Last week the Chinese company awarded the license to build Samoa’s first casino arrived to finalise its deal. The resort that the Chengdu Exhibition and Tourism will build includes 500 guest rooms, a golf course, mini shopping mall and casino. The other casino license was given to Aggies Greys, a well-established hospitality group in Samoa.
Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Malielegaoi proudly claims that this venture will create jobs, increase tourism and benefit the economy. PM Tuilaepa is a man with the major credentials when it comes to handling money in Samoa. He oversaw the official tsunami donations and is yet to give a full account of how the money was allocated, even after being hounded by Campbell Live. He chaired the rugby union during the 2011 rugby world cup, yet was conspicuously silent on the debacle of our boys staying in dodgy accommodation, not being issued with team uniforms and having no idea of when they would get paid. He is now Minister in charge of casinos, billed with ensuring a 15% return to the government on all casino earnings.
Local media agencies in Samoa are reporting that the nation is evenly divided in its opinion for and against the casinos. Even the major churches are showing cracks with a senior Catholic Priest supporting the casinos saying the church has no specific teaching on gambling. The Samoa Council of churches holds an opposing position. There’s no doubt that Samoa could do with increased tourism as its economy is heavily reliant on the tourist dollar. But like any emerging island economy, the tourist dollar comes with hefty social costs. In a final PR stunt to the world, PM Tuilaepa said that if this experiment doesn’t produce the desired results then the Samoa government will just “fold [it] up.” With the casino owners already planning direct charter flights from China and a major Asian marketing campaign, Tuilaepa can say whatever he pleases to fend off his opponents.
International evidence shows that gambling is most prevalent amongst lower socio-economic communities, with poor educational outcomes, and seriously at risk of developing pathological gambling behaviours. In an AUT study, Pasifika children as young as 9 years old were picking up on gambling habits exhibited by their parents. Further studies discuss the correlation between problem gambling and personal stress, domestic violence, alcohol and substance abuse. The research in relation to gambling is compelling and clearly shows that the social costs far outweigh the economic benefits.
More recent research suggests that wealthy organisations that pay big money into government coffers have an unfair influence on government policy and decisions. You need only look to NZ and the SkyCity convention centre deal for an example of this. Selling off Samoa’s policy imperatives and national interests to China and other big tourist earners is unethical and borders on corruption. Based on your history Tuilaepa, it’s best you fold now.