On 15 November 2022, the Chief Executive of Macau, Ho Iat Seng, delivered his 2023 policy address – the fourth policy address of his term of office.
Comparing his four policy addresses in detail, the 2023 policy address clearly highlights a shift in the government’s attitude towards the gaming industry as it prepares to issue new casino concessions before the end of this year. These new concessions will also signal a change in the way the industry is managed.
The first policy address of the Ho Iat-seng government was delivered in April 2020 during the early stages of the global COVID-19 pandemic and just two months after Macau’s casinos had closed for 14 days in February of that year.
In his 2020 policy address, Ho’s focus for the gaming industry was to “enhance assistance to the gaming industry to tide over the epidemic and then restore normal tourist arrivals to Macau.”
In November 2020, the Chief Executive delivered his 2021 policy address, where his focus was to “promote the stable and healthy development of the gaming industry, and to launch the deployment and preparatory work for the granting of gambling licenses”. On the development of diversified industries, Ho proposed to “encourage and support gaming companies to organize diversified cultural and sports activities.”
Twelve months later, in November 2021, Ho delivered his 2022 policy address, in which he proposed to “promote the orderly and healthy development of the gambling industry in accordance with the law”, “promote the tender of gambling licenses in accordance with the law” and “continue to promote the appropriate social responsibility of [games of fortune] licensees”.
Last week, with Macau’s new Gaming Law now passed and the public tender for gambling concessions underway, the Chief Executive stated in his 2023 policy address, “Macau’s integrated tourism and leisure industry has entered a new period of development opportunities. The new development of non-gaming elements driven by the new investment plans of gaming companies will gradually begin.”
The 2023 policy address described in detail the development of non-gaming elements, but on the future of the gaming sector itself emphasized “strict supervision of concessionaire compliance with contractual commitments” and the need to ensure the healthy and orderly development of the gaming industry in accordance with the law. At the same time, Ho “urges gaming companies to implement their commitments for non-gaming projects and to organize various international cultural and sports events”, outlining his ambition for 60% of Macau’s GDP to come from non-gaming activities.
In the four policy addresses he has delivered between April 2020 and November 2022, there appears a clear change in language around the gaming industry, from “assisting” the industry to ride out the pandemic and, “promoting” the stable and healthy development of the gaming industry, to “urging” gaming companies to implement their non-gaming commitments in 2023.
From this, we can see that the 2023 policy address is more stringent than before in its focus on the gaming industry, with more emphasis on non-gaming elements and concession contracts. But does this impede the development of enterprises in a capitalist market?
In an interview with IAG, Legislative Assembly member Lam U Tou said he also noticed the Chief Executive’s change in wording but said he expected this to be the case.
“It is only natural that the Macau government will strengthen the regulation of the gaming industry, because it is close to the Central Government’s stance,” he said.
“The main source of customers for the gaming industry in Macau is still from the mainland, so the Macau government wants to strictly regulate it, which is in line with the rules of the mainland.”
On Macau’s new Gaming Law and changes to the new 10-year concessions, Lam said, “This is a change. In the past the government did not regulate the gaming industry too strictly, which led to the emergence of some illegal acts, so the government will definitely strengthen the regulation.”
However, Lam also acknowledged that it is impossible to know how the new concession contracts will be implemented in practice, and the wording of the Chief Executive’s policy address stresses “preparation”. “The real situation will not be seen until tourism has fully recovered,” he said. “The current environment is so bad that it is really impossible to make an accurate judgment on the current situation.
“I think we have to wait for the epidemic to pass. No one wants Macau’s gaming industry to decline, no one wants Macau’s gaming industry to be finished. I believe the central government understands that the gaming industry is the industry that Macau depends on for its living but the pandemic has brought Macau’s gaming industry to its knees so society naturally has pessimistic thoughts.”