BUSINESS

AUSTRALIA: stealth pokie tax, Crown coincidence, gambling a workplace hazard?

TAGs: Australia, Crown Ltd., Echo Entertainment, pokies, Queensland, Sydney

australia-clubs-stealth-pokie-taxAustralia’s clubs and hotels are up in arms over revelations that the new National Gambling Reform Bill 2012 gives the government the power to impose a “supervisory levy” on each video poker (pokie) machine an establishment operates. The tax is intended to underwrite the bureaucracy neeeded to oversee the bill’s requirements, which include the installation of voluntary precommitment technology on all new and old machines. The rate of this quarterly tax, which isn’t specified in the legislation, is to be set after Parliament approves the bill, and can be altered in future without parliamentary approval. Clubs Australia exec director Anthony Ball said MPs were being asked to vote on a bill without knowing what it means for clubs in their constituencies.

New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell has rejected suggestions that his government altered competitive tender regulations to favor Crown Ltd’s bid for a second Sydney casino license. O’Farrell said the alterations “went through the cabinet process in the usual way” and that he had not discussed the alterations with Crown boss James Packer when the pair met a week before the regulations were changed. O’Farrell said that the fortuitous timing of Crown’s ‘unsolicited proposal’ two weeks later was “more coincidence than anything.” As the Church Lady once observed, how conveeenient

Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that a Crown lobbyist entertained Mark Boyd, the state secretary of NSW hospitality workers’ union United Voice, at the Australian Football League grand final just weeks after Boyd signed an agreement to drop the union’s opposition to allow smoking in Crown’s proposed Sydney casino. Just this summer, the union had accused O’Farrell’s government of “gambling with the health of casino workers” by not supporting their desire to work in a smoke-free environment. The agreement Boyd signed states that allowing Asian high-rollers to smoke while gambling is a “commercial necessity” for the casino project to have any hope of success.

Over in Queensland, Premier Campbell Newman is playing Crown off its archrival Echo Entertainment. Echo currently holds the sole casino license in Brisbane, but Packer is reportedly wooing Newman with the promise of a new five-star casino-hotel. On Thursday, Newman told The Australian & Deutsche Bank Business Leaders Forum that “we have had conversations with a number of different organizations” about building a new casino in Brisbane. Asked specifically whether that meant Brisbane would get a second casino, Newman hedged: “Well, maybe it would, maybe it wouldn’t, but it could allow, for example, the likes of the current operators, Echo, could say that they wanted to … cash in their chips, pun intended, and come into a new site and redevelop it; maybe Mr. Packer wants to do that.” That cleared up a lot, didn’t it? Expect this dance of 1,000 veils to go on as long as each company is willing to up the ante.

Finally, Joel Zyngier, a workplace relations specialist at Aussie law firm Holding Redlich, says it’s time companies explicitly prohibited online gambling in the workplace. Zyngier says a company’s definition of “unacceptable behavior must include using an employer’s resources to engage in gambling … unfettered access to the internet, coupled with knowledge that employees have the potential to cause themselves harm by gambling, may trigger an employer’s [occupational health and safety] duty.” Hey, Calvin… Since we had to digest this idiot’s blather as part of OUR jobs, can we file a claim for your failure to protect us from having our IQ dumbed down a few points? Cha-ching!

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