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Hong Kong billionaire Fung's Australian casino takeover plans in doubt

[SYDNEY] Hong Kong tycoon Tony Fung's plans to take over Australia's Reef Casino Trust (RCT) are in doubt after the Queensland government said it was not possible to complete a regulatory review before the offer expired.

It expires on Nov 28 and is unlikely to be extended, Fung's Aquis Casino Acquisitions said in a statement on Monday.

Shares in Reef Casino Trust, which owns the only casinos in the Australian city of Cairns near the Great Barrier Reef, fell as much as 31 per cent on the news to their lowest level in a year at A$2.60.

The deal would have given Aquis two casinos in the northern Australian city for Mr Fung's US$8 billion Aquis Resort development. "Completing the RCT takeover offer in 2014 was always important to Aquis' overall financial and investment plans," it said. "In this respect, Aquis will be undertaking a strategic review of its plans and development timetable over the coming months." The proposed acquisition had been give the green light by both the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Foreign Investment Review Board.

Aquis said it may reconsider its offer in 2015 if the Queensland Office of Liquor and Gaming Regulation completed its current probity reviews in the "short term". It has not been advised of a date by which the approval might be granted.

Given that a new transaction would need to be renegotiated, Aquis said there was no certainty it would go through in the future.

Australia is seeking to capitalise on the growing appetite of well-heeled Chinese for travel and gaming, trying to attract them to its popular tourist destinations.

In May, it announced the names of bidders it had shortlisted for three casino licences. They included property giant Far East Consortium/Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Cheng Yu-tung, and Chinese state-owned real estate developer Greenland Group.

REUTERS