Eccentric millionaire and collector David Walsh is hoping to pair his first love, gambling, with art, by opening a casino at his popular museum, Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art(MONA).
Currently, however, the Australian island’s only two casinos are operated by the Federal Group, which has an exclusive state license. Walsh believes his “high-roller” casino would target a different audience and not directly compete with the existing casinos.
Although it won’t be easy to get government approval for the plan, Walsh already has the perfect name for his proposed casino, “Monaco,” which serves the dual purpose of calling to mind the tiny European country known for its high-end gambling venues, and acting as a near portmanteau of “MONA” and “casino.”
Wash’s vision for Monaco is small, with only 12 gambling tables (and no poker machines) designed to appeal to wealthy art lovers like himself who are used to luxury settings.
“I would be very happy indeed to have a little high-roller, tourist-only, no-pokie casino to be part of the MONA package.” Nevertheless, he admits making Monaco a reality “requires some good will from [Federal Group’s hotel and casino] Wrest Point; it requires some significant impetus from the state government.”
Standing in the way is Walsh’s checkered past at Wrest, where he was once banned for card counting, one of the gambling tricks he used to amass his millions through gambling syndicate Bank Roll. (Among his other eccentricities: Walsh is a self-diagnosed Asperger’s sufferer with a fondness for group sex and an abiding love for mathematics.)
Since MONA opened in 2011, it has been critically divisive, but a huge boon to Tasmanian tourism, attracting visitors from around the globe to its Wunderkammer-like displays.
Walsh’s personal collection features everything from a row of 151 vulva sculptures to remnants of the Hiroshima bombing to Wim Delvoye’sCloaca Professional, a machine that digests food, literally pooping every afternoon. In designing his “anti-museum,” Walsh said, he specifically sought out work “that pisses off the academics.”
MONA’s construction is rumored to have cost as much as $200 million of Walsh’s fortune. In February of last year, the Monthly claimed the museum was in danger of closing and that Walsh was personally covering an $8 million annual budgetary shortfall.
Accordingly, he hopes that Monaco can boost museum finances. “I think it is a bit of a long shot, but it would be nice,” Walsh added.