Ugly crime plagues the casino
A DISTURBING picture of crime involving robbery, sexual assault and drug use at Melbourne's casino precinct can be revealed by The Sunday Age, with figures showing that a serious incident is committed every six hours.
A secret report into crime at Crown Casino and the surrounding Southbank area shows that a staggering 4239 crimes were reported over a three-year period.
The figures show there were four rapes, 19 other sex offences, 75 drug-related incidents, 22 robberies and 417 assaults.
Recent violent incidents in the casino precinct have included:
¡öTwo casino security guards taken to hospital after a fight broke out when a man was ejected out a loading door into Whiteman Street just before 3.30am.
¡öA 17-year-old youth charged with murder after a man's neck was slashed during an altercation in Whiteman Street. The victim, an African-born man in his 20s from Dandenong, was stabbed after an argument between two groups of young men.
¡öA woman was indecently assaulted and had her handbag stolen at the casino's Mercury Lounge nightclub, which has since closed.
Other crimes reported included the possession of weapons, trafficking of drugs and acts of deception.
The statistics, marked "confidential" and taken from Victoria Police's LEAP database, were included in a 2002 report of crime associated with Crown Casino as part of a regular review of the casino operator and licence.
Acting Superintendent Lisa McMeeken said the statistics ¡ª obtained by The Sunday Age through freedom of information ¡ª related to the entire casino complex, including Southbank, and were not restricted to casino gaming areas.
Crown spokesman Gary O'Neill said Southbank had been one of the fastest growing areas in Melbourne for nightclubs, bars, cafes and restaurants.
"On Crown's behalf, I would say that within that general Southbank area the safest place is Crown," he said.
He said there were more than 3000 security and surveillance cameras operating within Crown and that the casino had recently improved lighting and surveillance of areas adjacent to Crown.
"As far as nightclubs are concerned, it is a matter of record that the leases of two nightclubs at Crown have not been renewed this year. It therefore follows that any crime or anti-social behaviour that may have been associated with those venues has also disappeared," Mr O'Neill said.
Despite the crime in the area, the permanent police presence at the casino may end on July 1 with the casino squad being disbanded.
The squad, made up of 10 police, will be replaced by a racing and gaming crime desk, comprising two detective sergeants and two analysts.
Senior police are yet to decide if the new crime desk will remain at the casino complex or move to the St Kilda Road police station.
The size of the casino squad has varied over the 12 years of its operation, with the squad initially comprising 17 officers.
Former premier John Cain told The Sunday Age that one of the reasons he had opposed the establishment of the casino during his time as premier was because of the risk of crime.
"The advice we had unambiguously was that you can't disassociate (casinos) from organised crime ¡ ," he said.
Mr Cain said the granting of special powers to the Chief Commissioner to ban people from the casino indicated police had some apprehension about the activities of some people at the casino.
Police Commissioner Christine Nixon has used the new powers to ban 37 people from the casino complex.
A new report on crime associated with the casino will not be due until June 2008, after the State Government last year extended the operator and licence review period from three to five years.
Minister for Gaming John Pandazopoulos said the change was at the request of casino regulator the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation because the level of scrutiny of the casino had increased.
He said there was now greater transparency in the casino's operation because for the first time the casino agreement and licence had been made public.
Peter Cohen, executive commissioner of the Victorian Commission for Gambling Regulation, said: "What we are now required to review has been expanded substantially."
He denied that the five-year review period would mean less scrutiny of the casino and said the commission could review the casino's operations whenever it chose. Mr Cohen also confirmed that the commission had set up a "money laundering working party".
He said the commission was not concerned by the crime figures reported by the police and that most of the incidents involved things such as drunkenness and street offences.