It seems we can’t get enough of casinos, with recent news that more Queensland regional towns are vying for the opportunity to have a new casino as part of an integrated resort development.
According to media reports, hopefuls include Cairns, Rockhampton, Townsville, Mackay and the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.
The alleged benefits are many, including the role of casinos as a tourism magnet and a trigger for enhanced tourism development in regions. But what does the history of casino developments tell us about their chances of truly transforming regional tourism?
Australia’s first legal casino was Wrest Point, in Hobart. That was back in 1973. No doubt the idea was to make Hobart an international and national magnet for tourists, but that didn’t happen. Most punters, it seems, were locals. Hobart’s was followed closely by another casino, also in Tasmania, this time (incredibly) at Launceston. The Country Club Tasmania is still operating - no doubt you’ve all heard of it and visited Launceston to taste the action.
So appealing was the cargo cult nature of casinos that soon enough nearly every major centre had one. Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane all have casinos, with new ones underway. Cairns has one, so does Townsville, and so does the Gold Coast. Darwin has one, as does Alice Springs – the “international standard” Lasseters. Adelaide has a casino, so does Perth. Even Canberra has a casino (presumably to encourage more gambling with our tax dollars).
In terms of international tourism attractiveness, we’ve gone all out with casinos. Pretty much every major urban centre has one, and every one of them no doubt came with the promise of attracting a greater share of the international and domestic tourism dollar.
But have they? Even the more successful casinos in major urban centres don’t seem to feature on the international tourism “must do” list of things to see and do in Australia. Sure, they might add to the itinerary for a proportion of travelers but how many really visit this country because of our casinos?
We are told that the rise of the Chinese tourist is what is driving this renewed interest in major casino projects. Brisbane’s new mega casino-resort, Queens Wharf, is without doubt a hugely exciting and transformative project for the city, with the casino license acting as a trigger for an international standard hotel, retail and public spaces stretching ten city blocks. Chinese tourists are a key target for the gaming component but, much like the fabled Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, the quality of the non-gaming components may be such that many more people will visit for that experience alone and not spend a cent at a gaming table.
When opened, bright and shiny new casinos will be sure to grab a lot of attention. People will visit, no doubt, to see for themselves. But with so many casinos already in so many centres, many with less than spectacular histories, does it automatically follow that simply by building more and newer casinos in regional cities that our tourism appeal will be enhanced?