In January of this year, the Colonial Leisure Group struck a deal to buy Jupiters Townsville Hotel and Casino from Echo Entertainment Group for $70 million. After a lengthy probity review, the deal was finally closed last month. Noted as “the worst-performing casino in Australia”, tourism magnate and CLG owner Chris Morris says he intends to spend an additional $20 million to upgrade the pokies facility and turn it into a popular casino destination for locals.
According to Morris, a lack of investments into the casino property has been the root cause of its lackluster performance. Morris told Jessica Gardner of The Australian Financial Review that the only part of the business that had drawn any interests from consumers was the poker machines and other “gambling facilities”, and that Echo Entertainment “had been trying to sell [Jupiters Townsville] for two years.”
Chris Morris is an expert when it comes to business, acquiring his wealth (estimated at $700 million) by co-founding stock share company Computershare. More recently, though, his interests have turned to tourism. Morris’s Colonial Leisure Group has a diverse portfolio of 15 tourism related businesses under its corporate wing; a lodge, a helicopter charter company, several pubs, an outback cattle station and, thanks to this latest venture, a casino. Due to his experience in tourist related industries, when Morris looks at the outdated Jupiters Townsville, he doesn’t see a dead end business. He sees “huge potential” as a waterfront gambling resort waiting to happen.
Morris intends to filter a minimum of $20 million into the Townsville casino to update the design and what he called “very average” food and beverage options. The pokies may be the only thing bringing in money now, and Morris doesn’t expect to make a profit off the location for the next four years, but when he’s done with it, the attractive motif and a range of alluring restaurants and bars will turn the destination into a cash cow.
Having vast room for improvement what was drew the Computershare Chairman’s attention to the acquisition in the first place. The Queensland casino may be “the worst-performing casino in Australia by a long way,” said Morris, “but you don’t want to buy the best-performing business because it’s hard to improve.”
The only thing working against the purchase at this point is Morris’s lack of experience in the casino industry. His pubs do not offer poker machines because he feels that gambling should be reserved to casinos. “People make a conscious decision to go to casinos,” said Morris, whereas playing pokies at a pub is more often a decision made in the moment. To help insure the investment and assist in the refurbishment, Morris rustled up a new manager for Jupiters Townsville, Brad Morgan, who was previously responsible for managing Drawin’s SkyCity Casino.
Morris also insisted that he does not intend to market the soon-to-be-enhanced pokies destination to affluent Chinese gamblers; something Echo Entertainment and Crown Resorts have been fighting to do while battling it out with officials to construct a new $8 billion mega resort in Brisbane. The new owner of Jupiter’s Townsville said that the casino will be designed to attract Queensland locals because there aren’t many direct flights coming into the region anyway.