Casinos should be shut down during the coronavirus crisis, public health specialists and the Victorian opposition have said, with one expert telling Guardian Australia their continued operation were “an unnecessary risk to public health”.
Crown Melbourne and all other poker machine venues around the country should be closed to slow the coronavirus outbreak, Monash University associate professor Charles Livingstone said.
The Melbourne and Perth casinos operated by James Packer’s Crown Resorts have exemptions from each state’s health authorities to keep operating.
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Both venues have closed every second poker machine, but high-roller rooms and restaurants remain open.
Crown on Thursday said it would reduce the number of people allowed at any one time in its restaurants from 450, a number set only on Monday, to 100.
And trade in high-roller rooms is understood to have been dramatically cut by international travel bans.
But Livingstone, a sociologist and gambling researcher who has long been a critic of Crown, said the restrictions still left about 1,400 poker machines operating at the Melbourne casino.
He and 10 other public health experts have written a letter to state health ministers and federal health minister Greg Hunt calling for all poker machine venues to be closed to slow the transmission of Covid-19.
Poker machine buttons and screens were “sweaty, stinky and pretty horrible”, he said.
“The capacity of Crown to wipe down machines between users is virtually impossible,” he said.
“Crown should be shut down now and so should all the pokie joints.”
Victorian Nationals leader and state opposition gambling spokeswoman Steph Ryan said premier Daniel Andrews should explain why Crown “isn’t required to follow the same restrictions as everybody else”.
“Even Nevada, USA, a state which is home to the casino capital of the world, has made the decision to shut down its casinos,” she said.
“Daniel Andrews must tell us why Crown Casino does not need to comply with the advice provided to all other venues which have been instructed to limit patronage to less than 100.”
Crown is already under fire over a laundry list of allegations that are being investigated by a NSW public inquiry that has, itself, had its hearings postponed due to the virus crisis.
The group’s casinos employ 18,500 people, meaning closing them would deliver a savage hit to employment in Perth and Melbourne at a time when people are already being laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Crown is allowed to keep operating under an exemption provided by Victoria’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, which Guardian Australia understands is in writing.
Andrews’ office is yet to provide Guardian Australia with a copy of the exemption that was requested on Thursday morning.
The premier did not answer directly when asked by reporters on Thursday how the casino qualified as an essential service.
However he said the government was acting according to Sutton’s advice.
“The moment that advice changes, we will change the arrangements for them,” he said.
“It’s a unique space.
“The chief health officer is confident that the arrangements that have been put in place are appropriate.”
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