Crown, Echo and Probity Checks in Brisbane

James Packer Stanley Ho

Australian probity checks make or break casino bids.

The battle as to who will get to build a casino at Queens Wharf is intensifying. Crown Resorts may have the edge as Queensland Union is in favor of the James Packer’s bid. Gary Bullock, United Voice secretary, said he backed Crown ‘s Premier Resort project because the Australian rival, Echo Entertainment, who owns the Treasury casino, had “questionable links”.

He said it seemed reasonable to do so as Hong Kong businessman Stanley Ho, was prohibited in a recent New South Wales probity check from carrying out operations for casinos there. It seems that Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE) has a stake in Dr Ho’s Macau casino business.

Bullocks Blazes Ho

CFTE apparently is in a partnership with Echo to be able to reinforce its bid for the Brisbane project. Ho is Mr. Packer’s Macau casino business partner’s father. Mr. Packer got the New South Wales casino license for his Barangaroo project when he promised the Australian government that he would stop Ho from being involved further in New South Wales casino dealings.

Mr. Bullock seems wary of Dr. Ho, dubbed the ‘King of Gambling’ taking over Queensland. However he was quick to say that he admired “the relationship Crown had with its staff, as well as the decor of its projects”. Bullocks said that as the Newman government is caught up in the overwhelming task of hurrying through the probity checks, Ho might end up winning a tender somehow.

Queensland Union in favor of Crown
Aquis fails one probity check
Casino Project may not start before 2016

If that happens, he warned, the government may not be able to go back on his decision. He said that the Queensland Union saw it as its responsibility to make sure that “the Newman government has the highest and most stringent checks when letting casino licenses in Queensland”.

Bullock wants to avoid the corruption and favoritism that comes with so often with issuing land based and mobile casino licenses. He doesn’t want Queensland to face yet another ‘Joh’ dilemma which has smeared Queensland image in the past.

Seeney Upholds Probity Checks

Responding to Mr Bullock’s tirade about the “travesty if the wrong decision is made and undesirables are allowed to operate casinos in Queensland”, Jeff Seeney, Deputy Premier, said he doesn’t understand how any union could want to “involve itself in the process”.

He promised though that the Union’s influence would not affect the bid for the casino licenses in New South Wales. However he said that the competition was extremely intense.

He therefore expected that operators might want to infringe the Australian gambling laws to obtain a license. He said that he expected that such cheating may abound but he was aware of this possibility.

Echo Entertainment and Crown Resorts are reportedly the main contenders of the Brisbane license. The license is to encourage ‘an integrated resort development in the city’s heart, which they need to put Brisbane on the map’.

Should Crown Resort come out on top then Brisbane will have 2 casino giants, face to face and just meters away. Seeney said that it was left up to the “market to decide”, should it come to that. The probity process for the Brisbane license is still in process for the time being and Brisbane will not know who will win until the “the probity process has been cleared”.

However while the Queens Wharf project may go ahead, there are speculations concerning the other two casinos projects in the state. There are two casino operators fiercely vying for licenses as well.

The plight of Aquis

One, the ASF consortium, would like to build a cruise ship terminal, casino on the Gold Coast’s Wavebreak Island. The second, the Tony Fung-led Aquis made a bid to build a $8.15 billion casino and resort at Yorkey’s Knob in Cairns.

Brisbane Queens Wharf
While the ASF bid has been stalled by environmental and design issues, the Aquis proposal got environmental approval from the Coordinator General. But Aquis still needed to have the approval after probity checks.

The probity process however stalled Aquis’ efforts to buy the current Reef Casino in Cairns. Mr Fung then announced he was going to try to buy the Canberra Casino instead. It turns out that Aquis will first need to have an existing Australian casino in order to be listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange.

Once it is on the market then it can acquire the necessary capital. This capital can then be used to build the Yorkey’s Knob project.

Mr. Seeney praised the Coordinator General for its exhaustive assessment that necessitates taking into account “environmental, economic and social impacts of the Aquis project”. Only on the decision made then, can Aquis proceed, based on the evaluation report.

Seeney also stressed the necessity of giving the probity checks all the time that is needed. Therefore the construction on the Queens Wharf project may not start until the 1 William Street ‘Tower of Power’ is terminated.

This will give the government enough time to leave the Executive Building on George Street. This may not even happen until 2016. Meanwhile, the bidders are waiting anxiously to see who will be allowed to build in Brisbane when the results of the design proposals are released next week.

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