Local gaming operator Echo Entertainment Group has been awarded a license to build a mega-casino in the heart of Brisbane, Australia, beating competitor James Packer’s Queens Wharf Greenland Crown project. Echo had been considered the front-runner by most analysts. The A$2 billion ($1.5 billion) project will rebuild the Queen’s Wharf precinct into a major hotel, casino and residential complex featuring Brisbane’s first six-star hotel.

The Queensland Department of State announced on its website, “The Queensland Government in partnership with the Destination Brisbane Consortium will deliver a world-class tourism, leisure and entertainment precinct that provides economic growth for Queensland with the creation of around 8,000 new jobs.”

Both competitors were heavily backed by Asian investment partners. Packer’s consortium was 75% controlled by China’s state-backed Greenland Holdings Group. Echo Entertainment Group’s partners include the Far East Consortium at 25% and Chow Tai Fook Enterprises who also controls 25%.

Echo looks to cash in on a wave of high stakes Asian gamblers who have fled the Macau scene due to a government crackdown. Crown was looking to recapture dwindling revenues as a 1/3 owner of Melco Crown Entertainment, one of the major players in Macau suffering a drop in VIP income there.

Both companies are currently doing record business with wealthy Chinese visitors at their Australian casinos, with Echo’s Q3 and Q4 VIP revenues doubling last year.

The Brisbane win was needed by Echo after Packer won permission to build a $2 billion Crown Sydney Casino about a mile away from Echo’s Sydney casino, The Star.

The government is betting on casino revenue offsetting diminishing returns in mining and petroleum. The July 14 state budget forecast indicated a further drop of about A$4.6 billion in mineral revenues over the next four years.

“This development will change Brisbane’s CBD,” Queensland state premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said today. “I am very excited about the proposal and the project and we know what this means for Brisbane, making it a premium tourist destination.”

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