The Star fails to secure 30-year Gold Coast casino monopoly

Australian casino operator The Star Entertainment Group’s bid for a 30-year Gold Coast casino monopoly has come to naught after failed negotiations with Queensland’s state government.

On Friday, State Development Minister Kate Jones announced that Queensland’s government had failed to “reach consensus around the terms for long-term casino licence exclusivity” for The Star. Jones added that the government had “worked really hard to extract value from The Star, but the deal on the table did not stack up for taxpayers.”

The Star operates two Queensland casinos, including one in Gold Coast. The company is currently expanding its Gold Coast property and pledged last October to dramatically boost that investment if the state granted The Star a 30-year local monopoly on casino operations.

While The Star may have lost its bid to formalize its existing monopoly, Jones said Friday that COVID-19’s impact on current economic conditions meant the state “has no intention of reviving the market process for a new integrated resort – including a second casino – on the Gold Coast.”

The Star’s chairman John O’Neill didn’t appear too upset over the setback, saying that his company would “continue to invest” in the region “under the right conditions.” The company is developing a major integrated resort dubbed Queen’s Wharf Brisbane along with two Asian joint venture partners.

In a possibly related development, The Star announced this week that Australian private equity group Yarra Funds Management Limited had ceased to be a significant shareholder. As recently as this January, Yarra was believed to be the company’s second-largest shareholder with 5.2% of The Star’s common stock.

The Star fully reopened its flagship Sydney casino earlier this month following its lengthy COVID-19 shutdown and the two Queensland properties reopened a few days later. But with Australia’s international borders still shut, a company exec said this week that the Gold Coast property would have to focus on domestic customers for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of international customers, The Star’s efforts to compel a Singaporean high-roller to honor his gambling debts were once again rejected by Singapore’s International Commercial Court this week. The company filed suit against Wong Yew Choy last year after he refused to honor an AU$43.2m marker he ran up over a five-day gambling session at the Gold Coast casino in 2018, based on his claims that The Star’s croupiers were inept.

Last October, the Court rejected The Star’s efforts to force Wong to pay up, citing local laws that require gamblers to pay debts only if they are incurred via Singapore’s two integrated resorts. The Star appealed this ruling, but the Court rejected the appeal this week, repeating that Singapore’s law had no bearing on debts incurred in international casinos.

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