People should not fear casinos, says gambling expert

 

Australian Mr John Beagle says he was 15 when he first "went on the punt". Some 50 years later, he has turned what was a hobby into a successful career as a gambler, gaming consultant and casino adviser. And now he is turning his attention to Ireland.

"It's inevitable you're going to have a casino sooner or later in Dublin so you may as well start thinking about it now instead of repeating the mistakes made in the UK and America. Three-quarters of your population are under the age of 25. Plenty of them have `bugs bunny' to spend. So why stop them spending it?"

Apart from ignoring the economic and employment potential of gaming centres, he says, Ireland is failing to recognise that it will soon have access to casinos courtesy of the Internet.

Eight weeks ago, the Queensland government in Australia became the world's first to introduce legislation allowing for regulated casino gambling on the Internet. The move will enable gamblers from countries where casinos are banned to play such games as blackjack, roulette and baccarat in computerised form or by video link-up to a casino.

It has the potential to make local gambling laws redundant, says Mr Beagle, who is in Ireland this week on his way home from an international poker conference in Las Vegas.

A world-renowned gambling lecturer and founder of Australia's first casino representative body, Mr Beagle says Irish people shouldn't be afraid of gambling centres. He has followed the recent controversy about the proposed Phoenix Park casino and says the objections are based on "the usual misconceptions".

"When people think of casinos they either think of exclusive James Bondtype joints, where everyone's dressed in monkey suits, or else American-style places, with all their associated problems. But casinos don't have to be like that."

He cites the example of a New Zealand casino, established in 1994 in the "ultra-conservative" city of Christchurch. A survey before it opened found that less than half of the population of 350,000 were in favour. After three months, 82 per cent were in favour, and last year the approval had risen to almost 100 per cent.

On tourism spin-off from casinos, he admits it can be overstated. "In most cases, at least 90 per cent of customers are locals."

He also admits a large proportion of players, as in national lottery games, tend to be drawn from lower-income backgrounds. "But that's not a reason to ban them. Unless you believe in keeping casinos just for the rich and depriving ordinary people an opportunity to enjoy them."