Like Yogi Berra, Australian casino operator Echo Entertainment is feeling déjà vu all over again after yet another state premier appears to have taken the side of an Echo competitor. Earlier this year, Echo saw its Sydney casino monopoly come under threat via rival operator Crown Ltd.’s pursuit of a VIP-focused casino in Sydney’s Barangaroo development. Early on in the process, the New South Wales government appeared to be bending over backward to accommodate Crown boss James Packer’s every whim, and suspicions that the fix was in appeared to be realized in April when Premier Barry O’Farrell’s administration approved Crown’s Sydney bid moving to the next stage of the development process.
Fast forward a few months and Echo finds itself under siege all over again in Queensland, where Echo wants to expand upon its Treasury Casino (pictured) in Brisbane and Packer wants to plant his own flag in Echo’s backyard. On Wednesday, Crown’s plan got a serious shot in the arm after the Australian Broadcasting Corporation quoted Queensland Premier Campbell Newman (pictured above) criticizing Echo’s Queensland casinos as “not world standard.” Uh-oh…
Newman went on to say that Echo’s prior lack of interest in modernizing its aging gaming joints should prompt journalists to ask “tough questions about [Echo’s] commitment to Queensland and reinvestment and how they would justify the need for there to be only one license.” Newman criticized Echo for being “fairly aggressive” in its efforts to retain its local monopoly, accusing the company of “actively working the media, dropping stories about the matter.” Newman reminded Echo that nobody owed it a “license to print money” and said there were two options on the table: “investment, significant reinvestment in [Echo’s existing casino] which I am not seeing, or we need a new one.”
Newman attempted to qualify his statements by saying they don’t necessarily represent an endorsement of Crown’s Queensland aspirations, which is a bit like saying the jury is still out on Calvin Ayre’s view of online gambling companies going public. Echo CEO John Redmond attempted to take the high ground by acknowledging the need for reinvestment in the Queensland properties and crediting Newman’s administration for having “created the potential for this to happen.” Oh, there’s potential here alright. Just not for Echo.