Sydney Opera House Turns Into Billboard for Divisive Racing Ad

(Bloomberg) -- The Sydney Opera House is being transformed into a giant advertising billboard for a horse race, triggering protests against the commercialization of the cultural icon by an industry synonymous with gambling.

Promotions for the Oct. 13 event in Sydney, where prize money of A$13 million ($9 million) is up for grabs, will be projected onto the World Heritage-listed building on Tuesday night.

More than 3,000 protesters plan to obstruct the beamed images with lights, according to a “Defend the Sydney Opera House” Facebook page. About 267,000 people have signed a petition opposing the promotion.

Australians lose more money per head gambling than any other nation and anti-gambling campaigners say the opera house advert is another sign the industry is intruding into everyday life.

The row erupted after influential radio host Alan Jones last week lambasted Sydney Opera House Chief Executive Officer Louise Herron for opposing the advertisement. He said he’d speak to New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian and said Herron should be sacked. Jones said today he regretted some of his words.

Berejiklian overruled Herron and said the promotion of the Everest race, as it’s called, is in Sydney’s economic interests. The premier called on people to see the images before making a judgement.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he couldn’t “work out what all the fuss is about.”

“Why not put it on the biggest billboard Sydney has?” he said. “This is about advertising one of the biggest events that New South Wales holds. Frankly, I thought it was a bit of a no-brainer.”

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