It’s not uncommon to watch belligerent gamblers being marched out of Crown Casino by security after one too many bad bets. Boozed-up punters are regular fixtures on the gaming room floor despite laws banning gambling while drunk. But dealers say training is inadequate in addressing these issues and needs to be strengthened.

Before novice dealers are unleashed onto the gaming room floor, they must complete seven hours of full-time intensive training daily for six weeks. Of the 210 hours of training, just one hour is dedicated to responsible gambling and four hours to responsible serving of alcohol (RSA).

Crikey spoke to a dealer who said 80% of the training was focused on game technique. “We had to develop skills like flicking the ball, being able to strengthen our hands and flick it,” he said, adding: “Instead of grabbing chips, we have to push them out; it’s called drop cutting.”

Dealers are also trained to spot cheats on the gaming room floor in surveillance sessions — “the majority of those in the film were Asians” — and spent several hours on how to handle bullying in the workplace. One full day is dedicated to familiarising dealers with Crown’s Signature Club Program.

The dealer told Crikey he felt the training did not prepare him for the unvarnished reality of the gaming room floor. “You see a lot of aggressive and stressed people and you think, ‘oh you shouldn’t be here’. But nothing is done about it.”

He recalls an incident where a man approached him to say the $10 he put in the game of rapid roulette was missing. “He was on edge the whole time. The pit boss, who is charge of the pit, opened it up and couldn’t find the money anywhere.” But when the man was informed by the pit boss that would have to wait until the following morning when the money was counted he exploded.

The dealer remembers him exclaiming: “I don’t want to. I want my $10 now!” The pit boss tried to negotiate with the man but failed. “He was carrying on and saying to everyone, ‘don’t gamble at Crown! They’ll take your money’.”

By the end of the one-hour session on responsible gambling, dealers are expected to identify at-risk gamblers “if they were sitting at a table depressed” and encouraged to report such cases. “In theory yes, in practice not so much,” he said. “I don’t think it’s taught hard enough.”

He admits feeling conflicted about reporting at risk gamblers: “It’s very difficult because from a dealer’s perspective it’s quite judgmental, that this person has a gambling problem, when really I’m assuming.”

Gary O’Neill, Crown executive general manager of government relations and media, strongly rejects any allegation the training does not adequately address these issues.

“In Crown we have a responsible gaming customer support centre,” he explained to Crikey. “We’re the first casino in the world to establish that and we have been going for half a dozen years. There is no legislation which compels us to do that, there is no regulation that compels us to do that. It is fully funded by us.”

The centre is located in the basement of the gaming room floor, near the poker rooms. It can be accessed 24 hours a day, seven days a week and offers counselling and, by appointment, pastoral support from resident Crown chaplain Father James Grant.

The damning findings in Regulatory Failure: The Case of Crown Casino by Deakin University academic Linda Hancock proved to be a source of ire when mentioned. Her interviews with 225 gaming room floor staff revealed a culture of letting sleeping dogs lie.

O’Neill told Crikey if these gaming room floor allegations were true, Crown would have been shut down long ago. Despite consistent testimonies from 225 Crown staff members, O’Neill questioned the authenticity of the claims and noted the sources have always been “determinedly” anonymous. Furthermore, Crown employs 7700 staff and if the issues were as serious as reported more would have come forth.

“If any of that staff have any evidence whatsoever to substantiate these allegations, they have a duty to present it, to come forward. That doesn’t mean they don’t have to come forward to Crown, if people are making these unsubstantiated claims I think they have a responsibility to regulators in Victoria.

“What I don’t accept there is some sort of state-wide conspiracy when you consider that Crown is under daily scrutiny, I mean daily scrutiny, 24 hours a day, seven days a week by at least half-a-dozen government agencies, not to mention government departments.”

Crikey’s source said Crown’s alcohol policy was equally embarrassing. “It’s like the RSA at Crown and we were taught to report someone that was drunk. But people are playing on the gaming floor drunk all the time,” he said. “I’ve spoken to other people who think Crown’s RSA is pathetic.

“If we report someone who is drunk and not causing trouble, that’s just being politically correct.” He said he has never reported anyone playing drunk and neither have other dealers.

O’Neill says it’s inevitable there would be a few drunken patrons out of the 17 million visitors streaming through Crown’s doors each year. “Now from time to time, people will transgress and obviously, from time to time, too intoxicated in the bars or something. Those people are removed. Those incidences will happen and they will happen everywhere in Melbourne,” he said.

But these issues appear to be far from the minds of hopeful punters on a crowded Saturday night when Crikey visited the Crown gaming room floor. The dimmed lighting and its confusing maze layout with club beats in the background proved to be an intoxicating mix. Despite the presence of clocks, this reporter unintentionally spent more than three hours wandering through the gaming room floor.

One punter, Ian, confessed he loved visiting Crown: “I don’t know, it’s a break from the city. It’s so good in here, so nice, fresh. It feels so upper class and so different from the outside of Melbourne.”

Brad was optimistic about his chances after a turn on the roulette table: “I just like coming out here, hopefully to win big and never have to work again. The roulette tables are my favourite. Lots of people win big on them and I usually follow them.”

Said the dealer: “I would love for Crown to be a place to be where people to know their limits and stick to their limits. The reality is people struggle to stick to their limits. That’s just a known fact.”

Peter Fray

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