Smoking drawback could have all bets off at the casino

Labor will seek to amend tobacco laws and remove the exemption that allows smoking in the Star’s high roller room.SMOKING in the high rollers’ room at the Star casino would be banned under an amendment to state government anti-tobacco legislation set to be passed by the NSW upper house.

But the bill would need to pass the lower house to become law, handing the O’Farrell government the dilemma of voting against its own reforms or supporting the ban, which would damage the Star and potentially jeopardise James Packer’s plans for a $1 billion casino complex at Barangaroo.

The government has introduced legislation to ban smoking in outdoor public places including swimming pools and children’s playgrounds from next year It has passed the lower house and will be considered by the upper house next week.

But when Parliament resumes on Tuesday, Labor will introduce an amendment seeking to remove the current exemption to existing tobacco laws that allows smoking in the Star’s high roller room.

The amendment has the support of the Greens and last night the Christian Democratic Party MP, Fred Nile, told the Herald he was in favour of the change, guaranteeing its passage through the upper house. ”I think [the exemption] is an inconsistency,” he said. ”I know they’re arguing it means the high rollers won’t come, but I guess it’s not my job to protect the casino’s revenue.”

A representative of the casino’s owner, Echo Entertainment, has been in discussions with the office of the Opposition Leader, John Robertson, over the amendment, but Labor is refusing to budge. Passage of the amendment would leave the government, which has the numbers in the lower house, in a difficult position.

If it chooses to vote down its own bill because of the amendment it may be criticised for sacrificing the broader smoking reforms to support smoking by high rollers at the Star.

If it votes for the amendment to protect its reforms, it risks upsetting not only the Star but also Mr Packer’s Crown group, which is seeking to gain control of Echo and use its casino licence to build a hotel and casino complex at Barangaroo.

Mr Packer has said the new casino, plans for which have been welcomed by the government, would target the lucrative Asian high roller market, which would be all but impossible if they were unable to smoke while gambling.

The ban would risk driving high rollers away from the Star to other states such as Victoria, which has a similar exemption.

The Health Minister, Jillian Skinner, and Echo Entertainment declined to comment.

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