PThe ventures to build Papua New Guinea’s first casino in Port Moresby have drawn criticism from transparency advocates and experts who say the country’s industry regulator has undermined its independence with the deal and fear it could worsen social problems.
The agreement to build the 43 million dollars The seat was signed on May 28 by Paga Hill Development Corporation and the National Gambling Control Board (NGCB), which generated immediate condemnation from Transparency International.
“They [the NGCB] he is the referee responsible for applying the rules of the game; they should not run like players on the field, ”said Transparency International PNG Chairman of the Board of Directors Peter Aitsi.
“The global experience with casinos suggests a greater likelihood of money laundering and undue political influence where the regulator is weak or compromised,” he added.
George Hallit, Paga Hill’s chief operating officer, defended the plans, saying the casino would create thousands of jobs directly and indirectly. He also argued that the casino, which will include a hotel, shopping malls and cinemas, will attract tourists, arguing that only a 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 by 2030. Eighty percent of first-time Chinese international tourists visit a casino, and 90% of Chinese visitors to the United States visit. Las Vegas, ”he said.
But Paul Barker, executive director of the independent think tank Institute for National Affairs, said Papua New Guinea did not have the legal or welfare infrastructure to deal with the problems that often accompany gambling.
The introduction of slot machines in PNG had already had a “considerable” social impact, with many “hooked on and squandered their limited income in the hope of making a lot of profit, but instead got into more and more debt and often They were unable to feed their facilities, their families, causing people to lose their jobs and their livelihoods, ”he said.
“The casinos take it to a higher level. Our great neighbor, Australia, has some of the strictest rules and ability to run their gaming industry, and they also have strong education and welfare systems; however, Australia has one of the worst levels of gambling addiction in the world, with associated social, family and economic consequences.
“Certainly PNG does not have the laws, sanctions, governance, education or welfare capacity that Australia has, and it already has serious public order problems. You certainly shouldn’t want to make the situation worse and having a major casino will certainly make the situation worse.
“PNG also has a serious problem, where the regulatory body, the NGCB, also seeks to be an investor in gaming companies, including the proposed casino. This is totally wrong. “
He also noted that casinos are often used for money laundering and argued that, given the widespread allegations of poor governance and corruption in Papua New Guinea, “there was no way the country could afford to take on this additional burden of allowing activities. of the casinos “.
The Catholic Church, a powerful voice in the largely Christian country, has also spoken out against the casino’s plans.
Father Giorgio Licini, of the Papua New Guinea Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that “it breaks our hearts to see what is being spent to provide entertainment to the elite and the privileged outside and within the country.
“Our youth in the settlements and villages, instead, play rugby on makeshift muddy fields full of plastic and garbage. And no other healthy entertainment and leisure facilities are built to keep them off the streets and provide them with much-needed and meaningful socializing opportunities at their age. “
The NGCB did not respond to requests for comment from The Guardian, but President Clemence Kanau said in an earlier statement that the regulator had been “at the forefront of ensuring compliance with regulations and requirements” adding that it also planned to “introduce lottery. , bingo, online gambling and other gambling activities to increase income and attract economic activities, employment and other opportunities. “
“There are exciting times for PNG after Covid-19 caused the country’s economy to crash,” he said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism