There’s something dreadfully wrong somewhere along the line when Sydney can get a second casino, but not a second airport. While Melbourne is talking about a third major airport, Sydney can’t get its act together to build a second, let alone, third airport that’s likely to be needed soon after any second airport is built.
Do we really need a second Sydney Casino? You be the judge. Do we need more problem gamblers or are we simply going to rely on the so-called `high rollers’ from overseas to make the second casino viable?
Well, we don’t need more problem gamblers and repeated references to so-called ‘Asian high rollers’ are now getting a bit tiresome and border on the offensive. If any other cultural group was being referred to in such a potentially exploitative manner we would probably be hearing calls for an apology.
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Amid the braised shin and spiced short ribs on Masterchef on Monday night was a long, very glossy, advertisement for the Crown group, which owns casinos in Melbourne, Perth, London and Macau.
But it wasn’t an ad to attract customers. Among the things it spruiked was that the group employed more than 14,000 people and ran its own hospitality school. It argued that the gaming meccas housed the most awarded, high quality, hotels and restaurants in the country. And it left the distinct impression that any city graced with a Crown megalopolis was pretty lucky economically.
If it had been set out doors and the main actor was wearing a hi-vis vest and a helmet instead of a double-breasted jacket and doorman’s top hat it could have been a mining industry ad.
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So, James Packer wants to turn Sydney into Macau and milk wealthy Chinese tourists dry.
What we are witnessing is a meticulously planned public relations push, designed to make us all believe that James’ plan is a good one.
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It is a good thing Jeff Kennett hasn’t decided to help stamp out smoking.
If so he could have sought a board position with a major tobacco company so he could change the business from within. Alternatively the former Victorian premier could have been working towards world peace by sitting on the board of British Aerospace or Lockheed Martin, helping to sell intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Instead, Jeff Kennett has decided to do his bit to end the nexus between mental illness and gambling by running a casino.
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With the Queen having sprinkled her magic on our nation, and the sniff of the sport of kings in the air, a battle royal is fast brewing over pokies. On one side are Australia’s bunyip aristocracy and elite. Rich, powerful and masterfully connected, they are used to getting their way.
On the other side, the very plebeian will of the majority - the common sense of the common people. This royal battle which would normally be settled behind closed doors is now public and transparent and will be a watershed test for our nation.
With James Packer and his thousands of Crown pokies emerging to join Channel Nine, the NRL, some AFL clubs and state governments - not to mention the $20 million advertising spend from hotels and clubs - the line up is complete. All the vested financial interests are singing from the same song sheet. Their chorus line is ‘this will not work and it is totally up to individual responsibility with some extra counselling thrown in’. Little wonder Tony Abbott chose to align himself with them.
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James Packer had better watch his back. He’s just hired the guy who helped knock off former NSW Premier Morris Iemma for Nathan Rees, then rolled Rees for Kristina Keneally, and played a key role in last year’s putsch which replaced Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard.
On the basis of recent performance, the appointment of former national ALP secretary Karl Bitar as Crown Casino government relations lobbyist could mean that the gambling empire will soon be run by Kerry Stokes from the Seven Network.
If there is such a thing as purgatory it may well be Melbourne’s Crown Casino. There is a story that at the Casino’s gala opening in 1997, dozens of white doves were released into the night sky, and were promptly incinerated in the balls of flame that blast from the braziers on the Yarra’s banks. It might be an apocryphal tale but it’s a nice bit of imagery for a place which wrongly presents gambling as nothing other than innocent fun.
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There’s been a curious role reversal between Channel 10 and Channel Nine in the past 5 years or so, made even more compelling with James Packer’s new 18 percent stake in 10.
The networks used to be opposites of the TV spectrum – Nine the heavy-weights in both budget and exposure – Ten the cut-price youngsters. Nine had a stable of headline stars. Ten was a quiet achiever. Nine had a formidable newsroom of senior journalists. Ten had a bunch of bright, hungry 20-somethings.
Then they started morphing into each other. Nine began carving away the newsroom budget, chunk by chunk. A lot of fat was shed, then a bit more. Young, ambitious 20-somethings started to feature in the 6pm line up. The tone changed from stable, solid (and sometimes predictable) to a more American, flashy, invigorated product.
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The Packer name back in the public media fold has caught everyone by surprise. There is a temptation to start dusting off analogies to his father Kerry Packer and his love of Channel Nine; the proprietor who might be given to bark down the phone ordering changes to that night’s line-up.
There’s nothing like a mogul roaming the media landscape. Ten was boring until now thanks to an open share registry - an entity in the hands of fund managers who were more interested in EBITDA and price to earnings ratios than the alchemy of making a rip-snorting TV show.
Indeed, Ten boasts the most successful TV franchise ever in Masterchef but the thing that has frustrated shareholders is that it hasn’t really translated into stellar gains in the share price _ Ten’s cost structure has risen of late and it’s share price has taken a whack.
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James Packer has clearly decided that attack is the best form of defence in aiming a strident up-yours at critics of casinos - which he of the diminishing billions billed today as the unsung heroes of job creation, urban renewal, skills training and government assistance.
“Next time you read an unbalanced story about your casinos and their impact on the community, stop and think about the other side of the story,’’ the Crown chairman said at today’s AGM in Melbourne.
“The one that rarely gets reported. That is, of the contribution Crown makes to tourism, to employment, to training, to urban development, to community partnerships and to government revenues. Contributions that make us fundamentally different to many pubs and clubs.”
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A brilliant strategic investment or a Machiavellian ploy, driven by revenge, to mess with the mind of a bitter enemy? The only thing certain about Kerry Stokes’ stunning raid on James Packer’s Consolidated Media this week is that billionaire long maligned as “Little Kerry” will be loving the wild speculation about his motives and intentions.
On Wednesday, Stokes’ Seven Network pounced on 15% of ConsMedia, giving the famously self-absorbed media industry something to talk about after an unusually long period of ownership stability.
The move also opened the third round of the epic Packer v Stokes slugfest.