Crown casino savaged for staying open during ‘national security’ crisis
The deputy head of parliament's powerful national security committee has savaged the Victorian government for allowing Crown casino to keep operating during the coronavirus pandemic, saying the failure to shut it down might expose more people and prompts national security concerns.
The blast from Labor politician Anthony Byrne against his party's own state government came as Crown Resorts suspended its shares from trading until next Tuesday, or further announcement, while it is "continuing to work with the Victorian government" over its virus response.
Mr Byrne rubbished the description of Crown by the Victorian premier Daniel Andrews as a “unique” space that was entitled to remain open pending further advice, and described the decision to keep operating as “untenable”.
Crown casinos are staying open despite coronavirus concerns.Credit:Josh Robenstone
“Given this once-in-a-lifetime pandemic is a matter of national security requiring us to take all steps to protect our community, Crown and other casinos have to be shut down,” Mr Byrne said. “Crown doesn’t offer a unique community service. It is not a special place. It undermines confidence in government measures to contain the virus by giving Crown a free ride to remain open.”
Mr Byrne said he was “dealing with petrified emergency services workers – what do I tell them if they are infected by a person exposed to the virus they caught at the casino?”
He said state governments that allowed casinos to keep operating were applying a “blatantly inconsistent approach” in dealing with the health crisis and risked sending mixed messages to the public and businesses. “Why is there one rule for casinos and one rule for other businesses? Casinos are not an essential service,” he said.
The decision to allow the casino to stay open is in contrast to mass shut downs of casinos in Las Vegas, where authorities have closed the famed casino strip. On Wednesday, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak justified the 30-day closure as “common sense.” In Macau – the world’s other major casino destination – casinos were shut down for 15 days in February to control the virus spread.
By contrast, in Victoria and Perth Crown is permitted to run its gaming rooms with every second poker machine turned off. In NSW and Queensland, Star Entertainment is restricting the opening hours of its gaming rooms to stem the spread of the virus, with its three casinos shuttered for four hours every morning to enable a “comprehensive cleaning process”.
Mr Byrne’s criticism will feed into the perception that Australian casinos wield significant political and regulatory sway.
Mr Andrews said on Thursday that he was acting on the advice of the chief health officer, who was "confident that the arrangements that have been put in place are appropriate". Further comment has been sought from the government. Crown is one of Victoria's largest single-site employers with more than 12,500 working there.
Crown explained its decision on Friday to suspend trading in its shares by saying "it is continuing to work with the Victorian government in relation to the measures in place for Crown in response to the novel coronavirus … pandemic". It has previously announced "social distancing" policies to restrict the number of patrons in individual food and beverage, banqueting and conference facilities from 450 people to 100.
Crown critic and Monash University School of Public Health professor Charles Livingstone warned on ABC Radio on Thursday that the failure to shut down casinos may exacerbate the spread of COVID-19.
"In my opinion poker machines are a high-risk vector for infection given they require people to regularly and repetitively touch buttons," Charles Livingstone said.
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