A full ban on smoking in all indoor workplaces in Macau – including all casinos and other gaming venues – is likely by 2016, said Tang Chi Ho, director of the Tobacco Prevention and Control Office of Macau’s Health Bureau.
Local media reports of his remarks made at a public event on Sunday didn’t mention a precise date for the change.
Mr Tang said he was “confident” a tobacco ban covering all workplaces in all Macau casinos would gain acceptance among the public and be approved by Macau’s Legislative Assembly members.
The ban is expected to include an end to smoking in Macau casino VIP rooms and the removal of existing airport-style enclosed smoking lounges. They would go even though they do not contain gaming machines and tables. Macau’s largest labour grouping has previously pressed for an end to smoking in VIP areas, complaining casino workers’ health is put at risk.
Alexis Tam Chon Weng, Macau’s Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, on January 29 said the government would strive to have an amended bill ready before the end of the first half of 2015.
A full smoking ban in casinos, including VIP rooms, would have a negative impact on VIP revenue in Macau, said several investment analysts. VIP revenue could fall by as much as 15 percent, said Deutsche Bank AG analyst Karen Tang in a note on January 29.
VIP gaming revenue in Macau fell by 29.0 percent year-on-year in the fourth quarter and 10.9 percent for the full-year of 2014, according to official data published in January.
A ban on smoking – covering part of each Macau casino’s main gaming floor – was first introduced on January 1, 2013. That was subsequently widened in October 2014 to bar tobacco use on all main casino floors save for airport-style smoking lounges on casino main floors.
In the run up to the October changes, guidance from government officials was that casino operators would be able to set up smoking areas with gaming tables and slot machines on non-main floor zones “that are of limited access to specific games and gamblers”.
This was understood by casino managements to cover not only VIP rooms but also premium mass gambling areas when they were isolated from the rest of the mass-market floor. But on the eve of the October changes the government said premium mass areas were not included in the exemption.
This year the government has also said it would recommend an increase in the city’s tax on tobacco. The duty paid by consumers on a packet of 20 cigarettes would rise from the current MOP10 (US$1.25) per packet to 70 percent of the retail price, which would be in line with World Health Organization recommendations.
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"There is still no clarity about when border easing for Macau will occur. In the end these changes are needed to see a rebound for Macau business"
Vitaly Umansky, Louis Li and Shirley Yang
Analysts at brokerage Sanford C. Bernstein