14 Dec

Adelaide Casino Turns 30, Grand Opening Host John Bannon Passes

It’s a bitter sweet moment for South Australia’s Adelaide Casino. The day after celebrating its 30th anniversary, SA’s very first casino now mourns the passing of its honored grand opening host, then-Premier John Bannon.

John Bannon at Adelaide Casino, 1985

Then-Premier John Bannon tosses pennies in first two-up game at Adelaide Casino’s 1985 grand opening. Photo courtesy AdelaideNow.com

Adelaide Casino opened its doors to the public on December 12, 1985. It was an evening of merriment and festivities, laced with inflated hairdos, glimmering sequence and bulging shoulder pads, as was the fashion of the time. Everybody who was anybody showed up for the invitation-only event, including Premier John Bannon, who would go on to serve as the longest-running Labor Premier SA has ever known.

In the photograph on your right, we see the Premier playing two-up, as a crowd of onlookers observe the commemorative moment. Bannon is pictured tossing two pennies into the air to represent the state’s first legal game of two-up.

At his side were political giants like Opposition Leader John Olsen, Chief Justice Len King and Police Commissioner David Hunt. Bannon wasn’t just reveling in the opening of South Australia’s first casino, though. He was also celebrating the 5-day-old victory of his second term election.

Designed to be both “elegant and opulent”, replicating the sophistication of the European casino scene, as opposed to the more common “Las Vegas-mood”, according to ATICO Chairman Ian West, Adelaide Casino lived up to that promise for the next 15 years.

Paul Hurcombe, now 56, has been working at the casino since it first opened in 1985. On opening night, he was assigned to supervise the baccarat, blackjack and roulette tables in the VIP section of the gaming floor. “It was quite an exciting night,” said Hurcombe. “I think it went really well; everyone was in a good mood.”

Prior to his position at Adelaide Casino, Hurcombe was employed by Lasseters Casino in Alice Springs, NT. Today, he holds the esteemed position of Technical Manager of Gaming at Adelaide Casino. Hurcombe said the most notable change at the location took place in 2000, when SkyCity took over.

Immediately, the new owners began modernising the facility, including the removal of the casino’s most notable vestiges, the luxurious chandeliers that each housed 27,000 crystals and 90 light bulbs. Five years later, the same chandeliers were reclaimed from the casino’s storage and rehung. They can now be seen illuminating the casino’s North Tce entrance, much to Hurcombe’s delight.

Adelaide Casino’s Finance and Strategy Manager, Tim White, noted a few other changes throughout the years.  He said that the casino drew a staggering 2.5 million visitors in its first full year of operation. That number has since dropped to an average of 1.8 million per year, but he contributes the decline to a predictable deterioration of novelty.

The casino did not host poker machines back then, either. Everyone was free to smoke, and a strict dress code was enforced to maintain the casino’s exclusive reputation. Since SkyCity took over, White says 1040 pokies have been installed, the dress code was abolished (although he noted ‘thongs’ are still unacceptable) and a no smoking policy has been enacted.

While change doesn’t always bring a positive response, White said there are notable benefits to the casino’s upcoming $300 million expansion plan by SkyCity, which has already been approved by SA government. A “boutique 6-star hotel” catering to high-rollers will be erected, and the overall expansion could see the workforce doubled from 1200 to 2400 employees by the time it’s completed in 2018.

Casino Adelaide New Year’s Celebration

As always, Adelaide Casino will be hosting a spectacular New Year’s Eve celebration. In tune with this month’s 30 year anniversary, the casino will host a retro “Party Like it’s 1985” theme. So get out your polyester suits, sew those shoulder pads back into your shiniest sequence-laden dress, and purchase a few cans of the strongest hair spray you can find. It’s sure to be a blast from the past!

John Bannon Passes at 72

Former Premier John Bannon Dead at 72On a much more somber note, Sunday, December 13—just one day after the 30th anniversary of Casino Adelaide—SA mourned the loss of former Labor Premier John Bannon. In his prime, Bannon was recognized as one of the most respected members of SA’s political forums. His passion for SA and devotion to its future was unparalleled.

Although his political career will forever be tarnished by the State Bank collapse of 1991 that brought his days of leadership to an abrupt end, those who knew and loved him will always remember Bannon as a man of strength, vision and superior parental guidance.

He was “an inspiring father figure”, wrote Dylan Lewis, John’s step-son. “My family is deeply saddened by the loss of John. My children will miss their wonderful Gaffa terribly,” composed Lewis, who went on to praise Bannon for teaching him so much “about integrity, honour, humour, modesty, wine and culture.”

While training for a marathon in 2007, John was diagnosed with cancer. He never once gave up his 8-year battle against the disease – a disease he ultimately succumbed to on Sunday. In a letter read by Premier Jay Weatherill on behalf of the Bannon family, it was said that John “passed away peacefully in a hospital surrounded by his family.”