Macau’s six major casino operators will be certainly relieved after the government announced earlier this week that it will no longer be proceeding with its move to pass a blanket smoking ban in the city. Macau, the biggest casino hub in the world witnessed 27 consecutive months of gross gaming revenue (GGR) decline starting from early 2014 to July 2016 which was brought about by the anti-corruption crackdown launched by Beijing which targeted Macau’s VIP gamblers.
As a result, the six major casino operators in Macau lost billions of dollars during this 26 month period and although the market showed signs of recovery beginning August 2016, these casino operators were still cautious due to the government continuing its push to tighten regulations on the casino industry and transform the image of the city of being a gambling paradise into one that was family friendly and a tourist’s delight.
One of those stringent measures was issuing a blanket smoking ban that would not allow casinos to allow its patrons to smoke or use tobacco in any form. Under the existing policies, Macau’s casinos have private smoking lounges which are similar to airport smoking lounges. Casinos also allow VIP gamblers to smoke at the gaming tables which are located in their VIP gaming area. The blanket ban was not only supposed to put an end to the smoking lounges and VIP’s smoking at their gaming tables but would also ban the use of e-cigarettes in public places.
The government discussed the smoking ban at length during the last couple of years as gaming analysts and casino operators expressed concern that a blanket smoking ban at Macau’s casinos would further discourage gamblers from visiting Macau’s casinos and spending their money. Macau’s casino operators warned that imposing a blanket smoking ban would further hurt their revenues and in return impact their contribution towards gaming taxes which make up a major portion of the city’s budget.
However, the Macau government decided to go ahead with the bill acknowledging the fact that casino revenues could be impacted by the ban but in the end the health of its citizens and casino employees took first priority. The six major casino operators in Macau decided to commission a survey on the harmful effects of smoking in casinos and asked the government to make a final decision based on the survey results.
The survey was carried out by the University of Macau on October 28 – 29, 2016 but the results were only revealed to the public on the 13 Feb 2016. Based on these results, the Health Bureau decided to drop its push to implement a blanket on smoking and instead has allowed Macau’s casinos to retain their smoking lounges. The Health Bureau did confirm that it will put together stringent regulations to control smoking in casinos and get all six casino operators to comply with those regulations.
The new regulations will require casino operators to apply for a VIP smoking permit, setting in place technical standards that need to be maintained in smoking lounges, having an alarm ring if the door to these smoking lounges is opened for more than one minute and also have an alarm go off, if the smoking pressure in these lounges reach a certain level. SJM Holdings, one of the six major casino operators in Macau stated that it would be good if the government gave the casino operators a grace period between 12 to 18 months to implement these new smoking standards at their casinos. The government has so far not confirmed on a timeframe as to how long it would give the casinos to implement these new smoking regulations but did remark that the 12 – 18 month period requested by SJM Holdings was far too long.
The Macau government’s decision to backtrack on its blanket smoking ban has not gone down well with anti-smoking campaigners as well as the labor activist group who fights for the welfare of casino employees. The group alleges that while the results of the University of Macau survey was made public only on 13 Feb, the casino operators had access to the survey results and sent it across to the government along with their views back in December 2016.
Macau’s government has confirmed that while it will not rollout a blanket smoking ban at this point of time, it will continue to take steps to make Macau smoke-free.
 
 

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