Crown halts VIP room smoking in Melbourne amid dealers’ concerns

By Noah Taylor Updated
Royal commission hears that Crown was reluctant to implement tighter money laundering controls

Fears for its staff’s safety has prompted Crown Resorts to ban its high rollers from smoking cigarettes and cigars in enclosed VIP areas.

The New Daily reports the last minute backflip occurred on Monday night after complaints from Melbourne workers, who were worried about catching COVID-19 from smokers coughing and exhaling in their faces as they dealt cards.

A Crown spokesperson said: “We will ask customers to step outside to smoke as part of Crown’s cautious and gradual progression towards COVID normal.”

“We will reassess this again with the benefit of revised government directions next month.”

Coronavirus concerns were raised on Sunday when Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced casinos would be allowed to reopen from Monday under a further easing of lockdown restrictions.

Under the new rules, Crown’s Melbourne casino was now allowed up to 1000 patrons, with table games like blackjack and baccarat set to restart on Wednesday when the venue officially reopens.

Under a special legal exemption, big spending high rollers are allowed to smoke while gambling in VIP areas to enable what Crown calls “significant international play”.

These people aren’t just regular gamblers, but what dealers call high net worth individuals, who can spend up to $500,000 in a single hand.

Even without a global pandemic, many dealers resented having to breathe in gamblers’ second-hand smoke, which can cause long-term respiratory issues later in life.

In October, Star Entertainment Group, owners of Treasury Casino and Star Casino on the Gold Coast and in Sydney moved to ban indoor smoking at its venues by 2023.

Only the ACT, South Australia and Tasmania have banned smoking in all enclosed areas of casinos, including high roller rooms.

Dealers at Crown hope the company follows suit.

Steven, an experienced dealer who did not wish to use his real name over fear of losing his job, had been begging Crown to ban indoor smoking over fear of inhaling virus-infected droplets while working.

“It makes me feel really uncomfortable,” he said.

“My biggest fear is we reopen in the next couple of days and then someone contracts COVID at Crown, the whole complex is shutdown again and that leads to another shutdown in the state.”

Dealer expressed fear about virus risk from smoking in VIP room

Under the exemption, suspended on Monday night, gamblers were allowed to sit 1.2 metres from Steven and remove their face masks to drink and smoke.

Luke, another dealer who wishes to remain anonymous, was particularly worried about smokers exhaling on him at work because he lives with an elderly relative.

“I don’t want to be the person who comes home and kills my family member by just going to work,” he said.

Both Steven and Luke said they were disappointed the Premier and the Department of Health and Human Services had initially allowed indoor smoking to continue at Crown during the pandemic.

“There’s a lot of behind the scenes wheeling and dealing here that’s at the heart of all this,” Steven said.

“Crown has tremendous political power because of the revenues that flow from the casino into government coffers.”

The smoking suspension comes amid intense regulatory pressure on the company after media reports last year alleged it had partnered with junkets linked to organised crime and also breached anti-money laundering laws.

Gaming regulators in Victoria, Western Australia and New South Wales are pursuing Crown about the allegations, as well as the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre.

Deakin University’s chair in epidemiology Professor Catherine Bennett said smokers were generally more prone to coughing, which can produce aerosol, not just air droplets, that can hang in the air for longer.

“You’ll have contaminated tables, the sharing of chips with dealers moving them into piles and out, people without masks coughing and touch points where people could pick up the virus,” she said.

Dealers could become potential super-spreaders if they unknowingly contracted COVID-19 at work, Professor Bennett said.

Back to top