Just days after NSW vetoed Star Entertainment’s expansion plans, the Queensland government has moved to fast track a $2 billion upgrade of the group’s Gold Coast interests.
As the coast’s only casino operator, Star last month sought assurances of continued exclusivity from the state government in return for moving ahead with a master plan to build new hotels and apartments, upgrade the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre and revamp the Sheraton Grand Mirage.
On Thursday, tourism minister Kate Jones announced the government had suspended its search for a second casino operator and would begin direct negotiations with The Star to fast track the new tourism infrastructure.
“The Star has said it wants to make a multi-billion-dollar investment into the Gold Coast and a second integrated resort is not needed to attract more international tourists,” Jones said.
“We will suspend the current global tourism hub process to fast track negotiations with The Star so they can put their best food forward and we can assess what their true offer is for the Gold Coast.”
The Accommodation Association welcomed the news, chief executive Dean Long saying: “The Queensland government continues to demonstrate a clear understanding of the $24.4 billion contribution that tourism makes to the Queensland economy.
“The Star has undertaken to ‘inject more than $2 billion in additional tourism investment at The Star Gold Coast’ and create an integrated resort destination which will add to the fabric of the city.”
An advisory panel was set up in March to gauge public opinion on the merits of a second casino for the Gold Coast. It found that while a majority of locals supported or had no concerns about a second casino, there was significant community opposition to one being built on public land.
Some ten local and international players have expressed an interest in creating a second casino on the Gold Coast, but none has made a firm commitment and many have sought to use public space for their developments.
The Star argues the market is too small for two casinos and has warned a new player would force it to concentrate on defending its market share rather than growing its tourism assets in partnership with Honk Kong giants Chow Tai Fook and Far East Consortium.
The partnership’s plans include building five towers on Star’s Broadbeach site, one encompassing a luxury Dorsett hotel and second boasting another five-star hotel with a “Sky Park” playground, shops, pools, gyms, a day spa and an outdoor function centre.
The state-owned conference centre and the famous Sheraton Grand Mirage beachfront resort would also be upgraded and a second resort built on a site adjoining the Sheraton.
Opposition leader Deb Frecklington has questioned the transparency of the Queensland government’s decision following allegations Star funded a 2017 party fundraiser for state attorney-general Yvette D’Ath, the person responsible for regulating gambling.
“It’s pretty obvious that it doesn’t pass the pub test,” she said. “Whether it’s within the rules or not is up to them to decide.”
The Queensland government has requested Star provides a “clear indication of their plans” over the next ten days, Ms Jones says, to be assessed on its ability to deliver the coast a global tourism hub.
She said on Thursday: “We have no intention of making public land available for a second casino.
“If [Star] meets the threshold of delivering additional tourism numbers and attracting international visitation – which was the whole reason for setting the second casino licence up – we will have clarity.”
The NSW premier has meanwhile vowed to continue the push for approval of Star’s $500 million Ritz-Carlton proposal for Pyrmont in Sydney, despite last week’s decision by the Independent Planning Commission (IPC) to back NSW planners’ rejection of the application.
Gladys Berejiklian told media: “We anticipated this outcome and it hardens our resolve to find a positive path forward.
“Pyrmont and the western harbour is a key part of the future of global Sydney and we should be attracting world-class projects to it.”
Dean Long supports the premier’s position.
“The Association is extremely disappointed at the IPC’s short-term decision, which demonstrates that the planning system is not working to support the NSW Visitor economy,” he said.