Macau Legislators Approve New Gambling Laws During First Reading

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Macau is one step closer to updating its gambling laws. The Legislative Assembly met yesterday, overwhelmingly adopting a draft gaming legislation amendment bill. A legislative committee review and a second hearing are needed before the bill can become law.

A New Macau to Emerge in 2022

The bill draft sets a limit of six gaming concessions. They can operate for up ten years, instead of the anticipated 20. A number of new regulations are included in the amendment proposal for both casino operators and gaming promoters.  A standing commission will now give the bill an in-depth article-by-article review. It will then be resubmitted to the Legislative Assembly plenary, for approval at the second reading.

The bill was approved by 30 votes to one. The biggest question about the new law concerns how the satellite gambling issue would be dealt with. Satellite casinos are venues owned by independent investors. They lease the gaming licenses of existing concessionaires. There are approximately 18 satellite casinos currently operating in the city, most of which are under SJM’s licensing.

According to the new city regulatory framework, any Macau gaming facility will have to operate in a property owned by a gaming concessionaire. This would mean that the current satellite casinos system would need to change.

Satellite Operations Have to Move

Three-year transitional periods will be granted to these satellites, entities responsible for properties operating under service agreements. This allows them to form closer ties with any one of the six concessions in the future. There is no further information in the law about how this transfer of assets would occur.

Before the final vote, most legislators who decided not to participate in the plenary were concerned about satellite casinos. They wanted to know how the transition would go and how the resident workers would continue their employment.

Lei Wai Nong, Macau’s Secretary for Economy and Finance, replied to legislators defending the satellites. He explained that the amendment does not intend “to kill or ban satellite gambling facilities.” Instead, casinos managed under gaming concessions would have to be defined in such a way that they could return to government control in the future.

Stiffer Control of Casinos Coming

According to the bill, if a gaming permit is revoked due to any reason, gaming areas covered by the license, and all the equipment within, would be subject to seizure by the Macau government.

This, and other issues, will have to be addressed by the committee if the gambling bill is to be accepted as law.

Ron Lam, a newly elected legislator and the sole voter against the general draft, has voiced criticisms over the lack of clarity on a few issues, one of which was how the city would address the satellite venues. However, his concerns remained unanswered.

The bill also outlines but doesn’t detail, what concessionaires can expect in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs. It’s already known that they will need to support small- and medium-sized businesses and focus on hiring more locals.

However, the scope of the requirements isn’t known. According to Lei, they won’t be revealed until the concession tender is released.

The bill now goes to one of three working commissions of the Assembly for further examination. After it has made recommendations for revisions, if any, the bill will be returned to the full Assembly for the second and final reading. In theory, it shouldn’t be a long process; however, Lei reiterated that a concession extension may be necessary in June.

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