Representatives from four of Macau’s casino labour activist groups expressed on Thursday their support for a government bill that proposes the abolition of casino smoking lounges and a full smoking ban in VIP gaming areas.
Their comments were made during a meeting on the bill with a working committee of the Macau Legislative Assembly, following the bill’s first reading approval in July.
The committee is currently inviting several interested groups to share their views about the impact of the proposals contained in the new bill on smoking. The bill covers other topics beyond smoking in casinos – for instance, it bans the sale of electronic cigarettes in Macau.
The head of the working committee, Chan Chak Mo, told reporters after Thursday’s meeting that the representatives from the four casino labour activist groups had told legislators they no longer had confidence that the gaming companies were capable of operating casino smoking lounges that actually kept tobacco fumes away from non-smokers.
“What they want is a full smoking ban,” Mr Chan stated.
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. Having a cigarette while gambling is at present still allowed in VIP rooms.
Casino labour activist groups argue that smoking lounges have not improved air quality inside casinos or reduced the exposure of gaming workers to second-hand tobacco smoke.
“It is necessary for them [gaming operators] to give us, gaming employees, a smoke-free working environment”, public broadcaster TDM quoted Choi Kam Fu, director-general of the Macau Gaming Enterprises Staff Association, as saying. He was one of the representatives attending Thursday’s meeting with the working committee of the Legislative Assembly.
The Macau Gaming Enterprises Staff Association is affiliated with the influential Macau Federation of Trade Unions. The federation is considered to be close to the Macau government. The grouping of local workers – with an estimated membership of 70,000 – was one of the driving forces in lobbying the government to propose a full smoking ban in the casino industry.
Representatives from the outspoken labour activist group Forefront of Macau Gaming also joined the meeting. They accused the government of being unable to enforce the current partial smoking ban in casinos. Forefront of Macau Gaming has been vocal about what it says is discontent among casino employees on a range of topics. Last year it organised several street protests – including some outside casinos.
The working committee of the Legislative Assembly had met on Wednesday with representatives from Macau’s six casino concessionaires. The industry representatives asked legislators to keep smoking lounges, and presented a study from consulting firm KPMG. The findings of the study have not been made public, but a press statement issued on behalf of the casino operators said the study had concluded a full smoking ban inside Macau’s casinos could lead to a 16-percent decline in gross domestic product for the city.
The Legislative Assembly’s working committee is likely to deliberate for at least two more months before issuing its report on the bill, TDM reported. Only once that stage is cleared, will the bill be returned to the full assembly for its second and final reading.
The committee stage is the lengthiest part of the passage of a bill in Macau and it can – based on precedent – produce significant amendments to legislation. The Macau government has admitted it might reconsider its position regarding the proposed full smoking ban, depending on the results of the consultations being conducted by the Legislative Assembly’s working committee.
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"If the [Macau casino] concessions are put up for bid, there will also be a lot of giant Chinese companies, some having nothing to do with gaming, which would like to take over these enormously successful casinos”
Professor emeritus at Whittier Law School in California, in the United States, and a visiting professor at University of Macau