* Tony Fung's Aquis resort granted "coordinated project" status
* Fung plans 2018 opening and will target high-end Chinese gamblers
* Billionaire's Cairns resort to have casino, aquarium, sports stadium
By Maggie Lu Yueyang and Farah Master
SYDNEY/HONG KONG, Aug 2 (Reuters) - Chinese tycoon Tony Fung has proposed to build a A$4.2 billion ($3.75 billion) casino and resort project in Australia's Cairns city, close to the world-heritage Great Barrier Reef, a move set to accelerate competition in the country's gambling and tourism market.
The Queensland state government said on Friday that Fung's casino proposal was declared a "coordinated project" on Aug. 1, the first step in the government's approval process.
"Basically it's declared a coordinated project because of the size and complexity of it," a spokesman for the Queensland state government told Reuters. "It's the first step in a comprehensive assessment of the approval process. The proponent has to prepare an environmental impact statement."
Fung, a billionaire son of one of the founders of Hong Kong conglomerate Sun Hung Kai & Co. Ltd, is planning to build an integrated resort 13 kilometres north of Cairns that will include an "international class" casino, one of the world's largest aquariums and a 25,000-seat sports stadium.
The proposed casino will target wealthy Chinese tourists and operate 750 tables and 1,500 machines, which is slightly bigger than Australian billionaire James Packer's Crown casino in Melbourne.
Australia has been building large casino resorts and other tourism attractions to lure high-end Asian spenders to compete with places like Macau and the Philippines.
Packer, who co-owns Macau casino Melco Crown, won conditional approval for his A$1.1 billion Sydney casino resort just a month ago while Bruce Zhong, a Chinese businessman, is pushing ahead to open a A$500 million theme park that will include a full-size replica of Beijing's Forbidden City and a nine-storey temple housing a giant Buddha.
Fung's planned Aquis resort "gives Queensland an opportunity to fend off its southern and regional competitors for the increasingly important Chinese tourism market," Fung said in an open letter published on the project website.
The Aquis Resort at the Great Barrier Reef project has a targeted opening of 2018 and could create 26,700 jobs when fully operational, according to information on Aquis' website. The resort is also set to include 13,500 square metres of high-end retail and two 2,500-seat theatres.
Fung, a Hong Kong based private investment banker and investor, has homes in Queensland including a house in the Noosa Hinterland. His private businesses include a cattle farm and wagyu beef breeding business and a sugar cane plantation.
In an open letter published on the company website, Fung said his company bought the option on a 750-acre site north of Cairns in September 2012 to lay the base for his resort project.
Cairns currently has the only one casino, the Reef Hotel casino complex, which is owned by Reef Casino Trust. Reef Hotel Casino's exclusive licence expired a few years ago, CEO Allan Tan told Reuters.
"It's not possible to comment in the absence of details," Tan said when asked about Fung's Aquis casino plan.
($1 = 1.1203 Australian dollars)
(Editing by Matt Driskill)