Macau’s Legislative Assembly approved on Tuesday a government-backed bill proposing a ban on the city’s gaming workers entering casino floors outside work hours. The ban – expected to cover a total of 54,000 Macau casino employees – should however only come into effect in late December 2019 at the earliest.
That is because the bill offers a 12-months’ grace period – from the moment the bill is published in the city’s Official Gazette – in order for workers to adapt to the new restrictions.
All Macao legislators voted in favour of the bill in Tuesday’s final vote. The result was similar to that of the bill’s first-reading vote in July 2018.
During the bill’s final reading debate, several legislators questioned how the new rules would be enforced.
The new legislation tasks the city’s casino regulator – the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau, also known by its Portuguese acronym DICJ – with implementing the ban on the city’s gaming workers entering casino floors outside work hours. That would include DICJ deploying inspectors inside casinos to detect potential infractions, namely with support from casino operators. In addition, the government would also set up a hotline for reporting of potential infringements.
However, the bill does not envision the establishment of a database with details on all casino workers covered by the ban. Several legislators – including Angela Leong On Kei, who is also an executive director at casino operator SJM Holdings Ltd – questioned an alleged lack of DICJ resources to implement the casino entry ban. Some further noted that the casino regulator was already facing a shortage of human resources.
Both the Secretary for Economy and Finance, Lionel Leong Vai Tac, and the head of DICJ, Paulo Martins Chan – who were attending the bill’s final reading debate – tried to lay to rest questions about implementation of the casino entry ban. However, they provided little detail on how the new rules would be enforced.
Mr Chan said the government would aim to promote awareness regarding the casino entry ban among covered workers during the grace period. He also stated that infractors did not risk losing their jobs.
According to the approved bill, some staff that are hired by the casino operators and not directly involved with gaming operations – including cage staff, food and beverage outlet workers, cleaners and those connected to surveillance operations – are also included in the ban, alongside gaming workers. Staff that are employed by the city’s junket operators are also subject to the off-duty casino entry ban.
The new legislation stipulates that Macau casino workers are allowed to enter – and gamble – in local casinos only on the first three days of the annual Chinese New Year holiday period. Casino workers will also be permitted to step onto gaming floors outside work hours if it were related to professional training or education.
The government had previously said that the bill aimed to curb problem gambling among casino employees, particularly card dealers. According to official data, the majority of people seeking help in Macau between 2011 and 2017 for problem gaming-related issues were casino workers.
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”There are likely to be cancellations of some Chinese New Year casino and junket parties and events [in Macau]”
Vitaly Umansky, Eunice Lee and Kelsey Zhu
Sanford Bernstein analysts