Gamblers bite the hand that feeds them

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 December, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 December, 1997, 12:00am

As Asian economies continue to falter, there must be some comfort in the fact that people in this part of the world remain in the premier league when it comes to gambling.

This thought came to mind as more news was received from Australia about the sharply-declining fortunes of the glitzy palace on the Yarra River, Melbourne's Crown Casino.

Last week we told you how Asian punters had removed a king's ransom from the tables, with one Singaporean winning HK$60 million.

Now reports from Sydney suggest the losses caused by Asian high rollers are much higher than first understood. An article in the Sydney Morning Herald states that Malaysian, Singaporean and of course Hong Kong gamblers pulled more than A$55 million (about HK$278.98 million) in winnings from the Crown Casino in October and last month.

In addition the casino was also said to have spent about A$46 million in expenses and commissions to attract these well-heeled Asian gamblers to Melbourne, rather than to casinos closer to home, or to the Crown's main Australian rival, the Sydney Harbour Casino.

That means, including the millions they took away in the form of winnings, the Crown spent more than HK$500 million to fly the high-rollers down to Melbourne, give them plush hotel accommodation and wine and dine them.

Australian hospitality may be famous worldwide, but this would appear to be overdoing it a little.

Now chief executive Lloyd Williams is finding his over-enthusiastic comments about the financial health of the casino are coming back to haunt him. In October and last month he described allegations that the Crown was losing money as 'ridiculous' and 'the greatest nonsense I have heard in my life'.

Two months on, comments by brokers about the attractiveness of Crown Casino shares have been just as emphatic. Lily Kwong of Deutsche Morgan Grenfell advised her clients this week to 'avoid the stock at all costs'. The casino's shares were trading at A$0.67 yesterday - about a fifth of their price just a year ago.

Thanks to the reader who faxed us a classified advertisement for a 'Mil-Force military nylon watchband'.

This sinister-sounding timepiece appears to kick into touch anything of that Omega stuff James Bond wears on his wrist. 007 seems to use his watch to measure time or impress people trying to kill him. However the ad promises that Mil-Force is 'great for camping, sailing, diving, travelling and hurting'. The mind boggles.

On the subject of celebrity endorsements, stand by for the premiere of former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's Pizza Hut commercial worldwide tomorrow.

Viewers in the United States will be able to see the spot on New Year's Day during the Rose Bowl gridiron football game, although anyone wanting to see a preview of Mr Gorbachev's skill at television endorsements should tune into his plug for the BBC World news and current affairs TV channel.

Unfortunately, his TV appearances do not seem to have impressed the citizens he once ruled.

One disgruntled Muscovite commented: 'I personally think that once he has started to advertise Pizza Hut, the next step will be to advertise Tampax.' Full marks to Wai Cheong Printing for being pro-active in looking for new business by junk-faxing potential clients asking if they want them to design and make New Year cards.

The company has designed a line especially suited to Hong Kong's business practices, according to the fax we received. 'A new year is coming, are looking for the Greeding Card of X'mas and New Year?' By popular request, here are a couple more courtroom classics from the pages of the Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyers Journal.

Q: 'You say the stairs went down to the basement?' A: 'Yes.' Q: 'Did they go up also?' Q: 'So the date of conception [of the baby] was August 8th?' A: 'Yes.' Q: 'And what were you doing at the time?' And finally . . .

Q: 'Can you describe the individual?' A: 'He was about medium height and had a beard.' Q: 'Was this male, or female?