Macau Must Embrace An Integrated Responsible Gaming Framework
by Desmond Lam

Macau Must Embrace an Integrated Responsible Gaming Framework by Desmond Lam

There are many reasons why Macau must develop an integrated responsible gaming framework. The most important reasons have to do with its sustainability and relationship with visitors’ country of origin like mainland China. Genuinely embracing responsible gaming is good public relation and part of Macau’s social responsibilities to its visitors. Macau owes it to them.

Across Macau’s border is the mega-market of Guangdong province. Each day, thousands of Chinese visitors from the province flock through the custom to gamble in Macau’s casinos. A small percentage of these Chinese are “sick” gaming addicts and some are criminals, who used public monies to fund their gaming adventure. While small in numbers, their impact to mainland China (hence, Macau) can be great. Media coverage on these problem gamblers has affected the image of Macau and many still deem Macau as a “hardcore gambling city” with little else to offer.

In recent months, the joyful news of a revival is followed by fear of another potential round of slowdown as a direct result of policies imposed by mainland Chinese and Macau governments. With the announcement of a good third-quarter growth in gross casino gaming revenue, Macau’s gaming industry is expected to top US$10 billion in revenue for 2009. However, plans for greater gaming control by the Macau government and news of tightened visa restriction on mainland Chinese visitors from Guangdong province have some casino executives and investors worried about the future of their investment in Macau. After all, Macau is supposedly the biggest gaming city of the world. Still, its full potential has yet been fully tapped due to extraordinary internal and external events.

Now that the global economic crisis has subsided, casinos in Macau are again seeking higher return for their operations; actively scouting and soliciting highly-valued VIP Chinese players. They have, however, forgotten that one of the key reasons for the previous slump in gaming revenue (especially in VIP game play) is the drop in visitors’ number due to mainland China’s visa restriction. There were many rumors why the Chinese government did this to Macau. After all, Macau is a special administrative region of China. One obvious rumor for this control is that the current development of the Macau gaming industry is simply unsustainable in many aspects and that an expanded gaming industry has started to “harm” the mainland Chinese.

Rapid expansion of Macau’s casino gaming industry has not only brought about unanticipated problems in Macau (i.e. on infrastructure and labor demand) but also exported gambling problems abroad, particularly to mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Despite the creation of so-called “integrated resorts” on Cotai Strip, damaging reports on problem gamblers have affected Macau’s reputation and reinforced its current international image as a place for hardcore gamblers only. Sadly, the Macau government and its concessionaires still have a long way to go to turn Macau into a multi-faceted entertainment/business city; one that is so desired by the Macau residents and, seemingly, the Chinese central government.

There are many inadequacies. But one of the key areas that need to be addressed urgently is responsible gaming. While most casino operators in Macau claim to have their own responsible gaming programs, there is little synergy between them. What Macau needs is an effective, coordinated, and integrated effort to promote responsible gaming to locals and visitors alike. This would call for more proactive management of gambling harm and measures to control incidences (and prevalence) of problem gambling through an integrated industry- or Macau-wide effort. The Macau government may play a central role in this effort, either by appointing an organization to oversee the responsible gaming program or providing full support to an industry-appointed institution such as the newly-formed casino association.

Many executives whom I spoke to seem to think that responsible gaming is just a casual show of social corporate responsibility and does not mean much. “It is public relation and dealers don’t really pay much attention to it because the management doesn’t care much about it too”, said one executive. Such attitude towards responsible gaming is echoed throughout the industry. Some simply don’t know what responsible gaming is all about. A sound, industry-wide, integrated-approach to responsible gaming is essential to the survival and sustainability of Macau’s casino gaming industry. It is also vital to the development of a strong Macau destination brand and can help to shake off Macau’s notoriously gambling-crazy image.

Why must Macau actively promote responsible gaming? After all, gambling is really a human activity that is performed across culture and time. There is fundamentally nothing wrong with the activity. Yet, gambling is one of the human activities that are often accused of destroying our social fabric. It causes disorder in a world that we try desperately to make sense of and to have control over. There are some businesses that are perceived to be worse than others in potentially destroying social values – gaming is simply one of them. Just look at Penghu residents and the anti-gambling groups in Taiwan and you will realize why. Many Asians are still not that receptive towards legalizing casino gaming. Asian governments are still trying to find a ‘right’ balance between economic growth and potential social disorders as a result of gaming legalization. How can they be blamed?

In Taiwan, anti-gambling movements have used Macau as a case study against casino gaming liberalization and development. “Just look at Macau” one said. “Do you want Taiwan to be like that?” another added negatively. In addition, a Taiwan university professor commented that casino management education does not add value to the society and is bad for the individuals as it promotes the “wrong” values. These groups have exaggerated the social costs of an expanded gaming industry and muted the benefits it brought. In Singapore, however, the voices of support were stronger than that of rejection. This is partly because the government has tried to (visibly) address the concerns by many groups about the social costs associated to a casino gaming liberalization. National exclusion program, local entrance fees, and the setting up of a national problem gambling association were some of these measures proposed and implemented. Taiwan’s and Singapore’s liberalization process provides a valuable lesson to casinos operating in Asia: that is, a visible, comprehensive, and integrated social program must be in place to support of any (casino) legalization effort in Asia.

Macau’s casino operators have social responsibilities that they are obliged to fulfill – to make Macau and China a better place. They must show it to all. Openly embracing one’s social responsibilities is good public relation that helps build trust with all stakeholders. The practice, proactive, and public promotion of responsible gaming is good for everyone, be it the Macau operators, government, local residents, and gamblers. For responsible gaming measures to be effective, a collaborative attitude among all key stakeholders is needed. This is simply the start. Collective actions by Macau’s gaming providers and game manufacturers, government, local community, even gamblers are needed to achieve outcomes that are socially responsible and acceptable. The suppliers of gambling services (i.e. the casino operators and the Macau government who provides the “venue”) in particular, have a joint responsibility to ensure that healthy gambling take place through measures like gamblers’ education and gamblers’ protection programs. “Destructive” gambling in the form of problem gambling must be contained on the mass gaming floor and (

Date Posted: 24-Oct-2009

* Desmond Lam is a visiting senior research fellow at the School of Marketing/Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, University of South Australia. Visit www.DesmondL.com.

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