Casino operator Crown wants to make Perth a major gateway for mass-market Chinese gamblers following the success of casino hotspot Singapore.
Crown chair James Packer said Perth’s proximity to Asia and shared time zone placed it in an ideal position to capture the outbound tourism growth from Asia, but other Australian cities need not worry.
“While Sydney has always been Australia’s gateway for international tourists, Crown’s investment in Perth provides us with an opportunity to make Perth an equally important gateway into Australia,” Packer told Crown’s annual general meeting in Perth on Tuesday.
Crown’s planned 20-storey casino resort complex, which is due to be completed in 2016, would attract the rising Asian middle class and guarantee long-term prosperity for Crown Perth and Western Australia, he said.
“The cake is only going to get bigger, with enough pieces for all of us,” Packer said.
Crown is spending almost $3 billion on its Perth and Melbourne casinos.
A boost of overseas tourist numbers to Perth would benefit all of Australia’s cities and the tourism sector.
Crown’s decision to target middle-class tourists contrasts with its pursuit of high-roller Chinese tourists at its Melbourne Crown casino and proposed luxury hotel and casino at Sydney’ Barangaroo development.
The Perth spend comes two years after Singapore completed two large resort casinos at a cost of $13 billion and boosted economic growth by 15 per cent thanks largely to Chinese tourism.
Packer said Crown’s new 500-room luxury six-star resort hotel could transform Perth in a similar way.
In 2011, Western Australia achieved seven per cent growth in international visitor numbers, the highest rate in Australia, and Chinese visitors to Western Australia increased by 57 per cent.
The rising middle class in China was estimated at over 300 million people, Packer said.
Asked what he thought of the federal government’s Asian Century White Paper, Packer replied “good”.
His comment came minutes after Crown survived a shareholder vote on executive pay which could have led to a board spill.
Shareholders overwhelmingly voted in favour of Crown’s executive pay report for the 2011/12 financial year despite Crown making no changes to its executive pay policy.
At last year’s meeting, 55 per cent of shareholders voted against Crown’s pay report, delivering the company its first “strike”.
Crown reported revenue, excluding VIP programme play, was up eight per cent in the first 17 weeks of the financial year compared to the same period a year ago and non-gaming revenue was 5.9 per cent higher.
Packer joked about concerns that Craigie’s base salary of $2.98 million was significantly higher than that awarded to chief executives of larger companies such as the Commonwealth Bank, BHP Billion and Rio Tinto.
“I agree he’s overpaid, but I can’t get him to do it for any less,” he said.
While he holds about 48 per cent of Crown’s shares, Packer was not allowed to vote on the remuneration report.
Crown shares closed five cents lower at $9.38.