Tony Fung, the Hong Kong billionaire behind Aquis, is giving it his all to get a massive redevelopment Casino Canberra project done as soon as possible.
The billionaire’s primary incentive is to get at least 200 Electronic Gaming Machines inside the casino, which is now limited to table games.
Casino Canberra and the pokies problem
Casino Canberra was built in 1982 after the Australian government issued the casino license for the Australian Capital Territory casino venue. The company that was chosen to operate the casino was Casinos Austria International. To get their licenses, the company had to pay $500,000 per year on top of the $19 million they paid to buy the land.
It took ten to twelve years for everything to get sorted, and the first Casino Canberra opened in 1992 at the National Convention Centre. The casino later relocated to where it is today.
In 2014, Aquis Entertainment, spearheaded by its owner Tony Fung, bought the casino and had big plans for it. The price Aquis paid was only $6 million, and it looked like a bargain to the billionaire at the time.
There was a catch, though. The casino was only allowed to have table games and not Electronic Gaming Machines, aka pokies.
Fung was most likely aware of this when he bought the casino. However, he probably thought that he would find a way to convince the ACT government to allow him to install pokies soon after.
This would have likely happened if he came up with the right redevelopment project that would suit both parties in his head. Six years after he bought Casino Canberra, that has not happened yet.
Clubs and pubs the priority for the ACT government
Tony Fung probably didn’t expect that six years into his purchase, he would still be without poker machines, but that is indeed the case.
The reason for this is simple. Canberra’s clubs and pubs hold licenses to operate pokies, and if Casino Canberra were to install 200 or 300 of them, they would lose a lot of their revenue.
Unfortunately for Aquis and Fung, clubs and pubs’ existence depends on them operating pokies. If a big gambling operator such as Casino Canberra were to start stealing their customers, they would soon run out of business.
This is even more pronounced in times of economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The ACT government would not risk putting lots of small enterprises out of business to satisfy an Asian billionaire’s long-standing appetites. Or would they?
Fung doesn’t look like giving up yet
The first time Aquis tried to take Casino Canberra to a higher level of operations (aka install pokies) was when they worked with Blue Whale Entertainment. The two companies attempted to complete a deal in which Blue Whale Entertainment would have a controlling share of Aquis’ capital in Casino Canberra, and all shareholders agreed.
It seemed like everything was signed and sealed when in 2019, the deal suddenly fell apart. The ACT government said that both Aquis and Blue Whale didn’t provide the necessary information, and as a result, the whole process failed.
Once again, Aquis and Tony Fung, in particular, were not willing to give up. This time Fung proposed a plan which was more ambitious than all his previous ones.
In Fung’s $330 million Casino Canberra redevelopment proposal, he tries to meet the ACT half-way. He promises the government that if they agree to his request of 200 Electronic Gaming Machines, he will redevelop the entire entertainment precinct in Canberra. He says that this will boost ACT’s tourism figures and is a once-in-a-lifetime infrastructure opportunity.
It is now up to the ACT government to decide if they value pubs and clubs’ support more than Fung’s multi-million dollar redevelopment plan. It would definitely be a tough choice to make; however, all decisions post COVID-19 seem to be of that kind.
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