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Knives out in fight to stop Aquis development of Canberra Casino

Canberra Casino gambling
Casino Canberra is set to undergo a facelift, but not everyone is happy about it.

Canberra Casino is eyeing off a new clientele, but it might not be the international high rollers, as the original pitch suggested its major expansion would target.

The Canberra Times is reporting that the ACT government provided the population counts for every populace within a one, two and three hour zone of the proposed expansion to the heads of the casino.

The casino, purchased by Tony Fung’s Aquis Entertainment in a deal finalised in December 2014, is attempting to convince the government to approve a $330 million expansion to its inner-city site, which they say will help bring ‘high net worth’ individuals to Canberra, particularly wealthy Chinese gamblers.

With the casino’s proposal having passed the first round of the government’s approval, the naysayers are beginning to get louder, with a Clubs ACT spokesman saying the new business being generated would be from around the ACT, not the “750,000 new international visitors” it believes it can generate. They say the research into Canberra and surrounds population is proof Aquis will target locals, rather than international high rollers.

But Clubs ACT has its own agenda with the expansion plans including 200 pokies, which breaks the club’s monopoly on slot machines. With fears the club’s profits will suffer with business going to the casino coupled with their belief legislation could be imminent, they are digging in against the plans of Fung and friends.

Who is Tony Fung and Aquis?

The Fung family are based out of Hong Kong, but their company Aquis Australia – or Aquis Entertainment – controls their Australian interests.

These interests include entertainment, real estate and horse racing. It is also in charge of Canberra Casino and the development at the Great Barrier Reef Resort in Cairns.

The Fungs have the obvious draw power of their Chinese connections to the economic elite, which has been rolled out numerous times as a potential benefit to the Australian economy.

Who is ClubsACT?

ClubsACT is an industry association recognised by the ACT Government and as the body that represents the ClubsACT Movement.

Venues governed by the ClubsACT pump hundreds of millions of dollars into the Canberra economy each year. They also employ upwards of 2500 people.

It’s these stakeholders they represent in trying to stop pokies going into the casino and the expansion from going ahead. It’s this body that stands to lose the most.

The reputation of ClubsACT is impeccable when it comes to giving back to the community.

In conclusion

It is naïve to think Aquis Entertainment will not renew its efforts of attracting local punters to its upgraded venue in Canberra. Of course they will and so they should – it would be bad business not to.

You feel the ACT Clubs pain at their cash bounty potentially becoming smaller from their take of pokies profits, but you can’t hinder progress to safeguard a monopoly.

It seems highly likely the government will pass the legislation ending the monopoly, but to say they are in Aquis’ pocket would be a simplistic view.

The truth of the matter is there is every chance a revamped Casino Canberra will attract some big spending clients to the city. Look at the big spending types that visit Crown Casino in Melbourne.

A couple of other factors to consider are the July 2 National Election, and the ACT Legislative Assembly election, on October 15. Both have the potential to change the landscape on a number of key issues.

The ACT is currently governed by the Australian Labor Party, which has Andrew Barr at its helm, who will be gunning for a fifth consecutive term, and is hot favorite to remain in power.

We have seen it in other states that do have pokies in their casinos, the clubs and pubs, which heavily relied on revenue from pokies have struggled. Some football clubs, who are historically big benefactors from pokies, have even sworn off them, as their profits had dwindled.

These clubs need to get on the front foot and find opportunity in change because this one is seemingly inevitable. These clubs must make their product as attractive as what the billions of the Fung empire will do for the Canberra Casino. Those close to the redeveloped casino must reinvent themselves as something other than a pokies venue.

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