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Australia – ACT finally says no to Casino Canberra’s A$$330m planned expansion

By - 14 December 2018

After 17 months of consideration, the ACT Government has told Casino Canberra to scale back its A$$330m plans on a proposed expansion, including the number of gaming machines it plans to operate.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has invited Aquis to consider alternatives for a smaller scale re-development.

Mr Barr said: “The government has notified the owners of the Canberra Casino, Aquis Entertainment (Aquis), that their unsolicited proposal to redevelop the Casino precinct cannot proceed in its current form. The ACT Government has been engaging with Aquis on their proposal to redevelop the Casino precinct over the past few years. As part of this process, a legislative framework was put in place to allow Canberra Casino to purchase Electronic Gaming Machines (EGMs) authorisations from existing licensees. This process would have contributed to the overall reduction in EGMs in the Territory through mandatory forfeiture of authorisations.

“The Legislative Assembly also placed a number of harm-minimisation requirements on Canberra Casino operating EGMs, including mandatory pre-commitment and $2 maximum bets,” he explained. “Given these conditions that have placed on the proposal, as well as other considerations including the lack of detailed financial information from Aquis for the ACT Government to assess, Cabinet has determined that the current process is no longer a viable avenue to progress this proposal.

“Aquis have been invited to consider a number of alternatives to progress a smaller scale casino redevelopment, and the Government will continue to engage with them and their representatives on the future of the precinct,” he added.

Chief Executive Jessica Mellor replied: “Aquis continues to believe that the development of an integrated entertainment precinct in Canberra’s CBD offers Canberra and the ACT a once in a lifetime tourism infrastructure opportunity. Aquis Entertainment remains committed to its vision for investing in the development of Casino Canberra as a vital piece of tourism infrastructure. While the Government had progressed Aquis to phase 2 of its unsolicited bid process,
overall progress has been slow. Certain decisions taken by the ACT including the form of changes to legislation relating to electronic gaming machines and a decision to not make available certain land to Casino Canberra meant it was difficult to progress Aquis’ original proposal. In addition, Aquis could not provide detailed information in relation to the financing of the proposal requested by the ACT Government without the ACT Government providing the certainty sought by Aquis in respect of various key aspects of its proposal including tax rates, licence fees and the legislative framework.

“The casino is a sustainable operation that employs over 250 Canberrans and contributes many millions in taxation revenue every year. The board is considering a range of strategic opportunities to create value for shareholders – closing the business is not one of those options,” she added. “Aquis has received a number of non-binding indicative and confidential proposals to acquire Canberra Casino or to acquire some or all of the controlling shareholding in Aquis. Aquis has sought to advance these discussions on a confidential basis with a view to reaching a binding proposal. These discussions remain ongoing.”

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