An array of big-time investors, among them Australian casino giants Crown Resorts and Echo Entertainment Group, are eyeing Queensland as the place to cash in on the Chinese tourism boom.
Australia welcomes more travelers from China in a month than it did in an entire year two decades ago, and China is now the country’s biggest source of tourist revenue. “Whether they gamble or not, casinos are one of the prize attractions” for them, said Justine Chien, director of Sydney-based tour agent Golden Dragon Travel. “They’ve all been to Macau already. They want to see the different casinos around the world.”
Queensland, more than twice the size of Texas and with a sea coast longer than India’s, is seeking to emulate Singapore, where tourism revenue hit US$5.85 billion last year thanks to the two resort-scale casinos—Genting Singapore’s Resorts World Sentosa and Las Vegas Sands’ Marina Bay Sands—that opened there in 2010.
“We’re in a global competition for tourists, and the offering we have at the moment, I’m afraid, is not up there with our competitors,” Premier Campbell Newman said in October in announcing plans to offer as many as three new casino licenses. “The infrastructure that we have in this state is from a different era.”
Queensland is also the nation’s most indebted state, with a deficit forecast at about $7.3 billion over the last year. The state has four casinos, three of them belonging to Echo Entertainment, which also owns the Star gaming resort on Sydney’s Darling Harbour, but Newman believes the state needs more.
Australia has not granted a new casino license since 1996. But that’s changing. James Packer’s Crown, whose flagship Melbourne casino already controls most of the country’s trade in Asian high rollers, is planning a $1.2 billion resort on Darling Harbour to compete with the Star, which is also aggressively pushing its VIP offering. Packer also is lobbying for a license to take on Echo in Queensland’s capital of Brisbane, where Echo’s Treasury casino is the city’s sole operator.
Queensland, meanwhile, is welcoming proposals for redeveloping a riverfront site in Brisbane, and Newman says the state can support two additional Singapore-style integrated resorts. Echo wants to have one of them. CEO John Redmond says the Treasury is too small to attract enough tourists, and the company is lobbying the government for permission to move to a larger site where it would like to invest about A$700 million.