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07 Jul

For Star Entertainment Group, sometimes the house doesn’t win enough

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Casino numbers are up in Sydney and the Gold Coast, recovering from softness during the federal election, Star Entertainment Group says Photo: Peter MorrisThe iron-clad rule of gambling is that the house always wins. But for Star Entertainment Group, sometimes the house doesn’t win enough.
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Its win rate historically averages 1.35 per cent on its international VIP business, with anything better than 1 per cent leaving the house ahead.

Since 2014, the win rate on this business, which comes mostly from Asia, has been below 1.35 per cent, falling to 0.88 in the second half of 2015 before rebounding to 1.5 per cent this year.

“In the first half, we were exceptionally unlucky,” the chief executive Matt Bekier​ said. “It was a less than 1 per cent probability to end up at that rate. And 1.5 per cent is above the expectation but it didn’t compensate” for the full extent of the losses.

The renewed strength of the international VIP business saw the debts of gamblers who leave its tables owing the house money rise to $33 million by the end of June from $17 million a year earlier, prompting it to double the level of impaired debt to $11.5 million, although much of this was incurred late in the year and has since been recouped, Mr Bekier said.

Earlier this decade, wealth creation in Asia was so strong that the number of millionaires being created was running at 40 per cent a year, the Star Group boss said. That has slowed to around 5-10 per cent, which means it is unlikely that the group will need to expand its Bombardier aircraft fleet to bring in the ‘big whales’, as big time gamblers are called within the industry.

“We’re seeing more players but with smaller amounts, not the super-whales, so they could come in flying first class especially as flights into China improve,” he said.

The international VIP business involves paying rebates to junket operators who introduce these players to the casino. To help remove the volatility of this business, Star is establishing its own direct sales presence in South-East Asia, which could also help lower costs.

“The challenge is loading up with creditworthy visitors,” Mr Bekier​, said on Friday.

Another target is to encourage more Chinese tourists to visit its casinos.

“Only around 3 per cent of revenue comes from tourists,” Mr Bekier said. “A surprisingly large number of Chinese tourists – around 25 per cent – find their way into our properties. But we can’t get them to stay on our properties. Therefore we need  more rooms to get them to stay.

“We’re just a side trip. Therefore we need to work with the relevant tour operator on how to maximise that.”

The group is finalising around a $3 billion spending program on additional hotel and apartment room capacity in Sydney, the Gold Coast and Brisbane, along with upgrades to its gaming floors, in part to also prepare for tougher competition from James Packer’s Barangaroo casino, which will be competing particularly at the premium end of the market in Sydney.

“The main rooms bring people in – you then want to tier people up,” Mr Bekier said, by developing more differentiated offerings for gamblers. “We can’t do that in Queensland.”

“Sydney has more tables/VIPs, which are lower margins than slots,” he said, which has meant that the underlying profitability of its Queensland casinos is higher. The upgrades there should help it to bring in more international VIP gamblers to those casinos.

The strength of its international VIP business saw revenues rise 7.2 per cent in the year to June, eclipsing the 6.8 per cent growth in domestic gaming revenues to leave group revenue ahead 6 per cent at $2.4 billion.

Revenue growth, with cost control, saw the group lift the net profit in the year to June 30 by 15 per cent to $194.4 million. Earnings per share reached 23.6¢, up from 20.5¢, running well ahead of the 4.4 per cent rise in revenue to $2.4 billion for the year.

The final dividend has been raised to 7.5¢ from 6¢, as part of the earnings uplift has been shared with shareholders.

The margin performance of the group’s Brisbane and Gold Coast casinos outstripped the Star City casino, but th Sydney casino drives group earnings. However weak consumer confidence late in the year hurt group operations.

“May-June was relatively soft due to macro factors – Brexit and the long election campaign, which impacted consumer confidence. That trend has not continued – we’re back into pretty solid growth,” Mr Bekier said.

