Calls for casino closure amid coronavirus

Thursday 19th March 2020

Thousands have signed a petition for Melbourne's Crown Casino to close amid the coronavirus outbreak, as events the city holds dear are cancelled or restricted.

Indoor gatherings over 100 have been banned, decimating Melbourne's cafe, restaurant and live music scenes.

The Grand Prix was cancelled last weekend, and the opening round of the AFL will go ahead with no fans in the stadium.

After years of hand-wringing that political correctness would be the thing to kill comedy, in the end it was a global pandemic that led to the month-long Melbourne International Comedy Festival being cancelled for the first time in its more than 30-year history.

But at Southbank, punters are still free to tip money into Crown casino's coffers, albeit in limited numbers.

Melburnian Thomas Jaspers, a comedian who had a show in the comedy festival before the cancellation, started the petition after he was surprised to learn the place was still open.

"The last few days my Facebook feed has just been full of things getting cancelled, entertainment venues of all different sizes," he told

"All my friends were posting their gigs had been cancelled. Someone saw Crown was still open. I thought that can't be right."

He said Crown shouldn't be exempt while events that draw similar crowds are forced to cancel.

"Absolutely not. Melbourne Symphony Orchestra had a concert in a 2600-seat theatre on Monday, they cancelled it ... I don't see why we're making an exemption for Crown, just because someone's not performing on a stage."

The MSO ended up livestreaming that concert and hopes to stream more in the future while the gathering bans are in place.

Thomas also made it clear his motivations were about public health, not some vendetta against gambling.

"I've had fun at Crown. I've played the pokies there; I don't hate gambling."

But as health experts, and indeed the Government, tells Australians to avoid gathering, he's run out of alternative reasons for the casino staying open.

"The only plausible explanation is, we know a lot of money goes to the Government and that Crown casino has a huge sway in politics, that's why Daniel Andrews has been quiet on this subject. We're not seeing the leadership we're used to in this case."

"While places like Crown continue to operate the virus is going to continue to spread. It doesn't mean the entire Crown complex needs to be closed, but the gaming room, function spaces - it's not necessary, it's not essential."

He also thinks people visiting Crown from interstate pose another risk of spreading the virus when they return to their communities.

"Crown casino is a place where a lot of people visit. If they are coming to that central point and going home, they're taking it back ... it's really just a little melting pot we can easily close."

Social distancing aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus has already largely shut down the rest of one of Australia's biggest cities.

"Melbourne is eerie," Jaspers said. "I've been walking into work to avoid public transport, but I've been watching trams go past with two or three people in the middle of peak hour," he said, describing the sight as "absolutely bizarre".

"Bourke St mall was the emptiest I've seen it ever. It's like walking around on a Sunday morning except people aren't stumbling out of pubs."

Nearly 17,000 people have signed the petition at time of writing, with a goal to get to 25,000.

Of course an online petition isn't really legally binding.

But Jaspers is optimistic it can achieve results, and said he still has faith in at least one of the parties named in the petition.

"I don't know if Crown Casino will listen but I think the state government has a good track record of listening to Victorians and I do believe Daniel Andrews cares about the state and what people feel and what people believe," Jaspers said.

Crown announced to the ASX on Thursday morning that it has revised its social distancing policies for its two Australian casinos in Melbourne and Perth.

The number of people allowed in individual food and beverage, banqueting and conference facilities has been lowered from 450 to 100.

Earlier announced policies include turning off every second pokie machine, forcing seated players to distance themselves and stopping people standing to watch, and limiting the number of players at stand-up games like craps and roulette to five.

Those policies remain in place and have been approved by the relevant state governments.

Earlier, Crown also announced it would provide 14 days of additional paid leave to any employees impacted by coronavirus.

This includes employees who contract it, have contact with a confirmed case, or who need to look after a family member who has contracted it.

Crown was contacted to comment but is yet to respond.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was also contacted for comment and is yet to respond.

Those who have signed the petition have commented on their reasons for doing so however.

"Ridiculous to keep this open! What other reason than pure greed!" Rebecca Evans said.

"Is this really a time for casinos to slip under the normal regulations as usual?" asked Yanni Arsenakis.

"Crown casino has a duty of care to protect our community and do its share in reducing the curve and save human lives. Please close," Talia Humphrey said.

"The casino will become a COVID-19 breeding ground. It must be closed. Keeping it open will result in unnecessary deaths. Think of the doctors and nurses risking their lives right now. I am one of them," Thea Bloom said.

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