The ACT Government has turned its back on the development jackpot offered by the planned expansion of Casino Canberra after the breakdown of negotiations over the conditions imposed on the project, including the number of poker machines it would be allowed to operate.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said in a statement today that the casino owners, Aquis Entertainment, had been advised that its $330 million unsolicited bid to redevelop the Casino precinct could not proceed in its current form.
But the Government is still looking for some sort of development dividend, inviting Aquis to consider alternatives for a smaller scale re-development.
Aquis, in a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange, said it would continue to engage with the Government on development opportunities, although the situation is clouded by a number of confidential bids to acquire Casino Canberra, or some or all of the controlling shareholding in Aquis.
Aquis said the company still believed that the development of an integrated entertainment precinct in Canberra’s CBD offered the ACT a once in a lifetime tourism infrastructure opportunity.
“Aquis Entertainment remains committed to its vision for investing in the development of Casino Canberra as a vital piece of tourism infrastructure. We are pleased that the Government has indicated its desire to continue progressing discussions and we look forward to doing so,” a spokesperson said.
Aquis first lodged the business case for its expansion plans, that included a resort-style entertainment, dining and retail precinct in the city, in 2016 but negotiations reached an impasse after the Government legislated so the casino could acquire a capped number of poker machines but then sought more detailed financial information about the bid.
However, Aquis said that sticking points included the current legislative framework, which limits the number of pokies to 200 instead of the 500 the casino wants, and the Government deciding not to make certain land available to the casino.
It said the financial information the Government sought could not be provided without the Government in turn providing certainty about key aspects of the proposal including tax rates, licence fees and the legislative framework.
“The Government must provide certainty in relation to the conditions under which a redeveloped casino would be required to operate,” the spokeperson said.
As well as the pokies cap, which would have seen the casino acquire licences from other operators and therefore an overall reduction in the number of licences in the ACT, the redevelopment proposal was also subject to the casino adopting harm-minimisation measures, including mandatory pre-commitment and $2 maximum bets.
A Government spokesperson said Aquis could still submit a revised unsolicited bid through Treasury’s unsolicited proposals process, purchase an alternative site via a competitive sales process or pursue a smaller development on the existing lease through a development application.
But beyond saying it would continue talking to the Government, the casino spokesperson said it was premature to canvass possibilities.
On a possible change of ownership, the spokesperson said it was not appropriate to comment on something so inherently uncertain.
But the casino was not about to close.
“The casino is a sustainable operation that employs over 250 Canberrans and contributes many millions in taxation revenue every year. The board is considering a range of strategic opportunities to create value for shareholders – closing the business is not one of those options,” the spokesperson said.