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Echo beats Packer's Crown to win Brisbane casino licence

[SYDNEY] Australian gaming firm Echo Entertainment Group has won a licence to build a casino in the centre of Brisbane, edging out rival Crown Resorts for a development positioned to benefit from an influx of Chinese high rollers.

Echo and its partners had been regarded as the frontrunners to win the licence to build a gambling complex in Australia's third-largest city. But the outcome was never a sure thing given that Crown, led by Australian billionaire James Packer, and its Chinese partner Greenland Holdings Group, had appeared determined to trump their rivals. "The Destination Brisbane Consortium (Echo Entertainment Group, Far East Consortium (Australia) and Chow Tai Fook Enterprises) is the Queensland Government's preferred proponent for the multi-billion dollar Queen's Wharf Brisbane Integrated Resort Development," the Queensland State Government said in a statement on Monday.

The two rival Australian casino firms are ramping up their domestic businesses to capitalise on a wave of wealthy Asian customers looking for new locations amid a corruption crackdown by the Chinese government that has seen gambling revenues in the casino hub of Macau tumble in 2015.

That has particularly hit Crown's earnings since it has a one-third stake in Melco Crown Entertainment, among the Macau companies affected by the crackdown.

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Meanwhile, revenue from the wealthiest clients at Crown's flagship casino in the Australian city of Melbourne and at Echo's casino on Sydney's waterfront, The Star, has hit record levels as Chinese visitor numbers grow rapidly.

For Echo, the win also mark a small victory against its rival following its failure to stop Crown from building a US$2 billion casino just a mile from its Sydney facility.