Australian casino operator Crown Resorts has suspended trading in its shares after being told to close its flagship Melbourne casino’s main gaming floor to minimize further spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.
On Friday, Crown announced that trading in its shares on the Australian Stock Exchange had been halted until Tuesday morning pending the release of an announcement. The state government in Victoria subsequently confirmed that it was removing Crown Melbourne’s exemption from the state’s social distancing requirements intended to minimize COVID-19 transmission.
Crown faced a growing chorus of public criticism for keeping its operations going despite the coronavirus concerns. Crown deactivated every second gaming machine and enforced player distancing at gaming tables but critics wondered why the government appeared to be prioritizing the financial health of a major tax contributor over public health.
In announcing the revocation of Crown’s exemption, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said Saturday that the state’s chief health officer was “not confident the measures that were in place and were appropriate are appropriate now.” Crown, “like every other venue, will need to comply with the new orders.”
The shutdown won’t impact Crown Melbourne’s VIP gaming floors, including the invitation-only Mahogany Room. That said, the main gaming floor generated three-quarters of the AU$870.4m in gaming revenue the property reported in 2019. The Melbourne property accounted for around two-thirds of Crown’s overall revenue last year.
Crown’s situation could quickly become much more dire. Australian media reported Saturday that both Victoria and New South Wales are preparing to announce the forced closure of all non-essential activities – similar to the rules imposed Friday in the UK – which would force Crown Melbourne to halt all operations.
Crown’s new casino in Sydney wasn’t planning to open until the end of this year but an NSW shutdown would negatively impact Crown rival The Star Entertainment Group’s eponymous flagship casino in Sydney.
The Star imposed similar social distancing requirements as Crown but local media reported Friday that many gamblers appeared to be ignoring these rules. A Star spokesperson said the company was still in the process of reconfiguring its gaming floor to meet the new requirements. An NSW shutdown would render that task redundant, at least for the duration of the pause in operations.