New chairman appointed by Aquis Entertainment

By Ethan Anderson Updated
Iris Capital purchases Casino Canberra from Aquis

The operator of Casino Canberra, Aquis Entertainment, has confirmed the appointment of a new chairman.

Asia Gaming Brief reports that Aquis has appointed Russell Shields as chairman of the board of directors, following his acceptance of the offer and receipt of the necessary regulatory approval.

Shields has been a senior non-executive director of the company since July 2015.

He has more than 35 years of experience in the financial services industry and was chairman of Queensland and Northern Territory ANZ Bank for six years.

His appointment comes after the retirement of Tony Fung as chairman, which occurred in late August.

At the time, Aquis noted that Fung will continue to be a major shareholder and financier of the company with “no changes to the shareholding or financial agreements in place”.

Fung steps down to temper regulatory challenges

Aquis Entertainment owner Tony Fung stepped down in early 2021, citing the need for the board to be independent, given the regulatory challenges facing the gaming industry in Australia.

With increasing scrutiny on casinos nationwide following inquiries into Crown Resorts, Aquis said Fung’s retirement comes at a time when the industry is facing “competing interests” in making profit versus responsible gambling management, anti-money laundering and responsible management to justify retention of their social licences to retain a gaming licence.

Fung will remain majority shareholder and lender to Aquis but said, “It’s not hard to see how my family’s interest as a financial lender and majority shareholder to the casino business may be a conflict of interest in relation to the priority of non-profit factors.

“As such, I feel that it is appropriate to step back and ensure the company receives stewardship by an independent board.”

Independent non-executive director Russell Shields will step in as interim chairman pending a formal offer to assume the role permanently in the coming weeks.

Aquis acquired Casino Canberra in 2014 and has been in ongoing discussions with the ACT Government regarding a proposal to spend $330 million to transform the property and surrounding areas into a comprehensive entertainment district.

Casino Canberra redevelopment still on the cards

In May, Aquis signalled its commitment to redeveloping its casino and gaming precinct in Canberra.

Tony Fung told shareholders during the company’s annual general meeting that redeveloping the casino remained an important part of Aquis’ future, despite having seen talks stall on multiple occasions due to disagreements over the number of poker machines able to be installed.

“We do remain committed to the redevelopment of the property and we believe that the post COVID-19 recovery in Canberra is the greatest opportunity to do so,” he said.

“We will be holding discussions with the government this year to discuss the conditions in place in relation to the redevelopment and electronic gaming machines and we look forward to the opportunity to deliver to Canberra the kind of world class entertainment precinct that our capital city deserves and to creating many new employment opportunities and further securing all existing roles within our business.”

Aquis, which purchased Casino Canberra in 2014, submitted its original redevelopment plans in 2015, including a request for permission to install up to 500 poker machines.

Casino Canberra is not permitted to operate poker machines under the current legislation.

The company’s initial bid was rejected in December 2018, with the government describing the proposal as untenable due to ongoing uncertainty surrounding regulation and financing details.

Instead, the ACT government issued a counter offer under which Aquis would be permitted to run 200 poker machines and 60 electronic gaming machines subject to strict conditions.

Aquis has largely balked at the reduced offering since.

Nevertheless, Fung said that redevelopment of the casino “still forms part of our longer-term strategy for growth in Canberra.”

Aquis recently reported a profit of A$798,201 in 2020, reversing an A$4 million loss in 2020.

Back to top