Macau junket operators beg for VIP gaming exemption to blanket smoking ban

macau-smoking-banMacau casino junket operators are pleading with the special administrative region’s government to allow them to operate smoking lounges in their VIP gaming rooms.

On Tuesday, the Macau Junket Operators Association declared that the government’s plan to impose a blanket smoking ban in casinos would be “fatal” for Macau’s already slumping VIP gaming sector. Association boss Kwok Chi Chung made the comment following a meeting with Secretary for Economy and Finance Lionel Leong Vai Tac.

Macau casinos are currently mired in a yearlong gaming revenue decline, driven by a dramatic shrinking of the VIP market. Kwok told reporters that junket operators “do not oppose the government carrying out measures to control smoking in casinos … but we want our businesses to survive.”

The government had previously allowed smoking to continue in VIP rooms along with the construction of designated smoking lounges on the mass gaming floor. Both of these options will be phased out under the blanket ban. Kwok insisted that the VIP sector was “different to the mass gaming business” and thus deserved special consideration.

The government appears unmoved by the junket industry’s protestations, with Secretary for Social Affairs and Culture Alexis Tam Chon Weng recently declaring that the blanket ban proposal “will not be affected” by such pleas. The government claims to have the support of local residents and casino workers’ groups like Forefront of Macau Gaming.

However, the head of the Gaming Employees Club offered some support for VIP smoking this week. While supportive of the blanket ban, Chan Chi Kin said the government ought to at least consider allowing some leeway in VIP rooms, provided these smoking lounges are properly equipped with separate ventilation systems.

The parlous state of Macau’s VIP gaming sector was underscored this week by Iao Kun Group Holdings Ltd. (IKGH), which reported VIP turnover down 57% in the month of May. IKGH, which holds a profit stake in five Macau VIP gaming rooms, says VIP turnover is down 58% over the first five months of 2015.