Game on

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Chinese companies battle Crown, Echo in Brisbane By Martin John Williams* The bidding frenzy for Brisbane’s sole casino licence will pitch Australian gaming companies Crown Resorts and Echo Entertainment against one another and against two Chinese applicants with casino interests in Asia. The Queensland state government revealed last month the four groups shortlisted for the Brisbane licence at Queen’s Wharf were the two Australian casino companies, a leading Hong Kong conglomerate with ties to Macau and a Chinese state-owned property developer. Two further casino licences near the Great Barrier Reef and the popular Gold Coast holiday strip in regional Queensland have been handed to Chinese companies. Crown Resorts will seek to extend its Australian footprint to Brisbane from Melbourne, Sydney and Perth, while Echo Entertainment is hoping to maintain its grip on the casino market in Queensland, where it already operates three properties, including the Treasury Casino in the capital. Property developer Far East Consortium and Hong Kong giant Chow Tai Fook Enterprises have combined forces to challenge the Australians, as well as a fourth short-listed applicant, the Chinese state-owned real estate corporation Greenland Investment. “These companies recognise the opportunity that Queen’s Wharf Brisbane offers in an international arena and the government expects very competitive proposals for this once in a generation opportunity,” Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said in a statement. “The Queen’s Wharf integrated resort development will be vastly different from the stand-alone casinos of the past and will include facilities such as six star hotels, retail, restaurant and entertainment zones, convention facilities and dynamic public open spaces,” he added. Chow Tai Fook boss Cheng Yu-tung has long-standing links to the Macau gambling industry through a minority stake in STDM, the parent company of revenue king SJM Holdings. But the company has dramatically ramped up its investment in the sector after announcing in January that it would acquire a 70 percent stake in Suncity, Macau’s most powerful junket. Something different The fourth bidder, Greenland Investment, is investing in casino and other property projects on the South Korean resort island Jeju. Final proposals are due at the end of the year and the successful applicant will be named early next year. Meanwhile, the battle for casino licences in regional Queensland all but ended after the government announced only two proposals had been accepted. Seeney said the ASF China Property Consortium would proceed with an ambitious A$7.5bn Broadwater Marine Project at the Gold Coast holiday strip, southeast of Brisbane. The project will include an integrated resort and a cruise ship terminal. The ASF consortium’s partners include the Chinese state-owned behemoth China State Construction Engineering Corporation. The second regional licence has been granted to the A$8.15bn Aquis project at Yorkeys Knob, north of the holiday resort township of Cairns on the far north Queensland coast and adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. The Aquis project is being steered by Tony Fung, a Hong Kong billionaire. The regional licences have been granted pending government assessment processes, Seeney said. Coming under repeated questioning from reporters, Seeney said the three resort developments catering to international high-rollers would be different to existing gambling venues. “They are not, and I repeat, they are not standalone casinos of the like which you are familiar with,” he said. Chinese tourist numbers in Australia have soared in recent years and government officials have identified free-spending Chinese visitors as a vital support for the new casino projects. But sceptics warned that the casinos would rely on local gamblers for sustainable revenue in a country with the highest per capita spend on gaming in the world. “This is very foolish and shortsighted. It’s madness,” Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce chairman Tim Costello told local reporters. “Their business model, because they’re never up front about it, is always heavily reliant on local custom,” he said. GamblingCompliance