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The Canberra Times

Casino Canberra to be sold to Sydney company

The Hong Kong-based owners of Casino Canberra have announced a plan to sell the business for $52 million to a Sydney pubs and hotels group.

Aquis Entertainment Limited told the Australian Securities Exchange earlier this month it intended to sell the casino pending shareholder approval to a company owned by the Oscars Group.

Oscars Group would gain all of the shares in the casino's holding company for $52 million in a debt and cash free basis. No employees would be affected by the sale, the company said.

The chief executive of Aquis and Casino Canberra, Allison Gallaugher, said the sale would provide considerable value to the company and its shareholders.

"It recognises the attractive operating performance of the businesses which has continued to trade well since reopening post the COVID-19 lockdowns," Ms Gallaugher said in the statement to the ASX.

"As an employee of Casino Canberra, I am also very excited about the future and working with Oscars on the continual improvement of our business."

Oscars director Mario Gravanis said the company was excited by the opportunity to buy Casino Canberra.

"We will be working closely with Aquis over the coming months to satisfy the necessary conditions precedent with minimal disruption to the business and look forward to working with the Casino Canberra team in the future," Mr Gravanis said in the statement to the securities exchange.

Oscars Group owns hotels in Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong and Brisbane, along with pubs across Sydney. The group was founded in 1986.

Aquis Entertainment Limited announced in January 2020 a long-awaited deal to transfer the casino's ownership to Blue Whale Entertainment had been terminated.

The deal had been contingent on Blue Whale obtaining approvals from the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission before December 21, which it failed to do.

Blue Whale unveiled plans in December 2018 to buy the casino, in a complicated transaction that would have seen it become the majority shareholder in the companies that own and operate the venue, Aquis Entertainment Limited and Casino Canberra Limited.

The announcement came less than a fortnight after the ACT government knocked back Aquis' controversial, unsolicited proposal to redevelop the casino precinct with luxury hotels, high-end shopping outlets, bars, cafes and a convention centre.

At the time, then Casino Canberra boss Jessica Mellor said new gambling laws and government decisions "not to make certain land available" had made it difficult to progress the proposal.

The casino had wanted permission to operate 500 poker machines as part of the deal to revitalise the precinct.

But laws passed in the ACT Legislative Assembly in late 2017 limited that number to 200 machines, along with 60 fully-automated table games.

Punters would also be limited to $2 spins, and would be forced to nominate how much money they were prepared to lose in advance.

Casino Canberra's owners have announced a new deal to offload the venue for $52 million. Picture: Jamila Toderas