Crown Casino closes half its poker machines to stem coronavirus spread

One in every two poker machines will be deactivated at Crown's casino in Melbourne's Southbank, and gamblers will not be allowed to sit side by side while playing table games, as the James Packer-backed gaming giant implements social-distancing measures to curb coronavirus.

Coinciding with the Andrews government's declaration of a state of emergency on Monday to step up efforts to slow the outbreak, the nation's biggest casino operator said it had set tough new rules for gamblers at its flagship casino complex.

James Packer-backed Crown Resorts is bracing for a hit to its profits due to the spread of coronavirus in China.Credit:Joe Armao

The new measures include deactivating every second poker machine and electronic table game, distancing at seated table games between players and restricting the number of players at each stand-up table game to five players.

Bars, restaurants, ballrooms and conference facilities at Crown's sprawling casino and hotel complex will be limited to 450 people, Crown said on Monday.

"Crown has also implemented other precautionary measures across its Crown Melbourne and Crown Perth entertainment complexes, including the provision of alcohol-based hand sanitiser and more frequent and strengthened cleaning measures," the company said on Monday morning. "Crown will continue to closely monitor the pandemic and follow guidelines from relevant health authorities."

Crown said its social distancing policy for Crown Melbourne has been approved by the Victorian Chief Health Officer.

Crown Resorts, 37 per cent owned by billionaire James Packer, is already bracing for a heavy hit to its profits due to the outbreak of coronavirus curbs amid restrictions on international air travel cutting flow of its highest-spending gamblers – known as international VIPs, or "whales" – who visit its Australian venues from China.

The ASX-listed casino giant's high-roller program revenue was already in sharp decline after an investigation by The Age, Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes that 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 VIP program play plunged one-third in the December half, while its normalised net profit across all operations was down 11 per cent.

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