REFILE-Queensland gov't says 19 potential bidders apply for new casino licences

Wed Mar 5, 2014 1:00am EST

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SYDNEY, March 5 (Reuters) - Australia's Queensland government reported strong interest on Wednesday from both local and foreign bidders for its plan to build as many as three casino resorts, underscoring the northern state's position as the country's next gaming frontier.

Australia is looking to build large casino resorts and other tourism attractions to lure high-end Asian spenders to compete with places like Macau and the Philippines.

Australia's 13 casinos currently capture just 1 percent of the $34 billion market for high-roller gamblers in Asia annually.

A total of 19 companies have registered to make a potential bid for the licences for the integrated casino and hotel developments, the government said.

Twelve of the companies were looking at a development in central Brisbane, including Echo Entertainment Group, which operates the existing casino in the city.

Echo, which last year lost its exclusive licence in Sydney when the New South Wales government decided to allow rival Crown Ltd to proceed with a high roller development, has pledged to invest A$1.5 billion ($1.34 billion) to protect its turf.

Crown Resorts Ltd, controlled by billionaire James Packer, and China's state-owned property developer, Greenland Holdings Group, are also eyeing the Brisbane development, local media reported.

The remaining seven potential bidders have expressed an interest in developments in regional Queensland. These include Chinese tycoon Tony Fung's plan to build a A$4.2 billion casino and resort project in Cairns city.

The government did not disclose the names of the remaining companies, but said they included construction groups, financiers, legal advisors and gaming operators.

They have until March 31 to make a formal expression of interest and are expected to form consortia to meet that next hurdle. Detailed proposals are due later in the year.

Crown and Greenland officials were not available for comment.

($1 = 1.1176 Australian dollars)

(Reporting by Maggie Lu Yueyang and Jane Wardell; Editing by Matt Driskill)

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