WEEKLY FEATURE: Machine Cap in Macau?

Macau’s economy chief Francis Tam Pak Yuen (l.) told lawmakers the government will consider limiting the growth of electronic machine games. His offered no details, however, and his remarks, stated as they were in very broad terms, left more questions than answers.

WEEKLY FEATURE: Machine Cap in Macau?

Macau’s Secretary for Economy and Finance Francis Tam Pak Yuen has said it’s possible the government will impose a cap on the growth of electronic gaming in the city’s booming casino market.

Speaking at a recent question-and-answer session in the Legislative Assembly, Tam also hinted that restrictions on the numbers of traditional live dealer tables might continue after 2022 when the current 10-year annual cap expires.

His remarks came in response to a question from lawmaker Wong Kit Cheng as to why there was no cap on EGMs to mirror the 3 percent annual cap on the addition of conventional tables.

“We have actually started some studies on this as the current slots are so much different from what we had in the past due to the rapid growth on the development of electronic gaming equipment,” he said. “We hope we can introduce to the public the government thoughts on this at an appropriate time.”

It wasn’t clear whether Tam was referring to a popular from of e-table that connects scores of individual player terminals in various configurations to a live dealer or to conventional slot-style machines. The live dealer e-tables are proliferating rapidly as an affordably priced alternative to traditional mass-market tables whose limited numbers have sent minimum bets into the stratosphere in response to demand.

Tam said imposing growth limits on EGMs was not contemplated at the time the table cap was devised.

“Gaming tables may not play a major role in the casino resorts in the next 10 or 20 years and perhaps the electronic gaming machines (would have) accounted for a principal position instead,” he said.

The latest official data show the number of slot machines at 14,775 and revenues up 9 percent to MOP10.6 billion through last September (US$1.32 billion). Total gaming revenue surged more than 18 percent last year to surpass US$45 billion.

Tam also told lawmakers that the question of whether the table cap will continue after 2022 depends on discussions about renewing the current six casino concessions. Those talks are due to start in 2015.

He also reiterated the government’s policy to treat the concessionaires’ investments in non-gaming tourist attractions as a “major consideration” in determining how tables are distributed in the future.