SOURCE: Australian Business Review Friday 4th September
The stalled push for a mega-casino resort north of Cairns is back on the table, with Hong Kong billionaire Tony Fung and the Queensland government about to sign a new deal to resurrect the controversial project.
A new “process deed’’ has been negotiated and will be formally signed later this month, setting-out a new approvals timetable and probity investigation that collapsed earlier this year amid complaints Mr Fung was not co-operating with officials.
Mr Fung, who bought the Sheraton Mirage on the Gold Coast in May, has secured state and federal environmental approval for the proposed integrated casino resort, at Yorkey’s Knob, which is slated to open in 2020.
However, the billionaire financier and developer has clashed with state regulators over the probity investigation and ongoing questions about his potential investors in the Aquis mega-casino, which he hopes to float as a start-up on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
Sources said Mr Fung had angered regulators by refusing to detail his backers, which he says are yet to be secured, without the Queensland government granting a casino licence. “His argument is that he needs to get the licence before he can get the backers, but the probity officers want to know who the investors are before they sign off,’’ a source said.
Earlier this year, Mr Fung withdrew from the formal process amid the standoff but he has been quietly in negotiations with the Palaszczuk Labor government since May. It is understood he is planning to downsize his initial proposal for a two-stage, $8.15 billion casino resort targeted at China’s burgeoning numbers of middle-class tourists.
Aquis said in a statement yesterday that it was also extending call option deeds on properties for the casino site. Aquis Australia boss Justin Fung said the company, which owns the existing Cairns and Canberra casinos, was pushing ahead with the project. (Error: they do not own the Cairns casino).
“We are continuing to do all that we can to progress the project and comply with the complex processes established by the state government,’’ he said.
“Our priority remains finalising the terms of a casino agreement, which will allow us to move to the next stage of planning.
“It remains the best large-scale tourism development site in Queensland, probably Australia, and we remain committed to developing the site.”
A spokesman for State Development Minister Anthony Lynham said the government also wanted the Aquis project to go ahead, but warned that it needed to fulfil the requirements of the probity investigation.
“Cairns is a tourist hub ripe for a world-class integrated resort development to create jobs and economic development,’’ the spokesman said.
“However, it’s important that any development that’s going to include a casino licence follows a strict probity process.
“We’re hoping that Aquis will soon sign and execute a process agreement so that negotiations, including probity, can recommence in earnest.’’
Last month, the state government announced it had awarded the casino-resort licence for Brisbane’s Queen’s Wharf site to Echo Entertainment. Aquis has claimed the casino will employ 10,000 people to operate the resort.
RELATED STORY: Front page news again for today’s The Cairns Post, with the title reading “As Aquis chiefs lock in Yorkey’s Knob casino site, frustrated business leaders tell Premier… MAKE IT HAPPEN. Here’s the link to the online article: ‘Cairns’ business leaders pressure government to approval Aquis’.
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Jason Thomson | Finance Broker and Mortgage Adviser | Smartline Cairns