The Macau government released on Tuesday the rules for the full smoking ban in all mass-market casino floors in the city. But it is still unclear if the ban will hit premium mass areas, some of which are isolated from main floors, and VIP areas, which are also usually in separate rooms.
“We are still waiting for the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau to put forward a formal definition for VIP areas,” the deputy director of Macau’s Health Bureau, Cheang Seng Ip, said on Wednesday.
According to the new rules, contained in dispatch 141/2014 from Macau’s Chief Executive, casino operators can ask to set up smoking areas with gaming tables and slot machines “in areas that are of limited access to specific games and gamblers”, which GGRAsia understands could mean VIP or even certain premium mass areas. These areas “of limited access” will be defined by the gaming bureau, state the new rules.
The regulations state no maximum size for these areas “of limited access”. The rules just mention that the size of the smoking areas together with the smoking lounges must be smaller than 50 percent of the overall gaming area of the casino.
Premium mass-market players account for the top of the mass market, using bets measured in many thousands of Hong Kong dollars per hand. Macau casino operators have said premium mass players provide higher margins than VIP gamblers because they don’t require the casinos to pay commissions to junket operators. Several casinos already have separate rooms to serve these customers.
The new smoking rules state all mass market casino floors in Macau must go smoke-free starting from October 6, after October’s Golden Week holiday. However, operators will be allowed to build smoking lounges on their mass-market floors, but without any gaming tables or slot machines inside. In theory they would be similar to smoking rooms found at major airports.
The smoking lounges must be physically separate from the rest of the casino floor and have automated sliding doors. There will be no limit on the number of smoking lounges each casino floor can have.
“The smoking ban in mass casino floors will benefit both players and employees,” Mr Cheang said.
A Macau-government sponsored survey released last month showed that 58.4 percent of casino workers were unwilling to work in VIP rooms after the full smoking ban comes into effect on the mass-market floors. But some 12.7 percent of these casino workers would be willing to change their mind in exchange for a special allowance.
Mr Cheang stated that there are no rules for gaming operators to provide special allowances for employees working in smoking areas in VIP rooms, but he said the government expects casino companies do so. “It depends on operators,” he stressed.
Mr Cheang said that casinos which are not able to set up smoking lounges in their mass floors by the time the new rules come into effect will have to go totally smoke-free on their mass floors. But they can later apply to have smoking lounges, he added.
Asked by reporters if there is any target for casinos in Macau to go fully smoke-free, Mr Cheang said it depends on a report to be released by 2015 on the effectiveness of the smoking ban in public places. The smoking ban in public places was introduced in Macau in 2012 and extended to casinos last year. The full ban on smoking on mass casino floors is already “a positive development”, he said.
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”I believe it will take more than the offered concession term, 10 years, to see an appreciable increase in inflows of tourists [to Macau] from countries outside the existing tourist catchment areas”
Gaming and governance consultant at Newpage Consulting