Statement regarding Aquis from Mr David Ford, Commissioner for Liquor and Gaming:
I have noted the comments in media articles regarding the probity investigation currently being undertaken by the Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation (OLGR) into Aquis Casino Acquisitions Pty Ltd (Aquis), and its associates, regarding the proposed purchase of the Reef Hotel Casino in Cairns. It is essential that the importance and process of this investigation is properly understood.
This investigation is being conducted in accordance with well established and internationally recognised principles and its proper completion is a critical underpinning of the strength and reputation of the casino regulatory environment in this state. This has been a key requirement in the Queensland casino legislation since the Casino Control Act was passed in 1982.
The OLGR probity investigation into Aquis commenced on 5 March 2014 after receiving a formal request to do so, and certainly not the 12 months ago quoted in media articles.
Given that these matters are by their very nature complex and intrusive, the length of any investigation is critically dependant on the availability of information and the cooperativeness of the applicant. Although significant progress has been made in the investigation, important financial information, including issues around its equity funding and future cash flows, remains outstanding from Aquis.
In addition, discussions with the Queensland Police Service and through them with international policing agencies, to finalise consideration of the reputation and criminal history of Aquis and its associates are yet to be finalised.
On 12 September Aquis formally advised that they had set the date, 28 November for the matter to be finalised. They were made aware of the difficulties this date would impose on the probity process and the very real risk that the process, and the necessary government approvals, would not be able to be completed by this date.
The nature of casinos has made them targets for organised crime, both in their ownership and as a means of laundering ill-gotten gains. While this has never been an issue in Queensland it is important that the regulatory processes work to eliminate these risks as far as is possible.
Casino approval processes in Queensland are also subject to scrutiny by regulatory agencies throughout the world. A failure to adequately undertake probity investigations will reflect not only on the Queensland regulatory framework, but on the casino operators already licensed within this state, with potential consequences for them in other jurisdictions and in the eyes of their shareholders.
Obviously, there are a number of factors which affect the length of probity processes including whether the applicant has been similarly licensed elsewhere, their corporate structure and source of funds. I would note that Aquis has had little corporate history in Australia, has not been similarly licensed elsewhere and is sourcing a significant proportion of its funds from offshore.
The OLGR is well aware of the need for a timely response in a commercial transaction such as this and will continue to engage with Aquis to finalise the matter as quickly as possible.