Canberra’s sleepy casino could be getting a Hong Kong high-roller makeover after a Chinese billionaire made a move on Wednesday to buy the Civic venue.
Hong Kong-based finance tycoon Tony Fung has already proved he can think big, planning a $4.2-billion mega-resort and casino in north Queensland dubbed a “man-made” wonder.
Mr Fung’s company Aquis was coy on Wednesday about plans for the capital’s sole casino licence but hinted that changes would be on the way if the sale goes through.
The capital’s casino has been in decline for years, with its operator recently announcing they were laying off staff and reducing opening hours, blaming a lack of poker machines for the venue’s malaise. But all that could be about to change with the billionaire making his move on Wednesday morning for Reef Casino in Cairns with the Canberra Casino to be thrown into the deal by owners Casinos Austria International.
The proposal, lodged with corporate regulator ASIC and believed to be worth about $278 million, is closely related to MrFung’s plans for an Asian-style mega-resort at Yorkeys Knob near the north Queensland city. But Mr Fung’s son, Justin Fung, chairman of Australian operations for Aquis, said that changes at Canberra’s venue might be on the way if the deal, goes through.
“We are looking at several different options on how best to integrate Canberra into the Aquis family,” MrFung said.
“We’re certainly looking to make it profitable but specific changes we’re planning to make, they haven’t materialised quite yet.
“But nevertheless, we value it as an asset.”
Mr Fung said his family’s experience would help turn Canberra’s casino around.
“This is the industry that we’re involved with, it [Canberra Casino] is an asset that we value and we certainly will look to improve in any way possible,” he said.
“As we explore our options, we hope to find some that are viable to really improve the Canberra Casino and hopefully provide some more entertainment for locals and drive more business in the area.”
Casinos Austria may jump at the chance to dispose of an underperforming asset they say has been hamstrung by the continued refusal of the ACT government to allow pokies to operate at the Civic venue.
Company director Allan Tan said he and his colleagues were considering the offer.
“It is a proposal that Casinos Austria is currently considering,” he said.
“I would not describe it as straightforward, being a casino asset, it would acquire the ACT government’s approval to go through and the two parties must agree on commercial terms and conditions.
“That’s no different from any transaction.”
Any deal would be subject to the ACT Gambling and Racing Authority’s approval.
Mr Fung’s plans for the new resort near Cairns would dwarf anything yet seen in Australia’s gambling sector.
It includes nine luxury hotels, a sports stadium, and high-end retail shopping.
There are plans for 3750 hotel rooms, 1200apartments and 135 villas.
It also proposes a convention and exhibition centre, 2500-seat theatre, 18-hole golf course, 13-hectare reef lagoon and one of the biggest aquariums in the world.
Under approvals sought from the Queensland government, building on the 303-hectare beachside site at Yorkeys Knob would start mid-2014 and be completed by 2018.