China’s Crackdown On High Roller Promotions Means More Pokie Misery For Brisbane

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The Queensland Labor government seems content to saddle the state with more poker machines, and the heartache that comes with it, writes Greens Senator Larissa Waters.

The jailing of three Australian Crown Resorts employees for promoting gambling in China is likely to saddle Brisbanites with more dangerous, addictive poker machines.

Star Entertainment Group who are behind the Queens Wharf development, say they’ll make one third of their revenue from VIP gambling. This will mean encouraging predominantly Chinese high-rollers to come to Brisbane and spend big money. But this very same activity has landed those three Australians in a Chinese prison, as the Chinese Government cracks down on the promotion of gambling to high rollers, to stop the rivers of Chinese money flowing offshore.

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After the Crown staff were initially detained in October last year, the company’s share price dipped 14 per cent in a single day. Star too was hurt by the news – their share price dropped by more than 20 per cent and is yet to recover.

Clearly the business model of relying on high rollers for revenue is broken, so where does that leave the Queen’s Wharf mega-casino?

Without Chinese money, the project could very well topple completely, and Brisbane could be left with a half-excavated building site.

An artist's impression of the planned Queens Wharf development in Brisbane.
An artist’s impression of the planned Queens Wharf development in Brisbane.

But much more likely is that Queens Wharf will rely on installing even more exploitative, addictive poker machines. That should worry all Brisbanites.

Nationally 40 per cent of poker machine revenue comes from problem gamblers whose addiction can lead to financial hardship, family breakdown, domestic violence and suicide.

Recent research suggests pokies inside casinos are even more harmful than those in smaller clubs and pubs.

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Having granted Star permission for 2,500 pokies, Queensland Labor (cheered on by the LNP) are unleashing more of these hardships and miseries upon the people of Brisbane, so property developers and gambling companies can keep their billions in profits.

Why would they do that? Follow the money: Star Entertainment, their lobbyists and associates have given $222,575 to Queensland Labor and the LNP in the past four years.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. (IMAGE: NREL, Flickr)
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. (IMAGE: NREL, Flickr)

Unless we can stop Queens Wharf now, future State governments will face relentless pressure to return the favour and increase the number of pokies aimed at locals to keep the profits flowing. This pressure will only get more intense as Chinese gambling money dries up.

Queens Wharf could become a ‘zombie’ project, staggering on half-dead financially, but being propped up with more and more dangerous pokies that wreak havoc in our community.

We’ve already seen one small example of Queensland Labor cutting a special for the casino’s backers.

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When the Queens Wharf ‘Plan of Development’ was released last month, it contained a permit to build 500 extra luxury hotel rooms for no additional rent to the State government. That’s pure profit for the billionaire developers.

It’s impossible to say whether that handout was related to the crackdown on Chinese high-rollers, but it’s a deeply troubling sign of what might come.

All this uncertainty over revenue means Star’s casino licence, their revenue projections, business case and contract with the State government need to be re-examined.

But these documents and many others are secret.

An artist's impression of the  proposed Queens Wharf development.
An artist’s impression of the proposed Queens Wharf development.

That means we don’t know how many extra pokies Labor could dish out on top of the currently permitted 2,500.

With my Greens colleagues, I have been trying desperately to have these documents released via direct requests and under freedom of information laws.

I’ve even launched #CasinoLeaks, a campaign calling on those with access to the documents to give them to me so I can share them under Parliamentary privilege.

In response, Queensland Premier Palaszczuk has stonewalled. Queensland Labor Minister Anthony Lynham referred me and his own public service staff to the Crime and Corruption Commission.

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My question to Queensland Labor is this: What are you hiding?

The Queens Wharf business model is broken, and we should be very worried about its replacement.

Brisbane residents should control what happens in our city. We could have a new school, world-class green space or affordable housing, but instead Labor have given us a mega-casino and thousands of unaffordable, luxury apartments.

The community is already mobilising to build a city for people, not profit, and I’ll be standing with them to stop Brisbanites being sacrificed to protect the profits of property developers and the gambling industry.

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Larissa Waters

Senator Larissa Waters is the Co-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens, and spokesperson on mining, resources and climate change.

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