he government would strive to have an amended bill ready within the first half of 2015, Mr Tam said in a press conference.
The bill will then be sent to the Legislative Assembly, but it is not likely to be approved in the current legislative year, which ends on August 15. Mr Tam told reporters he expects a long debate at the legislature over the government-proposed changes.
Mr Tam reiterated that the ongoing decline in monthly casino gross gaming revenue – which started in June – would not be an obstacle in implementing a full smoking ban in gaming venues, including casinos and slot-machine parlors. Macau’s largest labor group announced this week that it would launch a campaign on Friday to press the government to implement a full smoking ban in the casino industry.
Under rule changes enacted on October 6, smoking on casino main floors is now only allowed in enclosed smoking rooms that do not contain any gaming tables or slot machines. Yet puffing a cigarette while playing is still allowed in VIP rooms. Some casinos have since reclassified certain premium mass tables into VIP to allow smoking to continue.
In a note earlier this month, Karen Tang of Deutsche Bank AG wrote: “We estimate that mass revenue (like-for-like) has fallen 15 percent after the October ban. An extension of the smoking ban to the VIP rooms, if successfully implemented, may have a similar impact on VIP revenue, in our view.”
Mr Tam oversees the city’s Health Bureau, the body responsible for implementing public policy on smoking in gaming venues. Last month, he had already hinted at the tightening the partial smoking ban in casinos.
On Thursday, it was revealed that the amended bill would also include heftier fines for smoking in banned areas. Currently, the fine ranges from 400 to 600 patacas. The government would also recommend increasing the tobacco tax, said Mr Tam.
Robert Goldstein, president and chief operating officer of Las Vegas Sands Corp, the parent of Macau casino operator Sands China Ltd, was asked in the firm’s fourth quarter earnings call on Wednesday, prior to the government’s announcement, about the business impact of a possible full ban on casino smoking in Macau.
He stated: “It’s not a positive, I’m sure.” Yet he also added: “Whatever it is, it is. If it ends up being a ban or it ends up being smoking rooms, like the airport, we’ll abide by it and we’ll move forward.”
Macau would “prosper in spite of the smoking ban or a smoking restriction,” Mr Goldstein promised.