Crown to close its Melbourne gaming floor

By Mia Chapman Updated
Royal commission hears that Crown was reluctant to implement tighter money laundering controls

Crown Resorts will close the main gaming floor at its flagship Melbourne casino after it was stripped of its exemption from social distancing rules aimed at arresting the spread of coronavirus.

The Age reports that the Victorian government had provided Crown’s Southbank complex with a controversial exemption from the rules limiting indoor gatherings to 100 people.

The James Packer-backed casino giant offered its own suited of policies, such a deactivating every second poker machine and limiting attendance numbers at restaurants, bars, ballrooms and conference facilities.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said on Saturday said the chief health officer had revoked the exemption.

“We’re not confident the measures that were in place and were appropriate are appropriate now,” Mr Andrews said.

The revocation prompted the casino to inform staff on Saturday afternoon that it would close the main gaming floor.

Smaller gambling rooms, such as the Mahogany Room, will remain operating.

Deakin University public health and gaming expert Samantha Thomas said Crown should have been playing by the same rules as everyone else from the start.

A former chief medical officer, John Horvath and a former secretary for Commonwealth Department of Health, Jane Halton, both sit on the casino’s board.

“This should have been implemented much earlier and the government should understand that pandemics trump gambling profits,” Professor Thomas said.

Calls for the temporary shutdown of Crown’s casino escalated this week after gaming giants around the world, including Las Vegas, have closed their venues in response to the pandemic.

Australian public health officials from every state and territory wrote to gaming ministries saying poker machine venues often attracted older people who were at a heightened risk of illness or death from coronavirus, as well as people who might be unable to exercise rational decision making to avoid venues due to addiction.

The deputy head of Parliament’s national security committee also savaged the Victorian government for allowing Crown casino to keep operating.

Labor politician Anthony Byrne spoke out against his party’s own state government, saying Crown and other casinos must be closed.

The closure of Crown Melbourne would have a damaged economic impact.

The casino and hotel complex is the state’s largest single-site employer in the private sector, with more than 12,500 staff.

Crown contributes to economy in a big way

Crown is also a significant generator of state government revenue.

In the last financial year, it paid tax to the state of Victoria of $238 million.

ASX-listed Crown Resorts – which placed its shares in a trading halt since Friday amid “discussions” with government health officials – has been bracing for a heavy hit to its earnings.

Restrictions on international air travel have drastically reduced patronage from its highest-spending gamblers – known as “whales” – who visit Australian casinos from China.

Crown’s lucrative high-roller program revenue was already in sharp decline after an investigation by The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes revealed it had partnered with tour agents backed by some of Asia’s most powerful organised-crime syndicates.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, two of the biggest casino giants in Las Vegas, MGM Resorts and Wynn Resorts, will this week close all their properties on the world-famous gambling strip.

“It is now apparent that this is a public health crisis that requires major collective action if we are to slow its progression,” MGM chief executive Jim Murren said last week.

“Accordingly, we will close all of our Las Vegas properties as of Tuesday, March 17, for the good of our employees, guests and communities.”

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