Macau’s Health Bureau is reportedly seeking legal opinion following an unannounced Monday inspection by department officials, to a gaming area at the Venetian Macao casino resort, a property run by Macau-based casino operator Sands China Ltd.
At issue is whether a curtain separating a smoking from a no-smoking area constitutes the degree of physical separation required under local regulations.
The news of the request for legal opinion was given on Wednesday by the Chinese-language radio service of Macau’s public broadcaster TDM, citing comments by Lei Chin Ion, the Health Bureau’s director.
The same part of the Venetian Macao’s gaming operation had been inspected by the bureau last Thursday, following what the department said were complaints from some casino workers that smoking was being allowed in unauthorised areas. Following that on-site check, the bureau announced that it had found no evidence of infringement of the current local regulations regarding smoking at either the Venetian Macao; or concerning a separate complaint about MGM Macau, a property operated by MGM China Holdings Ltd.
Unlike some casino jurisdictions that have banned smoking entirely from casino premises, Macau currently operates a mixed system of permissions.
Smoking is allowed in designated and approved smoking lounges on the main floor (without gaming tables or slot machines), and permission for smoking in VIP gambling areas may be granted by the Health Bureau provided the area is physically separate from other parts of the casino.
But this hybrid system of permissions has led to demarcation disputes and complaints – some of them instituted by gaming workers.
This particular instance involves two VIP gambling pits at the Venetian Macao that the Health Bureau had authorised for tableside tobacco use in December 2012. The latter fact was confirmed by the bureau in a Tuesday press release.
In 2012, free-for-all casino smoking was curbed by the Macau government.
The Health Bureau said in its Tuesday release that Monday’s revisit to the Venetian Macao followed fresh complaints from workers. In its inspection, the bureau found that – while a ‘No smoking’ sign was displayed at the VIP area’s cage, where smoking is banned – the actual VIP gambling area was separated from the cage only by a curtain.
The bureau concluded that the curtain arrangement could have violated the casino smoking regulations stipulating a physical separation between a smoking and a non-smoking area.
On Wednesday, Health Bureau boss Mr Lei told TDM his department was still processing the finding and consulting legal opinions, and would announce a decision soon.
Sands China said in a statement emailed to GGRAsia on Wednesday: “Regarding the recent news about the smoking issue at one of the VIP gaming areas at the Venetian Macao, Sands China would like to clarify that the VIP room in question is a smoking area approved by the Macau SAR government in 2012, and that the company is in compliance with the laws and regulations of the Macau SAR government.”
Mr Lei’s department backs – and the government has proposed in a bill – a total ban on any kind of smoking in Macau casino premises. Some lawmakers on a Legislative Assembly committee scrutinising the bill – and many people in the local industry – have proposed that at the very least, casino operators should be allowed to keep the smoking lounges that have already been installed on main floors. This is provided they use technology that sucks as much smoke as possible away from the smoking lounge entrances so that it can’t be inhaled by casino workers and non-smoking casino patrons sitting nearby.
With or without such amendments, the bill must be passed before the end of the current legislative term in August 2017, or it will be lost.
A number of investment analysts have stated that in markets where tableside casino smoking has been banned completely, casino revenue subsequently dipped.
Several investment analysts say Macau currently appears to be on the path to recovery from more than two years of decline in casino gross gaming revenue.
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Analyst at Roth Capital Partners