Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Crown expansion plan draws fire from critics, by Sarah-Jane Collins and Jason Dowling - The Sydney Morning Herald - 13th May 2009

Crown Casino has been granted its biggest expansion in gambling capacity since opening at its Southbank location more than a decade ago, in a deal attacked yesterday by campaigners for responsible gaming.

The casino, now one of the biggest in the world, will be able to increase its number of gambling tables by more than 40 per cent to 500 tables.

"Clearly the casino is being treated as the primary and first citizen of the state, with privileges that are really a cosy deal without the rest of the community having any say," the Reverend Tim Costello said.

The Victorian Gaming Minister, Tony Robinson, said the Government had agreed with Crown to alter their licence agreement to allow for 150 extra gaming tables and an expansion of the gaming floor. In exchange, Crown will pay about 10.5 per cent extra in poker machine taxes, bringing it into line with other pokie machine operators across Victoria. The increase will be implemented in 1.7 per cent increments over six years.

"This is bringing the tax that they pay on their poker machines up to the level that is paid by other entities across the state, so it's a good deal for taxpayers," Mr Robinson said.

He said allowing the expansion would ensure Crown remained the first choice casino destination in Australia.

"If people ultimately want to have the boiled sweets experience of casinos, let them go to Sydney. If they want the rolled gold dark chocolate experience they're going to keep coming to Melbourne and we're going to ensure that."

Gary O'Neill, from Crown Casino, said the deal meant Crown would be able to keep up with growing rivals in Macau and Singapore. "The new mega complexes are very big. They will be very competitive and they will compete for the tourist dollar in this part of the world."

Mr O'Neill said the gaming floor at Crown would expand but final approval for an expansion rests with the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation.

Mark Zirnsak, from the Interfaith Gambling Taskforce described the expansion as appalling. "This, coming at a time when there's a global financial crisis, it's going to push more Victorians into being in hardship and vulnerable," he said.

Dr Zirnsak said the deal pointed to the "very cosy relationship between the Government and Crown".

"There's been no consultation on this expansion, which we believe there should have been, and the timing is indeed appalling," he said.

He said Crown did not need an expansion to remain competitive. "They've got a monopoly [in Victoria] and most of their patrons aren't millionaires flying in from overseas. They are locals," he said.

But he said he supported the increase in pokies taxes.

The Opposition's gaming spokesman, Michael O'Brien, said Mr Robinson had waited until budget day to announce the deal in an attempt to bury a bad decision. "Labor is clearly embarrassed by this gambling boost and tax grab, as it should be." (Credit: The Sydney Morning Herald)

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