As Crown undergoes major reform, the question is: should it become more engaged with the local community?
As one of the biggest drawcards and employers in Southbank, hopes are growing that Crown Casino will use its major reform process to play a more proactive role in the community.
Crown is currently undertaking a complex and significant reform program after a Victorian Royal Commission into the gaming giant found it guilty of “disgraceful conduct” in 2021.
Since the damaging findings, Crown has begun rebuilding itself and has since changed ownership to Blackstone, which completed a $8.9 billion takeover of Crown in June.
But as it enters a new era, Southbank businesses, residents, and stakeholders such as the Yarra River Business Association (YRBA) hope it will be an opportunity to forge a more positive relationship with Crown going forward.
“To date, Crown has not been a local player at all. Despite repeated attempts over 20-plus years to get it to become a member of YRBA, it has resisted for most of those years,” YRBA’s executive officer Tim Bracher said.
“As Crown is the most dominant player in the Southbank suburb and business area, the company’s attitude going forward hopefully might change.”
Mr Bracher said the YRBA found it hard to reach Crown’s businesses with “the community benefit it provides to the local community being almost non-existent”.
“It has been incredibly difficult to communicate with. They have been keen to sponsor major events such as the Melbourne Cup etc. but have been very resistant in supporting the local businesses and activities.”
This sentiment was shared by Tony Penna, president of the Southbank Residents’ Association, who said, “it wouldn’t be difficult for them just to reach out and engage with us and have some conversations.”
However, Mr Penna noted in Crown’s defence, that it did play an active role in the Southbank Safety and Security Committee, which met quarterly with Victoria Police and community stakeholders to discuss neighbourhood safety concerns.
That said, Mr Penna hoped there were other ways the entertainment precinct could involve itself with the local community “in some way, shape or form”.
“At the end of the day, they are a critical component of the local community and of our fabric … a lot of people who work there live in Southbank.”
However, Southbank3006 residents’ group president David Hamilton said the focus should not be on Crown but rather state-wide destination facilities in Southbank such as the Arts Precinct “and how they interact with a local community”.
“Casinos are not about community development. They are the very antithesis of community development,” he said, adding “community groups shouldn’t take donations from or be involved with organisations that cause social harm.”
“I don’t know anywhere in the world that a casino is part of a local community. They are businesses. It’s not about a local community,” he said.
“Residents might use them, but they’re not a purpose-built facility for residents.”
He said if Crown was to use its wealth in a proactive way to benefit the community, it could fund the City of Melbourne’s Greenline project.
“It’s a multi-billion-dollar facility, it can make a multi-million-dollar contribution to the city,” he said.
Mr Hamilton said the Arts Precinct and the University of Melbourne’s Southbank campus were the perfect examples of what Southbank3006 would hope “can become more outwardly focused on a local community” and thus be a part of the “social fabric and social development of the area.”
“That I think is the important issue. As we have put to the council, we think there should be a Carnivale created as part of its reignite Melbourne strategy,” he said.
“That should be focused on activating Southbank Blvd because that then links the river and the community – it’s a way of bringing all the elements of Southbank together.”
Stephen Mayne, a Crown shareholder activist and former City of Melbourne councillor, said Crown’s new ownership was “an opportunity to completely change the culture and this should include reaching out to the local Southbank residents and businesses.”
“For instance, anyone who is a Southbank resident should be provided some form of discount card when spending at the Southbank complex and the casino should also run quarterly forums with local residents and businesses to deal with any issues arising from the operation of the casino.”
Meanwhile, new laws have been introduced by the state government to tackle gambling related harm and address money laundering at Crown.
This included limiting the use of cash to $1000 every 24 hours and patrons using casino-issued cards, and showing ID to gamble or receive winnings of more than $1000. •