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Casino Canberra

ACT's Top Table Gaming Destination

Written by Laura Clapper & Produced by William Piedmont

 ACT's Top Table Gaming Destination


Casino Canberra opened its doors in 1992, when the city received permission from the Australian government to open a casino. Located in the Australia’s capital city, Casino Canberra is wholly owned operation of the Casino Austria International Group, a European Company, and the first and only casino in the region. Though it began with a temporary space in the National Convention Centre, it moved to a permanent facility in 1994.

A table games-only casino with over 37 tables, the casino offers Blackjack, Poker, Baccarat, Roulette, Sic Bo and Pai Gow. Casino Canberra is the only casino in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and thus carries the only license in the ACT to operate the table games. Though the table games prove very popular among visitors, the casino seeks to offer guests a full range of casino gaming products, including slot machines.

Currently, the casino is focused on its table games. It recently hosted a leg of the Pokerstars ANZPT Poker Tour, which had visited casinos throughout Australia and New Zealand. Additionally, the casino sponsors the Canberra Raiders cheerleaders. “We’re trying to drive our business through local sponsorship” says Bernie Morris, General Manager of Casino Canberra.

“We’re looking at installing some of the electronic versions of table games, beyond Rapid Roulette which has been in operation for some time,” says Ms. Morris. The casino also recently upgraded to digital surveillance technology and installed new audio equipment in the nightclub.

Casino Canberra didn’t feel the effects of the global economic downturn like other industries around the world. The government of Australia took an aggressive approach to stimulate the economy, lowering interest rates and saving the country from a severe recession. The lower interest rates created more disposable income for people and subsequently increased business for the casino.

DEALER TRAINING

Ms. Morris began her career as a casino dealer in Adelaide in 1985, during the expansion of the casino industry. She moved to Canberra in 1992 as an inspector for Casino Canberra when it opened. After joining the Casino Austria Group, she gained more experience in casinos throughout Australia, including Cairns, until she was named general manager of Casino Canberra.

A challenge for the casino is to retain employees. Many of those in the ACT are employed in the public sector, leaving hospitality jobs to students at university. “We have a high turnover of staff,” says Ms. Morris. “Our plans to recruit staff is to be more strategic about when we’re recruiting [We] try and get people after the holiday seasons when they’re ready to go back to work and looking for jobs .”

To encourage employee retention, the casino has created several training programs. The most notable is the nationally recognized dealer certification course. In fact, Casino Canberra was the first casino in Australia to offer such a certification course. The training program entails not only the gaming components, but also covers issues involving responsible gaming and alcohol consumption and conflict resolution. “[Dealers] can achieve a certificate that is recognized throughout Australia,” Ms. Morris says. Additionally, in the security licensing area, the casino is looking to create a more structured role to foster the individual development of the employee.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

Over 800 guests visit the casino every day, 45 percent of visitors are from interstate and overseas. Though it’s the only casino in Canberra, the local clubs can be considered indirect competition. The clubs, through local community organizations, are allowed to run slot machines because of their not-for-profit status. Additionally, the casinos in Sydney and Melbourne, which are full service casinos, are competitors of Casino Canberra. Sydney itself was styled as a large Las Vegas type casino. “What we try to do in a boutique sense is to service the lower end players very well,” says Peter Cursley, Director of Marketing. “They’re not quite up to the premium stage of player, but we treat them like premium players.”

Casino Canberra offers players a membership to its Senators Club. Members earn points as they play, making them eligible for rewards and special promotions. All members are eligible to take advantage of secure, covered parking, entry into one of the special gaming tournaments hosted by the casino and other promotions and prize drawings. Guests can also redeem their points for a host of complimentary services including hotel accommodations, dining at The Grill Brassiere and spa visits.

According to Mr. Cursley, the casino is in regular communication with its customers through several channels, including mail, email and the casino’s blog, to promote events, special offers and rewards. “We try to give them the sorts of things that they’re looking for, whether it is rewards or promotions or entertainment,” he says. The casino eagerly accepts feedback on its promotional activities. “We are fairly aggressive in our approach to encourage that feedback from players so that we can tailor our marketing to best reward the player and reward ourselves,” he says.

