Fears First Papua New Guinea Casino Will Aggravate Social Ills

Posted on: June 7, 2021, 01:14h. 

Last updated on: June 7, 2021, 01:46h.

Papua New Guinea’s first casino could magnify social problems in the South Pacific nation, according to critics, who also say the proposal lacks transparency.

Papua New Guinea Casino
PNG has one of the highest crime rates in the world, which reaches its peak in the capital, Port Moseby, pictured. (Image: The Guardian)

The Guardian reports that PNG’s National Gaming Control Board (NGCB) signed a deal ten days ago with the Paga Hill Development Corporation to bring a casino to capital Port Moresby.

Backers of the plan say the casino will attract China’s big-spending, globetrotting middle classes to the poverty-stricken country, and this will supposedly kickstart economic regeneration and provide jobs.

The project will cost US$43 million to build and will include a hotel, shopping malls, and cinemas. 

High Crime Rates

But there are concerns that it could exacerbate social problems. PNG already has one of the highest crime rates in the world, particularly for violent crime, and this has hindered economic growth.

PNG ranks 136th out of 140 countries for “livability,” as of 2017, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, a score indicating that “most aspects of living are severely restricted.”

Paul Barker of the Institute of National Affairs in PNG, an independent Think Tank, told The Guardian the country does not have the welfare system or legal infrastructure to deal with an increase in problem gambling.

He noted that the prevalence of slots has many residents of Port Moresby “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.”

Barker suggested casinos would be a “higher level.”

Slot Problem

Slot machines arrived in PNG in 1994. At the time, there was already a thriving gambling scene based on illegal card and dart games. These were pushed deeper underground as the new legal slots parlors took center stage.

But they have often kept their doors shut to the truly impoverished, preferring to target customers with money, according to Dr Anthony Pickles of the Department of Social Anthropology at Cambridge University.

It helped that legislators deliberately established a high minimum bet for the machines – starting at around $20.

But Barker does not believe the poor will be kept out the proposed casino.

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,” he said.

Paga CEO George Hallit said the casino would directly and indirectly create thousands of jobs and boost tourism to the region.

According to the US State Department, Port Moresby suffers from high unemployment, with up to half of the population living in squatter settlements.

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