Written By Carla Harris
Australia has beautiful beaches, heart-stopping natural wonders, and a plethora of cultural attractions. But it's another feature that some observers believe will ignite a massive tourism boom - new, world-class casinos.
Sound far-fetched? It's not. Many industry observers believe Australia is the world's next gaming hotspot.
Along with scenery and culture, Australia has another tourism ace-in-the-hole -- proximity to Asia. With the country's mining industry slowing down, a massive infusion of tourist dollars from Asia is an attractive proposition for local politicians.
With 13 casinos already in business, Australia isn't virgin territory for operators. Developers are betting, however, that a new and more upscale model will attract a large and untapped consumer market.
Tony Fung, a billionaire Hong Kong businessman, recently won approval for Aquis, an $8 billion gaming resort in Cairns. Fung has promised the project, which is vastly larger in scope than current Australian casinos, will be a "man-made wonder of the world."
The resort's pitch to potential visitors is enticing: an integrated gaming resort offering five-star luxury, situated next to one of the world's natural wonders -- The Great Barrier Reef.
The target demographic for the development is broad. Fung expects to lure some of Asia highest rollers -- while also tapping the vast Chinese middle class market.
Fung isn't alone. Two other developers, James Packer and ASF Consortium, plan to build world-class integrated resorts in the Gold Coast and Sydney respectively. Both of these casinos will also target the growing Chinese tourism market. It's a strategy industry observers believe could transform the Australian gaming landscape.
Gaming is extremely popular in Asia. As the Chinese middle class grows and acquires more purchasing power, developers are betting they'll cast an eye toward Australia's mix of casinos and natural beauty. If these mega-casinos pass muster with regulators, they could create tens of thousands of new jobs while pumping billions into the economy annually.
The idea of Australia as an international gaming center rivaling Las Vegas or Macau may seem like a longshot. But it's a bet these savvy casino magnates appear willing to make.