Las Vegas casino boss takes over Echo Entertainment

Las Vegas casino boss takes over Echo Entertainment - 12th December 2012

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Echo Entertainment The Star Crown Limited Crown Melboune James Packer Casinos

THE new top dog at gaming and casinos company Echo Entertainment has made fixing up the group's damaged relationship with the NSW government one of his top priorities.

John Redmond, an American and former senior exec at the world famous Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and co-chief executive of international casino and hotel group MGM Grand Mirage, was named Echo's new chief executive this past Wednesday.

The appointment follows a shocking year for Echo Entertainment, which included the axing of Sydney's Star Casino manager Sid Vaikunta on sexual harassment claims leading to a high profile regulatory inquiry.

Departing chief executive and fellow American Larry Mullin was forced out, director Brett Paton quit and chairman John Story departed following a public campaign, or feud if you will, by major shareholder James Packer, the chairman of Echo competitor Crown Limited.

"I would like to improve the relationships and communication we have with various stakeholders, which of course would be everything from investors to employees to politicians to regulators," Mr Redmond told news media.

"My objective in the short term is not to delve into those issues ... I don't look at that as being of immediate concern and am more focused on enhancing the performance of the properties and shareholder value."

He would not get into whether Echo was a takeover target or threatened by Crown and James Packer, who plans to build a rival high roller casino and hotel complex at Sydney's controversial Barangaroo site.

Mr Packer has also applied to regulators to increase his Echo Entertainment stake from 10 to 25 per cent, as has Oriental gaming giant Genting.

Chairman John O'Neill said in relation to that that the "best form of defence was performance".

Echo's performance in 2011-12 was disappointing, he said, which included $30 million in write-offs related to a collapsed Chinese VIP junket operator SilkStar, which saw plenty of bounced cheques and lines of credit dried up.

Mr Redmond advised he would be looking at expanding Echo's Treasury casino in Brisbane and renovating Jupiters Hotel and Casino on the Gold Coast via discussions with the Queensland Government.

The 54-year-old will also be relocating to Australia next month in time for the opening launch of Echo's new $870 million event centre at The Star, which includes entertainment and a theatre and is vital to future earnings.

"I know there are opportunities to improve operational efficiencies," Mr Redmond said.

"I think the breadth of experience I bring to the table will help ... it's a matter of having flexibility and creativity to operate in each of those environments (Australia and the US)."

While Mr Redmond has been retired from running casinos for five-and-a-half years, he has sat on five boards including one university.

He will be paid a competitive fixed salary of $2.25 million each year in his new role, plus short-term incentives of up to a generous $1.5 million. Echo is hoping he will be motivated to achieve a very strong result and to live up to expectations.

Mr Redmond will also receive up to $25,000 to cover the costs of his move from the US to down under Australia.

Echo's shares closed 11 cents, or 3.23 per cent, higher at $3.52 (12th December 2012).

In the meantime Australian remain some of the world's most passionate and highest spending gamblers, which is music to the ears of Echo Entertainment, Crown Limited, and any other gambling brand in Australia and beyond.

Good luck at the tables and slots, and please don't overdo it. Leave the big risks to the likes of Packer, Redmond and friends.

*The writer owns shares in Crown Limited