James Packer’s Crown Casino was given a whopping free kick by the Victorian Liberal government in September. A new deal with the government extends the license for Crown’s Melbourne casino until 2050, allowing them to expand their gaming floors and add even more machines.
In exchange Crown will pay just $910 million in tax. Spread over 36 years this is tiny considering Crown is reported to have made $655 million in profit last year alone. In actual fact a number of provisions in the deal mean Crown may not even pay this amount. This deal is in effect a licence to print money.
Worse still, Crown will be permitted to claim $200 million of public money in ‘compensation’ for any future problem gambling initiatives the may impact on their profits. These could include measures which do very little to address gambling addiction, like moving ATMs slightly further from gaming floors.
This sweetheart deal was supported by the Labor opposition. This is not surprising given Crown has close ties to both the Liberals and Labor. Packer has made hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to both the major parties over the years. This deal comes on the back of another lucrative deal for Crown Barangaroo in Sydney – the details of which the NSW Liberal government has refused to release publicly.
The gambling industry essentially acts as another means for big business to claw back money paid to workers through wages. To make even more profit, big companies like Crown reinvest a small portion of their massive revenue to buy political influence, effectively extracting even more money from workers through public subsidies.
While ordinary Victorians suffer increasing levels of rent and mortgage stress, Crown pays a mere $1 per year in rent to the government for their massive Southbank site. The company also enjoys a complete monopoly of trade in Melbourne and it is the only gaming venue with a 24/7 pokie license.
Labor leader Daniel Andrews shed crocodile tears when commenting on the deal claiming they were backing the agreement with “sorrow”. Andrews falsely claimed that opposing the deal would jeopardise the jobs of Crown’s workers, yet nothing in the deal protects these jobs in any way.
In an attempt to distance themselves from this rort Labor did a side deal with Crown. They secured a four-year package to retrain a mere 500 retrenched workers within Crown’s education facilities free of charge. With tens of thousands of workers set to lose their jobs in the coming period dodgy in-house training dressed up as a TAFE is an insult.
Like the Liberals, Labor’s primary concern is protecting the profit interests of their big businesses backers. The McKell Institute – a Labor-linked think tank in NSW – is advocating changes to NSW gaming regulations that would see companies like Crown venturing into private childcare and aged care provision.
This would only assist Crown to extract even more money from working class families as declining household incomes mean ordinary people will spend less on gambling. They’ll also be able to defend their gambling rort by claiming that regulations harming gambling profits will harm the provision of services to children and the elderly.
The fact that the major parties are prepared to use people’s insecurities about jobs, the young and the elderly, to excuse their dodgy deals with big gaming companies highlights the pressing need for real political representation for ordinary people.
We need a new political movement in this country, one that is not tied to the big business elite and the profit driven capitalist system. We need a movement that stands up to the predatory gambling industry. Rather than facilitating social problems we need to use the wealth created in society to solve them.
By Ben Convey