ACT News

Hong Kong billionaire entrepreneurs Tony and Justin Fung tipped to buy Canberra Casino

It's shaping up as a winning Christmas for Hong Kong billionaire entrepreneur father and son Tony and Justin Fung, with approval of their bid for Canberra's ailing casino expected to be announced early next week. 

The ACT Gambling and Racing Commission will likely deliver the pair's second return in as many weeks after their Aquis Resorts company was granted environmental approval for its proposed $8.15 billion resort and casino development in far north Queensland on Thursday. 

Tony Fung, left, and son Justin Fung.
Tony Fung, left, and son Justin Fung. Photo: Romy Bullerjahn

The purchase of Casino Canberra will allow Aquis to float on the company on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in 2016 to help raise debt and equity to fund the Queensland project.

A gaming licence for the resort at Yorkey's Knob, north of Cairns is still to be granted. The plan includes 7500 hotel rooms, two casinos, a convention centre, golf course and an artificial lake. 

The Fungs successfully negotiated a $3 million discount on the sale price for Casino Canberra in September, meaning they will pay about $6 million for the struggling business and associated licence. 

Already approved by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the federal government's Foreign Investment Review Board, the purchase from Casinos Austria comes after years of decline for the Binara Street facility.  

Casinos Austria has routinely blamed poor performance on a lack of poker machines at Canberra's only casino, with reduced opening hours in place and some staff laid off. 

Last month an Aquis spokesman said the company was committed to long-term ownership of the capital casino and was "looking at various options for improvements and upgrades". Justin Fung said new ownership could turn around the current slide. 

Aquis suffered a setback in November when its plans to acquire casino licences in Queensland fell through. A start date for the new mega-casino is yet to be announced. 

Mr Fung told Fairfax Media he was unable to say why he believed the deal fell through because the probity process was confidential.

"At that time we were very confident it would go through and, unfortunately, we are where we are now," he said.

"Ultimately it doesn't affect our commitment to the Aquis project."

ACT Gambling and Racing chief executive Greg Jones said the Canberra Casino and Aquis' Reef plans had been subject to a joint probity investigation until last month. 

He rejected comments from the Queensland regulator earlier this month, which appeared to question the probity standards of the Canberra deal since the two deals were "uncoupled". 

"Exactly the same probity standards continue to be applied in both jurisdictions with decisions being made on the same data that was jointly collected," Mr Jones said. 

"In assessing the proposed change of ownership of Casino Canberra, the Commission has considered the relative risks associated with a transaction of this size where the financing of the change of ownership of the Canberra property will be from equity held by Aquis and will not involve any borrowings."

Mr Jones said the ACT had a much shorter probity process for the purchase of the casino, requiring agreement from the Gambling and Racing Commission and the Minister for Racing and Gaming Joy Burch.

"The Queensland approval process requires Governor in Council which I understand is a six week process," Mr Jones said. 

In their 2013-2014 annual report, the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission said it identified 360 minor breaches of approved rules and procedures at Casino Canberra, up from 335 in the previous financial year.

Additionally, the commission said the casino breached section 80 of the Casino Control Act when "a casino official allowed a child to enter or remain in the casino".