Deadline? What deadline? Government grants extension to casino operator

Ian Bushnell 21 May 2018

Waiting game: A planned redevelopment is on hold while the ACT Government and Aquis Entertainment sort out their differences. File photo.

The ACT Government’s deadline to the operators of the Canberra Casino to provide information by May 15 on its unsolicited bid to redevelop the casino precinct has melted away.

The Government had set a number of conditions for it backing Hong Kong-based Aquis Entertainment’s proposed $330 million redevelopment that includes a resort-style entertainment, dining and retail precinct in the city, and which under the deal would see it acquire poker machines for the first time.

But last month a frustrated Government gave Aquis a month to respond to its conditions for backing the bid.

Now the Government has granted Aquis what the company calls an ‘undefined’ extension after Aquis contacted the Government requesting clarification on certain matters related to its proposal.

The Government denied it had caved into Aquis, saying that an extension “is considered reasonable in the circumstances.”

No new deadline has been set but a Government spokesperson said: “A short extension has been offered to enable the matters raised by Aquis to be addressed. The timeframe for that extension will be settled as part of this process.”

The Government believed Aquis was still committed to its plans.

“The ACT Government has provided Aquis with an extension to provide the financial information requested in order to progress their unsolicited bid for the Casino. The ACT Government will meet with Aquis to discuss the matters it has raised. Aquis will then have an opportunity to consider its response and how it will proceed,” the Government spokesperson said.

The Government passed legislation last November that would allow the casino to acquire up to 200 poker machines and 60 fully automated table games, subject to it redeveloping the site and adopting harm-minimisation measures.

The legislation also introduced mandatory pre-commitment (to prevent excessive use of poker machines) and $2 maximum bet limits, as well as capping the number of machine authorisations the casino can apply to operate at 200.

But it also means 130 pokies would be taken out of action if the casino sought its maximum number allowed, as part of the Government’s plans to reduce the overall numbers of poker machines from 5000 to 4000 by 2020.

In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange on April 16, Aquis said the legislative changes required a thorough process to be undertaken to “determine the impact of such significant regulatory and land use restrictions as those imposed. Aquis has advised the Government that this process is ongoing, and, as part of that, their input will be required to clarify a number of outstanding issues.”

On May 14 it told the ASX that the company remained committed to “pursuing the Company’s vision of delivering a world-class project that will contribute significant urban renewal and economic development benefits to Canberra, and will continue to work with the Government to progress their plans.”

When the Government set its deadline, Aquis Entertainment said in a statement that “given the size of the proposed investment, the Government must be realistic in its expectations about the detail and speed at which information could be provided in the face of significant commercial uncertainty.’

Aquis’s spokesperson did not respond to specific questions about what clarification it was seeking from the Government or what issues or sticking points needed to be resolved.

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