Casino Control Amendment (Barangaroo Restricted Gaming Facility) Bill 2013
(Second Reading Debate, 12.19pm 13 November 2013, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
The Casino Control Amendment (Barangaroo Restricted Gaming Facility) Bill 2013 will allow for a second casino in Sydney on the Barangaroo site. I foreshadow that at the conclusion of my contribution I will move that the bill be amended by deleting the word "now" and inserting the words "25 February 2014", to give the Government one last chance to engage in community consultation on this project. It is known that casinos can be hotbeds of crime. Casinos are places where people lose money—lots of money—their homes, valued possessions and jobs. Any decision to change the law to have another casino should be made only after extensive community consultation and with input from crime experts, welfare organisations and the local community.
So why is the Government—with the support of the Opposition—rushing this bill through when it cannot come into effect until 2019? What is the urgency? Why is it so important for the Government to sidestep proper scrutiny of the bill by community members, problem gambling experts and advocates? This Parliament will be sitting next week, and next year. This process shows absolute contempt for the communities we represent. The process to date has been appalling and, not surprisingly, community cynicism about the project is high. Let me take the House through how we got to where we are today with this legislation.
In June last year the Government established rules for unsolicited proposals. James Packer lodged a pitch under these rules for a new gaming facility and a so-called six-star hotel at Barangaroo in September 2012. Just before the submission, the rules were changed to allow approval without a tender process and, interestingly, the change occurred a week after James Packer met with the Premier. A panel was established to determine the net benefits of granting a gaming licence at Barangaroo, as well as the conditions and potential taxes and levies that should apply to ensure the highest public benefit. The panel did not call for public submissions and I am not aware of any discussions with gambling experts, community groups or welfare organisations that deal with problem gamblers. In my attempts to find the terms of reference I could not uncover any evidence that social impacts were considered at all.
The panel was chaired by David Murray, in whose home it has been revealed a Liberal Party fundraiser was once held. The panel sought commercial advice from Deloitte which, it has been uncovered, has had a financial relationship with Crown. We also heard that the Premier's department prepared media scripts for the panel to defend the Crown proposal before it had made its assessment. Meanwhile, when James Packer first touted his proposal he said that the casino was necessary to subsidise the six-star hotel. He later claimed that the building would need to incorporate luxury apartments so that the mega rich would subsidise the entire project. Only from media reports did we find out on Monday that Cabinet has approved the proposal. Yesterday the legislation was presented to Parliament—clearly it had already been drafted—and today we are debating it. Bills are supposed to lay on the table for at least five calendar days; substantial legislation such as this should lay on the table for longer. Rushing this bill through the House shows contempt for the Parliament, its members and the people we represent.
Despite public opinion polls indicating strong community opposition to a second Sydney casino, there has been no community consultation as to whether Sydney wants a second casino or wants gaming facilities on public land at Barangaroo. The Government says there will be consultation at the environmental impact assessment stage for the proposed building, as well as when an application is lodged for the Barangaroo restricted gaming facility. But the environmental impact assessment will only take into account planning matters such as bulk, scale, overshadowing and location, and the licence application will focus on whether the applicant is suitable. At no time will the community be able to oppose expanded gaming in Sydney and on public land.
This process has come from a Government that before the last State election promised it would end deals behind closed doors. The Minister has announced how much revenue the State will receive from the new gaming facility licence, but members have not been given data that compares the revenue with current casino tax income. When I met with The Star earlier this year I was informed that it pays 27.5 per cent in tax, which rises to 50 per cent for revenue over $792 million. The Star told me that if the revenue is split between two facilities no-one will reach that highest level and the State will lose out. This has not been adequately refuted. But of most concern to me is the potential impact this will have on people with gambling problems or on people who will develop a gambling problem at the proposed casino.
