Casinos go through back door to exploit weakness
On the surface, some competitive tension has been added to the Sydney casino game by Echo Entertainment presenting the NSW government with a $1 billion alternative to James Packer's Barangaroo it's-not-a-casino-it's-a-gaming-thing proposal. But that's only on the surface.
Both Echo and Crown are seeking to exploit the weakness of the "unsolicited proposals" route to gaining government favour, a process totally unsuited to handing out an exclusive gambling licence, whatever legal euphemism Premier Barry O'Farrell might apply to it. Just as Crown is trying to use the unsolicited proposal loophole as a way of gaining a casino licence through the backdoor, Echo is trying to cement its casino licence monopoly via a rear entrance. A cynical soul might also think Echo's offer to spend another billion around Pyrmont is the Echo board trying to increase pressure on Crown to use the front door via an expensive takeover offer, while Packer awaits permission from authorities in Queensland and NSW to increase Crown's present 10 per cent stake.
The Crown and Echo unsolicited proposals are limited options. What's totally missing from this embarrassing saga of political ire (the Star's recent unhappy history) and favouritism ("all the way with Jimmy") is any inkling of the government considering for a moment what might actually be best for Sydney and NSW taxpayers.
If a resource is scarce, either naturally or artificially, it is the responsibility of government to work out the optimum use of it for the greater good.
There's no sign of the O'Farrell government wanting to bother its woolly head about what the optimal policy for gambling licences might be - it's much easier just to sit back and wait for a couple of big, rich gambling houses to set a simple red-or-black choice for you.
In a state awash with poker machines and Tom Waterhouses, another casino licence - or several - hardly matters. What O'Farrell should be doing is the hard work of making a decision about what the "right" number of licences should be and then standing back to let them be decided by open tender.
The unsolicited proposal formula is designed to assess a single project on its merits, not examine the broader industry and possibilities not placed before it. That's the government's quite incredible failure: allowing the method of dispensation of licences to be determined by the one or two seeking the licence.
Echo's pitch to expand the Star does nothing to fix that.
There is another possibility: taking the responsibilities of government seriously in awarding more casino licences would include a thorough review of the overall gambling industry - and a government in the pocket of the clubs and pubs industry might not like what such a review would find. Wonder what odds Tom is offering on this play-the-ball, kiddies?