Macau businessman Ho Iat Seng – who is running unopposed for the role of chief executive, the city’s top job – announced on Saturday his political programme. Mr Ho declined to comment in detail about the future direction for the city’s gaming industry.
He also did not comment on a retender process for Macau gaming rights; the current six licences expire in 2022. Instead, Mr Ho again stated that his government would focus first on reviewing the city’s gaming law and other related legislation.
During a June press conference, Mr Ho had already declined to comment in detail when asked by the media about whether a casino licence retender process might involve the option of increasing the number of licensees. At the time he stated: “Would it be seven licences, or six, or eight? This is not in my scope of considerations until the gaming law is amended.”
The need for the amendment of that legal framework prior to a retender process had been reiterated in May by Lionel Leong Vai Tac, the city’s Secretary for Economy and Finance.
In April, Fernando Chui Sai On, the current Chief Executive, had said there was no need to delay the launch of a fresh public tender for gaming concessions. He mentioned two main tasks that the government had to carry out: revising the Macau gaming framework law – also known as Law No. 16/2001 – and revising Administrative Regulation No. 26/2001, which provides the terms and conditions of the public tender organised to grant concessions to operate casinos in Macau.
During his Saturday presentation, Mr Ho said one of his priorities as chief executive would be to maintain “a healthy development” of the casino industry, while strengthening oversight of the industry. “We need the revenue from the gaming sector to support Macau’s development,” he said, while pointing to some adverse impacts related to the boom of gaming in Macau.
Mr Ho also stated he would maintain the prohibition of gaming operators importing workers for dealer positions.
He additionally said he opposed the possibility of introducing a cap on the tally of inbound visitors to the city. Mr Ho however admitted Macau was struggling to cope with the increase in visitor numbers, and said he would further coordinate with authorities in mainland China to keep the situation under control, “especially during major holidays in mainland China.”
The total of visitor arrivals to Macau in full-year 2018 was nearly 36 million, up 9.8 percent when compared to 2017 and more than 56 percent higher when compared to the visitor tally a decade earlier in 2008, when it stood at 22.9 million, according to official data. Mainland China is the main source market of visitors to Macau.
Would-be chief executive Mr Ho is 61 and was born in Macau. He is no relation of either Edmund Ho Hau Wah, the first Macau chief executive following the city’s handover from Portuguese administration in 1999, or of Stanley Ho Hung Sun, the former monopolist of Macau casino business.
Mr Ho Iat Seng – a prominent Macau businessman – also has no direct links with the city’s dominant casino industry.
He was Legislative Assembly president from October 2013 until last month, when he stepped down in order to prepare his bid for chief executive. From 2004 to 2009 he was a member of the city’s Executive Council, an advisory body that supports the work of the city’s chief executive.
The prospective candidate has long-running ties with political structures in mainland China. He served as a member of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) from 2000 until April this year, when the Standing Committee approved Mr Ho’s request to resign from his NPC role, a move that opened the way for his candidacy for the top Macau job.
The poll process to choose Macau’s next leader will be on August 25.
Mr Chui, the current Chief Executive, will complete his second and final five-year term in December. His successor will take office on December 20.
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Analysts at brokerage JP Morgan Securities (Asia Pacific)