In a complete U-turn, Macau’s Health Bureau has announced that it is no longer planning to implement its proposed zero-smoking policy inside casinos. Announcing a fresh proposal instead, the Health Bureau deputy director Cheang Seng Ip said that smoking lounges would be allowed on the main floor but will require higher technical requirements.
VIP gamblers will no longer be able to smoke in their special VIP section as there are now plans of opening similar smoking lounges for the VIP section as well. The Bureau said there were no limitations on the number of lounges allowed on casino floors. Several market observers had said that a smoking ban on the floors could have a significant impact on casino revenue.
The new rules have been drafted in conjunction with the Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture, Alexis Tam Chon Weng and staff. Casinos will need to make an application to obtain government permission for hosting VIP smoking lounges similar to the current practice followed for smoking lounges on casino floors.
Smoking on main casino floors is currently allowed inside enclosed dedicated lounges which don’t have any slot machines or gaming tables, however gamblers can smoke within VIP gaming areas. The change in policy came few days after results of a survey carried out by University of Macau on behalf of the city’s six casino operators were released. According to the survey, over 50 percent of survey respondents said that they favoured retention of smoking on casino floors.
Cheang acknowledged that the decision had been influenced by the results of the survey. In a statement Cheang said
A majority of casino workers supports the retention of smoking. We cannot ignore this fact.
The new technical specifications mentioned by the Health Board are similar to what had been proposed by the casino operators as an alternative. An alarm system will be implemented under the new regime which will sound if the door of a smoking lounge remains open for over a minute or if the cabin’s negative pressure drops below recommended levels.
The survey has received mixed responses from Macau’s major labor groups. Cloee Chao, director of local gaming group New Macau Gaming Professionals Association stated that her group was not convinced as a survey carried out nearly one year ago by the association amongst its members had shown a majority support for a full smoking ban.
Ambrose So Shu Fai, chief executive of casino operator SJM Holdings Ltd had earlier said that a grace period of 12 to 18 months would be ideal to make the changes regarding the new smoking regulations but Tam has called the time period too much.