It looks like Tony Fung’s Casino Canberra will get its way in breaking up the longstanding pokies monopoly held by the Australian Capital Territory’s clubs.
The state’s attorney general Gordon Ramsay has introduced legislation that will authorize the casino to add up to 200 pokies and up to 60 automated table games to its casino floor.
Hong Kong businessman Tony Fung’s Aquis bought the struggling Casino Canberra in 2014 for just $6 million when it was seeking approval for its since-abandoned proposal for an $8 billion resort at Yorkey’s Knob in the Cairns region.
Aquis Lobbies for Pokies
Aquis reopened the casino in June 2016 following a $14 million refurb, describing the property as suffering from “years of underinvestment.” More investment was promised but only if it came with pokies.
Aquis petitioned the ACT government to allow it to host pokies shortly after it acquired the casino. In return it promised to spend $307 million on redevelopment in two stages over five years, building restaurants, retail and entertainment facilities and two hotels.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr last year promised Casino Canberra would only be permitted to host pokies once the redevelopment was compete, but Ramsay’s bill states Aquis will only have to complete a “prescribed stage” of refurbishment before it gets the green light. The precise degree of redevelopment is “subject to further negotiation,” Barr said this week.
If the bill is enacted, Casino Canberra’s new influx of pokies would come with conditions. They would be subject to a $5 per spin limit, half the limit authorized at the clubs.
And unlike the clubs’ pokies, they would come with a compulsory pre-commitment scheme, in which casino customers would have to declare how much they were prepared to lose during a 24-hour period before they spin a single reel.
Meanwhile, far from expanding pokies gambling, the measure would actually enforce the government’s pledge to reduce the number of pokies in the state from 5,000 to 4,000 by 2020. That’s because Casino Canberra would be forced to buy pokies from the clubs and would forfeit one in every three it buys to the government.
All this may appease the clubs to a degree but they are likely feel aggrieved by the bill’s proposal to offer the casino exclusivity on automated table games. Ramsay said he believed the casino should have these games because it would let people “engage in gambling in different ways.”
Aquis said on Friday that it was aware of the bill but added that, since it has not yet been passed, it was not in a position to comment.