Michael Sarquis Said Queensland Laws Confuse Foreign Execs
The Queensland Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation’s executive director, Michael Sarquis, said on Tuesday that Star Entertainment Group’s Chinese partners, Far East Consortium and Chow Tai Fook Group, have created some regulatory issues for the company in its Queen’s Wharf integrated casino resort.
Michael Sarquis said executives from Chow Tai Fook and Far East Consortium have had to “play catch-up” while learning their obligations under Queenslands’s business and gaming regulations. Sarquis added that implementation of Australia’s tougher national security legislation, enacted earlier this year, has posed difficulties for foreign companies in general.
The Star Entertainment Group Limited is one of the largest gaming companies in Australia. It was created (as Echo Entertainment) in 2011 when its parent company, Tabcorp, demerged its casino operations. These days, Star Entertainment Group is the owner of the Star Syndey in New South Wales, the Treasury Hotel & Casino in Brisbane, and the Star Gold Coast in Gold Coast. Star Entertainment also is developing Queen’s Wharf, a multi-billion dollar integrated casino resort.
Since three of the companies’ four casinos are (or will be) in Queensland, any foreign partners must follow Queensland’s well-developed business regulations – and gaming regulations.
Far East Consortium, Chow Tai Fook
On March 28, 2018, Star Entertainment Group announced Chow Tai Fook and Far East Consortium, two Hong Kong-listed companies, had purchased a 10% share in the Star Entertainment. The Hong Kong companies said they wanted to “allow the Group to increase its exposure to the Queen’s Wharf development, where the Group already has an equity stake, and benefit from The Star’s future growth.”
The Queen’s Wharf project (artist’s rendering above) was not the only project FEC and Chow Tai Fook group discussed.
The investors, which already had some ties to Star Entertainment, said it wanted to receive the nice dividends Star gives it shareholders, as well as reap the benefits of Star’s purchase of the Trans World Corporation.
Trans World Hotels & Entertainment
Chow Tai Fook and FEC seemed excited about breaking into the European casino market, too. Trans World Hotels & Entertainment (TWHE) is the European subsidiary of Transworld Entertainment. TWHE owns three Czech/German casinos in Germany and Australia, all three near the Czech Republic border with those countries: Ceska Kubica in Regensburg, Germany; Route 59 in Znojmo, Austria (45 miles north of Vienna); and Route 55 in Dolni Dvoriste, Austria (30 miles from Linz).
In its announcement to investments Far East Consortium and Chow Tai Fook said they would continue to build a strategic partnership with Star Entertainment. The companies also hinted at further projects in Australia and beyond, though they only noted them as “future developments of The Star and other nominated developments which will be complementary to The Star’s operations and to the Group’s development pipeline in Australia.”
All of these investments bring special challenges, because of the new regulations and business practices encountered. Just like Australian companies might have issues adjusting to Chinese laws, the Chinese and Hong Kong companies face similar challenges. Michael Sarquis did not seem alarmed by that fact, though Australia-Chinese relations are a bit strained at the moment.
Sarquis Predicts Legal Australian Online Gambling
It was Michael Sarquis’s recent comments on the future of Australian online gambling that received notable attention in the global gaming media. In a recent interview with Inside Asian Gambling, Michael Sarquis made bold predictions on the future of online gambling in Australia.
The Liquor & Gaming director said, “If you prohibit something you create a black market and that has been one of the concerns in Australia – that the offshore provision of online gambling has been a problem. The Commonwealth is moving to address that.”
“It’s my personal view that at some time in the future (online gaming) will be legalized within a properly regulatory framework. That’s not the view of the Queensland government, it’s just [my] personal view.”
Sudhir Kale Predicts Online Gambling Laws
Sudhir Kale, the founder of GamePlan Consultants, echoed Sarquis’s opinions at this week’s Gaming, Racing, and Wagering Australia (GRWA) conference in Sydney. Speaking to a room full of gaming business people and Aussie regulators, Mr. Kale said, “In my opinion, it is only a matter of time before online gaming becomes legal in Australia.”
“That’s the logical step to avoid losing valuable tax revenue to offshore operators and it’s what the Productivity Commission has recommended.”
August 2017 IGA Law
At the present, online sports betting and daily fantasy sports gaming is legal in Australia, but online poker and casino sites are illegal. The Australian Senate passed the Interactive Gambling Act (or Interactive Gambling Amendment 2016) in August 2017, which forced top regulated online casinos and card rooms out of the Australian market. The Interactive Gambling Act was supposed to update a 2001 law for mobile gaming, live in/play betting on smartphones, and other loopholes that technological advancements have created over the years.
More to the point, the new IGA was supposed to clear the way for Australian gaming operators to collect more revenues, due to less competition. The problem is the IGA 2016 forced publicly-traded companies out of the market, but private offshore online casinos and poker sites continue to accept players.
Those companies are unregulated and do not pay Australian taxes, so they can undercut Aussie gaming sites. Furthermore, Australian authorities cannot target them they way they targeted the publicly-traded online casinos and poker rooms, through multinational enforcement actions by regulators in New Jersey, Kahnawake, and the UK. Australian card players, pokies fans, and casino table game punters preferred to migrate to those offshore gaming sites, which (in the cases of old, trusted sites) offered more games, better games, and better odds.
Michael Sarquis at GRWA 2017
Around the time the IGA law was being passed in August 2017, Michael Sarquis was on a GRWA panel with Anthony Seyfort of HWL Ebsworth Lawyers, David Edwards of the Department of State Development-QLD’s Special Projects Unit, and Sally Gainsbury of the The University of Sydney’s Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic.
The GRWA panel, which was hosted by Martin Williams, the editor of Gambling Compliance Asia, discussed the IGA 2016 and the future of Australia’s online gambling laws. As one might expect, the Queenland Gaming regulator’s director predicted that the law being passed by Coalition lawmakers would be overturned in due time. The panel agreed that a future need for more revenues would drive the government to reverse its decision, perhaps at a time when the Labor Party governs Australia again.