LOBBYING FOR SLOT MACHINES

At the time the casino received its license, there was no stipulation for slot machines. Though table games are popular and bring in revenue, slot machines prove immensely popular in other casinos in Sydney and Melbourne.

“It was a federal decision to have a casino license in the ACT and it was because of a very strong club lobby that the federal government put the tender out as a table game only operation,” says Mr. Cursley. The casino knew of this stipulation when it bid for and won the tender. The table-only scheme worked well for the first few years of the casino’s operation, until full service casinos opened in Sydney and Melbourne—casinos that had tables and slot machines. As a result, Casino Canberra lost many of the premium players from those areas and business fell dramatically. “It basically halved in the span of a month,” says Mr. Cursley. “Slot machines would be a vital addition to our business to make us a viable casino.”

Casino Canberra has been working diligently over the last decade to secure a slot machine license. The difficulty lies in a change in regional legislation, which requires a majority vote in the ACT Legislative Assembly. An amendment to the legislation currently lacks the majority of votes necessary to pass, though it has come close on several occasions. “It’s been a roller coaster ride,” says Mr. Cursley.

“As a table game casino, we’re very successful, probably one of the most successful table game operations,” says Mr. Cursley. However, due to the labour intensity of the table games, it’s difficult to make a decent bottom line. “If we were to get 200 gaming machines added to our already successful table game operation, we would become a very successful little casino,” he says. “It sells Canberra short as a travel destination.”

The recent release of the Productivity Commission’s report into gambling in Australia vindicated Casino Canberra’s long struggle for a licence to operate electronic gaming machines in the Casino. The Productivity Commission, the Australian Government's independent research and advisory body on a range of economic, social and environmental issues, can see no reason why Casino Canberra is being denied an electronic gaming machine licence.

Peter Cursley, says that his company did accept a gaming licence on the basis that there would be no electronic gaming machines at the time, however, in the 20 years since then the market environment has changed dramatically. The Productivity Commission is the latest in a number of Government commissioned reports that see no net incremental down side to allow electronic gaming machines in the Casino. A Price Waterhouse report, a Coopers and Lybrand report and an Allen Consulting Group report, all commissioned by the ACT Government, have stated benefits in allowing electronic gaming machines in the Casino.

Casino Canberra has offered the ACT Government $10,000,000 for a licence to operate 200 machines. The machines would expect to generate around $3 to 4 million in recurrent taxation revenue for the ACT Government with, according to the Productivity Commission, negligible negative effect on the ACT.

A 2005 report by accounting firm Ernst & Young estimates Casino Canberra has contributed up to $349 million in net value to the ACT community since opening in 1992. A substantial amount of the Casino’s annual licence fee goes to support Lifeline ACT each year.

About 45% of visitors to Casino Canberra are tourists who, in the main, expect there to be electronic gaming machines in Canberra Casino. ACT residents are being denied the potential revenue generated from these interstate and overseas markets. This has resulted in increases to ACT householder expenses such as the rates hike for ACT rate payers outlined in the 2010/11 Budget.

The Casino remains keen to offer the ACT Government a fair and reasonable up-front licence fee to operate ‘C class’ gaming machines.

At the end of the year, the Canberra Airport will begin to service international flights, welcoming visitors from New Zealand and Asia. “Our lobbying is along the lines of ‘Let’s create a casino that meets people’s expectations of what a world class, albeit small casino, should be,” says Mr. Cursley.

ON THE HORIZON

According to Ms. Morris, over the next five years Casino Canberra seeks to become a full service casino offering both table games and slot machines. “We’d like to have the full complement of casino products,” she says. Mr. Cursley agrees, “We’re working really hard to get slot machines so hopefully five years down the track, we’ll be a completely different casino with a full complement of casino games.”

Casino Canberra has no plans for expansion in the near future. However, if it is granted a slot machine license, it would rearrange the current floor arrangement to accommodate the new machines.


 

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