Billionaires Bid for Barrier Reef Casinos on Asian Tourism Wager

Companies controlled by billionaires James Packer and Cheng Yu-tung have lodged bids to develop casinos in Australia’s Queensland state, as the state government plans to lure Asian tourists with new resorts.

Packer’s Crown Resorts Ltd. and a venture including Cheng’s Chow Tai Fook Enterprises Ltd. are among 12 groups that have filed applications for new casinos in a state which is already home to four, Queensland deputy premier Jeff Seeney said in a statement posted on a government website today.

With a shoreline longer than India’s that’s lapped by the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland is seeking to emulate the success of Singapore where resorts owned by Genting Singapore Plc and Las Vegas Sands Corp. drew Asian tourists to raise about $5.2 billion in revenue in 2013.

Echo Entertainment Group Ltd., operator of the state’s two largest casinos, as well as Auckland’s Skycity Entertainment Group Ltd., Hong Kong investor Tony Fung’s Aquis Resort at the Great Barrier Reef Pty, and property companies Lend Lease Group and Greenland Investment Pty also lodged bids, Seeney said.

The government wants “world-class resorts that will revitalise the tourism and construction sectors of the economy,” Seeney said in the statement. They’ll be “draw cards for both international and domestic visitors and provide employment for thousands of Queenslanders,” he said.

Six of the bids relate to a site in the center of Brisbane where Echo already operates a casino inside the sandstone former state Treasury building. Crown, which is building a A$1.3 billion ($1.2 billion) casino and hotel complex on the shores of Sydney Harbour that will compete with Echo’s nearby site in that city, will also vie for the Brisbane site.

Rare Opportunity

Lend Lease, Skycity, Greenland, a unit of Shanghai-based Greenland (Hong Kong) Holdings Ltd. and the venture with Chow Tai Fook, the parent of a Hong Kong namesake jewelery chain, have also submitted expressions of interest for a project to redevelop the central Brisbane site, which Premier Campbell Newman has called a “once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

Queensland’s government said that it’ll allow up to three new casinos in the state, with one of the licenses reserved for the central Brisbane site.

The department of state development will consider the bids and prepare a final short-list by the middle of 2014, Seeney said, with a decision on the licenses expected a year later.

Of the other expressions of interest, two relate to the Gold Coast south of the state capital, and four to sites close to the Great Barrier Reef in the middle and north of the state.

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