Star’s Queensland monopoly up in the air

by Noah Taylor Last Updated
Star?s Queensland monopoly up in the air

The Queensland government has yet to make its decision on whether to let The Star Entertainment Group keep its casino monopoly on the tourism heartland of the Gold Coast, amid fears of long-term repercussions for the gaming sector from coronavirus.

The Australian Financial Review reports that as the industry reels from the fall out from the deadly infectious disease, the ban on Chinese tourists is also hurting the casino and gaming sector, which is also reliant on the 1.4 million Chinese tourists to visit Australia each year.

It comes as the Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said the losses from cancelled visits during Chinese New Year – usually the busiest time of the year for tourism operators – could cost the industry between $3 billion and $4 billion.

“I think this is the biggest crisis we have faced in a decade,” he told the AFR.

“The loss of business around Chinese New Year is irrevocable. It will come back, but when? Many businesses have been pushed to the absolute brink and possibly beyond.”

Ms Gschwind has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison to ask for a doubling of the $76 million given to Tourism Australia following the bushfires, saying more was needed after the double whammy of coronavirus, which is costing the industry an estimated $1 billion a month.

China is Australia’s largest tourism market, with those 1.4 million visitors spending about $12 billion each year.

Visitor numbers from China down

Chinese visitors usually make a beeline to the big capital cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, but they also make side trips to the glitter strip on the Gold Coast and Cairns, next to the Great Barrier Reef.

Along with the surf and sand, casinos are a popular destination for Chinese tourists.

Apart from the mum and dad punters, big-time gamblers from China – known as “whale” – generate significant revenue for casinos.

Figures from Tourism Research Australia show that one in 10 Chinese tourists visited an Australian casino in the year to September 2019, gambling more than $40 million.

The TRA survey showed 41.763 said they had gambled at the casino, spending almost $1000 each, but the figure is expected to be under-represented.

The Star – which owns the casinos on the Gold COast and Brisbane and is building the $3.5 billion Queen’s Wharf casino and integrated resort in the Queensland capital – said the company was keeping an eye on the fall-out from coronavirus.

“Chinese visitation has the potential to impact the tourism and hospitality industry generally. We continue to monitor the situation closely,” a spokesman for The Star said.

“China is an important source market for tourism to Australia. Other areas of Asia also provide The Star with substantial numbers of international visitors.”

The Palaszczuk Labor government announced in November that it would enter direct negotiations with The Star in an attempt to fast-track new tourism infrastructure on the Gold Coast.

The Star, which has a monopoly on casino licences in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, said it would only proceed with $100 million in new infrastructure, including upgrading the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre and redeveloping the Sheraton Mirage hotel, if the Labor government scrapped its plans for a second casino on the coast.

Tourism Minister Kate Jones was supposed to make a decision “early in the New Year” but there has so far been no decision. A spokesman said negotiations were continuing.

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