Queensland casino projects set to lure Chinese tourists

Several mega facilities set to transform Australia’s gaming landscape seek to capitalise on high-rolling Chinese tourists. As regional governments create new casino licenses with a key aim to boost tourism, some of China’s biggest property developers are engaged in competition over one of three licenses in Queensland.
The Queensland Government is attracted to integrated resorts and is looking to capitalise on the middle class tourist segment in China, which is approximately 300 million and expected to grow to more than one billion by 2030. Two multi-billion dollar Chinese-backed facilities worth a combined $13.65bn have been earmarked for Cairns and the Gold Coast. 
“These projects have the potential to create thousands of new jobs in these two key tourism centres,” remarked Queensland Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney. “Integrated developments, including casinos, have proven their ability to increase visitor numbers and stays elsewhere in the world.”
Pending environmental, planning and gaming approvals, the $8.15bn Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort and $7.5bn Broadwater Marine Project will change the face of gaming in Australia. Impressed by a tour of Macau and Singapore casinos, Premier Campbell Newman and his Deputy believe Queensland can support projects of such magnitude and want to put the state on the global gaming map.
In something that resembles a scene from a sci-fi movie, the Aquis project is scheduled to open by 2018 on a 340ha parcel 13km north of Cairns. Backed by Hong Kong billionaire Tony Fung, the casino complex would create more than 10,000 jobs. Renderings detail 9 luxury hotels, 1,200 apartments and 135 villas. An international casino acts as the hub of the venue and is surrounded by a 65ha lake that brings the essence of the Great Barrier Reef into the complex.
“What north Queensland is missing is the man-made wonder of the world,” noted Fung during the project’s submission to the government. “I have recognised the unique stability of Cairns to develop an integrated resort, based upon the Macau model. Facilities of the like of Aquis don’t only attract Chinese mass market middle class, but also the big spending, high value, ever expanding Chinese upper class.”
Australian-listed ASF Consortium Broadwater, backed by Chinese property interests, has received approval by Gold Coast councillors for its $7.5bn complex. The world-class project would come to life on state-owned land on Wave Break Island, a man-made island built in the 1980s. Plans feature a hotel, casino, apartments, cruise ship terminal and super yacht facilities, aiming to thrive on the cruise ship market, a major growth sector of tourism in Australia.
Four other proposal at Nerang, Airlie beach, Prospine and Great Keppel island were rejected because planning was still in the early stages and they failed to include critical elements, “such as lack of access to an international airport,” explained Seeney, “which meant they could not operate as internationally competitive resorts or boost international visitors numbers to Queensland.”
The third license set to establish a second casino in Brisbane has been the focus of much recent media attention. It would be part of the Queen’s Wharf development on state-owned land in Brisbane’s central business district, which will include a mix of six star hotels, gaming, retail and convention facilities, as well as a new underground train station. Out of twelve consortia that submitted expressions of interest for the casino license, three groups remain in the running. 
At the risk of losing its monopoly in the city, Echo Entertainment has joined forces with two Chinese firms to strengthen its bid. The Brisbane-based operator has formed the Destination Brisbane Consortium with Hong Kong-listed property developer Far East Consortium and Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, a Hong Kong-based investment firm that owns the world’s largest jewellery retailer. In doing so, it receives capital and expertise to compete against rival bidders.
With Auckland-based casino operator Skycity Entertainment Group and local construction company Lend Lease falling at the final hurdle, the remaining contenders in the three-way race are James Packer’s Crown Resorts and Chinese property developer Greenland. The government has indicated that the final selection will be announced by early 2015.
Tourist arrivals to Australia surged 10.4pc in the 12 months through April, aided by a decline in the Australian dollar last year. Chinese tourists ranked second to New Zealand as the greatest source of visitors in 2013 and spent in excess of $4.8bn during the year. A national tourism plan estimates spend from Chinese tourists has the potential to grow up to $9bn by 2020. Casinos are set to fuel this growth, with mixed-use facilities to attract both gamblers and holidaymakers.
“The Queensland government is committed to establishing developments that will be drawcards for both international and domestic visitors and provide employment for thousands for Queenslanders,” finalised Seeney. “While this process has a way to run yet, it’s clear many share the Queensland government’s vision to create resort facilities that will provide a significant boost to the state’s economy now and well into the future.”