We were initially told that problem gamblers would be protected because the new facility would be restricted to high rollers. The Barangaroo restricted gaming facility will not be restricted to high rollers but rather to members and their guests. I see no restrictions in the bill on who can and cannot be a member. Indeed, I would be very surprised if membership was limited to the super-rich high-rolling whalers of whom there are very few globally. High rollers bet hundreds of thousands of dollars per game. Twenty-five dollar roulette tables will hardly attract them; it will certainly attract regular gaming punters and people with problem gambling addictions.
Multiplayer gaming terminals are essentially dressed-up poker machines. The bill requires them to have the capacity to be played by more than one person at a time, but that does not mean one person cannot play them on their own. The licence requires members to demonstrate a record of VIP gaming at other casinos or be subject to a 24-hour cooling off period. What guarantee does that really provide? Many problem gamblers will have no trouble demonstrating a record of VIP gaming. Will becoming a member encourage them to gamble more? The casino will have their contact details and could conceivably send them marketing material to entice them to return. While the licensee will have to review each member's gaming history and assess whether that person should remain a member, there are no requirements on how this is to be done and there are no requirements to prevent serious loss by a member.
Furthermore, there is a disturbing assumption that so-called high rollers cannot develop unsustainable gambling problems and it is apparently not a community concern if they do. Only this year a high-rolling gambler took Crown Casino Melbourne to court after losing $1.5 billion in just 14 months. The real estate salesman, who made a fortune selling houses on the Gold Coast, served a jail sentence for stealing. He borrowed money from banks, family and friends to feed his habit. He claimed Crown was aware of his problem and took advantage of him. This is a sad story of loss for him and his family, and we should be concerned. This happened in a casino that, as I was told by Crown executive officers this morning, is a world leader in responsible gambling management. There are similar stories in Las Vegas, Macau and no doubt across the globe. Is this what we want for Sydney?
We already have high-roller facilities at The Star, including private gaming rooms connected to four penthouses. Aside from encouraging gamblers to lose their money, casinos can be hotbeds for crime, especially so-called high-roller crimes. [Extension of time agreed to.]
Mr George Souris: Just remember that.
Mr Alex Greenwich: Thank you, Minister. I appreciate that. In 2011 the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre [AUSTRAC] investigated money laundering in Australia. Its report found:
- 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.
The Barangaroo restricted-gaming facility will be located within my electorate adjacent to Millers Point, where the Government is proposing to sell-off public housing and break-up a tight-knit supportive community. Public housing in Millers Point has been neglected by the O'Farrell Government and the former Labor Government. I share the local community's concern that the Government is bending over backwards to give James Packer exactly what he wants while neglecting and taking away the security of vulnerable public housing tenants.
I call on the Government, the Labor Opposition, the Christian Democratic Party and the Shooters and Fishers Party to tie their support for this legislation to the retention of public housing in Millers Point and to action on much-needed repairs and maintenance. Barangaroo should be a world-class extension to the central business district that provides new and much-needed public space. It should bring the harbour back to the community. The Crown Sydney Resort Hotel will be on the foreshore and I understand that public access will be provided. Will it feel public or will it merely feel like private land that allows some sort of public access? This facility, which will be up to 60 storeys high, will have major impacts on the Barangaroo development—particularly on the adjacent public open space.
Any decision to change the law for another casino should be made only after extensive community consultation; with input from crime experts, welfare organisations and the local community. This, of course, has not happened, and with the support of Labor this decision will be rushed through. Members often claim they are concerned about problem gambling, but that is not enough. As members of Parliament we have the power to wind back gambling in this State. We have the power to make a real difference and go beyond just boosting help for those who have developed a problem. We can take away the incentives to gamble. But the focus of this bill is to expand the gambling industry at whatever cost. As there has been no community consultation or input, I will now share with members feedback that I have received from the Sydney community and others about this proposed development and the granting of a casino licence. Gavin Smith said:
- A prosperous society cannot be built on the exploitation of its most vulnerable members, and gambling is an insidious tax on vulnerability.
