Last Bets: A true story of gambling, morality and the law

Michaela McGuire

Last Bets: A true story of gambling, morality and the law
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Last Bets: A true story of gambling, morality and the law

Michaela McGuire

On a Sunday evening in July 2011, 40-year-old Anthony Dunning was pinned to the floor of Melbourne’s Crown Casino by security staff. Four days later, he died in the intensive care unit of the Alfred Hospital. The incident was reported to the police not by Crown Casino, but by two friends who were with Dunning on the night. Later that week, a spokesperson for the police said that even though Crown has no legal requirement to report such incidents, ‘they probably had a moral obligation’ to do so. Crown Casino said that its employees had just been doing their job. Three months later, a young security guard was charged with manslaughter.

Michaela McGuire follows the manslaughter trial of the Crown Casino bouncers, trying to make sense of the gap between ethics and the law. She speaks to problem gamblers and psychologists, a casino priest and David Walsh, Australia’s most notorious gambler.

Last Bets is a book about how and why, when it comes to gambling, morals and the law are irrevocably intertwined.

Review

Like Michaela McGuire, I’ve always deeply disliked casinos. When I was 18 years old I lasted five weeks serving rum and cokes to blackjack tables at Melbourne’s Crown casino. It was the summer after high school, I was broke and my first shift finished at 4am. No clocks, no natural light, and considerably more tracksuits and tears than tuxedos and martinis – McGuire’s memories of her time working in a casino struck a chord with me right from her book’s prologue. Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law is her attempt to clarify whatever it is about casinos that set her so ill at ease. Specifically, the book investigates the 2011 death of Anthony Dunning – a patron of Crown – following a violent run-in with a casino bouncer.

We read true crime, suggests John Safran, because it ‘tells the story of how the world works’. Like Safran’s Murder in Mississippi, or Helen Garner’s Joe Cinque’s Consolation, Last Bets probes the gap between ethics and the law in an accessible and engaging manner. What I particularly enjoyed was the way McGuire inserts herself into the story. She’s an observant, intelligent narrator, and succeeds in being both empathetic and analytic in her exchanges. Her attempts to make sense of the disjuncture in Crown’s legal and moral obligations see her interviewing an array of characters invested in gambling culture: problem gamblers, psychologists, casino priests. But it’s McGuire’s exchange with David Walsh, founder of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania, and arguably Australia’s most notorious gambler, that had me glued to the page.

Last Bets is gripping true-crime writing. I found it an unnerving but rewarding read, and an important book –for the light it sheds on the Dunning case, and Australia’s gambling culture in general.


Stella Charls works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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