Under pressure: Echo has big plans for Star. Photo: Simon Alekna
ECHO Entertainment is understood to be on the brink of announcing John Redmond, the former joint chief executive of US casino giant MGM Mirage, to take charge as the Star City casino operator's new chief executive.
The odds on Mr Redmond firmed this week as industry sources suggested the candidate would begin his duties in a month - a requirement that could only be met by a person who already had probity clearance. This realistically narrows the field to one of Crown's senior management, Mr Redmond or Echo's finance director, Mat Bekier.
Given Mr Redmond has been on the board of Echo since September, he has already crossed this regulatory hurdle. Mr Bekier ruled himself out of the running last month but confirmed the new chief executive appointment would be made by the end of December.
BusinessDay was unable to contact Echo chairman John O'Neill, who was locked away in an unscheduled board meeting.
Mr Redmond, 55, has the gaming pedigree to take up the role, but has a herculean task in going head to head with James Packer's casino operator Crown, which is seeking approval to build a second Sydney casino in 2019 when Echo's exclusive New South Wales licence expires.
An integral part of his job will be to help repair Echo's damaged relationship with the NSW government, which has already indicated its willingness to grant Crown a licence to operate a gaming venue at Barangaroo on Sydney's foreshore.
It's a position that thanks to successful lobbying by Crown has resulted in support from both sides of politics.
Crown was initially seeking to undertake a joint venture with Echo's Star casino but more recently has stepped up plans to gain approval to build the $1 billion Barangaroo project, which will be ready to open its doors when Echo's exclusive period runs out.
Echo has already heralded plans to expand its Pyrmont site in Sydney into an integrated retail and entertainment precinct - the details of which are yet to be announced. Echo has just begun to mount an offensive, saying that without the financial drain of a second casino it would be able to use its cash flow to expand its Sydney operation to build a more integrated property, attracting VIP customers from Asia to expand the tourist market.
Mr Packer disagrees. ''This is the same small-minded thinking which has held Sydney back,'' he has said. ''As one of the largest investors in The Star it's disappointing their management don't seem to understand the opportunities provided by the emerging Asian tourism market.''
The appointment of a new chief executive at Echo follows a difficult year for the casino group, which resulted in the forced departure of its former chairman John Story and chief executive Larry Mullin, and the boss of the Star casino under controversial circumstances.
Crown is still awaiting clearance from regulatory authorities to increase its 10 per cent stake in Echo to 25 per cent. Asian gaming giant Genting also has a stake in Echo, and also has sought approval to move to 25 per cent. However, it has not given any indication whether it wants to work with Echo to develop its properties or use its stake as a bargaining chip to do a deal with Mr Packer in Asia.
It will be up to Mr Redmond to set a strategy for Echo to revive its performance and import the expertise he has gained from the US into the Australian market.
Any joint ventures with Genting could include developing the Brisbane and Gold Coast casinos.