What's really on James Packer's mind? Photo: Louise Kennerley
Last weekend James Packer wrote an open letter to the people of Sydney, appealing for the public to back his plan to build a second casino in the city. Daniel Stacey imagines what that letter might have read like had it been written in an uncharacteristic fit of honesty.
I’m writing to you today to try and tell you my side of the story, and explain why I have proposed to build a tower of angry men in your city.
There’s a serious lack of hotel rooms in this town, and so what we need to do is construct a casino.
I know, the logic is a bit rickety, but stay with me.
If we don’t do exactly this then we can kiss goodbye to our Asian tourists forever. They will be going to Singapore, where the government has just reversed a forty-year ban on casinos.
I’m aware that in Singapore they charge locals SGD 100 (about AUD 80) to enter the Marina Bay Sands and Resort World Sentosa. That money is used to fund state sponsored programs for problem gamblers, including mental health initiatives and family therapy for wives and children abandoned by addicts.
I also get that 93,000 Singaporeans have been placed on an exclusion list prohibiting them from entering either of the two new casinos.
The soul flattening dictatorship of Singapore has cleverly worked out that, despite the obvious social costs of gambling, a casino can be regulated so it becomes simply a device that buggers foreigners. This kind of an enterprise makes perfect sense in Singapore, which has been run as the economic extension of a single despicable family for over a generation. In many ways, this is how I view my engagement with Australia.
I want you to trust me that there will only be big faceless Asian whales in this place. The kind of people you and I (*wink* – you with me) couldn’t care less about.
I understand that in a recent study 25.4% of gambling addicts admitted to beating their partners and a whopping 64.5% had clinically significant anger problems. I’m aware that women whose partners are problem gamblers are 10.5 times more likely to be victims of domestic abuse. And sure, its pretty much common knowledge that 15% of pathological gamblers engage in child abuse, and that the children of gambling addicts are between 2 and 3 times more likely to be abused by a parent than their peers are.
I mean, think about it. Gambling – particularly the kind that happens at flashy resorts – is really just about being tricked by spinning lights and free drinks into losing enormous amounts of money. Who wouldn’t become moody, aggressive and possibly psychotic if they found themselves trapped by addiction in this sick spiral of entertainment-cum-insolvency?
But listen Sydney, there will be no problem gamblers in Crown on Port Jackson. OK, perhaps it’s possible that one or two of these types might slip through the net. After all, as Virginia Baker, former responsible gambling manager at The Star recently said, even students and people on benefits get invited into VIP rooms. Invitation to these rooms depends on your gambling turnover and not on your income or wealth. So all you really need by way of credentials to enter many high roller rooms is a stubborn willingness to lose money at all costs. Because you see, this is what running a casino is really about. Not sustainable gambling, but the economic evisceration of a certain character type - the pathological gambler. We have pretty much mastered this process at Crown. If you’re wondering how we do it, a good place to start is the Harry Kakavas Victorian Supreme Court Case.
Now that I’ve dealt with the social costs, I want you to focus on the bedazzlement this development will deliver. I’m actually holding a bedazzlement competition. Like China’s CCTV building, Renzo Piano’s hyper-rich lifestyle complex The Shard, and emperor Vespasian’s Colosseum, I’m planning to make up for all the evil brewing inside my tower of angry men by painting it in pretty colours and attaching various baubles and flags to it.
Paul Keating and Lord Richard Rogers have likened the plan to a Brancusi-esque exclamation mark, a sort of shouty, tragic phallus. I’m thinking more of a big glass Christmas tree celebrating not the birth of Christ but the death of compassion and the social compact. The lights will flicker all year and the good people of Sydney will come and lay ‘presents’ under this construction. I get to keep all the presents.
But listen, we’ll let the architects decide.
I’ve got some great guys on my team too, some real innovators – Bitar and Arbib – both veteran advocates of an exhilarating philosophy of Schumpeterian creative destruction. They’ve informed those gatekeepers relevant to this plan about my loyalty to allies in the political sphere, and I’ve attempted to demonstrate this by trying to put my old mate Jeff Kennett in as chairman of Echo Entertainment.
I’ve made a terrible tactical stroke of genius by proposing to build the development on top of the Opera House in Barangaroo Central. Now that we’ve reaffixed the Styrofoam mock-up to Barangaroo South, it should be apparent that I am a man of compromise. I listened to the distant howls of the public and I responded.
And I’m looking to the future as well. In 1985 the Adelaide Casino opened with no pokies. By 1993 it won the right to install machines and by 1997 it had 674 flashing fruit boxes servicing thousands of addicted, violent, miserable gamblers. Fascinating numbers right? And did you know that in Singapore there are brothels next to most hotel bars and also an establishment known parochially by expats as Four Floors of Whores? In the future to compete with Singapore we may need to emulate some of these developments as well. It’s what the whales want. We can’t just tuck these places away on Elizabeth St and Riley St forever. We’ve got to get this place jumping again. Give it back its spark.
I think we can all agree that the grass roots rejuvenation of Sydney over the last decade, spurred by planning laws that encourage local entrepreneurs to open small, independent venues so that Harbour Dwellers can explore their city without being funnelled into ASX-listed beer barns and mega clubs and awful, tacky casinos – I think we can all agree this has been a bad thing for merchants of greed Sydney.
So get with me Sydneysiders. I believe with a plan like this, with a team of real heavy hitters, a vision for the future, and also my architecture competition, its only fair that Sydney do its part. That’s why we’re looking at offering a doughnut bid for the casino licence, and I’ve also managed to circumvent standard process for development proposals. I’m very happy the government has appointed David Murray, who attended my first wedding, to independently assess the next stage of approvals.
So let me know what you think Sydney. You with me?
Only kidding. I couldn’t give a toss.