14 Dec

MONA Owner Walsh says he’ll Build New Casino, Licence or Not

According to David Walsh, owner and curator of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, he has every intention of building a new casino in Tasmania, whether the Federal Group wants to give up its gambling monopoly in the region or not. However, what takes place behind the walls of the new facility—for the time being—is yet to be decided.

MONA Museum, Hobart, TasmaniaWalsh has been trying to apply for a licence to build a new 160-room hotel casino in Hobart for quite some time now. Unfortunately, the Federal Group holds an exclusive monopoly on casino gambling and pokies in Tasmania, and it won’t expire until 2023, and that’s only if the hotel chain doesn’t receive an extension before then.

In September, Walsh found the previous proposal for his new casino hotel at the center of a government stratagem to extend Federal Group’s monopoly on poker machines. Tasmanian officials tried to use Walsh’s proposal as leverage to coerce Federal Group into giving up its casino monopoly in exchange for an extension to its pokies monopoly.

Enraged by the notion, Walsh immediately withdrew his licence application. To open an upscale hotel and casino catering to VIP and high-rollers, without the option to install any poker machines, just didn’t make sense.

David Walsh, MONANow, Walsh says that, pending approval of the local council, he will build his new casino with or without a licence. According to Walsh, he can build his hotel, and he can erect a building adjacent to the hotel for the purpose of housing a casino. But for the time being, until he can obtain for a license to operate as a casino with poker machines, he will simply fill the building with something else.

David Walsh blogged his plans to build the new casino anyway, telling 936 ABC Hobart the timing of his publication was intentionally aligned with a statement from Federal Group, said to be coming on Tuesday. He said that he expects to submit building plans to the city council in the first half of 2016, “in perhaps April or May”, with hopes to begin construction before the year is out.

“If we were to build the hotel without the casino building now, we couldn’t put the casino building there because we wouldn’t have access,” explained Walsh. “So, I’m going to build it anyway… it’s a building and buildings have a purpose.”

What purpose is that, you ask? “We can put art in it,” said Walsh. “We can put bars in it, we can probably even put accommodation in it in the meantime,” he said.

“The building would be built,” he continued, “but it wouldn’t be a casino unless we got a licence at some point in the future.”

He said the plans for the new casino hotel – or prelude version thereof – have not yet been finalised, thus he is “forecasting the ‘un-forecastable’” by estimating its introduction to council in April/May of 2016. If the design is introduced and approved by council in that timeframe, he said “construction will start towards the end of next year.”

Walsh admitted that such proposed construction could be a community concern, and that the ongoing design is not set in stone. “I don’t think there will be a lack of community support for the 160-room hotel, it’s just that it happens to be a fairly tall building,” he explained.

“We can always change the design,” he said. “This is the 20th design we’ve been through before we found one that we even think is appropriate to go to council with. So there can be a 21st, there can be a 22nd…”