In Sydney, Star Casino held its share of the market steady, it said, amid a sharper offering from rivals for the gambling dollar.

“Reflecting more strenuous competition – clubs and pubs upped their business, there are more pokies management businesses out there,” he said, with the focus now on a relaunch of its loyalty program later this year.

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07 Jul

It’s a crime spree as Emma Viskic snaffles four writing awards

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Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic. Photo: Supplied Crime writer Emma Viskic will be awarded two Davitt awards and a Ned Kelly award over this coming weekend. 26th August 2016. Photo by Jason South
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Emma Viskic has been on a weekend spree, a crime spree. Her debut novel, Resurrection Bay, not only won three “Davitts” at the Sisters in Crime’s awards on Saturday, but followed that up with a “Ned Kelly” on Sunday from the Australian Crime Writers Association.

Viskic won the Davitt (named after Ellen Davitt, writer of Australia’s first murder novel) for best novel, the best debut award (shared with Fleur Ferris’ Risk), and the readers’ choice award, while she won the Ned for best debut novel.

The awards represented multiple endorsements for a crucial creative decision she made after she had finished the first draft of the book that begins with her hero, Caleb Zelic, cradling the dead body of his best friend.

She figured something wasn’t working with Zelic. He seemed the sort of character who had appeared in several earlier stories and she recognised him as something of an outsider. The question was why. Then she recognised some of his traits and quirks from a profoundly deaf girl she had known. That was it; her hero was deaf.

But writing a deaf character did not appeal. “I am a classical musician [Viskic has played the clarinet for the likes of Melbourne Opera and the Australian Pops Orchestra] so sound is the way I approach writing. A lot of people do the visual first, but I do dialogue and my early drafts are like a script. Also for the technical reason of how do I make this work, and the third reason was that I was really nervous about writing a caricature, a tokenistic character.”

So Viskic had to retrospectively research her character’s deafness and that involved learning Auslan. “He had to use Auslan with the people he loves because it’s a way of him being comfortable and showing his relationships. That was a huge boon to me as a writer and wonderful to be introduced to this whole other world I barely knew existed.”

She’s not exactly fluent: “One of the characters, his ex-cop friend Frankie, probably has the same level of Auslan as me. She is unintentionally funny at times. I can hold a conversation – like a child.”

If Viskic’s success at the Davitts represents the emergence of a significant new Australian crime-writing talent, winning the Ned for best novel for Before it Breaks represents a return to the fold for Dave Warner. The last of his six previous crime novels, eXXXpresso,  appeared in 2000 since when the writer and musician has been working for the big and small screens.

“If you’re doing feature films you can still find time to do novel writing, but with TV it was not possible; it’s such an all-consuming beast. I had three years when I plotted virtually every episode of Rescue Special Ops and it’s really draining.”

But for one reason or another the television work dried up and Warner could return to crime fiction and making music – his band the Suburbs is recording its first album in 35 years – the two thing he loves most.

He said going back to fiction was as if he’d been playing badminton and someone had called him in to play tennis on a grass court.

“Three years on with no money changes the idea somewhat about what is a great idea or not. But it has freed me up again to pursue things much more creatively.”

Gideon Haigh, better known for his many books about cricket, won the non-fiction Ned for his true-crime book, Certain Admissions. Alecia Simmonds won the non-fiction Davitt for Wildman.

sistersincrime杭州.au; austcrimewriters杭州m

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07 Jul

Bledisloe Cup 2016: Wallabies have legitimate grievances but plenty of problems

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Balancing act: Michael Cheika. Photo: Jason McCawley Owen Franks appears to gouge Kane Douglas.
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The Wallabies had 12 hours after the second Bledisloe Cup Test to refer to the citing commissioner Owen Franks’ apparent eye gouge on Kane Douglas.

That they did not is the irony of Saturday’s nasty post-match sideshow.

