A majority on the Macau Legislative Assembly working committee asked to scrutinise the city’s revised tobacco control bill, currently supports the retention of smoking lounges on casino main floors. A majority on the committee currently also supports the setting up of new smoking lounges where main floors don’t yet have them.
So said legislator and businessman Chan Chak Mo in comments on Thursday.
The government has proposed a total ban on smoking in the city’s casinos. A number of investment analysts have said that could depress revenue for the already beleaguered industry, which might in May record its 24th consecutive month of year-on-year decline in casino gross gaming revenue.
The working committee’s tentative support for smoking lounges is on condition that second-hand smoke can be kept away from casino staff and from non-smoking guests, said Mr Chan, in a briefing to local media. It followed a session of the committee held that day. All committee sessions are held behind closed doors.
Mr Chan presides over the relevant scrutinising body, known as the second committee of the Legislative Assembly. The committee resumed on Thursday its examination of the legislation, having last dealt with it in December. The committee has 10 members, nine of whom were at Thursday’s sitting.
“A majority [seven out of nine] of committee members have supported [the idea] that smoking lounges can be set inside casinos… if the second-hand smoke does not diffuse out,” said Mr Chan, referring to that day’s discussions. He noted that only two of the committee members attending Thursday’s discussion expressed support for the government’s ‘total ban’ stance.
“What the committee [majority] requests is that smoke will not diffuse and affect the non-smokers,” Mr Chan told reporters. He added that a majority on the committee believed that – provided casino employees were also protected from second-hand smoke – it would be appropriate for the government to set the standards and conditions for smoking lounges.
Labour groups’ concern
Smoking on casino main floors in Macau is currently only allowed in airport-style enclosed smoking lounges that do not contain any gaming tables or slot machines. Casino operators have been required to get approval for such facilities. Having a cigarette while gambling is at present still allowed in Macau casino VIP rooms.
Local labour groups have demanded a full smoking ban in the city’ casinos. Some leaders of the local industry have lobbied for the retention of smoking lounges on casino main floors. Junket sector representatives have asked for smoking lounges inside VIP rooms in lieu of a casino-wide ban on tobacco use.
The technical specifications for smoking lounges inside casinos could be further improved if deemed needed, Mr Chan suggested, giving the example of the system used for the establishment of smoking lounges in the city’s airport.
But the second committee president added it was a “political decision” for the Macau government as to whether such a system would be adopted.
Macau’s Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Alexis Tam Chon Weng, who oversees smoking control policies, has said that to allow the retention of smoking lounges inside casinos would not allow for a proper control of second-hand smoke. Mr Tam has added however that the government would be “open to suggestions from all parties”.
“When the government aims to protect people from the harm of second-hand smoke, they [the government] have their own standard,” said Mr Chan, adding the government’s definition of ‘protection’ might differ from that of his committee members.
“We think that casino workers could have an outsized influence on what ultimately happens with respect to smoking,” said Grant Govertsen of brokerage Union Gaming Securities Asia Ltd in a note issued on Friday.
On Thursday, legislator Mr Chan told reporters he could not give an assurance that the final reading – in the Legislative Assembly itself – of the revised smoking control bill would take place before the Legislative Assembly’s summer break in August. Only after the committee has issued a report on the bill will the document return to the full assembly for that second, and final, reading.
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"I am not going to speculate on what the [casino licence refreshment] tender requirements would be. I have full confidence and faith in the Macau government to treat everyone fairly"
Wilfred Wong Ying Wai
President and chief operating officer of Macau-based casino operator Sands China