Aquis Entertainment Limited bought the Canberra casino back in 2014 and the company’s chairman, Hong Kong billionaire Tony Fung, informed the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government in 2015 that the company was willing to invest $330 million to give the casino a complete makeover.
The $330 million makeover would include the development of Canberra’s convention center which is near the Canberra casino and an upgrade to the two hotels and retail outlets at the property. As part of this deal, Acquis wanted the ACT government to grant the casino the license to operate 500 pokie machines.
The ACT government did not give Acquis an immediate decision on its matter but promised to discuss the proposal in detail with state lawmakers. Canberra’s clubs, bars and hotels currently operate close to 5,000 pokie machines and there were concerns that if the Canberra casino was given a license to operate the same gaming machines, it would eat into the profits of the clubs, bars and hotels. They called on the government to not sanction any pokie machines as it would risk putting them out of business and impact their livelihoods.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr settled the issue this week by announcing that the government had reviewed Acquis’s proposal for 500 pokie machines and rejected it on the basis that it was just too many. The government also did not give Acquis approval to take over the convention centre as lawmakers believed that it should remain in the hands of the public.
However, Barr did give Acquis the approval to operate up to 200 pokie machines under the condition that these machines must be bought from the clubs, bars and hotels. Canberra hotels have sold a single pokie machine for around A$18,000 in the past which would mean Acquis would have to pay around A$5 million for the 200 pokie machines. However considering the opposition that the clubs and hotels have towards Acquis, the price of the pokie machines could be raised significantly and Acquis could end up paying more the double the amount.
There has been no indication so far as to which clubs would be interested in selling out their pokie machines to Acquis. Barr has indicated that the first preference would be given to the smaller clubs but has not provided any details as to how the process will work out.
The re-developed Canberra casino is expected to create thousands of new jobs and generate a significant amount of gaming tax revenue for the government. Barr has made it clear that the Canberra casino will be allowed to operate its 200 pokie machines only when the entire upgrade has been completed, assuming that the clubs and bars agree to sell pokie machines to Aquis.