Behind the scenes Michael Cheika cultivates a no-blame culture. He wants his team to take responsibility for their performances. He leads the way by taking responsibility for his own, commenting two weeks in a row that he let the team down with elements of his preparation and coaching.

So team management did not refer the Franks incident to the citing commissioner, trusting that an act as deliberate as Franks’ scrape over Douglas’ eyes would be picked up and acted upon. It was not, presumably because the commissioner did not deem it serious enough to meet the required red card threshold.

On that issue, Cheika paid the price for his silence, while on the issue of Romain Poite’s refereeing, he paid the price for speaking out.

It appears the Australian coach went off half-cocked on a supposed meeting between Poite and New Zealand coach Steve Hansen last week, as Hansen denies such a meeting took place. Hansen did, however, admit he had a chat with assistant referee Jaco Peyper, convened at Peyper’s request, to “review some of the stuff that he had seen in our game”.

The relevant World Rugby regulation refers only to “the referee” in its stipulation that both teams should be given the opportunity to meet with a match official before a Test match. Peyper was the head honcho in the first Bledisloe Cup Test in Sydney but an assistant in Wellington, so Hansen did not contravene the letter of the regulations. The spirit of them, however, which is surely to guard against bias or its perception, has taken a hit.

If New Zealand are given the benefit of the doubt and their on-field superiority, Poite’s persistent shooing away of Australian captain Stephen Moore and his parallel willingness to hear complaints from New Zealand captain Kieran Read and a selection of other players suggest the Wallabies have a huge perception problem among match officials. That is for them to turn around.

Now to the real issue. The big, deep, dark hole in which the Wallabies find themselves.

Six losses on the trot and two Bledisloe Cup blow-outs are hard to take for fans, players and coaches alike. It is difficult to watch your team be monstered by a far better opponent. It must be harder still to put your body and your pride on the line week after week and get no reward, which is what life as a Wallaby is at the moment.

But this is not an irretrievable situation. Australia are blessed with skilled, tenacious rugby players and a suite of very good coaches.

That group orchestrated one of the most impressive World Cup campaigns in recent memory. Latterly that campaign has been characterised as an over-achievement relative to the Wallabies’ capacities. There is some truth in that and Hansen reminded everyone on Sunday that the Wallabies, too, have benefited at key times – try a World Cup quarter final against Scotland – from the rub of the green. But there is truth, too, in the Wallabies’ blood, sweat and tears, which also propelled them to the final.

Things are not going right for them 10 months later, but there is no evidence to suggest they are blind to their problems or avoiding tough decisions, with the possible exception of the lineout malaise.

The Wallabies should not sulk or complain about negativity. Their fans, former players and the media piled on the praise when it was warranted and earned.

As Australians are wont to do, the Wallabies must pick themselves up and keep going. Slowly, imperceptibly at first, they will turn things around.

Twitter:@geerob

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07 Jul

Melbourne Cup 2016: Andreas Wohler bringing Articus and Red Cardinal for spring, with Protectionist still a chance

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Return?: Jockey Craig Williams with Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist. Photo: Vince CaligiuriThe spring team of Australian Bloodstock’s Jamie Lovett may yet include Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist, as Andreas Wohler begins to prepare Articus and Red Cardinal for Australian campaigns.
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The Melbourne Cup-winning trainer will target the Caulfield Cup and Mackinnon Stakes with Articus, a group 2 winner in Germany, while Red Cardinal will come out to Australia attempting to earn a spot in the Melbourne Cup.

Australian Bloodstock completed purchasing the pair in recent times and Wohler, who is their main European trainer, is confident they will adapt to Australian racing and has booked them on the first shipment of horses to come for the spring.

“Articus ran fifth in a group 1 in Germany last start and we bought him after that and he has moved to Andreas’ stable,” Lovett said. “He believes that Articus will be the perfect Caulfield Cup horse and would love the pressure of the race and the circuit.

