Asian-led consortiums win Australian casino bids

BRISBANE, Australia (AFP) - A Hong Kong billionaire and a Chinese-Australian investment consortium won bids on Tuesday to build multi-billion-dollar mega-casinos in Queensland after other contenders were ruled out by the state government.

Mr Tony Fung's A$8.15 billion (S$9.43 billion) Aquis project near Cairns and ASF Consortium's A$7.5 billion Broadwater Marine Project on the Gold Coast will receive gaming licences if environmental, planning and gambling approvals are obtained, Queensland's Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said.

"The Queensland government has identified that these projects have the greatest capacity to deliver the requirements for an integrated resort development in the regions, particularly the potential to attract inter-state and international tourists as both these centres have international airports," Mr Seeney said.

He added that four other proposals, which included a bid supported by Australian golfing great Greg Norman, needed a "considerable amount of work" before they could meet the criteria outlined by the government.

Mr Fung, from one of Hong Kong's best-known banking families, last year said his Aquis project, a six-star integrated resort, would be a "man-made wonder of the world". Plans for the project, which will be 13 kilometres north of the Great Barrier Reef gateway city of Cairns in Yorkeys Knob, include the construction of a casino, nine luxury hotels with 3,750 rooms, and one of the world's largest aquariums.

ASF Group, a Chinese-Australian investment firm listed on the Australian Securities Exchange which was joined in its bid by two state-owned Chinese companies, said its Gold Coast proposal included a waterfront eco-park and a cruise ship terminal.

Mr Seeney said the casino resorts - two of the biggest non-mining projects in Queensland's history - would create thousands of jobs in the state.

But the proposed development in Yorkeys Knob has been criticised by some residents, who are afraid it could hurt local businesses and threaten the environment, including the World Heritage-listed reef.

In a separate process, Echo Entertainment, which runs the only casino in Brisbane, Australian billionaire James Packer's Crown and a Hong Kong consortium are among the bidders for the right to built another integrated resort in the Queensland capital.

Crown won approval from the New South Wales state government last year to build a casino and six-star hotel in Sydney targeting Asian high-rollers.

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