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Billionaire James Packer quits Crown Resorts amid mental health issues

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Australian billionaire James Packer has quit the board of casino operator Crown Resorts Ltd due to mental illness, following a tumultuous period including a break-up with singer Mariah Carey and the failure of Crown's expansion strategy.

[SYDNEY] Billionaire James Packer quit the board of his casino operator Crown Resorts Ltd due to mental health issues, the latest turn in a turbulent private and business life that's seen his overseas gaming empire unravel.

The 50-year-old Australian plans to step back from all commitments, said a spokesman, who didn't elaborate on Mr Packer's illness.

Crown stock fell as much as as 1.7 per cent in Sydney trading on Wednesday. The billionaire's private investment company, Consolidated Press Holdings, owns about 47 per cent of Crown Resorts.

Twice-divorced Mr Packer has endured a tumultuous few years, from the public breakup of his engagement with pop diva Mariah Carey, to the conviction of Crown employees in China in 2017 for illegally promoting gambling.

Wednesday's announcement comes about seven months after Mr Packer returned to Crown's board in the wake of the China crackdown. That ultimately led to Crown's exit from Macau and the closure of most of its Asian offices. Mr Packer has had an on-again, off-again involvement with the company since stepping down as chairman and then as a director in 2015.

"He's a large figure in the business world and there's a lot more scrutiny of what he does than of others," said Evan Lucas, an independent market analyst and consultant based in Melbourne. "He has been under a reasonable amount of pressure. It's a sad story to hear." Mr Lucas said Crown "will get through it" without Mr Packer because there's enough leadership on the board already.

Crown shares were down 0.9 per cent at A$12.96 at 11:28am, valuing the Melbourne-based company at A$8.9 billion (S$9.03 billion).

"Mr. James Packer today resigned from the board of Crown Resorts Ltd for personal reasons," a Consolidated Press spokesman said by e-mail. "Mr. Packer is suffering from mental health issues. At this time he intends to step back from all commitments."

In a rare interview with the Australian newspaper in October last year, Mr Packer revealed he wanted a more "simple life" and acknowledged he had lost friends, put on weight and had led a reclusive life at his polo estate in Argentina.

"It has been a tumultuous four or five years for me," Mr Packer said in the interview.

A separate statement on Wednesday by Crown executive chairman John Alexander didn't elaborate further on Packer's reasons for quitting.

"We have appreciated James' contribution to the board and respect his decision to step down," Mr Alexander said.