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Australian Museum of Old and New Art Could Become a Casino

Published on October 25, 2014, 4:32 pm

by Jeff Grant Twitter account Jeff Grant LinkedIn account

David Walsh (MONA)
David Walsh (Museum of Old and New Art)

Australian millionaire David Walsh earned a hefty portion of his money via gambling practices that some would consider shady. In fact, he was once banned from gaming at Wrest Point Tasmania, Australia's first casino, for counting cards. Thirteen years ago, Walsh used some of his bounty to open a unique art museum called the Moorilla Museum of Antiquities in Hobart, Tasmania. That museum closed for renovations in 2007 and re-emerged in 2011 as the Museum of Old and New Art, or MONA.

Now, Walsh is seeking permission from the Australian government to open a casino inside MONA. The casino would target high-stakes gamblers and would be called MONACO, a clever combination of the MONA acronym and the first and last letters letters of the word “casino.”

Walsh's idea to use the word “Monaco” pays tribute to the Casino de Monte-Carlo, a world-famous gambling house located in the real Monaco. Over a century old, the Monte Carlo was the collective brainchild of several prominent architects of the 1800s. Gambling began at the Monte Carlo as early as the 1850s. Today, the European Monte Carlo is a highly revered gambling palace with a dress code and an entrance fee. It offers a wide range of slot machines and table games, and is considered one of the most exemplary casinos in the world.

Walsh's Lofty Goal

Walsh will need to obtain permission from the Tasmanian state government before opening his casino. As it stands right now, the island state has two casinos which are overseen by Tasmania's Federal Group. If and when the state government approves Walsh's plan, he says he will build a room with 12 gaming tables and absolutely no poker machines.

MONA cost Walsh approximately $200 million out of his own pocket to build. Entrance into the museum is free for Tasmanians and inexpensive for Australians from other regions. According to sources, Walsh is hoping that his miniature, high-stakes casino will help replenish some of the money he's spent on the building and its unusual displays.

MONA's Weird Displays

Museum visitors witness extremely bizarre art displays, such as a chocolate body cast of a suicide bomber, a couch that purrs when people sit on it, and a robotic machine that eats food and literally excretes in the form of human waste for all to see. Walsh calls himself an Aspberger Syndrome sufferer with a fixation on death, sex, numbers, and games of chance.

Sculpture of a suicide bomber, made with chocolate
Sculpture of a suicide bomber, made with chocolate - Museum of Old and New Art (Stephen J. Shanabrook)

Walsh himself is considered to be a bit "weird." Five years ago, he made a bet with a French artist by the name of Christian Boltanski (look at his works). He bet the artist that he, Boltanski, would die within eight years and offered to pay Boltanski for the right to film Boltanski's studio 24/7 and have the footage streamed to Australia. Boltanski said that Walsh “assured me that I will die before the eight years is up, because he never loses.” Boltanski went on to say that “anyone who . . . thinks he never loses must be the devil.”

Boltanski also said Walsh is hoping to capture his death on film. Walsh agreed, telling the New York Times that “it would be absolutely great if he died in his studio.” At this time, Boltanski is 70 years old and very much alive.

Gambling in Australia

Gambling runs rampant in Australia, where it is estimated that about 80 percent of all residents participate in some type of casual gaming. Australia is home to both online gambling sites and brick-and-mortar casinos. Residents can also wager money in many of the country's bars, restaurants, and clubs. “Pokies,” otherwise known as Australian slot machines, are immensely popular and are a common sight in the country.

The island of Tasmania, where Walsh makes his home and runs his museum, is home to two brick-and-mortar casinos. The Country Club Resort, located in Prospect Vale, offers table games such as American Roulette, Rapid Roulette, Texas Hold 'Em, Blackjack, and the Big Wheel. Pokie players can bet anywhere from 1c to $1 on the Country Club Resort's gaming machines. Comedic performances and musical concerts are also on offer at the facility. Artists scheduled to perform at the Country Club Resort in the coming year include Kenny Rogers, Ben Folds, and The Wolfe Brothers.

The aforementioned Wrest Point Hotel Casino is Tasmania's other large gambling hall. It features table games, slots, and entertainment options similar to those found at the Country Club Resort.

Wrest Point Hotel Casino (Tasmania)
External View of the Wrest Point Hotel Casino in Tasmania

Problem Gambling in Australia

Walsh's request to open a miniature casino inside his museum is not surprising for two reasons. First, the man is eccentric, gambling-obsessed, and has ample cash to build a casino. Second, gambling is extremely popular Australia these days. Citizens can find an opportunity to wager their money on just about any street corner.

Conditions weren't always like this in the “land down under.” Back in the 1970s, betting opportunities were confined primarily to horse racing and the lottery, both of which were overseen by government. Pokies weren't very sophisticated and were difficult to find. Today, in 2014, every state in the land permits gambling. In the next several years, four new casinos are set for construction in Queensland and New South Wales.

Critics view the rampant gambling activities of Australia as a problem, both moral and financial. Statistics suggest that 40 percent of the revenue Australian casinos take in comes directly from the pockets of problem gamblers who cannot control themselves. According to statistics, somewhere between 80,000 and 160,000 Aussies are addicted to gambling.

Those who support the development of the industry in Australia point out that gambling is a choice; no one is forced to drop money into a pokie. No one is forced to enter a casino, whether it's run by the government or a private millionaire like David Walsh.

As Walsh gears up for his battle to garner a casino license, the public of Australia is gearing up for a civil argument. The topic: whether it's okay or not for Australians to have so many gambling opportunities at their fingertips. The outcome of Walsh's MONACO proposal could be a good indicator as to which way the gambling tide is turning in Australia.


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