Tim Costello article

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2 May 1997

Rev Tim Costello


Interchurch Gambling Task Force


The Four Myths of Crown Casino


The orgy of free publicity the Crown Casino has attracted these past few weeks should cause us to pause and reflect. We are celebrating an institution that our parents and grandparents regarded as a vice. The value shifts involved in such a short space of time are simply breathtaking. This casino is an unprecendented social experiment breaking like waves on our children. It is like the whole of our culture has been caught by a rip and carried hundreds of metres down the beach without even recognising what has happened. Our civic fathers and mothers would shake their heads in disbelief at our ‘casino culture’. So what are the myths that have made such a cultural transition possible?

1st myth: ‘That the people of Melbourne wanted a Casino.’

There was no Casino lobby group in existence or public agitation for a Casino. Unlike lobby groups for legalising marijuana or countless other causes, the casino was not born out of public demand. Rather, it was a powerful convergence of the financial interests of the gambling industry and the financial plight of the Kirner State government. The Government has won with huge gambling tax windfalls now the third largest source of Government revenue. Government dependency on gambling is well documented and is graphically illustrated by the fact that the Minister for Finance is also the Minister for Gaming.

2nd myth: ‘That the Casino will bring economic revitalisation and jobs.’

Certainly, the construction of the casino and its early days have brought extra jobs but the experience in the United States is sobering. Atlantic City saw casinos gross a total of over US$33 billion from their introduction in 1978 until 1993 - an amount equivalent to a million dollars for every man, woman and child in that city. However, in the same period there was a loss of 40% of the city’s independent restaurants. Only four years after the introduction of the casinos in Atlantic City, a third of the city’s retail businesses had closed. Atlantic City’s unemployment rate was 30% higher than the State average and by 1993 it was double the State average. The crime rate tripled. Thanks to the Victorian Break Even figures, we now know that 25% of gambling addicts in Melbourne finance their habit from crime. In Atlantic City the expansion of casinos had a drastic effect on real estate values, creating a windfall for some property owners but serious problems for many others. Crown Casino, which has a floor space five times larger than that of the largest shopping centre in Australia, will create similar economic imbalances.

3rd myth: ‘That the government can both promote and at the same time regulate gambling.’

Because of its over-reliance on the gambling dollar, the government has failed badly in its regulation of gambling. Crown, as a monopoly, has a privileged place in a society whereas every other business has to compete. Why does a monopoly have to be so aggressively advertised? Notwithstanding the millions it spends on its own self-promotion, it has had the Premier describe it as a ‘beacon of hope’ (1993), and the ‘spirit of Victoria’ (1994). He has come to its aid whenever called upon. As Crown’s spokesperson, Gary O’Neill, said recently, ‘It’s always been Kennett’s show.’ (Herald/Sun 25 April, 1997).

The government failed to charge Crown Casino an extra $174 million for its additional gaming tables. It allowed Crown to put its logo on our street signs in defiance of the Road Safety Traffic Regulations and to have 52 bright blue signs around Melbourne, again in defiance of the same regulations. The government discontinued gambling harm minimisation TV ads which were so effective 12 months ago. Its only response to the criticism of the Victorian Council of Problem Gambling that made those ads has been to defund them. The Minister for Finance and Gaming dissolved his advisory committee on problem gambling when churches insisted on their right to nominate their own representative to it. Far from properly regulating gaming and authorising a sustained advertising campaign such as the TAC ads, the government has proved to be the ‘biggest gambling addict’ in the State. There is a sinister new meaning to the term ‘Minister of the Crown’.

4rth myth: ‘That no one’s forced to gamble at Crown Casino.’

The beloved defence of the Premier is that gambling is simply a matter of choice. As an ex-advertising man, he knows that when advertisers like Crown are spending $20 million a year on promotion that they are not wasting their money. They are manufacturing and manipulating choice. And their message is targeted at Victorians rather than overseas high rollers, as 85% of visitors to Crown are local people. Literally, all cultural roads now lead to Crown Casino. The kids’ football heroes are paid appearance money to be there. The abundance of shops, cinemas and virtual reality games completely blur the boundaries between family entertainment and gaming. The South Eastern Freeway runs into Crown’s carpark (the biggest in the southern hemisphere). And there is a special entrance from the new City Link Freeway into Crown. Crown openly admits that it has successfully cornered the Asian and working class market and that the new Casino (now the ‘Crown Entertainment Complex’ with the nasty word ‘casino’ dropped) is to seduce the Anglo-Saxon middle classes. In the minds of the next generation, to go to the Casino is synonymous with fun and for their parents with ease and cheapness of parking. This will feed Crown with ever new generations of gamblers.


Next... 'Life Gone To Darkness', a story by Dao Pham.



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