The Sydney Opera House Battle: A 'Gambling Marketing Gimmick'

The country’s richest horse race is being held in Sydney next Saturday, and you’ll be hard-pressed to miss it.

Anti-gambling advocates have slammed instructions from the state government to promote The Everest on the sails of the Sydney Opera House, saying it shouldn’t be turned over for a “gambling industry marketing gimmick”.

A bitter feud has been simmering between various government ministers, Racing NSW and Opera House management, after the World Heritage-listed landmark was the backdrop of the event’s barrier draw one year ago.

The $13 million horse race, that comes weeks before Melbourne Cup, is open to anyone to buy one of 12 slots, each priced at $600,000. It pools $100 million into the state's economy, according to Minister for Racing Paul Toole. 

"This is the richest race on earth ... The eyes around the world are on Sydney so it's important that we support it," he told reporters on Saturday.

As such, race organisers wanted to "beam (it) around the world" this year by projecting the names, numbers and colours of each horse onto the building. 

Racing NSW's proposed projection for the Opera House.

It came to a head on Friday morning when shock jock broadcaster Alan Jones interviewed Sydney Opera House executive Louise Herron and Racing NSW boss Peter V'landys on 2GB radio.

Herron said she had agreed to project the colours of the jockeys' silks, but resisted words or branding. But V'landys said that was meaningless.

“You can’t do a barrier draw without putting the horse names and the number,” he told Jones.

Sydney Opera House executive Louise Herron.

The broadcaster furiously probed Herron, to which she firmly repeated: “It’s not a billboard”.

“Who said? Who said? You. Hang on, Louise. Who do you think you are?” Jones pushed.

“We own the Opera House, do you get that message? You don’t. You manage it and if you can’t give the go ahead for this to happen, to an event that’s providing $100 million to the economy, delivering tourism boom to Sydney, to send Sydney around the world.

Jones said Herron should be sacked by the NSW Premier if she did not bow down to Racing NSW’s plan.

Stephen Mayne, spokesman for the Alliance for Gambling Reform called Jones a “blatant advocate for the gambling industry”.

“He fails to disclose his commercial connections and personal relationships when bullying politicians, public servants and regulators,” Mayne told ten daily.

After a flurry of phone calls, ten daily confirmed Premier Gladys Berejiklian stepped in to come to a “reasonable” compromise, instructing the sails to be lit up with an image of the trophy, the barrier numbers and colours -- but no horse names.

Fairfax Media reports the word ‘Everest’ is set to be included in the projections.

If this is the case, it goes against the Opera House Sails policy, laid out in 2012, which says “no logo or corporate identity shall be permitted to be projected onto the Sails”. Colours are not to be used to promote a corporate identify, with text or slogans only permitted "for a specific artistic purpose”.

The government retains power to step in “to promote special events or encourage tourism” -- which has happened in the past. In 2015, the Opera House turned green and gold, and a Wallabies logo was projected onto its sails ahead of the Rugby World Cup.  

Minister Toole referred to Mardi Gras and the Ashes as similar cases, saying he was "100 percent" behind the move.

"There are going to be people with different views ... but we want to promote out state, our city, and that is exactly what is happening," he said.

Horse Stappers during The TAB Everest race at Randwick in 2017. Image: AAP

But Everest is a gambling event and some have questioned whether it paves the way for commercial entities to follow suit. 

Mayne called the move a "gambling industry marketing gimmick". 

“The Opera House should not be downgraded by gambling promotions when NSW is already the most gambling-captured jurisdiction where residents lost almost $7 billion a year on 92,000 poker machines,” he said.

“Gladys Berejiklian should learn this lesson.”