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Macau casinos rack up year of gains as VIPs return
by Staff Writers
Hong Kong (AFP) Aug 1, 2017

Australia axes Asian-led Gold Coast mega-casino plan
Sydney (AFP) Aug 1, 2017 - A Chinese-Australian investment consortium's plans to build a multi-billion-dollar mega-casino on the Gold Coast were canned by the state government Tuesday, following an outcry from locals over the size of the complex.

The ASF Consortium, comprising a Sydney-listed Chinese-Australian investment firm and two state-owned Chinese companies, had proposed a Aus$3 billion (US$2.4 billion) so-called integrated resort in the tourist hotspot.

The waterfront development on the Gold Coast Spit was to have included multiple hotels up to 45 storeys high as well as retail, entertainment, residential and conference facilities.

Community and environmental groups were critical of the proposal, which came after ASF was chosen as the preferred tenderer in 2014, saying it would hurt local entertainment and gambling venues in the area as well as impact local wildlife.

"Like many Queenslanders, I have enjoyed visiting the Spit for decades," Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said in a statement as her state government announced it had "terminated the proposed ASF development".

"We need to ensure that character is preserved for future generations... What the Spit really needs now is a master plan to revitalise it and increase its benefit to the Gold Coast as a community asset."

Palaszczuk said the replacement -- a community-led master plan for the area -- did not rule out a future casino complex in the Gold Coast.

But it would keep to local guidelines for buildings to be at most three storeys high and low density.

"It also helps get the balance right between protecting environmental and community values and allowing appropriate commercial development," state Infrastructure and Planning Minister Jackie Trad added.

A response from ASF was not immediately available.

The announcement is the second blow recently for the casino sector in Queensland.

Hong Kong billionaire Tony Fung last year shelved the casino part of a Aus$8.15 billion Aquis project near Cairns, the gateway to the iconic Great Barrier Reef, citing a softening Asian gambling market.

Macau casinos Tuesday posted a 12th consecutive month of gains thanks to mass tourism and a resurgence of high rollers, a stellar turnaround after takings plunged in the wake of China's corruption crackdown.

Semi-autonomous Macau is the only part of China where casino gambling is legal and is a favourite haunt of mainland big spenders.

But when President Xi Jinping launched a campaign against graft and conspicuous spending by officials after taking power in 2012 there was an exodus of VIP gamblers from the enclave, which had gained a reputation as a money-laundering centre for illicit cashflows out of China.

The crisis was compounded by a growth slowdown on the mainland.

To counter the downturn, casino giants launched a series of mega-resorts offering everything from fine dining to theme park rides to attract mass-market gamblers.

Signs of a turnaround emerged in August last year, when Macau saw its first rise in gaming revenue after 26 months of decline.

On Tuesday the enclave announced gaming revenues were up 29 percent year-on-year in July, reaching 23 billion patacas ($2.86 billion) and sealing a full year of gains.

Analysts say the move to offer entertainment rather than just gaming tables has helped, but the resurgence of VIPs is also pushing revenues.

"Some of the more adventurous are returning, then others are hearing from them that it's absolutely fine to go to Macau, and that feeds off itself," said Andrew Scott, CEO of Macau-based Inside Asian Gaming magazine.

Scott predicts further growth.

"New millionaires are made in China every day -- it's like an adult rite of passage for wealthy people in China to come to Macau," he told AFP.

VIPs are being helped by a junket industry that has cleaned up its act and is bolstered by ample liquidity, added analyst Ben Lee of Macau-based IGamiX consultancy.

Junket operators lend money to high rollers at interest-free or low rates to help them circumvent limits on the amount of cash they can take out of the mainland.

Many of Macau's junket firms have gone out of business in the past two years.

But the survivors have consolidated and diversified their risk and are feeling "bullish", said Lee.

He said the "super whale" corrupt government officials have not returned and the VIPs are not splashing out as much as they did in the boom years -- but there are now more of them.

The completion of long-awaited infrastructure projects is also a plus, analysts said.

A new ferry terminal serving the Cotai strip housing most casinos has just opened and a bridge connecting Macau to the mainland city of Zhuhai and to Hong Kong is nearing completion.

Economic rebound bypasses Spain's poorest neighbourhood
Seville, Spain (AFP) July 31, 2017
Elvira Montadas pushes her neighbour in a wheelchair along a badly paved sidewalk, past crumbling buildings, in return for some pocket change. This is one of the odd jobs allowing her to survive in Spain's poorest neighbourhood - Los Pajaritos in Seville, the country's fourth largest city famous for its Alcazar palace. A divorced mother of two teenage daughters, 49-year-old Montadas has ... read more

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