30 Dec 2008

Vanuatu at risk of becoming prey to casino mafia, says academic

4:23 pm on 30 December 2008

An academic says historical patterns indicate Vanuatu could become prey to more organised crime due to the opening of a large casino in its capital.

A boutique style casino linked to the global Jupiters brand and designed to cater for Vanuatu's tourism market is to be opened on Port Vila's waterfront in February.

Professor Peter Reuter from the University of Maryland, who has researched the impact of casinos on crime and other social patterns, says many small countries which open casinos struggle to segregate these businesses from the local population.

And he says whoever runs the casino often becomes the biggest financial operator in the country and gets into a position where they can, in effect, buy the government.

"The concern about the mafia in Cuba in the 1950s when Batista was president was exactly that. The mafia had enough money through the casinos that Batista was very much their instrument, and Vanuatu is a very small and very impoverished country. It wouldn't take a lot of money to sort of buy control of Vanuatu, and that's something you need to be concerned about."

Peter Reuter