15 April 2018

Government sets deadline for casino owners to respond to pokies and redevelopment conditions

| Ian Bushnell
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Uncertainty surrounds the future of Casino Canberra and its development plans. File photo.

The ACT Government has given the Canberra Casino a month to respond to its conditions for backing its unsolicited bid to redevelop the site and for the first time obtain poker machines.

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.

The casino owner, Hong Kong-Based Aquis Entertainment, had said it would spend $330 million rebuilding the casino and creating a resort-style entertainment, dining and retail precinct in the city but the Government had not heard from Aquis.

Allowing pokies at the casino would mean 130 machines would be taken out of operation in the Territory as part of the Governnment’s plans to reduce the overall numbers of poker machines from 5000 to 4000 by 2020.

“Approval to operate the machines was given on the condition that the casino operators would proceed with their planned redevelopment of the casino precinct in the city’s east supporting a renewal of the area. The Government has not received critical information required for the process to move forward,” Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said in a joint statement.

They said the Government had also advised Canberra Casino operators that two new independent processes would be established in relation to future casino operations as part of the Government’s broader regulation of the gaming industry.

“Independent panels will be established to make recommendations to the Minister in relation to transfers of ownership or operations of the Canberra Casino as well as any future application to operate Electronic Gaming Machines or Fully Automated Table Games under part 5 of the Casino (Electronic Gaming) Act 2017,” they said.

“These panels, which will be in addition to consideration by the Gambling and Racing Commission, will deliver an unparalleled level of transparency and independence in relation to the regulation of gaming in the Territory and ensure the most stringent oversight is given to the operation of the Casino and the gaming undertaken there.”

An application to operate gaming machines would only be considered if a similar investment in the precinct was proposed and with the number of machines capped under the Act, they said.

Aquis Entertainment said in a statement that it remained committed to pursuing its vision of delivering a world class project that would contribute significant urban renewal and economic development benefits to Canberra but 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.

“The legislative changes, passed in late 2017, require a thorough process to be undertaken to determine the impact of such significant regulatory and land use restrictions as those imposed. We have 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,” Aquis said.

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