James Packer is taking a firmer grip on Crown Resorts

Macau gaming. Aaron Tam / AFP / Getty Images

Billionaire James Packer has reversed direction to take a more hands on approach to his holding in gaming business Crown Resorts.

Packer, the largest shareholder at 48.2% through his private company Consolidated Press Holdings (CPH), has decided to re-join the board of directors and is seeking more representation on the board. Packer is a former chairman of the company.

At the same time, John Alexander, a journalist and former head of the former Packer publishing empire, has been appointed chairman of Crown Resorts.

Alexander, the current executive deputy chairman, replaces Robert Rankin who steps down February 1. Rankin will remain a director of Crown Resorts Limited and a director of Melco Crown Entertainment.

Packer, who has made no secret that he thinks the company’s returns have been substandard, had last year distanced himself from the business, deciding against taking an executive role.

However, he is now taking a closer interest. His private company has also given notice that it intends to nominate Guy Jalland, a corporate lawyer and former Packer adviser, to the next casual vacancy on the Crown Resorts board.

In a written statement today, Packer paid tribute to outgoing chairman Robert Rankin.

Rankin was appointed co-chairman with Packer in November 2014. Packer then stepped down as chair in August 2015 and left the board completely later that year.

“I trust and respect him as much today as ever and we remain the closest of friends,” Packer says.

“We have had discussions about what makes the most sense for CPH and Rob personally, since the material announcements made by Crown late last year, including its sell-down in Melco Crown and its increased focus on its core Australian business.

“This realignment of corporate priorities, which Rob strongly endorsed and drove, coupled with his own professional and personal priorities based overseas, made this conversation, like all our conversations, straightforward.”

Alexander, a former editor in chief of the Sydney Morning Herald and CEO of the former Packer publishing empire, says he’s excited about plans to continue building the wagering and online businesses.

“Crown Resorts is one of Australia’s leading entertainment companies and we will work hard to ensure it continues to deliver world-class facilities and services to all its customers and guests,” he says.

Crown Resorts last month dropped plans to demerger its international assets, cancelled a planned Los Vegas project and sold down its holding in the troubled Macau business.

However, the company will still spin off 49% of its Australian property in an IPO.

In December Crown reported the VIP program turnover at the Australian casinos was down 45% for the first 23 weeks of the financial year. This meant a fall of about 12% in total revenue across the company’s Australian resorts.

Crown’s revenue from its Macau assets has suffered from a crackdown on how much Chinese can gamble.

And 18 of its employees have been arrested on the mainland as China moves against companies marketing gambling.

Crown’s profits were down 22% to $406.2 million in 2016, dragged down by “challenging market conditions” in Macau.