Tue, Oct 30, 7:10am by Ed Scimia
James Packer wants to build a new casino in Sydney. This, on its own, might cause a mild amount of controversy; after all, there are always groups that oppose new casino developments in their neighbourhoods (or in general), and gambling is a particularly contentious issue in Australia at the moment.
But in recent days, it has become clear that this particular casino project is generating an unusual amount of attention. Why has Packer’s plan caused such a controversy? Let’s take a closer look at the proposed casino, and some of the issues opponents have raised.
According to reports, Packer’s plan would put a six-star hotel and casino at Barangaroo Point. The large venue could be up to 70 stories tall, and would be marketed towards an upscale clientele. The plans call for a world-class hotel and casino, similar to the kinds of high-end resorts seen in Las Vegas and Macau.
There has been surprisingly little political opposition to the plan. Both the Liberal and Labour parties have largely come out in support of the casino, while even most minor party officials have given their approval – or at least have shown that they do not plan to oppose the project. In fact, many NSW politicians have praised Packer’s vision, calling it bold and innovative, and saying that it could greatly contribute to growth in tourism for the city.
A Controversial Process
The biggest issue that has come up in relation to the proposed casino has more to do with thee process behind the approval of the venue, rather than the casino itself. It appears that there were no public consultations made for the project. Community groups were not consulted, no public forums were held, and no canvassing has occurred in Barangaroo to find out what local residents think. Groups that are generally consulted when it comes to the subject of gambling – from churches and problem gambling groups to clubs or those who advocate on behalf of gambling expansion – have largely been left out of the approval process. This is extremely unusual in Australia, and would be uncommon in other parts of the world as well.
In fact, government officials have seemingly been lining up to support the casino and move it forward as fast as possible. The government is considering changing building and planning regulations to allow for the proposed height of the casino (currently, only a structure of up to 40 stories would be allowed), and officials have shown nothing but enthusiasm for the project.
Perhaps the most controversial point has been the lack of a public tender. As some have pointed out, there are certainly other operators – both of hotels and casinos – who might be interested in putting in competitive bids for building on the same site. However, at least as of yet, there has been little indication from the NSW government that such bids are being courted.
While it’s unclear how much of the governmental enthusiasm is due to genuine excitement over the scope of the project or simply a result of aggressive lobbying from Packer, what is certain is that the process by which the casino is currently moving to be built will only court controversy. You can expect to hear more about this in the coming months, though whether any of the outcry will result in a slowing of the project – or a similar casino proposal by Packer in Perth – remains to be seen.
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