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