THE Fiji Council of Social Services says the groundbreaking ceremony for Fiji's first casino signalled the birth of social cancer and the re-introduction of discriminatory practices into the country.
"This will be like in the old days when only the 'white man' could go to the Defence Club and have a drink, coloured were not allowed," said executive director Hassan Mr Khan.
He likened the restriction and limiting of locals to the One Hundred Sands Casino to liquor prohibition in the colonial past. He said while nothing could be done to prevent the casino from opening, he was concerned that a social impact study was not carried out and the report not made public.
"The government had made a solemn undertaking that a social impact study would be done and the report would be made public. Sadly, this report is still awaited in the spirit of the National Charter for Peace, Progress and Change, in which it is very explicit that the government will do full consultations with civil society organisations in all such matters," he said.
"To proceed with this idea of casinos will seriously negate this solemn undertaking and trust in the articles of the charter and it is not too late to have this dialogue," he said in a statement released on Monday.
Mr Khan said failure to work with civil society organisations and religious bodies to address the social impact of gambling could be disastrous, similar to what is currently happening in neighbouring countries.
However, Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum referred to Mr Khan's statement as a "publicity stunt" and said the FCOSS leader should have kept abreast with public statements made by the government in relation to the introduction of the casino.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said one of the measures put in place to prevent the casino having any social impact in the country was the regulating of locals entering the casino.
"Mr Khan's statement is based on a comparison between this Fijian initiative and the casino gaming industry in Australia, New Zealand, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea," Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.
"None of these countries have in place any form of regulation to restrict or limit their citizens from accessing casino gaming. One of the hallmarks of the Fijian casino initiative will be the introduction of controls to regulate access by locals," the A-G said.
But Mr Khan said: "We have no hesitation in confirming that, casinos are a social cancer. We wonder if those involved in taking this decision have had a close look at the state of affairs regarding the social effects of casinos in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. If they had it would be clear who the beneficiaries of gambling are and who are the losers, as well as the far reaching social problems that casinos bring with them."
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said "if Mr Khan had paid attention to the public statements that government has made in relation to the casino, he would have had some idea of the lengths that government has gone to ensuring that the Fijian experience in relation to the casino is not a repeat of what has happened in other jurisdictions to which he refers in his statement".