A casino operator is dangerously close to becoming a monopoly in Cairns, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission warned.
If the deal between Aquis Reef Holdings – the company behind a controversial hotel and casino complex in the region – and the owners of the Reef Hotel in Cairns goes through, Aquis will have full control over the city’s gambling venues.
In a statement released this week, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) expressed concerns about the potential of Aquis becoming a monopoly in the area.
The Reef Hotel – a back-up plan
The Aquis resort will include:
•8 hotel towers
•a convention centre
In November last year, Australian gambling news were reporting that the company developing a $4.2 billion mega-resort at Yorkeys Knob – Aquis Reef Holdings – has made a $276 million bid to buy the Reef Hotel Casino in Cairns.
The Reef Casino Trust’s two largest investors, Casinos Austria and Accor, did not oppose the acquisition. This was excellent news for Aquis chief executive officer Justin Fung, who said he was hoping the purchase would bring him “increased certainty” in his plans to open a casino in Australia.
Back then, Fung said the deal was in addition to the Aquis project. By buying the Reef hotel, the company can start developing marketing campaigns to bring in visitors from Asia. Without the Reef hotel, Aquis would have to wait until 2018 to open for business and start cashing in on its investment.
The CEO added that all staff currently working at the casino and hotel would get to keep their jobs.
One to rule them all
But if Aquis buy the business and also manages to complete the building of its vast resort, the company would become the only casino operator in Cairns, throning over both gambling venues in the region.
In a statement released this week, ACCC chairman Rod Sims warned: “The proposed acquisition has the potential to reduce the number of casino owners in Cairns from two to one, removing potential competition between the Reef casino and the Aquis resort.
“The ACCC is concerned that the proposed acquisition has the potential to deprive customers of the benefits of competition between these casinos; such as promotions, rebates, or reductions in the price or improvements in the quality of other goods or services provided in conjunction with casino table games.”
Interested parties are invited to make comments on the purchase by 17 July. The ACCC will make its final decision by 21 August.
Aquis has already announced plans to build its own casino kingdom. The 340-hectare resort in nearby Yorkeys Knob is expected to be completed by 2018.
The company argued that the project doesn’t need environmental assessment, but environmentalists are concerned about pollution leaking into the Great Barrier Reef and say the project would disturb the delicate ecosystem of the Barron river floodplains.
Meanwhile, the company is waiting for the green light to begin construction, as Queensland’s coordinator general is assessing the environmental impact.
Aquis is hoping to win the local government’s support by promising to create more than 20,000 jobs. And if the ACCC allows the purchase of the Reef Hotel, the company said it will “expand and enhance” the Cairns resort. The Reef Casino now has 128 hotel rooms, 38 gaming tables and more than 500 gaming machines.
Mega-resort to draw more tourists
The state government is on a mission to develop tourism in the area and offered to issue two new casino licenses under Australian gambling laws. Officials found Aquis’ proposal had the most potential for success.
The resort is expected to attract one million guests a year and an additional 500,000 visitors. It will sit on a 40-hectare island with lagoons and will be surrounded by a 33-hectare lake. With two casinos, one convention centre, eight hotel towers, an 18-hole golf course, an AFL-cricket oval, soccer and rugby fields and netball courts, the mega-resort is sure to be a success.
The first stage of the construction could start next May. By 2018, four hotel towers with 4,000 rooms, one casino, the 23,000-square meter convention centre, 2,500-seat theatre and 2,250-suqre meter aquarium should be completed.