Macau’s six casino licensees have again pleaded with the Macau government to allow them to keep smoking lounges on mass market gaming floors in their venues. They have also called for “an in-depth study” to evaluate what economic effects such a ban and other proposed tobacco control measures would have.
A new tobacco control bill including provisions to outlaw smoking lounges and VIP room smoking was announced by the city’s Executive Council – the Macau government’s main advisory body – on Tuesday afternoon, and could come into force early next year.
“We believe that very careful consideration should be given to all the implications that an enactment of the full smoking ban would have, and we hope that the Legislative Council [Macau's Legislative Assembly] and the government departments concerned would consider conducting an in-depth study to evaluate the possible impacts on the economy,” said a joint statement from the operators. The statement was first reported by Portuguese-language newspaper Jornal Tribuna de Macau.
One survey carried out in May last year by the Institute for the Study of Commercial Gaming at the University of Macau and commissioned by the Health Bureau looked at the specific issue of smoking in Macau VIP rooms, and found 58 percent of casino workers surveyed were against it. High rollers are currently allowed to smoke in VIP rooms, but that will also be banned under proposed new legislation.
A survey commissioned by the six gaming operators suggested that about two-thirds, or 66 percent, of 34,000 Macau casino workers that responded to the poll “support the retention and development of smoking lounges within the casinos”.
Investment analysts have said removing mass floor smoking lounges could shave 10 percent from mass market gaming revenue, and as much as 15 percent from VIP revenue if players at tables and gaming machines are forced to go outside for a cigarette.
“The six casino operators fully support the government’s smoking control measures as the health and well-being of the public, our employees and customers are of paramount importance,” added the operators’ statement.
“However, we believe that maintaining smoking lounges in casinos could be an alternative to the full smoking ban. Currently, all of the smoking lounges in the six casinos are well constructed and independently ventilated,” said the operators.
The latest appeal by the industry reiterates some points that individual senior leaders from the sector – including Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd chief executive and co-chairman Lawrence Ho Yau Lung, and SJM Holdings Ltd CEO Ambrose So Shu Fai – have been making for months. So far the pleas have not been translated into policy action by the government.
The statement from the operators added: “Enhancing regulatory measures and standards across these [smoking lounge] facilities would have the support of the gaming industry and at the same time ensure the health of our employees and customers.”
There were signs this week that the authorities are showing some flexibility on policy issues affecting the local casino industry. Investment analysts say the trade has been eroded by a steady drip of announcements since last year that have tightened official scrutiny on the players and the permissions system that allows mainland Chinese gamblers to travel to the city.
On Tuesday the Macau police issued a statement confirming that from July 1, holders of mainland Chinese passports that transit via the city will again be allowed to stay for up to seven days. Previously, with effect from July 1, last year, the Macau government had tightened transit visa rule implementation, limiting such travellers to a five-day stay.
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”China has been strengthening the control over capital flow, and the impact of that has already been reflected [on Macau’s gaming revenue trend]. There should not be any bigger impact from the new… legislation [on the mainland] … on the gaming revenue trend here”
Wilfred Wong Ying Wai
President of Macau casino operator Sands China