Gambling and casinos
Guest blogger: Emeritus Professor Peter Spearritt, curator of Freedom Then, Freedom Now.
State governments in every Australian state have legalised poker machines and casinos, primarily because they can tax such activities to contribute to state revenue, helping to pay for schools, hospitals and other responsibilities. Some states embraced these revenue raising possibilities very early, especially New South Wales, which legalised poker machines in 1956. Queensland waited until 1992 to do that, and some of the proponents of the legislation at the time later regretted supporting this ‘freedom’ due to negative societal impacts. Governments have gone to great efforts to keep criminal elements out of casinos but coping with problem gamblers – and the impact that has on family members and their immediate community – has proved much more intractable.
The first casinos in Queensland were purpose built in Townsville and on the Gold Coast. Both were generally welcomed by local communities as tourist attractions. The first Brisbane Casino took over the former Colonial Treasury building, and paid for some heritage restoration. There is some irony in the fact that the building that once administered the state’s finances, is now a source of enormous profits for the private owners and tax income for the state.
Panoramic views of the Sheraton Breakwater CasinoHotel from Melton Hill, Townsville, 1987. (In copyright). From 7435 Ron and Ngaire Gale Collection. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland. Image 709-04-22
The huge new Queen’s Wharf casino complex being built overlooking the Brisbane River has been hotly debated, not just by people concerned about the impact of gambling on our society, but also the notion that ‘new public space’ would be created in what is essentially a privately owned domain. A new pedestrian bridge will funnel punters from Southbank to the casino. It has a 99 year licence to operate and no other casinos can be opened within 60 kilometres for at least 25 years.
Drinking, smoking ‘n gambling is one of the themes explored in State Library’s new exhibition Freedom Then, Freedom Now on display until 19 November 2017 in the Philip Bacon Heritage Gallery on Level 4.
Further reading from Emeritus Professor Peter Spearritt