Thursday, October 14, 2004

Casino high-roller rooms and smoking bans

Any way you look at it, the exemption of most* Australian casino high-roller rooms from planned near-blanket smoking bans is anomalous. A popular media scoff here has been the “There’s one law for the toffs . . .” angle, but this is actually a rather naïve view.

At Melbourne’s Crown Casino Mahogany Room and associated private suites – the largest single high-roller site in the world – Australians (and even more so, non-criminal Australians (same URL)) are a small, if not negligible part of the customer base. Whoever is being primarily indulged by the smoking ban exemption at Crown’s high-roller rooms, then, it is not rich (legally or otherwise) Australians.

In fact, Crown Casino spokesman Gary O’Neil happily admits as much:

The Mahogany Room should be treated as a special case as it catered for international visitors.

On a recent television news interview, O’Neil was even more direct, saying that, since Crown’s high-roller clientele was primarily Chinese, it was more appropriate for the norms of China, as regards smoking (and the laissez-faire-ness of these is well-known) to apply in the Mahogany Room.

O’Neil seems to be saying that he regards part of Crown Casino to be Chinese sovereign territory. If so, I’m not particularly fussed personally, but I imagine that the Chinese government may be – for despite all its neo-colonial bellicose expansionism over Taiwan, it has a strangely wowserish attitude to legal casinos, forbidding them from within its pre-1990s borders.

Of more important and local import though, of course, is the consequent strange position of Mahogany Room workers – Australian by geography (as well as by casino licensing laws), but otherwise Chinese subjects, including being governed by Chinese OH+S laws, or the absence thereof, according to O’Neil.

Now, I know that O’Neil, and the various State/Territory Labor Governments that are rubber-stamping ersatz such Lex Sino exemptions almost Australia-wide*, would reply that they mean no such thing, and that they’re just trying to protect Australian jobs in a valuable export industry, blah, blah blah. As PM Howard said in his victory speech on Saturday night – we are living in a time of arguably the greatest prosperity since WWII.

That’s a “prosperity”, folks, where foreign dollars are more important that Australian lives.


SMH letter-writer Paul Stevens of Chatswood doesn’t quite understand how deep the high-roller room exemption sell-out cuts:

How is it that croupiers, bar staff, waiters and waitresses working in the casino high-rollers' room can readily ward off painful, lingering deaths simply by being generously tipped?

In Australia, Paul, croupiers – who, with lit cigarettes held literally under their noses, absorb far more smoke than any other front-of-house employee – cannot be legally tipped. In any case, my experience as a croupier, albeit of low-to-medium rollers (up to $4k a hand), is of never even getting offered a tip, even by a clientele who mostly spoke little or no English, and as such, were presumable not au fait with Australian law. My explanation here is that the international language of gambling crosses such boundaries – Australian casinos (like post-Dawkins Australian universities) are understood to be cheap and welcoming places of last resort, at which small courtesies are unnecessary: a tip to the dealer can hence legitimately be regarded as a waste of money better left to prolonging one’s losing streak.

* According to JJJ’s HAC, 13 October 2004, Adelaide casino’s high-roller room is the only exception to the national trend.

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