Sydneysiders Lose Out In Packer's Casino Win


Regardless of how James Packer wants to spin it, his casino at Barangaroo will be no different to any other. It will become a hot spot for problem gamblers; $25 roulette tables do not attract high rolling “whales” and multi-player gaming terminals are essentially dressed up poker machines.

It appears the only safe bet was the one Packer took to get the licence. He benefited from a no tender, no community consultation, competition-free process. NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell was content to agree with Packer that a casino is the most viable option to fund what is touted as a much-needed six-star hotel on the harbour.

Indeed, the rules for not going to tender were changed just before the proposal was approved, despite the government's promise before the last State election that it would put a stop to deals being done behind closed doors.

Many have questioned Crown's argument, as they should, given its various iterations. First we were told the casino was needed to subsidise a six-star hotel. Then we were told luxury apartments for the mega rich were needed to subsidise the entire project. Now it's touted as beneficial to Sydney's cultural life. When vested interests make claims like these, they should be treated with some scepticism.

The integrity of the David Murray review, which assessed the value of the casino, has been called into question. A Liberal Party fundraiser was hosted at the Chair's home, a financial relationship was uncovered between Crown and Deloitte (the body providing commercial advice) and the Premier's department prepared media scripts for the panel to defend the proposal.

Deloitte even acknowledged the perceived conflict of interest by agreeing to the panel’s Probity Adviser’s recommendation to act with restraint from any engagement with Crown for two years.

What is clear from talking to Sydneysiders is that the public has lost confidence. The public does not see this process as rigorous and politically independent.

Aside from encouraging gamblers to lose their money, casinos can be hotbeds for crime, especially so called “high roller” venues. Federal government agency AUSTRAC's 2011 report into money laundering in Australia found “that high-stakes gaming is vulnerable to abuse because it is common for players to gamble with large volumes of cash, the source and ultimate ownership of which may not be readily discernible.''

Any decision to change the law for another casino should be made only after extensive community consultation and with input from crime experts, welfare organisations and the local community. Of course, this has not happened. With the support of the Labor party the decision will be rushed through both houses of NSW Parliament in the coming weeks.

The casino and hotel will be on public land and up to 60 storeys high, and will have a major impact on the Barangaroo development, particularly the adjacent public open space. The community will be invited to comment on the development for the first time during the planning stage. This will be limited to only the proposed building.

Packer is a clever businessman who assessed the risks and made a safe bet on getting a very profitable casino licence. The question the public is left with is why the government worked so hard to facilitate this for him.

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