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Feds look to shorten odds on island’s future

THE Federal Government is looking at ways to re-open a large resort and casino on Christmas Island, touted as a key to the tiny island’s economic sustainability.

Federal Minister for the Territories Ian Campbell told WA Business News he held a “strong view” the project should be re-opened and that he planned to meet the resort owners to discuss the project’s future.

It has been reported that, when current owner Soft Star Pty Ltd bought the resort almost three years ago, it indicated an intention to re-establish the casino and resort.

The Shire of Christmas Island says the facility is a key piece of infrastructure on the island, but that the current owners are not doing enough to return it to its former glory.

Senator Campbell said the impressive facility was being wasted in its present state and would significantly boost the local economy and employment levels if reopened.

The Christmas Island of Chamber of Commerce estimated the island’s population fell from 2,600 to 1,300 after the casino closed in 1998.

“Our policy goal for Christmas [Island] is very similar to the rest of the country, we want there to be a strong, stable growing economy,” Senator Campbell said.

“We don’t want people to be having to rely on government assistance – it’s not a way to grow healthy people with self esteem. And I believe the very first thing we can do is get the casino reopened.”

The once highly profitable casino, popular with Asian high rollers, was built by powerful Indonesian businessman Robbie Sumampow in the early 1990s.

However it was mothballed in 1998 following the closure of local airline routes amid increasing competition from other casinos in the area and the slide in Asian economic performance.

After numerous legal claims, including pay claims by almost 300 former employees, the facility was eventually sold for the fire sale price of $5.5 million in mid-2000 to Soft Star.

Soft Star is connected to Asia Pacific Space Centre, a company currently planning an ambitious $800 million satellite launching facility on the island.

At the time of the purchase Soft Star managing director David Kwan, who is also the managing director of the Asia Pacific Space Centre, was reported to have indicated his intention to return the resort and casino to its former state.

But while the facility has been reopened, Shire of Christmas Island president Gordon Thompson said it was operating as little more than a run-down bed and breakfast.

“It is a key piece of infrastructure that is being under-utilised,” Mr Thompson said.

“It attracts people to the island, whether that is for gambling, diving, fishing or relaxing we don’t mind, just as long as it operating.

“Mr Kwan is not the right person to own the asset because he does not have the capital to refurbish it.”

While the Federal Government has said it will provide $100 million to assist ASPC with its space centre plans provided they go ahead, there is speculation as to whether ASPC will be able to secure the funding to make the ambitious space port a reality.

But Senator Campbell said that, regardless of other projects planned, it would be in the island’s economic interests for the resort and casino to re-open.

“And that’s one of those things I want to put to Mr Kwan, that regardless of the progress of the space centre and any delays it is having . . . it would be very, very good for the island if the resort got going again. And I am supported in this by the Christmas Island Workers Union and the Christmas Island Shire Council,” Senator Campbell said.

A spokesman for the ASPC said the lack of regular aircraft services to WA’s north, and not the resort and casino, was the main factor stifling the Christmas Island tourism industry.

However, Senator Campbell said he did not think air services were an issue, although he would discuss them with Mr Kwan.

“I think it is a bit of chicken and an egg issue, quite frankly,” he said.

“If you have got resort facilities there and a casino there and demand is there, then there is no constraint on flights.

“And as I understand it, as demand increases they can increase seats.”

 

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