After a second and final reading, on Friday Macau’s Legislative Assembly approved a revised bill on smoking that will soon require the VIP areas of the city’s more than 30 gambling establishments to set up smoking lounges.

In October 2014, smoking on mass-market casino floors was banned by the government of Macau, with the exception of the fully enclosed and games-free “smoking lounges”, however, this prohibition did not cover VIP gaming areas.

Slated to come into effect on January 1, 2018, Macau’s newly amended Regime on Tobacco Prevention and Control give the city’s casinos will be given one year to install smoking lounges absent of gaming in their VIP areas, according to GGRAsia. All of the smoking lounges in the city’s casinos will also be required to conform to enhanced technical standards, which will be determined by the government in a separate executive order.

The bill’s clauses related to smoking in casinos were the main focus of Friday’s debate, with several speakers reportedly voicing their opposition to smoking lounges in general.

A staunch advocate for completely banning smoking inside of casinos, Ng Kuok Cheong, said the revised bill was a “huge policy U-turn and a regression”. He said, “No matter how high-standard a smoking lounge is, there will always be chemical residue of cigarettes”, he stated, describing smoking lounges as “toxic chambers”. The legislator went on to say, “With the scale of our gaming industry, the six gaming operators should be more than capable of setting up pathways near casino facilities… that lead directly to outdoor smoking areas,” according to the news agency.

Defending the legislation, member of the Macau-Guangdong Union, Zheng Anting and Angela Leong On Kei, managing director of SJM Holdings Ltd (0880.HK), said, “My staff members complained to me that they felt sleepy during working hours, because smoking can refresh their spirit. Therefore, the hope is that there is a smoking room in the staff resting area”.

A note published in March by brokerage JP Morgan Securities (Asia Pacific) Limited reportedly indicated that the impact of the revised bill on casino gross gaming revenue (GGR) should be “manageable” for the operators of casinos and be equivalent to about 5% of their annual gross gaming revenues.

The news agency reports that Macau Health Bureau data indicates that in the first half of 2017, 328 people have been fined for smoking in unauthorized areas inside of Macau’s casinos and of those fined, 83.5 percent were reportedly tourists.

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