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Australia shortlists Chinese billionaires, state firm for Queensland casino licences

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SYDNEY, May 28 (Reuters) - Some of China's biggest property developers will compete against Australian gaming giants for casino licences in Queensland, boosting the government's plans to turn the popular tourist destination into a haven for big-spending Chinese gamblers.

The Queensland government, seeking to capitalise on the growing appetite of well-heeled Chinese for travel and gaming, revealed on Wednesday the names of the four bidders it had shortlisted for the three casino licences.

They include property giant Far East Consortium/Chow Tai Fook Enterprises, controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Cheng Yu-tung, one of the world's richest people, and Chinese state-owned real estate developer Greenland Group.

The Chinese firms are vying against established domestic casino operators Crown Resorts Ltd, owned by Australia's richest man James Packer, and rival Echo Entertainment Group Ltd for permission to build a casino in central Brisbane.

Capital of Australia's third most populous state, Brisbane is already a hit with tourists because of its warm climate and proximity to the Great Barrier Reef. China is home to some of the world's most prolific, and biggest spending gamblers, who often combine sight-seeing and shopping with visits to the casino.

"It will be a landmark development designed to be a drawcard for international tourists and businesses for generations to come," Queensland Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said in a statement.

Australian casinos are expected to increase revenues by about 4 percent in the current 2013/14 financial year to A$5.6 billion ($5.18 billion), according to consultants IBISWorld.

Shortlisted companies, chosen from 12 bidders including Australian developer Lend Lease Corp Ltd, must submit fully developed proposals by late 2014 with the winner to be announced in early 2015, Seeney said.

The enmity between Echo and Crown is well-known: Echo unsuccessfully tried to stop Packer building a new casino near its casino in central Sydney. But Echo brings to the table its experience in Queensland, where it already operates Jupiters Hotel & Casino Gold Coast, Jupiters Townsville Hotel & Casino, and Brisbane's Treasury Casino & Hotel.

The Chinese bidders for the Brisbane project will join two other compatriots that the Queensland government has already cleared to seek planning and environmental approval for regional projects.

These were Hong Kong billionaire Tony Fung, his son Justin Fung and their Aquis Casino Acquisitions Ltd, who plan to build an A$8 billion ($7.40 billion) casino near the beachside city of Cairns, and state-backed ASF China Property Consortium, which wants to build a A$7.5 billion casino and cruise ship terminal at the Gold Coast. ($1 = 1.0815 Australian Dollars)

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)