PNG casino plan meets opposition

by Mia Chapman Last Updated
PNG casino plan meets opposition

Plans to build a US$43 million casino in the capital of Papua New Guinea has raised concerns about potential regulator and transparency issues.

The Guardian reports a deal was signed on May 28 by Paga Hill Development Corporation and the National Gaming Control Board to build Papua New Guinea’s first casino in Port Moresby. 

“The National Gaming Control Board are the referees responsible for applying the rules of the game; they should not be running around as a player in the field,” Transparency International PNG board chair Peter Aitsi said.

“The global experience with casinos suggests an increased likelihood of money laundering and undue political interference where the regulator is weak or is compromised,” he added.

Paga Hill’s chief operating officer George Hallit defended the plans, saying the real money casino would create thousands of jobs directly and indirectly.

He also argued that the casino, which will include a hotel, shopping malls and cinemas, would attract tourists, arguing that only one-third of visits to PNG were currently tourism related.

“China’s growing middle class is forecast to account for a quarter of all international tourism b y 2030. Eighty per cent of Chinese first-time international tourists visit a casino and 90 per cent of Chinese visits to the US visit Las Vegas,” he said.

Infrastructure and welfare concerns about new PNG casino

But Paul Barker, executive director of the independent thinktank the Institute of National Affairs, said that Papua New Guinea did not have the welfare or legal infrastructure to deal with the problems that often accompany gambling.

The introduction of slot machines in Papua New Guinea had already had a “considerable” social impact with many becoming “hooked and squandering their limited incomes in the hope of many a win, but instead leaving themselves in increasing debt and often failing to feed their facilities, breaking their families, causing people to lose their jobs and livelihood,” he said.

“Casinos take it to a high level. Our big neighbour, Australia, has some of the toughest rules and capacity to manage their gambling industry and they also have strong education and social welfare systems, nevertheless, Australia has amongst the worst levels of gambling addiction in the world, with associated damaging social, family and economic consequences.

“PNG certainly doesn’t have the laws, penalties, governance, education or welfare capacity that Australia has, and it has serious law and order problems already.

“It certainly shouldn’t want to worsen the situation and having a major casino will certainly worsen the situation.

“PNG also has a serious problem, where the regulatory body, the NCGB, is also seeking to be an investor in gaming venues, including the proposed casino. This is wholly improper.”

He also noted that casinos are often used for money laundering and argued that given widespread allegations of poor governance and corruption in PNG, there was “no way that the country can afford to take on this extra burden of permitting casino activities.”

Church weighs in on casino plan

The Catholic church, a powerful voice in the largely Christian country, has also come out against the casino plans.

Father Giorgio Licini, from the PNG Catholic Bishops Conference, said it “breaks our heart to see what is being spent to provide entertainment for the elite and privileged from outside and inside the country.

“Our young people in the settlements and villages, instead, play rugby on improvised muddy fields full of plastic and rubbish. And no other facilities for healthy entertainment and leisure are built to keep them out of the streets and provide them opportunities for socialisation so necessary and meaningful at their age.”

The NGCB did not respond to requests for comment but chairman Clemence Kanau said in an earlier statement that the regulator had been “at the forefront to ensure compliance on regulations and requirements” adding that it was also planning to “introduce lottery, bingo, online betting and other gaming activities to raise revenue and attract economic activities, employment and other opportunities.”

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