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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Melissa Davey

Cancer experts ask Victorian MPs to ban smoking in Crown casino’s high-roller rooms

A sign advertises Crown Casino in Melbourne
A sign advertises Crown Casino in Melbourne Photograph: William West/AFP/Getty Images

The “high-roller rooms” at Victoria’s Crown casino remain the only enclosed venues in the state where smoking is allowed, but cancer experts have urged state politicians to vote to remove the casino’s longstanding exemption from secondhand smoke laws.

After the Finkelstein royal commission into Crown, legislation was introduced earlier in August to tackle gambling-related harm and money laundering at the venue. The reforms also include a ban on smoking in Crown’s high roller rooms, aligning the casino with those in other jurisdictions including Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.

Smoking was banned in all other enclosed licensed pubs, clubs, bars and gaming rooms in Victoria in July 2007. Health experts have been calling for the high-roller rooms at Crown to be subject to the same ban ever since.

More than 15 years later, the chief executive of Cancer Council Victoria, Todd Harper, said politicians had another opportunity to do the right thing when the lower house considers the legislation on Tuesday. If it passes it will still need to go through the Legislative Council.

“Employees in Victoria’s bars and clubs have been able to work in a safe, smoke-free environments … so it is disappointing that Crown employees have had to wait so long for similar protections,” Harper said on Tuesday.

“I ask all members of parliament to support the protection of Crown employees from the harms of secondhand tobacco smoke.”

It has been conclusively shown that secondhand smoke increases the risk of cancer and cardiac issues among nonsmokers, Quit Victoria said in a statement.

Among other reforms in the bill, patrons will need to use casino-issued cards and show ID to gamble or receive winnings of more than $1,000. Patrons will be able to track the time and money they are spending via a mandatory pre-commitment on all electronic gaming machines, and the full reforms must be implemented no later than December 2025.

Associate Prof Charles Livingstone, head of the gambling and social determinants unit at Monash University’s school of public health and preventive medicine, said when smoking was banned from other indoor areas of the casino, there was a “significant decline in gambling expenditure in Victoria of about 15%”.

“It helps people to have to have a break when they need to walk away for a smoke, they have a think about what they’re doing,” he said.

While the overall reforms “will make a difference,” they will not end the social and health-related harms associated with gambling, Livingstone said.

“The real problem for me is that they haven’t bothered to extend the reforms to clubs and pubs, but it is equally as easy to go through all of your dough at a local pub or a local club,” he said.

“If you want to have a decent public health intervention, you should be doing it across the board. There’s a very long list of harms associated with gambling, and it includes relationship breakdowns, financial catastrophe, mental and physical health problems, intergenerational poverty, problems with neglect of children, greater chance of succumbing to another addiction, and greater risk of suicide.

“These can be largely addressed if we get the reforms right, but we are far from getting it right at this stage.”

• In Australia, Gambling Help Online is available on 1800 858 858. The National Debt Helpline is at 1800 007 007. In the UK, support for problem gambling can be found through GamCare on 0808 8020 133. In the US, the National Council on Problem Gambling is on 800-522-4700

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