Compared to Australian coverage, there is an instantly discernible difference in watching live sport on television in the US: Tom Waterhouse and the lack thereof. Taking in the American telecast of Wimbledon is almost a nostalgic viewing experience for an Australian sports fan. There are no live odds or advertorial from bookmakers, and certainly no need to mournfully ponder why Samuel L Jackson chose to trade the final vestige of his integrity.
One of the most common observations of visitors to Australia, particularly those hailing from the US, is how much gambling has seeped into Australian cultural life.
The contrast in gambling between Australia and the US is stark. Poker machines here are not yet rampant. Sports gambling ads are banned in most states. And the concept of a mainstream news outlet quoting the odds of any sort of bet, be it the name of the coming royal baby or the party most likely to win an election, is almost outlandish.
Up until recently, aside from state lotto, gambling was mostly confined to fiefdoms of hedonism such as Las Vegas, Atlantic City or Biloxi, Mississippi. This is no longer the case. Seduced by deep-pocketed gambling industry lobbyists, and facing crumbling revenues and the political inability to raise taxes, local and state governments are suddenly contemplating loosening gambling restrictions.
Amid the mayoral elections in New York this week, voters approved a contentious constitutional amendment that will allow seven new full-scale casinos to be built. The result was backed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.
It’s telling that according to a government watchdog, $59 million has been spent on lobbying and political contributions in New York by gambling interests in the last decade. Some $34 million has been spent on Washington lobbying in the past year.
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The positive vote allows for the casinos to be built in upstate New York. Manhattan is the logical next step. So far there is only one casino in NYC, Resorts World Casino, located in Queens; a “slot-machine parlour”. Reflecting on the potential the industry sees in the area, it has the most profitable pokies in the US. They average a remarkable $432 per machine per day. There are 4235 machines.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is fighting a ruling from the federal court system to allow legalised sports betting in the state. Tellingly, most of the country’s big sporting leagues are vehemently opposed to New Jersey’s push.
“Of the problem gamblers studied in the report, 62% gambled until their last dollar was gone.”
As Australia has learned, it’s a slippery slope. The various leagues have filed a lawsuit in Jersey claiming that “allowing and promoting sports wagering would irreparably harm amateur and professional sports in America”.
When the struggling daily paper The Miami Herald recently downsized from its prime location overlooking Biscayne Bay, locals mostly shrugged. The decision to sell its physical home for $236 million was viewed as disheartening but inevitable. The reception received by the deep-pocketed new owners though was hardly sanguine. The Genting Group, a Malaysian hotel and casino operator, had purchased the site and 30 acres of neighbouring properties with the intent of building a billion-dollar casino, the biggest in the world.
The site appears unchanged for now. But as news of the casino development percolated around the city, opposition has increased. When a bill was put to Florida state legislature last year, it did not pass. “It was one of these ideas that the longer it sits around and the more it is scrutinized, the smellier it becomes,” Dan Gelber, a chairman of an anti-casino advocacy group, told The New York Times.
For now, Genting is attempting to woo Miami residents to its Resorts World Bimini site in the nearby Bahamas, just 48 nautical miles from Miami (seaplanes and cruise ships go there). Yet there is little doubt that Genting will continue to warehouse the Miami site and try again next year. The feeling here is that they will succeed.
Not that long ago, gambling in Florida was far from mainstream; comparable in some ways to the pre-pokies Melbourne to Moama bus run. With very few exceptions, it was illegal across the state. Crafty operators would woo tourists on to overnight cruises departing Miami in the late afternoon that headed to the geographical line where they were considered to be in “international waters”. The ships then suddenly became floating casinos.
These floating gambling dens became passe when local American Indian tribes expanded their legal right to operate gaming on tribal lands. Most notably, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which has five big reservations through the state, began opening bingo halls in 1975. It purchased the Hard Rock Café chain in 2007 and, with it, the group’s burgeoning army of Hard Rock Casinos.
They now operate casinos in sites as varied as Panama, Dominican Republic, Macau, Singapore, Vancouver as well as Tampa and Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 2008, they opened a Hard Rock Casino on their Hollywood, Florida reservation. Because Vegas-style gaming tables were illegal in Florida, the tribe agreed to pay the state $1 billion over five years. (For its money, it gets exclusive state rights to blackjack and baccarat.)
As Crikey discovered on a visit to the Hollywood Hard Rock this week, the casino also allows punters to smoke as they gamble, an extraordinary rarity in the US, let alone anywhere else in 2013.
Noted in pop culture as the site where Anna Nicole Smith passed away, it is a gaming behemoth with 13,500 square metres of gaming, 10 bars and clubs plus a 5500-capacity theatre where acts such as Jerry Seinfeld and Eric Clapton play regularly.
Prior to this week’s election, the Catholic Church of New York asked residents to vote “no” to more gambling in the state. It pointed to a 2009 study commissioned by the Connecticut Division of Special Revenue on the impact of casinos, which found, along with job and revenue growth, numerous negative consequences in the areas near casinos. Of the problem gamblers studied in the report, 62% gambled until their last dollar was gone.
It’s a familiar refrain for Australians.
Meantime Genting also happens to own the Queens, New York Casino and its $432-a-day pokies. So far it has spent $3.8 million lobbying New York state politicians. As the jockeying continues now that the expansion of gambling has been approved, expect that figure to increase.