Cairns prepares for new casino

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THE Australian Competition & Consumer Commission is weighing up whether to approve a $269 million takeover of the Reef Hotel Casino in Cairns by the Aquis Group. The ACCC is looking at a number of factors before deciding whether or not to pass the proposal by the Aquis Group who are behind the planned $8.15 billion mega-resort at Yorkey’s Knob in the north of Cairns, which will include two casinos and eight hotels.

While the growth in online gaming has seen companies such as bet365 become market leaders, that hasn’t seen a decline in the popularity of casinos, and Australian casinos have seen a boom in business over the past decade.

Hong Kong billionaire Tony Fung has bid for the Cairns casino and its licence, and the businessman is currently negotiating with the Queensland government to divide the licences to cover both the CBD site and the Northern Beaches property. Fung has also applied for one of the two resort developments that the state government has on offer in the city.

The Reef Hotel Casino currently has 38 gaming tables, 519 gaming machines and a VIP gaming room. The Aquis Group are believed to be trying to get approval to increase that to 750 gaming tables and 1500 electronic gaming machines, although this all now rests on the outcome of ACCC’s verdict.

An ACCC spokeswoman refused to talk about the specifics of the case but admitted the review by the commission was a standard procedure. An Aquis spokesman also insisted the review by the ACCC was a standard investigation of the potential transaction, “Aquis does not anticipate any issues that will affect the acquisition of Reef Casino Trust,’’ said a spokesman.

The ACCC’s merger investigations acting general manager, Tom Leuner, admitted the board was considering the proposed purchase under section 50 of the Competition & Consumer Act 2010, “Section 50 of the act prohibits mergers and acquisitions that substantially lessen competition in a market. The ACCC is seeking comments from market participants and interested parties to assist with its review of the proposed acquisition and would welcome any comments you have in relation to the competitive effects of the proposed acquisition.’’

The ACCC has requested answers to 10 questions, including the possibility of whether the Aquis Resort development “might change depending on whether or not Aquis acquired the Reef Casino’’, as well as “to what extent is the Aquis Resort likely to compete with the Reef Casino and other casinos in Queensland, Australia and overseas?”

There are a number of new casinos sprouting up across Queensland, with a host of companies paying $100,000 to lodge their formal interest in Brisbane’s growing developments. Echo Entertainment, Crown, Lend Lease and Chinese giant Greenland Holdings have made their intentions for building a new casino at Brisbane's Queens Wharf development very clear.

One things for sure, Queensland looks set to become an even more attractive destination for gambling fans over the next few year, and Cairns could yet overtake Brisbane as the state’s gambling Mecca.

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