Op-Ed: Aquis Casino — An extreme gamble

Posted Sep 5, 2014 by Elke Nagy
Cairns may soon have a new casino with 1,500 gaming machines and 750 gaming tables, snugly ensconced within a larger $4.2 billion mega resort.
Richters Creek  Cairns
Richters Creek, Cairns
Aquis Aware
The resort will be located in an area mostly consisting of cane farms and mangroves by the Great Barrier Reef, and contain over 5,000 hotel rooms, apartments and villas, a sports stadium, golf course, water theme fun park and aquarium, convention centre, artificial lagoon, etc, etc...
This is the biggest, single development ever proposed for Cairns. The Australian Broadcasting Commission reported it is also "one of the nation’s biggest non-resource developments."
The sleepy quality of the setting has provoked a number of probing questions as to the suitability of the development. Just for starters, Cairns already has a casino, as well as a bunch of social problems associated with heavy gambling.
The Cairns community group, Aquis Aware Coalition of Concerned Citizens spokesperson Denis Walls said, [A]ccording to those in favour of the proposal, the casino is aimed at the Chinese market. The developers claim that it will attract not only 'the Chinese mass-market middle class, but also the big-spending, high-value, ever-expanding Chinese upper class.'
The region is a magnet for Asian tourists, and Chinese visitors are predicted to rise over the next five years and eventually outnumber Japanese visitors — Cairns's current top market — by 2015.
However, academic researchers Francis Markham and Martin Young have just released an evaluation of the casino and its probable impact on the social fabric of the region.
They stated, This configuration of gambling products [1,500 gaming machines (pokies) and 750 gaming tables] reveals an intention to target Cairns locals. Chinese gamblers rarely play the pokies. The pokies in the Aquis casino will overwhelmingly be used by locals.
Putting an additional 1,500 pokies in Cairns is likely to extract a staggering amount of economic resources out of the community, even when adjusting for pokie losses forgone at other pubs and clubs.
On average, each adult resident in Cairns will spend an extra $240 per year on gambling machines or, as a city, more than $56 million per year by 2021.
Walls added, As figures in Macau show that Chinese gamblers rarely use pokies... It appears clear that Aquis will rely on locals playing pokies much more than high roller Chinese at gaming tables if it is to be anywhere near sustainable as a company...
Further, the resort's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) lacks clarity as to the full extent of its probable impacts, such as its future impact on coastal processes. This uncertainty partly arises out of the fact the resort is to be located in a low-lying coastal area on a floodplain.
Predicting which way the dice will roll becomes even more tricky in the context of climate change with projected sea level rises and intensified cyclone activity.
For example, in the chapter dealing with coastal processes, the EIS stated, The coastal processes that would be involved in shoreline migration from its current position to a new year 2100 location as a result of SLR is impossible to predict, given the complex array of tidal creeks in the Barron River delta and beyond. is likely that structural works will be constructed... This protection will interrupt coastal processes in the region and, in this circumstance, it is unlikely that the Aquis Resort will further impact coastal processes at any time.
The EIS ultimately conceded, This situation is impossible to predict as it involves vagaries of climate change, community values, and government policy.
If nothing else, it can be certain that if this development were to proceed, the character of Cairns would become irrevocably altered — with similar developments likely to follow in its wake. The question remains as to whether Cairns can continue to sustain a tourism industry founded on its stunning natural environment.