The government of Queensland has named Brisbane incumbent Echo Entertainment, rival Crown Resorts and two Chinese companies to its short list for a casino license in the Australian state.
Hong Kong Far East Consortium, a joint venture that includes retail jewelry giant Chow Tai Fook, and Greenland Investment, a state-owned property development group based in Shanghai, complete the list, which was announced on the heels of the state’s conditional approval of two other Chinese investment groups—Aquis at the Great Barrier Reef and ASF—for mega-resorts totaling more than A$15 billion.
Aquis and ASF’s Broadwater Marine will be located, respectively, on the state’s far northern coast near Cairns and in the popular tourist destination of Gold Coast on the Pacific Ocean, where Sydney-based Echo has long been the sole operator. Echo also runs the only casino in Brisbane.
Four other proposals did not make the cut. They included a bid supported by Australian golfing great Greg Norman planned for Great Keppel Island near the Barrier Reef, a Brisbane bid by New Zealand-based casino operator SkyCity Entertainment and a Gold Coast bid by Australian property developer Lend Lease.
Queensland will award three licenses in all as part of the largest expansion of casino gaming in Australian history. Reeling from falling resource exports and deeply in debt, the state is banking on the Asian tourism boom to revive its fortunes, led by China’s increasingly wealthy and gambling-obsessed millions.
Plans for the $8.15 billion Aquis, the brainchild of Hong Kong financier Tony Fung, include nine hotels, a 25,000-seat stadium, a golf course and a lake and reef lagoon.
Broadwater Marine is pegged at $7.5 billion and likewise envisions an expansive mixed-use offering comprising hotels and luxury residences with the addition of a marina and a full-scale cruise ship terminal.
Like Aquis, the project must also obtain planning and environmental approvals to move forward.
The Brisbane finalists, meanwhile, have been asked to detail how they will transform an area known as Queen’s Wharf in the city’s central government and business district.
Echo, which operates the Star casino and hotel in Sydney, has offered to spend upwards of $1 billion to preserve its Brisbane monopoly in the face of an aggressive lobbying campaign by James Packer’s Crown, which has pledged a similar amount in its bid for the license. Echo wants permission to develop a new resort to replace its Treasury Casino and Hotel, which is housed in an aging building that is historically listed and cannot be expanded. The company’s Jupiters Hotel and Casino in Gold Coast is similarly in need of reinvestment and expansion.