A plan by a Hong Kong billionaire to build a six-star casino north of Cairns was sugar on the table for veteran cane farmer Frank Pappalardo.
A sugar cane sector downturn has been the catalyst for transforming a 92-year-old far north Queensland farmer’s land into a glitzy $8 billion mega-resort and casino.
Frank Pappalardo has worked and lived on the the 834 hectare property, near the quiet seaside community of Yorkeys Knob north of Cairns, since 1947.
Now Hong Kong billionaire Tony Fung wants to turn the site into Aquis Resort, complete with artificial lakes, islands, eight hotels, a golf course, convention centre and two casinos.
“When they approached me about buying the farm my grandson was very upset to tell me the news,” Mr Pappalardo said.
“I gave him the option [to take it over], but if I can’t make a go of it how can he?”
Sale of the property is conditional on Queensland’s co-ordinator general approving the project.
Mr Pappalardo began leasing his cane fields to another farmer eight years ago.
“When I was working myself and the price was good I made money but then the price kept going down and down,” he said.
“A lot of businesses in town are crying poor that they can’t pay the rent.”
Others in the community are concerned about how the six-star gaming development would increase problem gambling and harm the environment.
Aquis chief executive Justin Fung met Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney at the farm site on Wednesday.
“We’re very sensitive to the concerns of all the locals and we’re looking to address everything,” Mr Fung told reporters.
Mr Seeney added that the government fully supported the project but acknowledged it would change the region.
The public has until August 5 to make submissions on the project’s draft environmental impact statement.
It is then up to the independent co-ordinator general to decide whether to approve the project, and the conditions.
Construction will be begin as early as next year and the first stage of the resort will open in 2019 if approved.