he results of the study, titled “Research Findings on Smoking Lounges in Macau Casinos”, were presented during a press conference at the Macau Tower. At the conference, two statistics in particular were repeatedly emphasized by the gaming operators.
Firstly, about 60 percent of those surveyed said that they support solutions which allow smoking lounges, and secondly, close to 90 percent of employees working in gaming areas reported an improvement in air quality in their work environments following anti-smoking measures taken by the concessionaires over the past few years.
A University of Macau (UM) study formed the basis of the findings. Led by Dr. Desmond Lam, an associate professor in hospitality and gaming management at the UM, the research included interviews with over 14,300 employees of the six resort operators working in both gaming (73 percent) and non-gaming areas (27 percent).
When the respondents were asked their opinion on whether smoking areas in casinos should exist, 60 percent of respondents said that they supported solutions that allow smoking lounges
Respondents were presented with three options, two of which included some form of permissible smoking within integrated resorts.
While 40 percent of respondents opted for a full smoking ban in all parts of integrated resorts, 60 percent opted for either the existence of smoking lounges (47 percent) or for both smoking lounges and VIP smoking areas (13 percent). The third option was described by Lam as “the status quo.”
“We asked respondents ‘Which of the following proposals do you support the most?’, and we gave them three options. The first option is the full smoking ban; the second is to allow smoking in smoking lounges but ban it in all other areas; and the third option is to allow smoking in VIP gaming areas and in smoking lounges, but not in the mass[-market] areas,” explained Lam.
“What we found was that 40 percent of our respondents picked option one, against 60 percent that picked the other two options. Forty-seven percent of [the respondents] want to permit smoking in only smoking lounges, while 13 percent would prefer the status quo [the third option].”
For gaming staff, those closest to the harmful effects of passive smoking, the results were even narrower.
“For the gaming staff, 45 percent said they would prefer a full smoking ban, whereas 55 percent preferred [one of] the two other options, with 44 percent saying they wanted only smoking lounges,” said the UM scholar
It is not inaccurate to say then, that 60 percent were in favor of smoking solutions. However, the inclusion of a third option broadly similar to the second may introduce a degree of misrepresentation. This was a point raised yesterday during the press conference when journalists questioned the independence of a study commissioned by the six gaming operators.
“From my experience with the operators throughout this whole process, they have been professional. So I can only say: trust my judgment, I am bound by my code of conduct. I’m an academic, a scholar, and I’m responsible for my field,” answered Lam in response to the speculation.
“My team wants to be independent and [we think] this represents the voices of the respondents,” he added. “So the facts are here.”
The UM study also highlighted that about 87 percent of employees working in gaming areas had noted that the air quality in their work environment had improved since casinos started to implement anti- smoking measures.
Employees’ current encounters with smoking lounges, which the study found overwhelmingly positive, had formed the basis for the affirmative feedback on proposals for limited smoking areas in casinos.
Meanwhile, standing as the nominated representative of the six concessionaires, Dr Ambrose So, the chairman of the board of directors for SJM voiced his support for retaining the existing smoking lounges
“We [the operators] do not find any conflict between tobacco control and the installation of smoking lounges, as both serve the purpose of providing a smoke-free environment,” he said.
“We believe the air quality of casinos could be further improved with the introduction of more advanced specifications and stringent procedures for the smoking lounges,” added So, “and we hope that, upon [government] approval, a certain grace period will be granted to us for upgrading the existing smoking lounge facilities.”
He said that a plan with detailed specifications of the upgrade was submitted to the government in 2016, but the upgrades were still 12-18 months away from completion.
Yesterday’s press conference also featured a speech from Professor Lee Shun Cheng of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, who commented on the results of various indoor air quality tests conducted at 33 casino properties in the MSAR. The findings of a study concluded that all tested areas within the sample met Macau’s indoor air quality standards.
A statement issued jointly by the six operators affirmed their commitment to the government’s tobacco control bill, recognizing that “the health and well-being of their [operators’] employees and customers are of paramount importance.”
However, they also stand united against the implementation of a full smoking ban across all areas of integrated resorts, holding that such a prohibition would damage the development of Macau’s gaming sector and hamper its regional competitiveness.
A gaming floor smoking ban came into force in Macau on October 6, 2014
The legislation was followed a few months later by a declaration from Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Alexis Tam, who announced his intention to push for a full smoking prohibition within the entire premises of integrated resorts.
A study released in November 2015 by international audit firm KPMG found that the economic impact of a full smoking ban could directly affect many business sectors in Macau tied to the gaming industry. The impact, the KPMG report concluded, could extend to the expenditure of goods and services being diverted outside of Macau along with a reduction in income for employees in the MSAR.
Moreover, the study, which was also commissioned by the six gaming operators, projected that a full smoking ban could lead to a GDP contraction of as much as 16 percent and a drop in total fiscal receipts of 20 percent.