The Macau gaming industry is likely to lose out financially to regional competitors if a full smoking ban is approved, said David Chow Kam Fai (pictured), co-chairman and chief executive of casino services firm Macau Legend Development Ltd.
“I think it [a full smoking ban] will hurt [Macau], because the other [regional] jurisdictions still allow smoking inside casinos,” Mr Chow told local reporters, speaking on the sidelines of a public event on Monday.
The Macau government confirmed last month that it plans to push ahead with a complete smoking ban in the city’s casinos, despite the opposition of casino operators.
According to rule changes enacted in October last year, 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.
Puffing a cigarette while gambling is at present still allowed in VIP rooms, but that is set to change with the new rules. The government has also indicated that existing smoking lounges might also be banned from mass floors.
Representatives of the Macau Junket Operators Association last week petitioned the government to allow smoking lounges inside VIP rooms if a full tobacco ban in casinos is approved.
Mr Chow said the Macau government should take into consideration the smoking control regulations in casinos around the world. He said that allowing gamblers to smoke offers more choices and “a better service” to customers, options that they will still be able to find in neighbouring jurisdictions that offer casino gambling.
Singapore allows smokers to light up in designated areas of the city-state’s two casinos, and the Philippines and other Asian jurisdictions that allow casino gambling are smoker-friendly. VIP rooms in casinos in Australia are commonly exempted from anti-smoking laws.
Mr Chow said the Macau government should be cautious in deciding on a full smoking ban for casinos, especially at the time when casino gross gaming revenue (GGR) in Macau has fallen for 12 consecutive months when judged year-on-year.
Investment analysts say it is hard to predict precisely how smoking bans will affect each individual market that seeks to adopt them. Karen Tang, an analyst at Deutsche Bank AG, said in a note in January that a smoking ban in Macau’s high roller areas could see VIP GGR fall by 15 percent.
At least 177 people in Macau had been fined for smoking on casino main floors in the first five months of 2015, the city’s Health Bureau said in a press release on Monday. The Health Bureau’s statement added that among those fined, 143 were tourists.
Since January, the government has conducted 188 site inspections in a total of 40 gaming venues, including casinos and slot-machine parlours.
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”Diversifying the market [in Macau], both in terms of the geographic origin of visitors and their motivations to visit, is not a process that happens overnight”
Chief executive of casino operator Wynn Macau Ltd