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Casinos in Australia call for tourist visa reform

There don’t seem to be all that many lengths that Australia’s top-drawer casino resorts won’t go to in order to draw in the VIP high-rollers, with star-studded events and luxurious accommodation amongst the perks that wealthy gambling tourists can expect. The casino resorts are keen for good reason – Chinese VIPs alone accounted for almost AU$800million in revenue last year for Australia’s casinos.

And the figures suggest there’s plenty more where that came from, with some 30 million ‘premium gamblers’ (that’s what the casinos call them...) forming an largely-untapped market in China.

To get them over here, the Australasian Casino Association, which represents most of the casino resorts in Australia, has some suggestions for immigration officials. This is a story we’ve seen before (it’s been a long-running point of contention), but we’re able to give you some more details of the specific requests.

First of all, the ACA would like to see multi-visit visas made available, especially to Chinese gambling tourists. According to the gaming industry’s own figures, there were more than a million international visitors to Australia’s casinos in 2007-08, with a combined spend of almost AU$5billion.

Obviously there is a feeling that if it were easier for Chinese tourists to make the trip more frequently, the benefits to Australian Casinos resorts would be huge. The ACA has often called for more flights from China’s emerging cities to destinations in Australia, and now they’re adding requests for Australian consulates in those Chinese cities, as well as for the option of online applications for visas.

More than that, the ACA would like to see optional, user-pays channels at immigration, to speed the transit of VIP visitors. Lastly, there was a request for ‘clear, transparent decision-making’ from immigration officials.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, though, said the Government was already providing ‘streamlined processing arrangements for high rollers.’

‘Wherever possible,’ she said, ‘the Immigration Department offers streamlined processing to low-risk clients, including some independent travellers and also group travellers from China through a special scheme arranged with the People's Republic. More than two-thirds of visas granted to gaming visitors from mainland China are valid for 12 months.’

Obviously the issue of immigration is a wider and more complex topic than the ACA would perhaps like to allow, but there is a positive to draw from the whole debate. The reality of the casino market in Asia is that it is booming, with thriving casino resorts in Macau, Singapore, and throughout Australia. The casinos obviously feel that there is room for their business to expand into the growing Chinese market, and it seems clear that their product – casinos in Australia – is strong enough to draw in new customers. In that much, we agree with them.

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