Earthquake Amplifies 'Quiet Launch' for Crown

4 January 2002

It was in typical Kerry Packer fashion.

The earth shook when Australia's grandest media titan stomped his way into the online casino business. Following slight delays caused by an earthquake in Vanuatu, the gaming arm of Packer's Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd. (PBL), launched its very highly anticipated first online casino Wednesday.

The "soft launch" of, the online version of Packer's Crown Casino in Melbourne, brings one of Australia's strongest brands into the Internet gambling arena nearly four years after Packer disclosed his intentions of pursuing the venture.

Tuesday's earthquake presented one last hurdle after an arduous planning process that entailed finding a satisfactory jurisdiction in the wake of Australia's ban on Internet casinos. The delays were not, however, as serious as reported by the Australian press.

"We launched successfully as planned," Andrew McDonald, chief executive of PBL Gaming Operations (Vanuatu) Limited, explained. "The events of [Wednesday] did cause us some concern on the early part of the day, but we were still able to launch by mid-afternoon on the day that we had targeted."

The media reported a 24-hour delay, but McDonald said it only lasted a couple of hours.

Despite the high magnitude of the quake, which measured 7.4 on the Richter scale, PBL facilities in the nation's capital city of Port Vila were unharmed. Blackouts throughout the island were experienced, affecting the operations of PBL's offices only temporally before a switch could be made to the company's own power generator.

The earthquake caused widespread damage in Vanuatu, but no deaths have been reported. The main bridge linking Port Vila with the northern Efate island was destroyed and landslides cut off the main wharf. Power and water supplies were initially disrupted, but have since been restored. Shops suffered the most damage, with many goods broken.

The undersea earthquake's epicenter was 100 kilometers west of Port Vila and could be felt up to 2,000km away, according to Geoscience Australia.

While anyone can log on to the site and open up an account, is still in a testing phase.

The site is in the process of what McDonald called a "friends test" pattern, which entails associates of the company logging on and testing out the system. Users are required to perform a checklist of items (including logging on for instant chat support), deposit money into an account and of course play some of the games. The process will continue until Jan. 11 when Crown will launch an aggressive advertising campaign.

Featuring the familiar and traditional land-based casino offerings of table games and slots, offers blackjack, roulette, baccarat and keno, in addition to 10 different slot machines, ranging from three-reel games to Australian-style, sophisticated five reel, 20 line multipliers with second-screen features.

To respect the laws of jurisdictions where Internet gambling is not approved, McDonald said, the site does not accept bets from players in Australia, New Zealand or the United States.

Having the land-based brand strength of Crown Casino will help the site target Asian players, which according to McDonald, are its target.

McDonald said that both Packer and his son, PBL Chairman James Packer, have surfed the entire site and are appraised of developments on a daily basis. They have both played an active role in the shape and direction the site has taken.

McDonald could only sarcastically laugh at the notion that the earthquake was an omen tied to the launch of the site.

"I think because we didn't do a big-bang launch ourselves, Mother Nature came along and made sure if we weren't putting on a big fireworks display she would help us," he said.