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Casino Canberra’s days could be numbered

Wed, Sep 11, 7:49am by Staff Writer

Losses at Casino Canberra have the ACT government thinking about development possibilities for the ailing casino.

Riot Act reports the company that owns the casino reported a $2,553,772 loss for the six months to June 30.

Hong Kong-based Aquis Entertainment said the half-yearly loss was up 18.4 per cent on the same period last year from $2,156,212, with revenue falling 2.7 per cent from $12,317,421 to $11,985,194.

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation was $557,242 down 176.2 per cent, while earnings before tax and interest were $1,455,554, down 34.7 per cent.

Operating costs were also slightly up.

In late 2018, Blue Whale Entertainment, owned by Michael Gu, the chief executive officer of iProsperity Group acquired the casino in a $32 million deal that saw it become the major shareholder in Aquis Entertainment.

The sale came after the ACT government rejected its $330 million unsolicited bid to redevelop the casino precinct, after protracted negotiations broken down over the conditions imposed on the project, including the number of poker machines it would be allowed to operate.

Blue Whale is associated with the investment manager of the SB&G Hotel Group Fund, the owner of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, located adjacent to Casino Canberra on Glebe Park, and the $50 million Holiday Inn Express development proposed for the same site.

New development plans shelved

Blue Whale said at the time that it was excited about the potential future synergies that could be generated for Casino Canberra through this relationship, and that it planned to upgrade the facility, including adding new world-class restaurants, as part of its vision to reinforce the casino as the entertainment hub of the nation’s capital and attract more visitors.

Bu the directors’ report said the company’s marketing focused on the casino’s 2016 refurbishment, not new developments.

Aquis said it was reining in costs, improving business processes and continuing to liaise with the ACT government in relation to redevelopment options and associated legislative conditions.

The directors said a strong budget has been set for the year, with the expectation of positive earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation and cash flows for the full financial year.

“The half-year results achieved have been slightly below those targets, however management continue to focus on the group’s strategy and expect to achieve the target for the full year,” the said.

Expansion first floated in 2016

Aquis first lodged the business case for its expansion plans – that included a resort-style entertainment, dining and retail precinct in the city – in 2016, but negotiations reached an impasse after the government legislated so the casino could acquire a capped number of poker machines, but then sought more detailed financial information about the bid.

Aquis said last year that sticking points included the current legislative framework, which limits the number of pokies to 200 instead of the 500 the casino wants, and the government deciding not to make certain land available to the casino.

It said the financial information the government sought could not be provided without the government in turn providing certainty about key aspects of the proposal including tax rates, licence fees and the legislative framework.

The redevelopment was also subject to the casino adopting harm minimisation measures, including mandatory pre-commitment and $2 maximum bets.

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