Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Vic govt denies favours for Crown casino, by Katie Bradford - Fairfax - 27th May 2009

The Victorian government denies giving special favours to Crown casino but admits it has a close working relationship.

Two weeks after announcing it was allowing Crown to expand its gaming floor in return for increased poker machine tax, Tourism Minister Tim Holding defended the government's relationship with the casino while promoting its new hotel on Monday.

"We work closely with Crown but there's no deal in relation to this development," Mr Holding told reporters.

"Whether you're coming to dine in the magnificent restaurant, whether you want to stay in the fantastic hotel, whether you're wanting to gamble in the casino ... whatever you want to do here on site there are fantastic opportunities to do so.

"The government is very pleased that Crown is so confident in the tourism industry of Victoria that it has decided to build Australia's biggest hotel."

Anti-gambling campaigners accused the government of having a "cosy" relationship with Crown after permitting it to expand its gaming area by a further 150 tables.

In exchange, Crown's tax rate on its poker machines will progressively increase by 10 per cent to 32.5 per cent by 2014/15 - only then matching what other gaming venues already pay.

"We actually use this as an example of how Crown is being treated the same as other venues across Victoria," Mr Holding said.

Crown Melbourne's chief executive David Courtney refused to comment on his relationship with the government, or the tax deal.

"We're really here today to talk about the new hotel, it's a significant investment," he told reporters.

Under repeated questioning, Mr Courtney said it had been 10 years since Crown had been allowed to expand its gaming operations.

"It's very important to allow us to beat international competitors."

He refused to answer questions on whether the casino had a "sweetheart relationship" with the state government.

But Mr Courtney admitted the expansion would attract more high rollers.

Victorian opposition leader Ted Baillieu said the relationship between the government and the venue was "obviously very close".

He demanded the government answer further questions about the extra tables deal, including who initiated it and what the exact conditions were.

"Clearly, until these questions are being answered by the government, it ought to be very cautious about the relationship."

Mr Baillieu said Mr Holding would do "anything he believes was in his own interests".

"But that's the way this government operates, this is a government of political patronage, this is the government that's searching for favours all over the place but it's lost touch with the community, it's lost touch with reality and has no credibility on integrity, on corruption and on good governance." (Credit: Fairfax)

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