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Blackstone inches closer to Crown Resorts deal

Australia's biggest casino operator Crown Resorts said on Thursday its board was likely to back an improved $8.87 billion buyout proposal from US private equity firm Blackstone Inc unless a higher offer emerged.

Currently, James Packer's Consolidated Press Holdings is the biggest shareholder and has a 36.8% stake.

Blackstone has a stake of almost 10%.

"The Crown board considers that it is in the interests of Crown's shareholders to engage further with Blackstone on a non-exclusive basis in relation to the revised proposal," it said in a statement to the ASX.

"Accordingly, Crown has decided to provide Blackstone with the opportunity to finalise its due diligence inquiries and negotiate the terms of an implementation agreement so that Blackstone can put forward a binding offer."

If that happens, Crown will recommend the offer to shareholders, but approval will also be required by casino regulators in Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia.

Blackstone made its first approach for Crown in March last year, with an initial offer of A$11.85. That, and a subsequent offer in May were rejected as too low.

In July, rival Australian casino operator Star Entertainment Group scrapped a merger proposal with Crown, while an offer from Oaktree Capital Management LP to fund the buyout of Packer's stake also didn't proceed.

Read more: BlackstoneCrown ResortsConsolidated Press Holdings