Burswood Ltd is pushing for a series of regional casinos to be set up in Western Australia in a contentious move that will test the State Government’s resolve to avoid using gambling revenues to prop up the Budget.
Burswood’s managing director, Mr John Schaap, has revealed during private broker presentations that operating casinos in regional areas such as Broome, Kalgoorlie and in the State’s south-west form part of his agenda. He told brokers he had raised the issue of regional casinos during recent discussions with WA’s Racing and Gaming Minister, Mr Nick Griffiths.
Apart from regional casinos, other issues raised by Mr Schaap during his meeting with Mr Griffiths included online gambling initiatives, reduced tax rates on Burswood’s international commission business, an extension to the company’s exclusive gambling licence in WA and the use of poker machines.
Burswood, which is backed by Mr Kerry Packer, also wants government approval to scrap its 10 per cent shareholding cap, which would put the Perth casino operator in play.
Burswood’s regional casino plans pose a second sensitive gambling issue for Dr Geoff Gallop’s Labor Government in WA – the only State in which poker machines are outlawed.
While Mr Griffiths has ruled out allowing hotels and licensed clubs to have poker machines, he has left the door open for their introduction at Burswood’s Perth casino.
In his presentation to brokers, Mr Schaap said he was “quietly confident” the Government would see commercial merit in Burswood’s push for Pengeluaran SGP poker machines, though he cautioned against expectations of an immediate decision.
While no doubt mindful of the social and political consequences of legislating for an expansion in gambling activities, the Government is also under pressure to find new revenue streams to deliver its promise of a Budget surplus.
While former premier Mr Richard Court had ruled out ever issuing a second casino licence, a spokesman for Dr Gallop said the Government had no such policy stance. The issue of new casinos would be considered when, and if, it was put before Cabinet, the spokesman said.
While reluctant to elaborate on the issues discussed during his private broker presentations, Mr Schaap said that irrespective of Burswood’s wishes, the issue of regional casino licences was ultimately one for the State Government to decide.
“If, as a business, we don’t put up all sorts of ideas [to the Government], then we are underselling ourselves,” said Mr Schaap.
According to brokers, Mr Schaap’s proposition to the Government is that allowing Burswood to operate other casinos outside Perth would enable gambling to be managed, and controlled, by a single operator.