Casino Canberra still hopeful of pushing on with redevelopment plan

by Mia Chapman Last Updated
Casino Canberra owner steps down as chairman of parent company

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

Asgam reports 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.

It’s 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 counter offer, 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 has 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 a 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.

Aquis stands down staff from Canberra casino

Aquis Entertainment’s deal with Blue Whale Entertainment was called off after the two gaming entities were negotiating for more than a year, until Aquis was forced to pull the deal off the table because Australian gaming regulators weren’t satisfied with the takeover.

Calvin Ayre reported in April that Aquis has taken a major hit after the shutdown of Australian casinos, cutting staff and salaries and letting go of 90 per cent of its workforce.

A week ago, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued an order to all public venues such as bars, restaurants and casinos to shut down for “up to six months”.

Aquis, which is behind Casino Canberra diligently followed instructions, but without damage to its international operations.

Of the 235 employees working for the company, 190 are already on a forced vacation, and another 20 are soon to be let go.

In an Australian Securities Exchange filing, Aquis explains, “The Casino Canberra operations ceased prior to 12 noon on Monday, 23 March 2020.

“As a result, the company has made the very difficult but unavoidable decision to stand down approximately 90 per cent of our 235 employees.

“We have completed the initial stand down of approximately 190 operations employees and are currently in the process of standing down a further 20 employees following a controlled shut down of the property.”

Aquis doesn’t specify whether or not it plans on helping furloughed employees, as has been the case with some other casino operators forced into temporary hibernation.

It added that its chief executive Alison Gallaugher is going to take a 50 per cent pay cut from A$300,000 to A$150,000 and other executives are going to see a 48 per cent.

In addition, non-executive directors of the board will not collect any fees while the shutdown is in place.

Gallaugher added in the statement: “This will likely be the toughest challenge that any of our employees have faced in their lifetimes.

“The executive team is committed and devoted to this business and will do our very best to bring the company through this shut down and then rebuild it for our team and patrons.”

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