26 Sep

Aquis proposal could bring 1500 new pokies to Cairns, Protesters disquieted

Tony and Justin Fung, a father-and-son duo of Asian billionaire business magnates, have proposed a massive casino resort project for the city of Cairns, Queensland. The $8 billion development, to be entitled Aquis, is a mega-resort that models show would rival anything you might find in the gambling meccas of Macau or Las Vegas. However, while preliminary approval for the project has already been granted by the Newman Government, not everyone is exalting the new casino, which would bring thousands of jobs and approximately 1500 new pokies to the region.

On the one hand, Aquis would be a fantastic boost for the local economy; one that Mayor Bob Manning, who is a strong proponent of the project, says could put the city of Cairns on the world map. The construction process alone, which is estimated to take about 4 years, would create 7,000 new jobs, and once the 340-hectare resort was complete, 20,000 positions would be open for employment within the massive structure.

On the flip side of that coin, however, is the question of Aquis’ potential impact on the environment, not to mention the social influence of such a vast gambling destination. The destination for the new gambling mecca happens to be set upon two major, world heritage listed locations, the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.  Needless to say, environmentalists and neighboring farm owners are not on board with the proposed casino.

As for the potentially negative social impact, residents are already reportedly spending between $6mm and $9mm every month at the pokies. Surely that’s a big check mark in Mr. Fung’s book, but for the community, such an immense expansion of gambling in the area isn’t viewed as a positive by everyone.

Further complicating matters, the Fungs’ predict their base clientele to come from China’s affluent gambling society. That has positive connotations on one level, but Chinese “junket” tours have been historically linked to organized crime, and many suspect the industry is still under unlawfully driven coterie influence. Like its Asian competitors, Aquis would use a junket style marketing program in which VIPs are encouraged to visit the Australian casino resort by offering them free stays in the hotel’s most luxurious accommodations.

The company said that Aquis would target the global market, but that the primary goal would be to attract Chinese high rollers to the casino’s table games and pokies. He estimated the average bet size on a card game to be between $300 and $500 per hand, with VIP players dropping a lot more. And while Asia has its fair share of affluent casino destinations in Macau, Tony Fung said that the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest will give Aquis a sharp corner on the market.

“I see our customer base being as far as the west coast of America and even the Middle East. Any place that an airplane can fly nonstop, that is our customer base,” explained Fung. As for the environmental side of the issue, he said, “The hardware – as I would put it – of the Cairns area with the two world heritage areas is not going to change. The predominant Asian customer base is not going to change.”

Although a preliminary license has already been awarded to build the resort, which would include 7,500 luxury hotel rooms, a massive casino, conference centers, theatres, sports facilities, an aquarium and an 18-hole golf course, nothing is set in stone yet. The company still has to undergo a planning review, environmental sanctions and a thorough background check.