Finally! It’s happened! After decades in which the standard metaphor for the bleeding obvious has been the scene in Casablanca where Captain Renault closes down Rick’s because, “I am shocked, shocked to find there is gambling going on here!” — well, it can actually be applied to gambling!

Now, following the Andrews government’s belated, grudging, toddler-on-the pavement-tantrum agreement to yet another Finkelstein inquiry, is its “shocked, shocked” moment.

That great black glittering toad Crown, squatting at one end of Melbourne, sucking in money, worthy of concern? Shocked, shocked.

There must have been some anguished twisting and turning in cabinet about this one. The power of Crown in Melbourne can be signified by one memory (or was it a fever dream?): when entertainment was shut down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Crown was given an absurd exemption to stay open, relying on people not sitting too close together at horseshoe tables and pokies rows jammed dozens tight, in a giant space designed to make people linger.

The rules were in part a measure that we were not yet taking the virus seriously. From an institutional and governmental level, we have never taken that other virus seriously — the way in which gambling spread through our society high and low in the last 30 years.

Crown’s lockdown exemption was cancelled after a week or so, further evidence that the Andrews government is like a fight within a plane cockpit, the aircraft going in one direction then another, as different factions grab the controls for a bit. Those who have resisted an inquiry and action into Crown for years have done so for the same reason as prompted those who want to hold one off forever: fear of what’s there to find.

Find, or more exactly, confirm.

We don’t need to be told that high-roller casinos are money laundries, capable of washing vast amounts of cash in a series of legal acts: take a million in chips, play evens on any game, cash either $999,000 or $1,001,000 later.

The NSW Bergin report gives a picture, but we already had one during the gangland wars, when dozens of grainy security shots of consorting crims raised one question: why, if you’re making that much money, do you wear a $29 tracksuit? Why do you still live in Essendon?

Crown was created in the 1990s about five years after gangs had started to expand greatly, a beneficiary of the city’s vast appetite for pills-n-powder drugs.

The Victoria police, in a series of entirely proper and legal shootings in the late ’80s, had, by some coincidence, wiped out the more feral operators in the amphetamine and ecstasy trade, leaving the field open to more stable outfits, willing to see, erm, outgoings as the price of business.

In what was still an all-cash economy, one actual problem was the sheer physical volume of money to be put on the legal books. It’s impossible for organised crime to expand without a casino to wash it.

When that started to fade as everyone began to PayPal for their highs on the dark web, the global rise of offshore money was there to fill the gap.

No criminal activity by casino operators is here alleged. Nor is it required for a casino to become a node in the global system. Indeed, good governance in a stable polity is a selling point. You would prefer no limit Texas hold ’em with eight generals in the Red Room, Myanmar?

There is no good way to introduce legal casino gambling into a no-legal-gambling city. Allow a limited number of multiple licenses for small-floor casinos and successive governments will let it expand until it’s an industry; create a private monopoly and it will quickly dictate terms.

Run a state-owned outfit and the government is directly corrupted. In the 1980s the Cain government had held off allowing poker machines for years, seeing them as a behaviour-modifying tax on the poor; premier Joan Kirner introduced them in 1992 when her government was broke and the right was leaning on her.

Everyone knew gambling would expand with the Kennett government. Few expected the, erm, “free-market” party would award a monopoly casino license to its own state treasurer and begin decades of favoured urban planning, regulatory changes and tax breaks to the behemoth.

Few expected that Labor, back in power, would continue the approach. Crown has become the anchor of a legal gambling culture in Victoria. The initial plan was to let Crown have no pokies at all. That was a non-starter, and Crown’s vast pokies array plays a vital role in the scourge of pokies gambling, giving the habit a glamour and allure that it wouldn’t get in the old saloon bar of the Wallambimby hotel. Australia pretty much invented the modern fast-run poker machine, the “Aristocrat”.

We then developed cutting-edge video versions. All designed to keep the gambler at a pitch of Pavlovian salivation. The high rollers in the towers, washing their taxhaven cash, the poor in the pit shovelling in their silver. It’s not a great pivot on which to swing a state from an industrial to post-industrial economy. In recent years, it looked like we might be able to cut loose, if the will was there.

The creation of Crown had been as much urban strategy as gambling policy. It was one of a series of spaces — Melbourne Central, QV — which drained life from Melbourne’s streets into private arcades, consumption as the answer to departing production.

Recently, this has come to be superseded by selling global education on a mass scale, and turning the Melbourne CBD into a student village, separate from much of the life of the wider city.

And then came COVID, and the news that decades of such policies cannot be relied upon. We got hooked on this habit at a desperate moment, and this coming inquiry may be a chance to get out of it, in part, and move on.

It will at least establish a few facts. A city runs a casino, and then the casino runs the city? I’m shocked, shocked!