Macau’s Health Bureau said on Wednesday that the city’s gaming operators would have to submit by September 28 any applications for new smoking lounges, in order for such requests to have a chance of being approved before the city’s new regime on smoking is enforced in casinos on January 1, 2019.
The Macau government banned in October 2014 smoking on casino mass floors. An exception was made for tobacco use in enclosed smoking lounges – facilities without gaming machines or tables – located on some casino mass-market floors in the city.
Macau’s Legislative Assembly approved on July 14 last year a revised bill on smoking that bans tableside tobacco use in VIP rooms. Although the new rules apply from January 1, 2018, tableside smoking at VIP rooms will in effect be able to continue until January 1, 2019, as casinos have been given a year’s grace period to set up VIP smoking lounges.
On Wednesday, the Health Bureau stated that September 28 would be the last day for Macau casino operators to submit their requests to set up smoking lounges with enhanced technical standards. In a press release, the bureau justified the deadline on the basis of how long it would take to inspect and approve the new smoking lounges.
Existing casino smoking lounges – set up on mass floors since the ban on free-for-all casino smoking – will have to be upgraded in order to meet the new standards, noted the bureau. It added that gaming operators would need to submit separate requests to do that, and would need to be issued with fresh authorisation from the authorities in order to operate such upgraded smoking lounges. If any existing lounges were found to be in operation – without the necessary technical upgrades and fresh authorisations – after January 1, 2019, operators could be fined up to MOP200,000 (US$24,747), it added.
As of Wednesday, the Health Bureau had received applications from two companies operating casinos in the city, for the setting up of a total of 12 smoking lounges under the revised technical standards, according to the release.
The applications were submitted by, respectively: the operator of the Ponte 16 casino hotel, which is currently managed by a third-party service provider under the gaming concession of SJM Holdings Ltd; and a unit of MGM China Holdings Ltd, which operates the MGM Macau, in the city’s traditional downtown casino district, and the recently opened MGM Cotai.
The release did not specify the number of smoking lounges that each of these companies had requested to set up in their respective properties.
The Health Bureau said that it was aware that other casino operators were currently conducting preparatory work to apply for the setting up of new smoking lounges. The approval process for such lounges “will be carried out in strict conformity with the new law,” said the bureau.
The aggregate number of charges filed by Macau authorities for instances of smoking in unauthorised areas inside the city’s casinos increased by 188 percent year-on-year in the first two months of 2018, show official data.
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Alvin Chau Cheok Wa
Chief executive of privately-held VIP junket business Suncity Group