The little island nation of Tonga in the Pacific Ocean has been receiving lots of media attention over the last couple of months, revolving around the idea of establishing the country’s first ever casino – which as you may or may not know, is currently illegal in Tonga.

Red Warrior Entertainment group, a USA based gaming company, released a press release on the 23rd of January 2017 stating that they had
obtained a license from the Tonga government for a casino on the island. The casino would be part of a larger $450 million project by Amira-Unison-Gatti called the ‘Tavaka Tamafua Investment Project’ and would include an airport hotel, shopping mall, luxury villas and a tourism entertainment gaming resort.

Will there be a casino in Tonga?

On hearing this the government of Tonga denied the issuing of such a license and added that there would never be any form of gambling allowed as gambling is not in line with the Christian values of the country and its residents. Reverant Tevita Haukinima stated that the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga doesn’t believe in casinos and dealing cards and that it might bring about problems in society that will affect the people.”

There are currently no casinos in Tonga.
There are currently no casinos in Tonga.

However, the prime minister and the church’s feelings towards opening up their economy for people who enjoy the excitement of a wager didn’t immediately hush alternative opinions. The company behind the proposal claims the project, including the gaming resort, is just what the country needs to stop its ‘bleeding economy’. Epeli Taione, the director of Tavake Tamafua, has urged his government to think outside the box. In an interview with Koro Vaka’uta from Radio New Zealand he explains that gambling once was illegal too in the neighbouring country of Samoa, but the introduction of gambling for tourists has brought in extra revenue without the much feared problems. He believes that allowing gambling for those who don’t hold a Tongan passport should be an important part in the economic strategy of the country and opening up to tourists in this way also fits the government tourist roadmap.

Not everyone in the Tongan government instantly dismisses the ideas of changing the laws for the improvement of the economy. Tavake Tamafua’s office says that Tevita Lavemaau, the current minister of finance of Tonga, is willing to look into the proposal as he has informed the company in writing, stating that the government could support the proposed project under strict conditions. Such conditions to exclusive rights for operating casino and gambling related business activities would include that the project would commence within two years and that at least 80% of all labour related to building and operations must be sourced among Tonga’s population. Havea Gatti, second director at Tavake Tamafua mentions that the conditions also include an investment into the infrastructure of the island kingdom of over $450 million.

The debate concerning the introduction of gambling as a new tourist sector in Tonga won’t be over anytime soon as there are many advantages and disadvantages to weigh between the involved parties. It is hard to ignore cultural values in such a small community and the effects of introducing gambling need to be carefully considered. It would be interesting to know if Tongan nationals have different values concerning gambling between those who live in the home country and the many that are living abroad. There is, for example, a large population of Tongans living in New Zealand who enjoy the thrill of the casino with Lucky Nugget. What would they say about a casino in Tonga?

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