Benji Driver said:
- Public land. Our asset—but Packer will have it privatised and lost to us forever. So many modifications to the original winning concept it's become a circus of bad urban policies. Uncoordinated, oversized and never in the public interest.
Rosie Wood said:
- There are more than enough casinos. Vulnerable people have been taken advantage of quite enough! Wouldn't it be great if Mr Packer actually had a business where he "built" something other than financial problems for vulnerable people?
Lucy Evans said:
- I was a gaming analyst for a while and the gaming industry sickens me. I saw people spend their entire lives inside clubs, pumping money into machines that are designed to win. I have seen grown men sit in their own faeces because they couldn't rip themselves away from the game they were playing long enough to use the toilet. I have had people yell at me because they thought the machines were rigged but only because they'd lost … I have seen people drink and gamble their way into a misery filled existence, only to end up dead because of it. The people I have described were always waiting outside half an hour before we opened so they could quickly race to their machine. It is an addiction like no other yet it isn't considered as serious as tobacco or drugs …
Maggie Wojciechowska is one of many people in my electorate who shared with me that we need a public high school in the Sydney electorate that will serve the city for the next 100 years, not a casino. Instead we are relying on fewer schools than we had 30 years ago. Jonica Paramor said:
- This will bring nothing to our city except more profit for the Packer family. It just feels so dodgy and wrong.
Brian McKinlay said:
- Beside the demerits of it being a casino, the architecture is dull and out of keeping with the setting. Can we not have something that befits the Sydney harbour side?
Dario Burgel said:
- Tell them no more casinos—we do not need any more. What we need is more housing, parks, community spaces and bicycle lanes.
Sunil Gopinath said:
- What great city has a casino smack bang in the middle of it? Surely we need better office space, housing, public services. Casinos degrade society. Have a look who is in there. The high roller room should just kill it altogether. It should be accessible for all. I would prefer a restaurant district or non-mainstream theatre which keeps Aussie artists in Australia.
A minority of people have expressed to me support for the casino, but they were opposed to the lack of transparent process and community consultation. Paul Sheridan said that the Government has no social licence and will be judged on having exploited land set aside for the benefit of all to secure obscene profits for a few. Rodney H said:
- Just some of the many aspects which I detest of this outrage: A casino is not a Sydney Opera House like project as claimed by Packer. Casinos are well known for money laundering. Casinos in Macau/Las Vegas are hotbeds of crime and prostitution. Where is the open tendering process to ensure this is the best option—Crown is not the only casino operator in the world. The Government's own report from Deloitte said that a 5 star hotel would be built without a casino. What other world class financial district has a casino in its midst?
Mark Spencer said:
- Alex keep fighting the good fight! That site is meant to be a public park instead it is going to be owned by Packer and monopolised by money men who don't care whether they are on the harbour or in a windowless box. There is no way this venture will avoid impacting locals with its lure of high returns (at loaded odds).
Phil Scott, who is well known to many in the arts circle, said:
- This is not good news for Sydneysiders. In particular, it's bad news for those people who patronise the theatres in Hickson Road because the infrastructure will be completely inadequate. Traffic is already a problem around the area and public transport is hopeless. Once Barangaroo is up and running the traffic situation will reach nightmare proportions. As for the tourism aspects, I cannot see how the city, other than the casino itself, will benefit from gamblers' presence. Look at the Star casino and how well local restaurants and businesses are doing around it. Answer: They're quiet. The people who go to Star spend their money there, nowhere else. And this is what it will be like for Barangaroo. No-one else does well out of it except for the owner.
Clearly, I oppose this bill. I oppose the appalling process that has frozen out the public and fast-tracked this legislation for Crown casino. I have done a great deal of consultation on this among my community. I have met with The Star, the Crown Casino and gambling experts, and I have reached the opinion that this casino will be an appalling blight on the city. I oppose the bill. I move:
- That the motion be amended by leaving out the word "now" and adding the words "on 25 February 2014".