Macau’s Chief Executive-designate Ho Iat Seng (pictured in a file photo) has said during a visit to Beijing – where he met President Xi Jinping and other state leaders – that amendment of Macau’s gaming law framework would be one of his key tasks after taking office in December.
He pledged his administration would face up to “historical problems” relating to the Macau gaming concessions system and look to resolve them.
Mr Ho was talking to Macau and Hong Kong media in Beijing on Thursday morning. He had on Wednesday received formal confirmation from China’s Premier, Li Keqiang, of his appointment as Macau’s fifth-term chief executive, and met President Xi in the afternoon that day.
Mr Ho will take office on December 20, when the current Chief Executive, Fernando Chui Sai On, steps down. Mr Ho’s new team of officials – yet to be announced – will also take office that month.
The current Macau administration had been working on the amendment of the gaming law, and “already has a draft on it”, Mr Ho remarked on Thursday to the media.
“We will [also] be working on it and will implement these amendments after the new administration takes over,” he noted.
“The amendment, once done, will solve a host of issues,” Mr Ho suggested. Such amendment is expected to including provisions regarding the number of gaming licences to be issued once the current ones expire in June 2022, and whether the current sub-concession system would be abolished.
The sub-concession arrangement allowed for six licensees in the Macau market rather than the three originally mentioned in the law enabling local market liberalisation that occurred at the turn of the 21st century after 40 years of monopoly.
Even if Macau chose to continue with a six-operator system after an anticipated public retender process linked to the expiry of the existing licences, it was anticipated that the current statute covering gaming concessions – namely Macau Gaming Law (Law 16/2001) – would need to be amended, noted Macau-based gaming lawyers in commentary to GGRAsia last year.
Macau’s Chief Executive-designate mentioned in his Thursday comments that the Macau public would be consulted on suggested changes to the legal framework, and such changes would be discussed in the city’s Legislative Assembly.
Mr Ho was asked if his administration would consider retaining the current structure of three gaming concessions and three sub-concessions. He replied only that he would “have to look” at the draft of the amended gaming law.
“We have historical problems to face up to, and we have to see how we can resolve them,” he added.
Three of the current six operators in the market – namely Sands China Ltd, MGM China Holdings Ltd and Melco Resorts and Entertainment Ltd – were allowed in to the Macau market via a piece of legal improvisation. They actually run Macau gaming via locally-incorporated companies that are technically sub-concessions spun off from the Macau rights, respectively, of local units of Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd, SJM Holdings Ltd and Wynn Macau Ltd.
“Any thing, any works” in relation to the gaming concessions topic “need to have a legal basis,” said Mr Ho in his Thursday remarks.
“Sole reliance on administrative means” to resolve the issues rather than use of legislation, would “only give rise to various problems,” added the official. “So in this respect, I’d emphasise the amendment of the gaming law,” Mr Ho stated.
“After concluding 20 years of experience in gaming development, we can retain the good parts. Meanwhile, we have to face up to the problems that arose, study them and plug the loopholes. This is a main goal to help the industry to sustain a healthy development,” Mr Ho added.
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”Our own consensus is that any newcomers to this [junket] sector should be corporatised, and should be financially sound and able to commit a higher guarantee deposit”
Kwok Chi Chung
President of junket trade body, the Macau Association of Gaming and Entertainment Promoters