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29 November 2010

Australian Casino Wars: Star City Official Opening, by Greg Tingle - 27th November 2010

G'day punters, casino and gambling millionaires and billionaires, poker nuts, politicians, super whales, journalists, politicians... one and all. Today we have the scoop on the quietly promoted official launched of Star City, the re branded and upgraded former Star City Casino aka Pyrmont Workers Club. Media Man and Gambling911 take bets, so to speak, on whether $1 million dollars ($760m for a start), can make all the difference at Star City as they strive to become Australia's leading land based casino. Dreaming or a genuine possibility? Let's go swimming with sharks up Darling Harbour to take a closer look...

Star City in 'Sin City' Sydney did a bit of a soft (*ock)... not rock, launch last night night, perhaps in a bit of a risk management tactic. Not quite a "bottom of the harbour scheme", but search for the connection.

A pretty low key event with a smallish crowd, no doubt all supporters. No protesters or big fans of competitor Crown Casino, we suspect!

The odd insider guest made it past the beefed up casino bouncers gorillas and the like, and gamblers a plenty, with some dolphins, whales, and even a super whale we hear. They parties and celebrated the official opening of the first segment of the expensive revamp.

The gaming floor now faces north, and the joint does have a better vibe that what it used to, which is not so impressive, as it sort of sucked for a few years. You can even breath in there, and there's also enough room to swing a cat, Cleopatra, or goanna by the tail.

Last night was pretty bloody quite when you consider the $760 million rebuild of join.

It's been tipped as one of the most expensive redevelopments of an Australian property in history. The workers and machines have been working pretty much around the clock to make it happen. Some parallels can be drawn with the Dubai developments, but we suspect working conditions are a touch better here, and no slums too close by either to spoil the shine and smiles.

There's also going to be another luxury hotel, making it two, and this one will be 12 stories high. It's a 5 star affair too punters. Got the keep those whales satisfied, and Tab don't want to loose them to the online casinos you know.

The top couple of floors are for the whales and super whales. Tuna and algae will have to make other arrangements. No sure what happens to octopuses, unless their name is Paul (from Germany).

Private jets will be at the ready for the VIP's and whales play. Star are also aiming to fly in the world's top performing artists and others who can cast their net far and wide. Get the punters in, the whales, and watch the cash come in - that's the general plan. They want Star hip and cool again. Everyone's fighting for the entertainment dollar.

The $100 million entertainment centre is currently awaiting additional planning approval. The suites, bigger than most city apartments, come with their own butler, and birdie whispered about ladies of the night (we think they might be in the "services directory", and are just down the road, unless call outs - room service is organ - ised. Back to the PR guidelines casino jack.

A new whiz bang entertainment centre, with seating ranging from 1500 for banquets to 3000 for music concerts, and up to 4000 with some folks standing, can be at the top of the complex. It weights a ton. Think like a 15-storey office tower, requiring strengthening of the old casino foundations. That's part of the reason the project is taking so long.

At least lucky 7 top chefs from Australia and abroad, including the celebrated David Chang, who is making his first tour outside New York, will be dishing up what is understood to be some of the world's top tucker. Especially for casino food, quite different from airline munchies.

Who lead the design of this new monster? Nick Sissons, along with with Fitzpatrick and Partners. On record he says "The common approach for casinos, particularly in north America (where Star City took early inspiration) is to build a themed, air-conditioned box whereby you build a shed and fill it with activity and then theme the outside with those branding concepts. We took the almost directly opposite approach - turn the casino inside out. Sydney has a degree of sophistication about outdoor dining, people seeing each other and being seen. Our influences were more to do with exteriors, water, light, technology."

Yank Sid Vaikunta learnt the casino biz in the original 'Sin City' Las Vegas and the now try hard ish Atlantic City, and was hunted down to oversee the redevelopment as Star City's managing director. He was pretty busy hunting down restaurateurs willing to bring new attractions to Star City dining and entertainment. He had a big pay cheque, and a bit budget to boot.

He is mindful not to criticise the past administrators to much, opting to champion and talk up the future. "This property deserves to offer more back to Sydney in terms of entertainment. The fact that we're investing nearly $1 billion is an indication of our belief that there is a lot of work to be done. We see nothing but opportunity in this area. What somebody might have perceived 15 years ago is irrelevant to us." But he acknowledges "existing customers have for some time been screaming for a better product", one that offers much more than the chance to spend up having a punt. We all know many Sydneysiders turned away from Star as much Star went stale and old, but that was in the past, so will we give them a second chance?

"The real growth is in taking what I call the Star City prospects - the rejectors, if you will - and really build a place where people go," Vaikunta says. "I can pull up here on the harbourside, have dinner, cocktails, watch a show, use the spa, check into the hotel, have a business meeting or a social function, go to the casino, the nightclub...creating a variety of reasons for people to come. It's speaking to a wider Sydney than we've spoken to before."

The casino, owned and operated by Crown Limited competitor, Tabcorp, is in a business of risk, built on risk, and a mixed reputation. More journos, punters and insiders are starting to feel that Tabcorp might have just got it right, but just how long it may take Star to gets its return on investment is anyones bet.

A Media Man insider said "Tabcorp's Star City wants to become Australia's number one land based casino in the worst way. If they have invested too much based on emotion and figures out of whack remains to be seen. Rome wasn't built in a day, nor is the new version of Star. Crown's James Packer and friends are not loosing any sleep over it, but in 2 to 5 years, who knows. Maybe Packer might have bought Star by then, so Tabcorp might be just dressing up the old joint to make it more appealing to JP, and a few other select billionaires in the position to by the joint. In the spirit of fair play, we wish Star well, but not too much good luck. It's all good fodder for the ongoing soap opera that is the Aussie casino wars".

Awards...

It's been a big month for casino awards. Ok, as you read earlier, Macau's Altira Macau was awarded the prestigious Forbes Five Star Ratings for the second year in a row, so Packer and the Ho family continue to work their magic.

PartyGaming's PartyCasino has also come back with seconds, picking up another Media Man 'Online Casino Of The Month Award' for November, and also the parent company, PartyGaming, picked up the prestigious EGR Slots Operator Of The Year Award ...Some other top picks of ours who picked up awards at the EGR night of nights were:
Virgin Games (Affiliate Programme)
Betfair (Innovation, Mobile Operator and UK Sports Betting Operator)
Bwin (European Sports Betting Operator
PKR (Poker Operator)

Oh, we almost forgot...Media Man and Casino News Media 'Casino Babe Of The Month': Jenny Woo, 'Poker Babe': Kara Scott, 'Gambling Babe Personality': Pamela Anderson.

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Wrap Up...

Readers... er, punters, how did you like our report? Who will eventually win the Australian casino wars? - Star City (Tabcorp) or Crown Casino (Crown Limited). When will a true victor emerge, and is Packer just plotting to buy them out when he's ready? Tell us in the forum.

If you have a bet, please bet with your head, not over it, and for God's sake, have fun.

*Greg Tingle is a special contributor for Gambling911

*Media Man http://www.mediamanint.com is primarily a media, publicity and internet portal development company. They cover a dozen industry sectors including gaming and offer political commentary and analysis.

*The writer owns shares in Crown Limited (and is considering buying some shares in Tabcorp).

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