“With the Mackinnon being three weeks after it, he will target it as well, being a group 2 winner at 2100m.

“He will go into quarantine with Red Cardinal, which we bought before his third in the Geoffrey Freer Stakes. He is a lightweight Melbourne Cup chance. He would probably have to win a race like the Moonee Valley Cup or Geelong Cup to get a run in the Cup.

“They will both be on the first shipment of horses. We would have liked to run Red Cardinal in the Herbert Power Handicap but the way it is structured this year they don’t get out of quarantine until Caulfield Cup eve.”

Lovett also hinted that 2014 Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist could return to Australia if he doesn’t look like being a leading contender in the Arc de Triomphe.

“He is going to have another run next month in France in an Arc lead-up, our intention is to run in the Arc but if he doesn’t live up to expectations, the Melbourne Cup is still an option,” Lovett said.

“He has shown us enough by winning that group 1 in Germany he is worth a crack at an Arc and it would be a dream for us to have a runner in the biggest race in Europe.”

The first shipment of horses for the spring will include Royal Ascot winner Kinema, Scottish and Tryster, Godolphin’s Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate contenders, and several from Aidan O’Brien’s Ballydoyle yard.

Racing Victoria’s international recruiter Leigh Jordon is hopeful Highland Reel, which was third to Winx in the Cox Plate last year and has since won the Hong Kong International Vase and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth might return.

O’Brien has the early Melbourne Cup favourite in Order Of St George, in which Lloyd Williams shares in the ownership, but a decision on whether he will head down to Australia will be made after the Irish St Leger.

“Aidan is still working out what he will be bringing but we expect him to have at least three on the first plane,” Jordon said. “He has plenty of options. There is a French stayer called Erupt, which could come out for the Caulfield and Melbourne cups.”

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07 Jul

Rio Olympics 2016: Nathan Hart says Games were ‘awesome’ despite heartbreaking medal miss

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Nathan Hart, right, says Rio was not as disastrous as reported. Photo: David RamosCanberra track cyclist and Rio Olympian Nathan Hart says the Games were “awesome to me” and not the disaster that has been portrayed in the media.
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The Olympic hangover has started after the well-documented failings in attendance, security and facilities, but Hart argues differently.

He went agonisingly close to claiming a bronze medal but the sprint team of Hart, Patrick Constable and Matthew Glaetzer missed by just 0.15 seconds against France.

“In my experience I don’t think it was as bad as the media made it out to be. I thought it was pretty good,” the 23-year-old said.

“Especially safety concerns, that was probably the biggest thing people in Australia were concerned about but I thought it was fine.”

Hart’s experience is a refreshing perspective that has been muffled by stories of chaos before, during and after the Games.

In particular, the venue construction received plenty of criticism but the cycling velodrome was of international standard despite being one of the last venues to be completed.

“The track I was really impressed with,” Hart said. “I think that was the last venue to be finished, the velodrome.

“We [the sprint team] got there early, just under two weeks before racing and it was a bit dusty, they were still doing a little bit of work.

“But the next time we were on the track it had been all sorted and especially when race day came around it was really good.”

Hart is back in Canberra and already back in the saddle after buying a mountain bike.

When asked if the 0.15 second margin between the Australian sprint team and a medal hurts, Hart laughed.

“A little bit actually. I’ve watched the race since coming back to Canberra and it’s disappointing but I know for a fact that three of us did everything in our power to be in the best position to win.

“That’s part of it, it keeps me hungry to train hard and try to get results later on down the track.”

Despite missing a medal, Hart walked away with a new personal best in the qualification races with a time of 17.15 seconds.

“It’s about a tenth [of a second] quicker than I’ve ever gone before which I was pretty happy with,” Hart said.

“It was good to know I turned up to Rio in the best form I’ve ever been in.”

Great Britain won gold in the event with New Zealand taking silver, France bronze and Australia fourth.

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