Why I Oppose a Casino on the Sunshine Coast

It is now well known on the Sunshine Coast that I am strongly opposed to the Council’s proposal to allow the construction of a casino in its wholly owned Maroochydore CBD development, SunCentral. This opposition is based not only on my own views but on the views of credible experts, research and on my consultation with the Sunshine Coast community.

I have spoken to a great many people on the Coast about this proposal. I began a petition in December 2017 calling on the Sunshine Coast Council, which owns both the CBD site and the SunCentral developer, to rule out allowing the construction of a casino in Maroochydore. This petition has already gathered more than 4,500 signatures, while 89% of respondents to a poll conducted by the Sunshine Coast Daily this month agreed that “The Coast is no place for a casino”. I also held 14 Listening Posts all over my electorate of Fisher at the end of January, and received overwhelming direct feedback from local residents stating that they do not want to see a casino built on the Sunshine Coast. This, along with the great many other individual conversations I have had with local residents on the subject have convinced me that the overwhelming majority of people who live on the Sunshine Coast oppose this development and want me to fight to prevent it going ahead.

Beyond this local community opposition, I oppose a casino on the Sunshine Coast myself because I believe that it would change the character of our community, add to the cost of living pressures on our hard-working families, “hollow-out” the local economy, increase crime and anti-social behaviour, and drive up drug and alcohol abuse. As we know from other Australian cities with a casino, it would be likely to attract organised crime gangs, who use casinos to launder money, and lead to increased family breakdowns.

Conclusively demonstrating the harm to communities created by casinos is complicated as the circumstances in every community vary. However, many studies have clearly demonstrated the damage caused to communities by increases in problem gambling brought about by increased access to the electronic gambling machines which would represent a major part of any casino, as well as the direct impact of a casino itself. I will list just a few examples here.

The 2014 Australian study Gambling expenditure predicts harm: evidence from a venue-level study by Markham, Young and Doran, found that an increase in mean per capita monthly spending on electronic gambling machines brought about a doubling in the prevalence of gambling-related harm in the adult population of the Northern Territory. A 2013 US study Indian gaming in Oklahoma: implications for community welfare by Moellman and Mitra and published in the Journal of Socio-economics found that increased numbers of gaming machines and tables was found to be associated with increases in the level of unemployment, violent crime and property crime. Median household income was found in the same study to be negatively associated with the number of gaming machines – where there were more electronic gambling machines, average incomes were lower. In 2011, the paper The relationship between crime and electronic gaming expenditure: evidence from Victoria, Australia from the Journal of Quantitative Criminology found a consistent, positive and significant relationship between gaming and crime rates, especially in crimes such as theft, fraud, breaking and entering and robbery.

Data from the Crime Statistics Agency of Victoria, reported in the The Age in May 2015 shows us that just one casino, Crown Casino in Melbourne is the site of a crime committed every 10 hours. Despite an army of security guards, it is the site of a violent crime every 3 days. In the ten years between 2005 and 2015 there were 1180 assaults, 80 sexual assaults, 50 robberies, and 13 abductions in the complex itself, let alone the surrounding area. 7,600 non-violent crimes have occurred there during the same period.[1] We know from a report on the Sydney Star Casino[2] that as many as two-thirds of incidents of violence in casinos are not reported, so the real numbers are likely to be much higher.

When it comes to any proposed employment benefits, no-one is more committed to bringing jobs to the Sunshine Coast than I am. The Turnbull Government has had considerable success creating jobs. More than 1,000 jobs a day have been created Australia wide over the past 12 months and here in the southern and central part of the Sunshine Coast which makes up my electorate of Fisher, our unemployment rate was just 5.1% this year, which is well below the national average of 5.9%. I have argued consistently since before my election that historically we have been too dependent on construction and tourism. We are too vulnerable to the inevitable down turns and cycles that dominate those industries. We need to diversify our economy and bring new highly skilled jobs to the Coast.

That is why I have formed the Fisher Fishing Industry Council, to work with local primary producers to see what we can do to encourage their success. It is why I have repeatedly encouraged the Government to consider relocating a Commonwealth Department to the Sunshine Coast. It is also why I have created the Fisher Defence Industry Initiative, which is already bringing millions of dollars’ worth of high tech manufacturing contracts to the Coast. Over the past 12 months we have seen more than 1,000 new jobs created nationwide under the Turnbull Government every day and I am determined to see that continue on the Coast.

The evidence suggests however that building a new casino would not create long-term jobs, or encourage any significant increase in tourism numbers. A 2016 report by Synergies Economic Consulting The impact of new casinos on Queensland Community Clubs, shows that 60-80% of customers of casinos in Australia are local residents from the area surrounding the casino, while most of the rest are from other parts of Australia. The same report shows that once construction is complete, over the long term local employment return to pre-construction levels and even lower. Jobs available in the casino are offset by job losses in other local clubs and pubs and by the reduction in disposable income available to local residents for spending in other businesses.

The impact on local community clubs like surf clubs, RSLs, Bowls Clubs and other sports clubs would be particularly devastating. The report referred to above, The impact of new casinos on Queensland Community Clubs found that new casinos in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Cairns would put the financial viability of 63 separate community clubs at serious risk, costing them a combined $105 million and threatening $38 million worth of community contributions from those clubs. In the years since the opening of the Star Casino in Sydney for example, 48 community clubs, or nearly half of the total in the region, have closed. The impact on the Sunshine Coast’s community clubs would be just as disastrous.  If these local clubs were to close, who would patrol our beaches?  Who would provide community sporting facilities and social services to the likes of our Veteran’s communities?

Respected Monash University academic Dr Charles Livingstone describes the effect of casinos as ‘hollowing out’ the local economies in which they are situated. The casino itself would also be vulnerable to the very economic cycles on which our local economy is already too dependent and would only make any downturn worse.

The laws of the US State of Hawaii do not permit casinos. Yet, according to booking website Five Star Alliance, there are at least 49 five star hotels in Hawaii and of course the Hawaii Convention Centre is world renowned. I simply do not accept the proposition that we must have a casino to attract a five star hotel and a convention centre. The Sunshine Coast has much in common with Hawaii. The Sunshine Coast has the beautiful beaches, surf, the Glass House Mountains, pristine rivers and streams. We as a region need to market ourselves much better than we do to capitalise on our natural beauty, rather than seeking to attract an international gambling corporation whose profits would be sent off shore.

I am convinced that the majority of people on the Sunshine Coast are strongly opposed to a casino, and I am convinced that one would have highly damaging social and economic impacts on our community and our families. Put simply, I believe there are already too many ways for people to lose their money on the Sunshine Coast, without flooding the local scene with more.

I intend to hold a Community Forum on the Casino in April of this year, in order to have the opportunity to speak to local residents further about my reasons for opposing a casino and to hear more of their feedback. Anyone is welcome to attend that forum, which will be advertised on my website and on Facebook, and I would encourage all of my constituents to come along and give me their views.

In the meantime I intend to continue to campaign to stop this very damaging development going ahead. I hope that all of my constituents in Fisher will consider signing my petition at: Sunshine Coast Casino Petition.

Please share the above link with your friends, family and colleagues if you do not want to see a Casino on the Sunshine Coast.

Andrew Wallace MP
Federal Member for Fisher

[1] https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/casino-crime-figures-paint-disturbing-picture-20150516-gh31ve.html

[2] Available to read in full here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-31/leaked-report-reveals-extent-of-violence-at-star-casino-sydney/7980186