Packer’s casino with De Niro boosted by development bill

Packer’s casino with De Niro boosted by development bill - 30th November 2015


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by Sarah-Jane Tasker

Australian billionaire James Packer’s plan to build a $US250 million ($347 million) Caribbean resort and casino with his actor buddy Robert De Niro received a significant boost after a new law was passed to help the development.

The Antigua and Barbuda government pushed through the Paradise Found Bill, despite opposition to the new legislation. The bill seeks to expedite the development, and also gives the high-profile business partners a 25-year tax holiday.

Mr Packer is backing De Niro’s plan to develop the resort on the site of the K Club on the tiny island of Barbuda, which was once Princess Diana’s Caribbean hideaway but has been abandoned for more than 11 years.

The powerful business partners want to build a five-star boutique hotel, a “high-end eco-lodge”, a marina with jetties for superyachts, a casino and an airport for executive jets.

Mr Packer’s investment in the proposal is believed to be through his private company Consolidated Press Holdings rather than his casino empire, Crown Resorts.

He has previously backed De Niro in other interests and recently spent $100m of Crown Resorts’ money to take a 20 per cent stake in the actor’s restaurant and hotel company, Nobu.

It is understood the celebrity investors spent $US13m acquiring the K Club in Barbuda. It had also been reported that the project owners provided an advance payment of $US1.85m to the local council earlier this year.

That payment was reportedly used to help clear a 20-week wage backlog for 600 Barbuda Council workers.

The 198-year lease sought for the Paradise Found project covers just under 160 hectares, after the developers trimmed back the original 222ha plan.

The agreement for the new resort also involves the proponents of redirecting existing roads and restricting beach access for “ambulatory” vendors.

There are concerns that the new bill passed to progress the development, which supersedes the Barbuda Land Act, involves surrendering public possession of land owned by the island’s 1600 residents.

Antigua media reported that Senate Minority Leader Harold Lovell was concerned about the bill, in particular the absence of an acceptable performance clause, the level of concessions and the 156ha of land being given to Mr Packer and De Niro.

He was reportedly also concerned about the waivers and incentives given to the Australian billionaire and American actor, noting that the project was void of a clause assuring the employment of Barbudans.

Gaston Browne, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, who had previously appointed De Niro a “special economic envoy”, has been a strong supporter of the project.

Mr Browne said that the Paradise Found Bill was initiated as the government considered the legislation necessary to support a project that had been stymied by “manoeuvrings of persons” in Barbuda.

He said although “detractors” had lost a court case attempting to stop the project, on a technicality under the Barbuda Land Act, an appeal had been lodged which was causing further delay to the development.

“The application of the Barbuda Land Act (BLA) has proved not to be investor friendly,” the Prime Minister said.

(The Australian)