Macau’s Legislative Assembly is scheduled to hold on Thursday afternoon a first-reading debate and vote on a government-backed bill proposing a ban on Macau-based gaming workers entering casino floors outside work hours. The government says the move aims to curb problem gambling among casino employees, particularly card dealers.
A ‘yes’ vote that day would not mean immediate implementation of the policy.
Any bill presented to the Macau Legislative Assembly receives its first reading in a plenary session, i.e., a full sitting of the legislature. If given a first-reading approval, it is then assigned to one of three working committees for detailed examination. After the committee has issued a report on the bill, the document returns to the full assembly for its second and final reading.
The committee stage is the lengthiest part of the passage of a bill in Macau. There are precedents in Macau for the committee phase being skipped, but that would typically only happen in what are regarded as exceptional cases. Examples could be an increase to a particular existing tax or minor amendments to an existing law.
In Macau, each committee responsible for scrutinising legislation has 10 or 11 legislators and meets behind closed doors. Usually, representatives of the government are required to attend some meetings to answer questions on the bill. The government is also required to add any potential amendments that emerge during this stage.
The bill banning casino staff from gambling is the third of five measures to be voted upon on Thursday, according to the official website of the Legislative Assembly. If lawmakers are unable to finish their discussions within the allotted time on that day, the vote will be postponed to another day.
Some staff not directly involved with gaming operations – including cage staff, food and beverage outlet workers, cleaners and those connected to surveillance operations – are to also be included in the ban, according to the bill. The government proposes that the ban become effective one year after the approved bill is published in the city’s Official Gazette.
Enforcement of the mooted ban on Macau casino employees entering any local gaming floor outside work hours will be the responsibility of casino operators via monitoring by their security staff, rather than via use of “technological measures” – at least at first – the local gaming regulator told GGRAsia last month.
Local players’ contribution to Macau casino gross gaming revenue is estimated by investment analysts as small when judged in percentage terms. Macau gaming operators already have contractual bans on their own staff gambling on company premises.
Macau had in total 57,207 people employed in the gaming sector by the fourth quarter of 2017, according to latest available data from the city’s Statistics and Census Service. In the period, there were 24,453 table games dealers working in the city’s casinos, the official data showed.
The Macau government bill proposes that any designated casino worker detected in a local casino outside working hours would be liable to a fine of between MOP1,000 (US$125) and MOP10,000.
The city’s civil servants are already banned by dint of their professional role, from entering casino floors. The exception is a brief period during the Chinese New Year holiday season.
The government’s bill envisages Macau-based casino workers being allowed to gamble in casinos the first three days of the Chinese New Year holiday period, but only in properties not under their current employer.
The bill also proposes streamlined proceedings to handle instances where those under 21 are detected on the city’s casino floors. According to the government, as most people detected breaching the rule were tourists, the introduction of simplified proceedings would make handling of such cases more efficient and reduce related costs.
Macau increased the minimum age for entry to casinos from 18 to 21 with effect from November 2012. The move was described at the time as designed mainly to protect locals and encourage Macau young people to stay on in education rather than to become casino dealers straight from high school. Only Macau ID holders can be employed as dealers in the city’s casinos.
The bill also bans the use of mobile phones and other communication devices by gamblers in the gaming table areas in casinos. The use of sound and image recording devices is also banned. While such bans were already in place based on guidelines issued by the city’s casino regulator, the bill aims to make it into law. Those not complying are liable to a fine of between MOP1,000 and MOP10,000, as proposed by the government.
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Francis Lui Yiu Tung
Vice chairman of Macau-based casino operator Galaxy Entertainment Group