Gamble on upgrade is a punt on smokers - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

CONRAD Jupiters casino on the Gold Coast will spend $53 million on an upgrade in an apparent attempt to soften the financial blow of the upcoming blanket ban on smoking.
Owner TabCorp yesterday unveiled plans to transform the casino, saying the feature of a 12-month upgrade would be "stylish balconies" giving Jupiters a "contemporary Gold Coast feel".


Crucially, the betting area will become an indoor-outdoor area, to be completed just in time for the full ban on smoking in Queensland pubs and clubs in July 2006.


Commsec equity analyst Janice Rose said the renovation would help facilitate constant play on poker machines, which is an integral revenue stream for successful casinos in Australia.


A downturn in business as a result of the full ban on smoking in Victoria was felt most acutely by Kerry Packer's Crown Casino in Melbourne, particularly in the poker machine area.


Ms Rose said balconies were very important in the renovation because the area was then considered an unenclosed room.


"With a nicer climate on the Gold Coast, you don't mind if you're standing on a balcony [to play machines]," she said.


A full ban in NSW pubs and clubs is not due until mid-2007.


Presently, smoking is allowed in 25 per cent of the casino floor in both states.


Controversially, the high-roller rooms, where international gamblers bet millions of dollars a hand, are exempt from the bans.


TabCorp executives were not available to comment on the upgrade last night.


However, a spokesman for the company said smoking legislation was just one consideration in the plans.


"The new design has been driven by customers telling us they want food on the gaming floor and more entertainment in general," he said.


The renovation will also try to lure a greater proportion of the 18-35 demographic away from the clubs and pubs of the Gold Coast.


In the same way that Sydney's Star City casino, which is also owned by TabCorp, has gained a reputation for non-gambling entertainment, the new Jupiters casino will expand its live music, bar and restaurant offering.


All gambling will be consolidated on one floor.


This will create an extra 3500sq m of space.


Ms Rose said that would feed increased revenue.


"People bet more, the more congested the area of machines is," Ms Rose said.


"A busy atmosphere with lots of machines and lots of prizes going off is more likely to encourage people to bet than one machine in the corner.


"By combining it, we think they will do a lot better."


TabCorp chief executive of casinos, David Banks, said the refurbishment was the biggest undertaken in Jupiters' 20-years of operation.


"The new facilities will set a new standard for entertainment on the Gold Coast," Mr Banks said.

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