Macau gambling age to be increased?


RIP Brian
Feb 22, 2001

Social costs of young gamblers currently being considered

Asian media are reporting that the government of the Far Eastern gambling mecca Macau is considering raising the casino entrance and working age from 18 to 21. The motivation for such a change is to ease public criticism of the booming regional industry.

Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah announced the move this week, saying that it was impossible to let gambling expand infinitely, "....otherwise social costs will mount". Casino workers currently under the age of 21 will not face redundancy if the new rule is imposed, as a three-year grace period is envisaged.

Ho was questioned on the initiative by lawmaker Angela Leong On-kei, a director of casino operator Sociedade de Turismo e Diverses de Macau and fourth wife of Macau gambling impresario Stanley Ho. Along with other legislators, she welcomed the plan in principle. and said the policy would help improve Macau's image and be beneficial to the whole industry despite a possible drop in business for her company.

She said she did not think it would create unemployment among young people as there were many other job opportunities in the city.

Several other legislators were cautious in their support, saying that many 18 years old casino employees support their families, or that the increased age limit might be bad for business.

Ho told the Legislative Assembly that both the government and casino operators should increase their efforts to curb social problems brought about by gambling. He revealed that a comprehensive study would be conducted next year on the system for monitoring the gaming sector. Licensing of casino staff and the development model of the whole industry will be reviewed.

Ho also urged casino companies to provide information and counselling hotlines for those who need help, saying: "This is not hard to do and is achievable in a short time."

In Hong Kong, Joe Tang Yiu-cho of Caritas Addicted Gamblers Counselling Centre, welcomed the proposal. However, he feared that without proper guidance, young gamblers would simply switch to betting on horse racing and soccer. A poll released by Caritas this month found that 39.3 percent of gamblers were introduced to the pastime between the ages of 16 and 20.

"Horse and soccer gambling are not as bad as the casinos as they are a controlled business here, at least you don't find loansharks parading in the betting centres in Hong Kong," he said. "But it would still be bad if more young people turned to soccer and horse gambling."

The Hong Kong Jockey Club said such an outcome was pure speculation. The club had no plan to raise the age limit for entering betting centres from 18 to 21, a spokesman said.

Last year, Macau officially became the most profitable gambling centre in the world, generating US $7 billion dollars in gambling revenue, around 1 billion dollars more than the famous Las Vegas Strip.

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