Casino Canberra Gets Mystery Second Bid, Aquis Trading Suspended on ASX

Hong Kong-based Aquis Entertainment has received a surprise offer from a mystery bidder to acquire its Australian property, Casino Canberra.

Tony Fung, above, has been trying to offload Casino Canberra for some time after a breakdown in negotiations with the state government. (Image: SCMP)

The latest approach triggered Aquis to request a trading halt of its shares on the ASX while it considers the new proposal.

Last month, the company announced it planned to sell the casino to Capital Leisure, a subsidiary of Sydney-based hospitality company Oscars Group, for AU$52 million (US$36 million).

In a statement to the ASX, Aquis said the competing proposal had been followed by a revised offer from Capital Leisure. Both were at “materially higher prices to that agreed in the original agreement with Capital Leisure.”

The identity of the competing bidder has not been publicized, although more details about the proposal are expected to be revealed this week.

Government Impasse

Aquis, controlled by Hong Kong billionaire banker Tony Fung, has been trying to sell the Casino Canberra for some time.

It acquired the ailing property in 2014 at the same time Fung was seeking approval for a controversial proposal to build a A$8 billion (US$5.8 billion) megaresort casino in Cairns, Queensland, close to the Great Barrier Reef. The project has since been abandoned.

Fung hoped investment in Canberra, the Australian capital, would grease the skids on the Great Barrier Reef deal.

Aquis petitioned the Australian Capital State (ACT) government to allow slot machines at Casino Canberra. In return, the company promised to plow AU$307 million (US$209 million) into regenerating a property it said had suffered from “years of underinvestment.”

Aquis asked for 500 slots. In 2018, the government offered just 200, plus 60 EGMs (electronic gaming machines), subject to certain strict conditions. Aquis said the counterproposal made it “difficult to progress… [the] original proposal.”

Ultimately, the company failed to reach agreement with the ACT government, which still prohibits slots in the state.

Dodged a Bullet

In 2018, Blue Whale Entertainment sought to become the major shareholder in the property in a a AU$32 million deal. But that deal fell through because Blue Whale failed to gain approval from ACT regulators.

It was a good call. In 2020, Blue Whale’s owner, Michael Gu, became an international fugitive when his Sydney-based property group, iProsperity, collapsed, owing investors around US$245 million.

Gu and his business partner, Harry Huang, are accused of operating a Ponzi scheme. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

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