Gaming giant reps on Coast to inspect casino site

SUNSHINE Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson's dream of having a casino resort development at the heart of the new Maroochydore CBD may be about to come true with the mysterious visit of a high-level delegation from the world's most profitable gaming company.

However, neither Sunshine Coast Council or its Maroochydore CBD developer SunCentral were prepared to comment on the purpose of the two-and-a-half hour fly-in, fly-out visit.

The Sunshine Coast Daily can reveal that included in the visiting party were NagaCorp owner Dr Chen Lip Keong of Malaysia and the company's chairman Timothy McNally, a former executive director of security and corporate services for the Hong Kong Jockey Club.

Artists' impressions of the planned Suncentral development for the Maroochydore CBD.
Artists' impressions of the planned Suncentral development for the Maroochydore CBD. Contributed

They were accompanied by Gary Andrews also from Malaysia who is understood to be the Business Development Director in charge of strategic relationships at the China Railway Engineering Corporation.

NagaCorp is described as one of the world's most profitable gaming companies and the largest gaming entertainment company in the Mekong region.

Its wholly-owned subsidiary, NagaWorld, owns, manages and operates Phnom Penh's only integrated hotel-casino entertainment complex which has a 70-year tenure (until 2065) and a 41-year monopoly within a 200km radius of Phnom Penh (until 2035).

Gary Andrews, business development director at China Railway Engineering Corporation
Gary Andrews, business development director at China Railway Engineering Corporation Contributed

It was the first gaming IPO on the Hong Kong exchange and was the first foreign-owned company with operations in Cambodia ever listed overseas.

The company looks for public-private involvement in its projects offering as part of the deal a lift in the host country's international profile and contribution to local tourism GDP and the injection of Foreign Direct Investment

The profile fits the Sunshine Coast Council's ambitions for a partner to develop and entertainment and convention centre in the CBD.

NagaCorp also has a history of leasing large commercial aircraft to fly punters to its facilities.

Dr Chen Lip Keong, who owns more than 60% of stock in NagaCorp Ltd trained initially as a medical doctor but has strong government ties both in Cambodia where he served as economic advisor to the Prime Minister and in Malaysia where he headed a government-owned Composite Technology Research aerospace body.

He is also the controlling shareholder and president of the Malaysian tourism company Karambunai.

Mr McNally has been NagaCorp's chairman since shifting from his role at the Hong Kong Jockey Club in 2005.

With them on the visit to the Sunshine Coast was Paul Steelman, a United States architect with offices in Macau and Las Vegas who has previously designed casinos for Dr Chen as well as gaming tzars Kirk Kerkorian and Steve Wynn and Prince Albert of Monaco.

NagaCorp chairman Timothy McNally
NagaCorp chairman Timothy McNally

His company Steelman Partners designed the $240m Sands Macau which went from blueprint to completion in just 600 days setting a benchmark now referred to as Sands Speed.

SunCentral CEO John Knaggs said in a written response tha it had received interest from multiple local, national and international companies since Expressions of Interest opened for the core commercial precinct in the Maroochydore City Centre.

"There has been strong interest in the new CBD and meaningful discussions are continuing with numerous parties," Mr Knaggs said. 

"As with any major urban development, the parties involved and the nature of their interest remains commercial in confidence until such time as contract negotiations are progressed.

"SunCentral has no information beyond that which exists in the public realm regarding the State Government's plans for new Integrated Resort Development licences in Queensland.

A number of parties have however expressed strong interest in the CBD's planned premium hotel and conference facilities.

"It is expected that this interest will grow following the commencement of construction of the new runway at Sunshine Coast Airport since this piece of infrastructure is seen as an important precursor to the premium hotel in the CBD."

The Sunshine Coast Council simply referred the Daily to the SunCentral response.

Prince Albert II of Monaco.
Prince Albert II of Monaco. VALERY HACHE / POOL

Twelve months ago Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson described the Coast as no better place in regional Queensland as a location for an integrated resort development featuring a casino.

"A showcase development of this nature would not only deliver thousands of employment opportunities for the region - in construction and operation - but also provide a signature tourism asset in the form of a premium hotel, convention, exhibition and entertainment facilities," Cr Jamieson said at the time.

"There is no secret that the council has always planned that the Maroochydore City Centre is the optimal location for an international standard facility of this nature consistent with the Maroochydore City Centre Development Scheme."

At the time Sunshine coast Business Council chair sandy Zubrinich back the mayor saying the organization strongly encouraged the council to pursue the proposal.

Visit Sunshine Coast CEO Simon Latchford was not so sure saying it was a matter for the council to engage with the community.

However from a purely tourism marketing perspective he said he was unsure whether a casino was the right fit for the Coast.

That uncertainty was shared by another long-serving member of the region's development sector who said having a casino, a university campus, council's principal place of business and vertical retirement villages in the same precinct appeared an odd fit.

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