Echo Entertainment plans to spend $1.5 billion on a "once in a lifetime opportunity" to take a leading role in Queensland's bid to become a gambling epicentre.
The company has unveiled plans to redevelop Jupiters Hotel and Casino on the Gold Coast, and build a new Brisbane casino to replace its existing Treasury Casino, which due to its location in a heritage listed property cannot be expanded.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman has said he wants a new casino built in Brisbane to help draw in high rollers from Asia and revitalise the state’s struggling tourism industry.
The Queensland government has also said it could issue other new casino licences elsewhere in the state, possibly taking the total number of venues from four to seven.
Echo is expected to face competition for the right to build a new Brisbane casino from James Packer’s Crown Resorts, setting the scene for a rematch of their bruising battle in Sydney.
Crown’s proposal for a resort and VIP casino at Barangaroo has been favoured by the NSW government, at the expense of Echo’s plans expand The Star.
Echo chief executive John Redmond said the Queensland government’s desire for a new Brisbane casino – which will form part of a proposed tourism district – presented the company with an exciting opportunity.
“We are extremely excited about the opportunity before us in Brisbane, and see this as a once in a lifetime opportunity and a very substantial opportunity for the shareholders of Echo Entertainment Group,” Mr Redmond told the company’s annual general meeting in Sydney.
Chairman John O’Neil said Echo’s existing presence in Queensland – where it owns three of the state’s four casinos – gave it an advantage over competitors like Crown.
“You have to attribute something to incumbency, we’ve operated in Brisbane and the Gold Coast for many years … we think we’re well positioned,” he said.
But the company would need to adapt if the Queensland market was opened up to greater competition, Mr O’Neil said.
“That’s the prerogative of governments, we just have to adjust our modus operandi accordingly,” he said.
Crown has no presence in Queensland, but owns casinos in Melbourne and Perth, plus a stake in a Macau casinos business.
Both Mr Redmond and Mr O’Neil admitted to shareholders that the company’s existing Brisbane and Gold Coast properties had fallen victim to “under-investment” over the years, and the proposed redevelopments were overdue.
Under the plans announced by Echo, Jupiters on the Gold Coast will get a makeover and a new six-star hotel, while the heritage listed Treasury Building will be transformed into a luxury hotel.
But the company hasn’t released any details of its plans for the proposed new Brisbane casino, preferring to keep its cards close to its chest until it knows more about the tender process for the licence.