada and Pennsylvania. Packer, who owns fifty three percent of Crown Resorts, wanted to establish the brand in the United States, but picked one of the worst times to do so as the global economic crisis ensured significantly shook the casino industry and forced Crown Resorts to write down billions of dollars.
The fact that the ATO waited nearly seven years to highlight these back taxes came as a rude shock to not just Crown Resorts but also the company’s investors. The $362 million fine could not have come at a more difficult time, as Crown Resorts has invested heavily into setting up new casino projects such as its Barangaroo casino in Sydney and its Alon casino in Las Vegas.
Crown Resorts has stated that it will not pay the fine and if required, will use everything in its power to overturn the ATO’s decision, including going to court. In a statement, a representative from Crown Resorts said “Crown Resorts is a model corporate citizen and pays its fair share of taxes. In financial year 2015, Crown paid more than $640 million in taxes to all levels of Australian governments, which amounts to almost two-thirds of Crown’s Australian normalised profit before tax.
Considering the amount of financial commitments Crown Resorts has taken upon itself over the next 5 years, Goldman Sachs has stated that this unexpected fine could pose a huge negative for the company’s shareholders. If the $362 million fine is broken down on a per share basis, then each share will be reduced by around fifty cents per share. If the ATO pushes Crown Resorts to pay the entire fine upfront, it could turn into a more severe impact as it would turn up the pressure on Crown Resort’s balance sheet before the capex period on Crown’s two new projects.
The Crown Resorts tax fine comes just a week after Chris Jordan, the tax commissioner committed to taking more Australian companies to court rather than trying to reach an agreement and make a settlement.