Nothing good ever happened at a Sydney casino
Give The Star some credit. It does at least live up to its name, even if it has to fork out megabucks to get the stars to appear.
When Star City opened in 1995, it reportedly paid Diana Ross a cool million to perform at the opening. That was a fun night. The free concert was dangerously crowded, and you had to queue for three hours to play blackjack tables with a minimum bet limit of $25.
When Star City rebranded as The Star last year, it again reportedly paid big bucks for the likes of Russell Crowe, Jen Hawkins and other big names to show up. Us star struck Sydneysiders were presumably meant to think that the casino was a fabulously exciting place to blow our money, not a depressing RSLy place to blow our money.
Didn’t work. Star power might cut it for nightclubs and fragrance launches, but there is nothing anyone can do to convince Sydneysiders that their city’s casino is a place worth visiting for any reason other than to take a free pee in the plentiful public toilets.
For better or worse, Melbourne’s Crown Casino has inculcated itself into the heart and soul of the city. It is a venue where average people meet to eat, socialise and maybe – but only maybe – blow all their money. Sydney’s casino has never come close to being a social hub. Star City, and now The Star, has always been more of a scar on the city’s landscape than a star.
Partly it’s the architecture. The thing is Travelodge ugly. It is three star tropical resort ugly, and no amount of refurbishment and reorientation to face the harbour can fix that. Though some dynamite might help.
It’s also in a weird place. Pyrmont is a peninsula cut off from the city proper. Since Star City’s opening in 1995, Pyrmont has come alive with new apartments, new major media tenants like Fairfax and Networks Seven and Ten, and cafés and Thai takeaways everywhere. It looks like a normal, vibrant part of inner Sydney, except for the giant Holiday Inn with fake palm trees in the middle of it.
Meanwhile, various internal casino machinations revealed in recent weeks have done little to make The Scar seem like the bastion of family entertainment it would have us perceive it as.
A public inquiry will be held next week. It will examine, among other things, a string of allegations related to the sacking of casino boss Sid Vaikunta. Mr Vaikunta was dismissed on February 2 following allegations from two Star employees that he sexually harassed them. He denies these claims.
The matter is further clouded by a great scoop in The Australian which revealed that NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell’s communications director Peter Grimshaw, and his girlfriend who worked as a senior manager at the casino, mounted a covert media campaign against Mr Vaikunta.
All of this comes not long after strong suggestions that staff at The Scar allowed overseas gamblers to play for more than the legal limit of 24 hours straight, and that those who leaked an email containing details of the practice to a whistleblower were sacked.
The Scar is no different from any casino in the world. The punters on the main gaming floor pay the bills, but the high-rollers build the fancy scmhancy extensions overlooking the harbour. Problem is, despite the rather large yachts out the front of the casino, Pyrmont is not Monte Carlo. It is a suburb in a city called Sydney in a country called Australia which happens to have some very sensible gambling laws which apply both to locals and visitors.
That’s the thing about The Scar. It’s technically in Sydney but it’s not part of Sydney’s consciousness. And its current troubles are just the latest blemishes on a place which has been cursed and unloved from day one. A magazine has a photo shoot at the casino, the magazine folds the next month. A poker show films in a private room, the show tanks on TV.
Everything goes wrong at The Scar, as surely as the house takes your money. Always has, always will. And frankly, if our tourism bosses need a place like this to sell a city with the Opera House and Bridge, they’re as useless as the casino itself.
The Punch welcomes your discussion on the Scar or the casino in your nearest city. Hate it? Love it? Why?
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