Macau: Taking a sensible approach to responsible gaming
Insight provided by Peter Cohen, Director of Regulatory Affairs, The Agenda Group. Published in Inside Asian Gaming in October 2020.

Every jurisdiction is different. What works to minimize harm from gambling in one jurisdiction may not succeed in another. Nevertheless, some jurisdictions have put more effort into developing harm minimization measures than others. Without questioning the motives or the political environments which can place limits around what might be possible, comparisons can be illuminating.

The world’s biggest and most successful integrated resorts operate casinos in markedly different environments. Some of these jurisdictions are rightly held up as offering superior experiences, both in the area of gambling as well as non-gambling offers. Nevertheless, a comparison of respective efforts to offer gambling in a responsible way throws up results which might be unexpected.

Because of its extraordinarily high levels of gaming expenditure (player losses), many believe that Macau has a lesser commitment to harm minimization than its recognized competitors. However, the evidence paints a very different picture.

Macau has a robust self-exclusion program, a proven harm minimization tool, while Nevada does not. Similarly, there is no smoking while gaming in Macau, while there is no such restriction in Singapore or Nevada.

While smoking bans are generally considered to be a public health measure, they do have an associated gaming harm minimization aspect, as people who still wish to smoke in a casino where it is banned must take a break from gaming to do so. This is important, as research proves that time spent gaming on each visit to a casino is one of the three key parameters that lead to gambling harm (alongside bet amounts and frequency of visits).

Likewise, there are restrictions on advertising of casino gaming in Macau, but no such limits in Nevada. In legislation introduced last year, the Macau government also banned off-duty casino workers from entering casinos on their days off. No equivalent provision is found in Nevada or in any Australian jurisdiction.

In addition to mandatory requirements, some operators do more than the legal minimum. It is both appropriate that they do so to care for their patrons but also a sensible commercial decision as it helps to establish a sustainable business. In Macau, for example, Galaxy Entertainment Group (GEG) as the operator of Galaxy Macau, StarWorld and Broadway casinos implemented a full suite of responsible gaming training programs for its employees when there was no regulatory obligation to do so. Responsible gaming training starts on week one of employment and is followed up with regular refresher training.

Could Macau and its operators do more? Without a doubt. But so, too, should operators in all jurisdictions worldwide. A good place to start for each operator would be to conduct an independent audit of current responsible gambling activities and regular reviews of prevailing research, as GEG does on an ongoing basis, to ensure its programs are up to date and relevant to the needs of the community.

As we look to the future, the continuing development of cutting-edge, technological solutions may provide new and advanced techniques to help minimize gambling harm and should be seriously considered. However, in making decisions on new technologies, operators should continue to follow the science and not introduce measures that may have inadvertent or perverse consequences. For similar reasons, it is important that regulators and lawmakers do not seek to introduce measures which are not supported by evidence.

Whilst the societal needs of any jurisdiction may differ from those in gaming markets elsewhere, evidence suggests that the science behind gambling addiction is universal across most gaming markets worldwide. Therefore, new markets such as Japan should look to jurisdictions with a sensible approach to responsible gaming, such as Macau, for guidance on effective programs as they prepare for IR Implementation.