Crown introducing social distancing

by Mia Chapman Last Updated
Merger of Crown and Star would be subject to ACCC inquiry 

Crown Resorts is introducing social distancing at its Melbourne casino in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

7News reports that Crown said on Monday it would keep gamblers apart by switching off every second gaming machine and electronic table, barring standing players at seated table games, and restricting the number of players at stand-up table games to five.

The company will also restrict the number of patrons in its banqueting and conference facilities to 450 people “with a prescribed maximum density.”

The moves by Crown, which the company said were approved by state health officials, come a day after the Australian government advised against non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people.

The practice of social distancing has been adopted by several countries, halting sporting, cultural and religious events.

Crown shares were down 10.12 per cent to $7.37 on Monday, amid a broader market downturn.

Closing its Melbourne casino would be a significant blow for Crown, which reported a slump in gambling turnover from Chinese high rollers, a key demographic, in the half year just ended.

Crown said it has also implemented other measures at its Melbourne and Perth properties, including greater frequency of cleaning and the provision of hand sanitiser.

Star and Crown to remain open

One in two poker machines will be deactivated and gamblers not allowed to sit side by side at Australia’s largest two casinos, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Unlike other global casino giants which have temporarily closed their venues in response to the fast-moving outbreak, including in Las Vegas, both Star Entertainment and Crown Resorts will keep their casino doors open.

The new social distancing measures at Sydney’s The Star and Melbourne’s Crown – which come after health authorities at the weekend expanded guidelines to urge people to remain 1.5 metres from each other, include deactivating every second poker machine and electronic table game, enforcing distancing at seated gaming tables between players and limiting the number of players at each stand-up table to five.

Bars, nightclubs, restaurants, ballrooms and conference facilities will be limited to 450 people at Crown’s casino and 499 people at The Star.

“We would say that’s a good start, but doesn’t go far enough,” Deakin University’s Samantha Thomas said, who along with other public health academics from around Australia wrote to state and federal government ministers urging the temporary closure of venues housing poker machines.

Poker machine venues had often attracted older people who were at a heightened risk of illness and death from coronavirus, the letter said.

The researchers urged the ministers to follow the lead of Finland, which has closed all its electronic gaming machines and closed the Helsinki casino until at least the end of March.

“We need to be doing as much as we can so we are putting the health of the community over profit,” Dr Thomas said.

Crown and The Star employ thousands of works and generate significant revenue for state governments.

The two companies said they had implemented other precautionary measures across their casinos across their casinos including providing alcohol-based hand sanitiser and conducting more frequent and strengthened cleaning in response to virus concerns.

Crown Resorts, 37 per cent-owned by billionaire James Packer, was already bracing for a heavy hit to its profit, as the outbreak of coronavirus led to unprecedented restrictions on international arrivals, which cut the flow of its highest-spending gamblers – known as “whales” – visiting Australian casinos from China.

The ASX-listed casino giant’s lucrative high-roller program revenue was already in sharp decline after an investigation The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes revealed it has partnered with tour agents backed by some of Asia’s most powerful organised-crime syndicates as part of an assertive push to attract more top-spending Chinese gamblers.

The revelations have prompted multiple state and federal inquiries into Crown and its use of high-roller agents, known as “junket operators.”

Turnover from Crown’s multibillion-dollar “international VIP” business plunged one-third in the six months to December, while its normalised net profit across all operations slid 11 per cent.

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, casinos worldwide have been making difficult decisions to help slow the spread.

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 on Sunday.

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