hen questioned about the execution of the smoking ban policy in casinos, Health Bureau director Lei Chin Ion told legislators on Tuesday evening in a Q/Ag session that so far the government has not approved any applications for new smoking zones in casinos since January 2013, when the partial smoking ban in casinos came into effect.
The ban requires that casinos that have applied for smoking areas – allowed for up to fifty per cent of casino floor space – need to submit a monthly air quality report to the Health Bureau. In the Tuesday session, the Health Bureau head was asked by legislator Lam Heong San about the follow-up regarding the government’s accusation that the City of Dreams casino resort – operated by Melco Crown Entertainment – had converted a non-smoking area on the mass gaming floor into a smoking zone without the Bureau’s authorization.
“...the pre-trial stage of the case has already been completed, and we’ve already sent an accusation notice to the company and set a time frame for them to respond to us. Then we’ll analyze the reply the company sends to us and adopt the proper measures,” Mr Lei said, without elaborating upon what possible penalties might apply to Melco Crown.
Business Daily has approached Melco Crown for its reaction to the government’s legal action but had not received a reply by the time this story went to press. According to media reports, the casino regulator, the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau, had approved the area in question at the City of Dreams as a ‘limited access area’ although the Health Bureau said it had not authorized it as a smoking area.
A new smoking ban that came into effect on October 6 requires that all mass market gaming floors go smoke-free, except for the enclosed smoking lounges set up on these floors that have no gaming facilities inside.
Under the new rules, casinos can also apply to set up smoking areas with gaming tables and slot machines on non-main floors ‘that are of limited access to specific games and gamblers’. This is understood to embrace not only VIP gaming rooms but also premium mass gaming areas that are separated from the main floors.
The deputy director of the Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau, Leong Man Ion, also attended the Tuesday assembly, stating that an approval from the Health Bureau is still needed to convert a ‘limited access area’ into a smoking zone.
“If gaming companies are making the ‘limited access area’ into a smoking zone, they have to deliver the relevant applications and we’ll assist them in approving the conversion,” Mr. Leong said, “Then the Health Bureau will make a comprehensive assessment about it and make a decision.”
“The Health Bureau is the organ leading the [smoking ban] law enforcement, for which we’ll also assist them to protect the health of workers,” the gaming regulator said.
Federation of Trade Union legislator Ella Lei Cheng Yi expressed concern that more cases similar to the dispute between the government and Melco Crown over the smoking zone conversion could happen, citing feedback collected from gaming employee members of the union.
“Prior to October 6, the definition of this new smoking ban has been spelled out that being a VIP room can be a key criteria to zone out a smoking area. Now, we don’t rule out there are more companies trying to apply to have more VIP rooms but the government already said there has not been any new smoking zones approved for it,” the legislator remarked to us, saying that the government should stick to the principle of pursuing a full smoking ban inside casinos as a final goal.