Kerry Packer, the Australian media baron, usually keeps his opponents guessing when he plays a high-stakes game of chance. Now, Packer has Wall Street guessing as well.

After reading Australian newspaper reports that Packer lost $20 million gambling at the


hotel and casino in Las Vegas, Robin Farley, an analyst for


, said in a research note that this turn of fortune could add 5 cents to 7 cents a share to the third-quarter earnings of

MGM Mirage



the casino's owner. But, she added, "we back out abnormal table luck (good or bad) when analyzing gaming company results."

A researcher at

First Call/Thomson Financial

said consensus earnings estimates were 36 cents a share, last updated and unchanged Aug. 28.

Farley emphasized in an interview that she did not actually change her estimate; rather, she just noted the large amount changing hands. Neither MGM Mirage nor a spokesman for Kerry, the richest Australian and chairman of Sydney-based

Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd.

, immediately returned calls.

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But for his part, Packer told a Australian newspaper last week that reports about the size of the loss were "absolutely ridiculous" and that in fact he lost "less money than I gave to the

Children's Hospital

in Westmead," according to



MGM Mirage's shares gained $1.44, or 4.2%, to close at $35.69 Tuesday. The company gained control of the Bellagio in a merger earlier this year.

Daniel Davila, analyst for

Hibernia Southcoast Capital

in New Orleans, remembers chuckling about Packer's losing streak months ago because, he said, it closely followed a big win at the

MGM Grand

in Las Vegas.

"He got cut off at MGM, so he went to Bellagio," he said. "It sort of stayed in the family."

Davila and Farley both said they do not base the earnings numbers they report to

First Call

on the extraordinary fortunes of the extravagantly wealthy because, in Davila's words, "it could go the other way two months later."

In May 1992, Packer reportedly won $5.8 million in one sitting at a Las Vegas blackjack table and handed out $600,000 in tips to casino staff.

Although Farley did not change her earnings estimate, she said for gaming industry investors, it is always "better to hear that somebody lost a lot of money at MGM than won a lot of money."