CASINO

Japanese “all mad gamblers” says Packer; Fung says you can’t resist the Reef

TAGs: aquis, Australia, Crown Ltd., James Packer, Japan, Melco Crown Entertainment, the aquis resort, tony fung

james-packer-tony-fung-reef-casinoAustralian casino operator Crown Ltd.’s expansion efforts in Sri Lanka may not be going quite as smoothly as the company might have hoped, but the hiccups haven’t dampened Crown boss James Packer’s appetite for construction. Packer (pictured far right) told The Australian that he can’t wait for Japan to pass its long-awaited casino legislation, because when it does, “it will be the second biggest gaming market in the world.” Packer described Japan as having “100m people who are all mad gamblers” dissatisfied by the existing racing and pachinko options.

Packer said he expects to wait two or three years before Japan “gets serious” about the process of awarding resort casino licenses and approving development plans, but that suits him fine, as he has his hands full with his proposed development in Sydney, not to mention new projects already under construction in Macau and the Philippines as part of the Melco Crown Entertainment joint venture.

Packer called the teaming of Crown with Hong Kong’s Melco International Development “a role model for how an Australian company and a Chinese company [can partner] for mutual benefit.” Packer said the “most interesting thing” of what he and Melco boss Lawrence Ho had managed to accomplish together was “a Chinese company taking its expertise, an Australian company doing the same, and one plus one equaling three.”

TONY FUNG IS USED TO LISTENING TO FELLOW BILLIONAIRES
So would Packer be open to another Aussie-Chinese tie-up? Hong Kong tycoon Tony Fung (above on the left) has successfully navigated the first stage of the approval process to build a $4.2b resort-casino near Cairns in northern Queensland. Fung told the Australian Financial Review that his project, which he’s dubbed Aquis, would be “a resort with a casino, not a casino with a resort.” As such, he doesn’t view himself in competition with Australian casino operators. Indeed, he claims he’d be open to the idea of working with operators like Crown. “Why not? I am used to listening.”

Regardless of whether Aquis is a resort with a casino or vice versa, Fung is looking to “take a piece of the Macau pie.” Problem is, there’s a tide of regional casino development underway, so Fung believes his project needs to open by 2018 and the only way that will happen is if he starts turning earth in 2014. In other words, he needs regulatory approval and he needs it soon. Fung insisted he wasn’t threatening to walk by a certain date, just that there should be “a cut-off.”

However long it takes to open, Fung believes the Great Barrier Reef will help distinguish Aquis from its regional competitors. Fung says the natural environment of the Cairns area, including the Yorkeys Knob beach suburb in which Fung’s 343-hectare complex will reside, makes Aquis “an easy sell for us.” Fung believes that if you tell people you’re visiting Macau or Singapore, they think you’re a gambler. But tell people you’re going to Cairns, “then you are still a family man.” Who gambles.

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