Macau’s Health Bureau says it has not yet made a decision regarding higher technical standards for smoking lounges in the city’s casinos. The new standards mentioned by the bureau at a press conference on February 15 appeared broadly to chime with those included in a proposal on that topic by the city’s six casino operators.
The Health Bureau said in the statement on Thursday that it had carried out a “preliminary analysis and evaluation” that indicated the casino operators’ proposal for enhanced smoking lounge standards was “feasible”.
But the department added that “in order better to protect the health of casino workers, the Health Bureau has proposed higher and stricter technical standards than the ones proposed by the [gaming] concessionaires”. It anticipated the casino operators would reply “soon”.
At February 15′s press conference, the bureau had said there was a plan to retain smoking lounges in the city’s casinos, dropping a previous government initiative to implement a zero-smoking regime inside casinos.
Under the revised plan, tobacco use at VIP gambling tables is to be banned and high rollers would instead need to use smoking lounges. Smoking lounges would still be allowed on casino main floors, but subject to the enhanced technical standards.
The announcement on the climbdown from pursuing a zero-smoking regime for casinos came two days after the public release of results from a survey on the topic of smoking in casinos, commissioned from the University of Macau by the city’s six casino operators. The poll indicated more than half of respondents supported the retention of smoking lounges on casino main floors.
Macau’s six casino operators proposed a set of stricter specifications and performance monitoring standards to upgrade the smoking lounges that currently exist on casino main floors, including use of a negative pressure mechanism and a separate ventilation system that directs the exhaust to outside of their buildings.
The gaming operators have said they hope that the government “will grant a sufficient grace period for upgrading the existing smoking lounges”.
In its latest statement, the Health Bureau said it would need more time to strike a balance between different opinions and find the best solution “via a careful evaluation and a scientific analysis” of the proposed changes to the technical standards for smoking lounges.
The bureau additionally said it was not ceding to pressure from the casino operators. “To allow smoking lounges with stricter technical standards – instead of completely banning smoking inside casinos – might be the way that suits all parties involved,” it stated.
In the event of new technical standards for smoking lounges being implemented, the relevant authorities will review their effectiveness after a three-year period, added the Health Bureau.
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"VIP growth [in Macau] is roaring back on the heels of last year’s economic stimulus – but we think this could stall once the effect of the stimulus and the Chinese housing bubble wears off – as it did in 2013-14"
Cameron McKnight and Robert Shore
Analysts at Wells Fargo Securities