Casino Canberra Rebounds & Exits From Government Wage Scheme

Australia flag blowing in the wind
Photo by Hugo Heimendinger

The Australian government’s JobKeeper wage subsidy payments are no longer available to Canberra’s Aquis Entertainment, following its strong fourth quarter of 2020.

Asgam reports that the owner and operator of Casino Canberra said in a recent filing that it had been eligible for phase two of the scheme, which ran from September 28 to January 3, which was aimed to help businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

However, “Casino Canberra’s trading performance over the December quarter was strong and returned to approximately pre-COVID levels,” it said.

As a result, Aquis is not eligible for the third phase of the program.

Aquis said all employees were recalled to full capacity in the fourth quarter, despite the property still operating under some restrictions.

As per local COVID guidelines, Casino Canberra is currently capped at one person per four-quarter metres of usable space, giving it a capacity of 505 patrons.

“The business continues to operate according to its COVID Safety Plan, as required by the ACT Government, which is reviewed daily and updated based on the latest advice issued by the ACT Government,” it said.

Casinos in Australian states and territories have all reopened to varying extents, based on local coronavirus restrictions and government guidance.

Casino Canberra still hopeful of pushing on with redevelopment plan

construction site in progress with multiple cranes working on high rise buildings
Photo by SevenStorm JUHASZIMRUS

The owners of Casino Canberra remain hopeful of proceeding with a A$330 million redevelopment, despite failing to gain traction in its talks with the ACT Government.

Asgam reported last September that Aquis Entertainment, owners of Casino Canberra, submitted its original plans to redevelop the casino in 2015, which included a request for permission to install up to 500 pokie machines.

The casino is not permitted to operate the machines under the current government legislation.

Its initial bid was rejected in December 2018, with the government describing the proposal as untenable due to uncertainty surrounding regulation and financing details.

Instead, the government issued Aquis with a counteroffer, under which the casino operator would be permitted to run 200 pokie machines and 60 electronic gaming machines, subject to strict conditions.

Aquis baulked at the offer in the last 18 months, however, Hong Kong businessman and Aquis owner Tong Fung have now hinted at revisiting the idea during a Chairman’s address at the company’s AGM this week.

“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,” he said.

“Aquis previously submitted its Detailed Business Plan in relation to development but as reported last year, the ACT Government have ceased dealing with us through the unsolicited bids framework.

“To advance the intended redevelopment, we now need to work with the government through the more flexible and workable Development Approval process.

“At this point in time, due to the effects of COVID-19 and the effect of the termination of the share sale agreement with Blue Whale Entertainment, we have not advanced our discussions with the government any further than previously reported.

“We remain committed to the redevelopment of the property post-COVID-19 and we can’t wait to get started and deliver to Canberra the kind of world-class entertainment precinct an emerging international city deserves.”

If approved, the Casino Canberra redevelopment would include two hotels, high-end dining, bars, cafes and luxury retail.

William Brown

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