Fight against gambling goes on after Crown report

Gambling reform advocate Tim Costello urges Christians to keep speaking out

Despite the damning report which declared Crown Sydney Gaming unsuitable to hold an operating licence for its new casino at Barangaroo, Sydney, Tim Costello said the battle against the impact of gambling in Australia continues.

Chief advocate of the Alliance for Gambling Reform, Costello told Eternity that the 800-page report by Justice Bergin SC was “vindication” for years of campaigning against Crown’s business.

“For more than 25 years I have been saying that Crown is the site of money laundering and is enabling organised crime,” Costello said. “And Christians have been at the forefront of this battle.” Around 1995, Costello launched the Inter-Church Gambling Taskforce with other Christian leaders from around the country.

Despite recommendations by the Bergin report – following an inquiry commissioned by NSW’s Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority – Crown might still be awarded the operating licence for Barangaroo.

The Barangaroo complex — which comprises multiple restaurants, bars and a hotel — is worth $2.2 billion. The proposed casino was developed primarily for ‘high-roller’ players, said Costello who believes uncertainty around the casino’s future should prompt Christians to continue lobbying against problem gambling.

Christian gambling reform advocates are in a prime position to call for change because, through their community contact and welfare programs, they understand the influence of gambling on individuals and society. Given its human cost, gambling “shouldn’t be mainstream and state-sponsored” according to Costello.

He also encouraged further Christian activism against gambling due to how it “shifts wealth to the captains of the gaming industry” and away from the poorest in society.

“We believe in the sovereignty of God … Abandoning that belief to luck and preying on greed becomes an addiction and an insult to God.”

Costello emphasised one “hugely significant” recommendation by Justice Bergin – that the United Kingdom’s ‘Know Your Customer’ model be adopted locally.

Under this model, casinos and gaming venues must register the identification of users, which removes any anonymity associated with gambling. If this was introduced in NSW, Crown Casino would need to reevaluate its business model, according to Costello, as “the reason people come to Crown is because they don’t have a Know Your Customer policy”.

“Big crime launders money at places like Crown, and suburban criminals launder their money at pokies throughout NSW and Sydney.

“Justice Bergin said [that] getting cash out of casinos, and by implication poker-machines and other forms of gambling, and replacing it with a cashless card that everyone who gambles must have, would be hugely significant” in reducing crime, said Costello.

Last year, Costello joined Sydney Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies, Sydney Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher, and Hillsong Church leader Brian Houston in signing an open letter to NSW Parliament to support “bold reform” of the state’s gambling industry.