- »Aquis Continues Pursuit of Casino Canberra Project
Aquis Continues Pursuit of Casino Canberra Project
There’s something to be said for perseverance. Aquis Entertainment still wants to proceed with its $330 million redevelopment of Casino Canberra. But this message is years in the works and lays atop many failed negotiations with and proposals to the ACT government.
Now, amidst a pandemic and resulting unprecedentedly tough economic times, the Hong Kong businessman at the head of Aquis is ready to give it another try.
Original High Hopes for Casino Canberra
The federal Australian government issued a casino license to build Casino Canberra in 1982. The Australian Capital Territory government subsequently selected Casinos Austria International to operate Casino Canberra Limited. Casinos Austria paid $19 million for the land and $500,000 per year as a licensing fee.
By the time all of that was settled, the first Casino Canberra opened in 1992 at the National Convention Centre, a temporary location. In July 1994, the official casino opened in its current location.
Aquis Entertainment bought the casino in 2014 for $6 million. Owner and Hong Kong billionaire Tony Fung said at the time that he had an “exciting vision” for the casino.
Aquis Displays Tenacity and Hope
The purchase price for Casino Canberra seemed low. There was a catch to the license, however. The ACT government restricted the casino to table games only, no poker machines.
The reason for the licensing limitation was due to the influence of Canberra’s clubs and pubs with the ACT government. The idea that Casino Canberra could operate pokies would threaten the revenue of the other establishments.
When the casino began to struggle financially, its management in 2013 petitioned the government for 200 pokie machines. Casinos Austria International was even prepared to sign the land back over to the government and pay initial fees in order to license 200 machines. That attempt failed.
In 2016, after Aquis acquired the property, Aquis submitted a new proposal to the ACT government. The company would agree to a multi-million-dollar redevelopment project of the property if they could set up 500 pokies. ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr then agreed but negotiated the number of machines down to 200 and included other stipulations.
That failed, too, for the most part.
Aquis then worked with Blue Whale Entertainment, a company that wanted to acquire Casino Canberra in a majority-share deal with Aquis. The two entities moved forward with the deal: Blue Whale would pay $32 million for the casino and a controlling share of Aquis’ share capital. All shareholders agreed.
The agreement was based upon a positive end-result of negotiations with the ACT government for pokies. Talks continued from 2018 through 2019, with all necessary steps taken toward a finalized deal. Close to the last hour, though, as the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission was conducting its final review, the ACT government said Aquis and Blue Whale failed to provide requested information.
Aquis emerged from that failed process, still with hope for Casino Canberra.
Same Ideas with Renewed Vigor
No one can accuse Aquis of giving up easily. With Fung determined to make Casino Canberra live up to its full potential, he emerged from Covid-19 shutdowns with hope.
In his recent address for the annual general meeting, Fung noted, “I continue to believe our proposal for the development of an integrated entertainment precinct in Canberra’s CBD offers the ACT a once-in-a-lifetime tourism infrastructure opportunity.”
Fung confirmed that the most recent discussions with the ACT government set the number of electronic gaming machines at 200 per the redevelopment plan, but “we have not advanced our discussions with the government any further than previously reported.”
Casino Canberra Post-Covid
Australia as a whole has been emerging from the 2020 coronavirus shutdowns slowly and cautiously. The reopening process for Casino Canberra has been no different.
Casino Canberra plans to reopen next Monday, August 10, at noon. The ACT government approved the move, and some of the rules in place for the reopening include:
- Casino checking temperatures and requiring sign-ins upon customer arrivals
- Customers social distancing at 1.5m apart
- All parties encouraged to use hand sanitizer regularly
Website information for customers and detailing safety protocols is quite sparse. Nevertheless, we know that Casino Canberra customers will be able to play the pokies and partake in food and drink. Activities like poker tournaments and roulette competitions will not happen. In fact, the entire poker room will remain closed for the foreseeable future.
It may be some time before Aquis reveals exactly how badly the coronavirus pandemic hurt the company’s bottom line. And only time will tell how safely the casino can reopen and remain open, as well as which parts of the casino will be available.
For now, Fung remains upbeat and prepared to resume discussions with the ACT government to make improvements to Casino Canberra going forward.