As the casino industry in Macau faces calls to implement a total smoking ban as soon as possible, a new study has reportedly found that the majority of gaming floor employees favor allowing gamblers to enjoy tobacco in at least some areas.

According to a report from the Macau Daily Times newspaper, the industry-funded investigation, which was entitled Research Findings On Smoking Lounges In Macau Casinos, was conducted by Desmond Lam, an associate professor of hospitality and gaming management at the University Of Macau, and involved interviews with over 14,300 casino workers with 73% of these directly employed in gaming areas.

The newspaper reported that the study questioned approximately 13.4% of the people employed in Macau’s 33 casinos and found that some 47% supported allowing gamblers to smoke in specially-ventilated lounges while 13% approved of the status quo in which smoking is permitted in main floor lounges and VIP gaming areas.

“We asked respondents “which of the following proposals do you support the most?” and we gave them three options,” Lam reportedly stated during a press conference held at the Macau Tower Convention And Entertainment Centre yesterday. “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 areas. What we found was that 40% of our respondents picked option one against 60% that picked the other two options. Forty-seven percent [of the respondents] want to permit smoking in only smoking lounges while 13% would prefer the status quo.”

The Macau Daily Times explained that the study additionally found that while 45% of those directly employed on the gaming floors had favored the institution of a full smoking ban, 44% supported the airport-style lounge option versus 11% who approved of the status quo.

The investigation moreover reportedly detailed that about 87% percent of these gaming floor staff felt that air quality in their work environment had improved since operators began the implementation of more stringent smoking measures while Lam was called on to counter criticism that his study had not been independent because it had received funding from Macau’s six casino license holders.

“From my experience with the operators throughout this whole process, they have been professional,” Lam reportedly declared at the press briefing. “So I can only say [to] trust my judgment. I am bound by my code of conduct. I’m an academic, a scholar and I’m responsible for my field. “My team wants to be independent and [we think] this represents the voices of the respondents. So the facts are here.”

The Macau Daily Times reported that the government for Macau implemented a partial smoking ban for its casinos in October of 2014 while this was followed a few months later by a declaration from Alexis Tam, Social Affairs And Culture Secretary for the former Portuguese enclave, that he intended to push for a full prohibition as soon as possible.

A joint statement issued yesterday by Macau’s six licensed casino operators reportedly explained that they were against the imposition of a complete smoking ban although they recognized that “the health and well-being of their [operators’] employees and customers are of paramount importance”. They also cited an industry-funded investigation conducted in November of 2015 by international audit firm KPMG that allegedly found that the inauguration of a total prohibition could see their annual receipts drop by as much as 20% and lead to a 16% decline in gross domestic product.

“We 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,” Ambrose So, Chairman for Macau casino operator SJM Holdings Limited, reportedly told those at the Monday press conference. “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 and we hope that, upon [government] approval, a certain grace period will be granted to us for upgrading the existing smoking lounge facilities.”