Crown Ltd. boss James Packer has enlisted an unlikely ally in his quest for a Sydney casino license. Mission Australia, a non-denominational Christian support group, has agreed to sign on as a partner for the proposed Barangaroo casino project in order to provide around-the-clock on-site counseling for gamblers who feel they have difficulties controlling their betting behavior. Last year, Packer met with Reverend Fred Nile, leader of the Christian Democratic Party in the New South Wales parliament, who said his support for Packer’s Sydney casino proposal was contingent on the inclusion of harm-reduction measures.
The Christian Democrats’ support of Packer’s casino plan could be key in pushing the matter over the hump, given the Greens party’s avowed opposition and the Labor party’s waffling. In October, Labor gave Packer’s plan their qualified support, but Labor is now threatening to withdraw its support unless NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell agrees to release a report the government commissioned on the casino’s economic benefits for the state. O’Farrell had claimed the Deloitte report was a cabinet document and therefore not subject to freedom of information regulations. Labor spokesman Luke Foley told Fairfax Media that the O’Farrell government’s “ongoing secrecy … will make it difficult” for Labor to support Crown’s proposal in Parliament.
Labor’s concerns appear to be shared by the general public. A recent Nielsen poll of 1,000 voters revealed 56% of respondents were opposed to Crown’s proposal, while 38% were in favor. Much of the negativity surrounding Crown’s casino bid stems from the widespread perception that O’Farrell’s administration has bent over backward to accommodate Packer’s desires, whether via the decision not to put the second Sydney casino license out for public tender, the regulatory rewrites to make the tender bypass tickety-boo, the sweetheart tax rate the casino will enjoy and O’Farrell’s temporary suggestion that he could award Crown a gaming license before Echo Entertainment’s Sydney casino monopoly expired in 2019.
O’Farrell flip-flopped (again) this week by announcing he would indeed release the Deloitte report, but only after his cabinet had made its final call on whether to proceed with the Crown project. That call won’t be made until a panel headed by former banker (and Packer wedding guest) David Murray delivers its own verdict on the Crown casino’s economic benefits to the state.
THE STAR SEX SCANDAL NOT QUITE DEAD YET
Meanwhile, O’Farrell has come under further criticism from the state Information and Privacy Commission (IPC) over the government’s refusal to release documents related to last year’s sexual harassment scandal at Echo’s Sydney casino The Star. O’Farrell’s former spin doctor Peter Grimshaw resigned after it was revealed he’d forwarded sensitive emails from O’Farrell regarding the sexual harassment allegations made against former Star managing director Sid Vaikunta.
Members of the Labor opposition have demanded O’Farrell release emails between himself, The Star staffers and gaming minister George Souris related to the scandal. Souris has admitted knowing of the allegations against Vaikunta while The Star’s casino license renewal was being considered, yet saying nothing publicly. The IPC now says O’Farrell’s office “has not demonstrated an application of the public interest nor has it explained its reasons” for keeping the emails from public view. The IPC also says further investigation is required after determining O’Farrell’s original search of its memory banks was incomplete. O’Farrell’s office said it “will review” the IPC’s recommendations.