Twirling towards freedom

House Rules

On a Thursday morning in July 2012, in a near-empty Supreme Court room in Melbourne, Justice Paul Coghlan said that three Crown Casino bouncers should be tried as soon as possible, “because people are still visiting Crown Casino.” The bouncers had been charged with varying degrees of manslaughter and assault after Anthony Dunning, a 40-year-old Melbourne man, died in intensive care four days after being pinned to the floor of Crown for several minutes by security staff. “The behaviour is quite outrageous,” said Coghlan. “We’re talking about people in public places.” 

Four days after Dunning died in hospital, a former police officer contacted Melbourne radio station 3AW after he and a group of friends were ejected from the gaming floor by Crown security guards for no obvious reason. In an apparent reference to Anthony Dunning, a bouncer allegedly told the former officer to “fuck off, mate, we don’t want another bloke having a heart attack, now, do we?”

After a six-week trial, the three bouncers who had been charged with manslaughter and assault over that “bloke having a heart attack” were acquitted by a Supreme Court jury. 

This week, in the Victorian Coroners Court, Anthony Dunning’s family have agitated for a public inquest to be held into the practices at Crown casino, focusing largely on the training practices of security staff. Dimi Ioannou, the lawyer appearing on behalf of Dunning’s family, has said an inquest was essential to ensure public safety.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Neil Clelland QC, appearing for Crown, raised questions about whether an inquest was “necessary or desirable” as the circumstances surrounding Dunning’s death had already been “exhaustively canvassed” during the trials of the three bouncers, Matthew Lawson, Cameron Sanderson and Benjamin Vigo. As much of the same evidence would be re-examined in an inquest, Clelland also questioned the “obvious use of public monies.” Ioannou pointed out that an inquest would help address public health and safety concerns for the 18 million people who visit Crown every year. 

18 million people. It’s an extraordinary figure, and one that Crown has often cited amid other, less impressive, numbers. In 2013 the Herald Sun obtained an Ambulance Victoria log under the Freedom of Information Act. The “tally of despair” recorded that ambulances were dispatched to Crown 127 times in less than three years for intentional overdoses or poisonings. Six people drowned, and there were three more callouts for suicidal patrons between January 2010 and October 2012. There were 1078 calls for help in relation to assaults, stabbings, gunshot wounds, falls and strokes, and 21 suicide threats in the two years between August 2007 and August 2009. Gary O’Neill, Crown Casino’s spokesperson, said “the increase in the number of overdoses is at least in part explained by the fact that since 2010, the number of visitors has increased significantly.”

At least in part. 

There are some numbers Crown won’t or can’t explain. Five: the number of minutes that Anthony Dunning was pinned to Crown’s carpet. Three: the number of men used to restrain another man who, according to witnesses there on the night, exhibited no signs of aggression. One: the number of security guards who tried to ascertain whether Dunning was conscious while three of his colleagues kept him immobile. Two: the number of weeks that had elapsed, when Matthew Lawson helped pin Dunning to the floor, since he’d assaulted another patron at Crown and broke the man’s wrist. 

In gambling, we know the house always wins. The rules that the house plays by are less clear, but it’s time that they were made known to the public. 

These are some of the questions to which Anthony Dunning’s family is seeking answers. They’re questions that those 18 million people who attend Crown casino each year, on nights as ordinary as that Sunday after a day at the footy in July 2011, should want to have answered as well.


Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.


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