This site is pretty libertarian when it comes to vice and doesn’t care much what other people get up to behind closed doors. Want to go on a three-day ice bender? Be my guest (though if you turn up the bass on the hi-fi at 4am and live within five houses of Stately Prick Manor, you just might get a visit from the constabulary). Likewise, I’ll do my best not to bother you when I knock over a 1kg t-bone and a bottle of cab-sav. Sure, we might each have to pay a couple of extra bucks for each others’ health care over the years, but as with occasionally getting pissed off by someone else’s free speech, it’s a small price to pay for liberty.
One activity I have never understood, however, is gambling. Even if you feel like hell in the morning, there is at least a more-or-less guaranteed initial pay-off with that pitcher of martinis or bowl of coke or whatever your poison of choice might be. Gambling, essentially a tax on people who are bad at maths, is rigged, and everyone knows it. Yet some people still fall for it: years ago, early in my time in Australia, I lived next door to an unhappy family whose patriarch (the word implies far more respect than he was due) managed to put every spare cent (and a lot of cents that weren’t spare as well) through the pokies at the Nelson Hotel.
Which is one of the reasons I’m against Jamie Packer’s proposal to build a second casino in Sydney, the better, we are told, to lure Asian tourists to our shores: Gambling is, more than anything else, a stupid hobby. We don’t need to import any more rubes; Australia has enough home-grown morons per capita already. Don’t believe me? This week Kyle Sandilands’ biography debuted at the top of the best-seller lists. I rest my case.
On many levels, the Prick should be all in favour of Packer’s plan. If people want to throw their money away on baccarat or black jack, who’s to judge? More selfishly, Robbie Burns wrote two hundred years ago that freedom an’ whisky gang together; these days the same thing can be said for fine dining and casinos. Las Vegas is a culinary destination in and of itself, and Sydney’s re-vamped Star plays host to the likes of Teague Ezard’s Black (good, but not as good as his eponymous Melbourne diner) and David Chang’s local Momofuku Seibo (which the Pricks would like to try sometime, if only we could be bothered with their damn 10-days-and-10-days-in-advance-only reservation system). Presumably Packer’s plan would include any number of fine diners as well.
But I don’t care. The logic of the project is all wrong. Jamie Packer has taken to the Sydney Morning Herald to press his case this weekend; read his (presumably ghosted) words and judge for yourself.
Packer says his aim is to attract Asian tourists to Sydney; what he fails to mention is that the whole point of casinos is that guests never leave the compound except to go home again. The notion that, save for perhaps a few busses and hire cars of wives getting out to hit the Gucci, Prada, and Miu Miu outlets in the CBD, these tourists will provide a massive cash injection to the Sydney economy is laughable.
There is a soft reverse-racist undercurrent to the proposal as well: not so much in how it targets Asia (it’s a market, we’re told this is the Asian century, get over it) but how it demeans Australians. Go to the worker’s paradise of Cuba, check into the grand old hotels like the Nacional, and you’ll quickly find that the only locals allowed in are those who work there. Ordinary Cubans, even if they’ve got the money, aren’t allowed in for so much as a mojito at the bar. The emphasis on high-rolling “whales” from Asia feels similarly two-caste, with locals on the bottom, there to serve drinks but not to have a punt.
Paul Hogan – who did more for the Australian “brand” than the decades of failed advertising and other efforts that came after his era of “Come and Say G’day” – put it right a few years ago when he said, “If I go to your house for a visit and I want to come back, it’s because I enjoyed your company, not your furniture.” Jamie Packer’s project is all furniture, and vulgar furniture at that.
Gambling has the added detection of being an insatiable addiction. There are physical limits to the amount of drugs imbibed but the only limit with gambling is your ability to get money – legally or otherwise.
With more or less libertarian views on most things gambling gives me the most conflict.
And also – the gambling problem as you describe with Packer is one of those big government distortions of a libertarian cause where demand is driven by consumers (Aussie, Asian whatever) but supply is heavily regulated by the state. The fact pokie licenses are so bloody expensive means they are concentrated in the hands solely of the wealthy who use the profits to undercut establishments just wanting to be a normal pub.