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Canberra Casino has released figures of its 2016 operations, reporting a loss of $7.7 million as the casino struggles during the wait for government approval of its high-end redevelopment plans.
In 2016, gambling at Canberra Casino was up 21% to $22 million, while food and beverage revenue increased by $2.3 million and overall spend per visitor increased by 33%. Despite gaming, food and beverage revenue being on the incline, the casino reported a negative net asset position, with its $31.3 million liabilities surpassing its assets by $14,300. Shares in the company have also dropped to just five cents.
Canberra Casino is owned by Aquis, which is controlled by Hong Kong billionaire business man Tony Fung. The company remains positive about the future of the casino, attesting its losses to under-investment and managerial changes, as Aquis lost both its CEO and chief financial officer in a six-month period. There was also disruption to the business in early 2016 while the casino underwent a $14 million refurbishment.
Jessica Mellor, Aquis’s new chief financial officer said that despite the challenges, Aquis continues to achieve significant revenue growth. She said, “Strong top-line growth is a validation of the new energy we have injected into the business.”
Ms Mellor was confident about the growth potential of the casino as Aquis continued to appoint “experienced leaders from around the world to lead key operational areas including food and beverage, marketing and gaming.”
She said, “Aquis Entertainment will continue to invest strongly in our long-term plan. Our auditors and directors all believe that the company is financially stable with performance and growth prospects in line with expectations and our business plans.”
Aquis intends to employ more staff members in a bid to attract VIP gamblers.
The company bought the casino in 2014, presenting ambitious plans to redevelop the casino into a thriving entertainment precinct complete with a five-star hotel, luxury villas, a shopping mall and multiple new restaurants, bars and nightclubs. If approved, the $307 million proposal would take place in two stages over a five-year period.
As part of the proposal, Aquis also wanted to introduce 500 electronic poker machines to the casino, with pokies currently only available in Canberra’s clubs and pubs. The Greens have said they will only support the proposal if pokies within the casino were capped with $1 spin limits and $500 maximum jackpots.
Shane Rattenbury for the Greens also wants the casino to impose mandatory pre-commitment limits, and see 10 per cent of all pokies revenue go into an independently run community fund for problem gambling.
Aquis has released plans for the casino to include a “responsible gambling support” centre – the second of its kind in an Australian casino.
A spokesman for Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the proposal was still being examined.
The government has already refused Aquis’s proposal for the casino to offer 500 poker machines, coming back with the smaller offer of 200 machines. While Aquis happily accepted the counter-offer, ACT Opposition spokesman Brendan Smyth criticised the decision saying, “If 500 was wrong, why is 200 right? Where’s the logic in that?
When Shane Rattenbury first put forth his conditions for the casino support in mid 2016, head of Clubs ACT Gwyn Rees said the risks of problem gambling in a casino environment were three times higher than in a club. As Canberra Casino is unique in that it’s the only land based casino in Australia not to offer electronic poker machines, it makes sense there would need to be some strict provisions in place before the state opened the door to something it has worked hard to prevent.
It is unclear whether Aquis’s redevelopment plans will go ahead, but either way the company is unlikely to receive any sympathy from the public if approval to offer the pokies is declined.