Macau’s casinos and gambling trip organizers are fuming over a proposed smoking ban there. Singapore’s puffing gamblers show why.
Smoking has been prohibited for almost a year on Macau casinos’ mass gambling floors, with the exception of a handful of designated lounges, where visitors huddle around ashtrays in glass-walled rooms during hurried gambling breaks. In contrast, smokers can light up at gaming tables and slot machines on the bottom floor of Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands casino. They can even stay seated while hostesses sell them packs of Marlboro or Dunhill cigarettes for S$17 ($12).
A bill being considered by Macau legislators to fully outlaw smoking in casinos promises to set the city’s 35 betting parlors further apart from rivals in Singapore and other Asian gaming destinations. While a blanket ban would be a victory for public health, Macau businesses relying on Chinese high-stakes bettors say it will be another blow to casino operators that have lost $113 billion in market value in a wave of Beijing’s anti-graft crackdowns that started in early 2014.
“A full smoking ban will have a disastrous impact on Macau and VIP operators,” said Kwok Chi Chung, president of Macau’s Association of Gaming & Entertainment Promoters. “It’s like adding hail to snow.”
The state collected about $5 million in taxes from Plainridge in September, down from $6 million in August and $7.2 million in July.
"The revenue trends we're seeing are largely consistent with other new property openings where you open strong, the numbers settle over the first few months, and then you typically see them ramp back up to a more normalized run rate as your marketing takes hold," Lance George, Plainridge's vice president and general manager, said in a statement.
September is also historically slower for business than the summer months of July and August, George said. The facility, owned by Penn National Gaming, recently completed an expansion of its high-limit slot area and officials are pleased with the pace of customer loyalty card sign-ups.
Plainridge, located in the town of Plainville, also offers harness racing. It opened in late June and was forecast to bring in $200 million in gambling revenue over a full year.
The 2011 law legalizing casino gambling in Massachusetts allowed for just one slots parlor in the state along with three regional resort casinos.
Massachusetts gambling regulators on Thursday OK'd pushing back the grand opening of the MGM Springfield casino to September 2018, a move that could cost the state $125 million in anticipated gambling revenues.
MGM Springfield officials, in making their case for the one-year delay to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, argued that the state's rehabilitation of the I-91 viaduct, a structure that dates back to the 1960s, must be complete before they can open their proposed $800 million resort casino.
MGM Springfield President Michael Mathis said the viaduct work is occurring on the casino site's doorstep. Two or three major intersections dump out onto the site and the rehabilitation project includes ramp closures next to the casino site.
If the casino opens before the viaduct work is completed, severe traffic congestion would have a negative affect on customer experience, MGM officials said.
"We didn't make this decision easily to push out the date, but it's the best decision for us and the commonwealth," he said.
Mathis said MGM Springfield now plans to present and seek approval from the city council for its delay. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno backs their move, Mathis said.
As they build and staff up, potential resort casino tenants need a "real date" rather than an "aspirational date," Mathis said. Convention bookers also need certainty, he said.
On Wednesday, Gov. Charlie Baker's transportation chief Stephanie Pollack expressed confidence that the I-91 project could be finished in 2017.
But Mathis said state officials have not changed the date in the contract – Aug. 2018 -- with the construction company. J.F. White is leading the viaduct rehabilitation project.
MGM Springfield pointed to the delay in repairing Boston's Longfellow Bridge, with construction now expected to last until 2018, an additional two years.
To bolster MGM Springfield's case for a delay, Mathis also pointed to examples of troubled openings of resort casinos caused by traffic complications or negative customer experience.
In the Midwest, a bridge that carried 35,000 cars a day was permanently closed in 2009, hurting Indiana casinos that were a short drive from downtown Chicago. Mathis said a month after the closure, one casino suffered its "worst month of all time" in revenue.
According to Mathis, a casino in Maryland, the Horseshoe Baltimore, which opened last year, was affected by the Baltimore riots in April 2015, and safety fears had an impact on their profits, Mathis said.
Casino false starts or bad openings also spill over into social media and have a "snowball impact," he said.
The five-member Gaming Commission's vote to delay MGM Springfield's opening to Sept. 5, 2018, or 30 days following completion of work I-91 viaduct work, whichever is later, was unanimous.
"If this is what it takes to get things going, to give you that certainty, I would be willing to go along with that date," said Commissioner Enrique Zuniga.
MGM Springfield received the casino license from the commission in June 2014.
The commission is authorized under a 2011 expanded gambling law to hand out up to three casino licenses and a slots parlor license.
Wynn Resorts won the eastern Massachusetts casino license last year and plans to build a casino in Everett, just outside of Boston.
Plainridge Park Casino, a slots parlor operated by Penn National Gaming, opened on June 24.
Gambling regulators in Massachusetts said Wednesday they would wade into the debate over fantasy sports websites, even as the state's attorney general continued a separate review of the industry.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission, which licenses and regulates casino gambling and horse racing, announced that it would begin a discussion of the issues surrounding fantasy sports at its next meeting on Oct. 29.
The commission plans to address whether the sites, which include Boston-based DraftKings, are legal, if they should be regulated and if so, who should be the regulator, said Stephen Crosby, chairman of the five-member panel.
Crosby described the assessment as a "first conversation," and noted that any final decisions on how to oversee the industry would rest with the Legislature, Gov. Charlie Baker and perhaps the state courts.
"I believe the commission will be able to provide constructive advice on the complex issues raised by the meteoric emergence of online fantasy sports," Crosby said in a statement.
Casino officials disclosed last month that the cost of the downtown casino and hotel complex has risen from $800 million to more than $950 million, despite the company's efforts to propose cost-saving design changes.
But state Gaming Commission members expressed skepticism Thursday at MGM's estimates.
They questioned how MGM arrived at the projections, which the company says largely represent increased labor, construction material and project administration costs.
MGM officials say they'd provide details, but cautioned that some information is proprietary.
The discussion preceded a hearing at the MassMutual Center where Springfield-area residents weighed in on the design changes, which require state and city approval.