Casino ban seen as raw deal for young
A law banning under-21s from casinos in Macau has stirred a fierce debate among academics and workers' associations in the city.
The new rule, which takes effect in November, is designed to reduce problem gambling.
It is also seen as an attempt to close off the gambling industry to young workers and diversify the city's fast-growing economy.
But opponents say young workers denied the chance of high-earning jobs in casinos will struggle.
Leong Sun-iok, vice-president of the Macau Gaming Industry Labourers Association, believes the law could be counterproductive.
He said: 'Youngsters working in a casino can make a higher salary. Nowadays, commodity prices and living costs are so high, and they only get a little if they work in the office.
'As they do not have strong personal skills [to get better jobs], they will easily go astray.'
Leong said the monthly starting salary for casino dealers was 12,000 to 14,000 patacas.
He also fears the career development of young people will be hampered.
He said: 'The government has deprived them of the right to freely choose their jobs, but does not provide them with help in their careers and further education.'
According to 2010 figures from the Macau Statistics and Services Bureau, about 1,400 people aged under 21 worked in gaming operations as dealers, cashiers, slot machine attendants and public relations officers.
From November 1, anyone of that age caught in a casino will be fined up to 10,000 patacas and lose any winnings from bets there, while casinos will be fined up to 500,000 patacas. Existing workers will be exempt.
Davis Fong Ka-chio, director of the Institute for the Study of Commercial Gaming at the University of Macau, backed the legislation, approved by the Legislative Council last week.
He said research showed that casino workers have a tendency to develop addictive gambling behaviour.
He added that younger people in general had weaker self-control and were more likely to indulge in dangerous habits. 'There are many temptations - money, chips ... they see winnings and losses, but people tend to remember only the happy moments,' he said.
'This is selective memory ... It takes time to get addicted. The later they enter [the industry], the smaller the risk.'
He cited a criminal case from last week in which a 19-year-old dealer was arrested along with an older, jobless partner for robbing a woman of 1,300 patacas, which they immediately gambled away. Fong argued that with a fast-growing economy, young people should have no problem finding an alternative career.
'The unemployment rate in Macau is only 2 per cent.
'It will not be difficult to find a job of about 10,000 patacas [in non-gaming operations in the gambling industry], which is acceptable, as the median income is about 12,000 patacas,' he said.
He also saw no reason why the new law should hold back the careers of young people.
'It is true that they need working experience to get promoted, but the fact is that many dealers who want to become supervisors are not qualified enough to do so,' he said.
But Chen Jia-an, 20, who is on a three-month dealer training course at the Lucky Gaming Centre run by the Gaming Industry Labourers Association, is more interested in the generous wages on offer immediately than in his long-term prospects.
Chen's course ends next month, giving him time to take up a job before the ban comes into force.
'Studying in the university is a waste of time. I am not interested in studying,' he said.
'I still want to be a dealer even though I may not get promoted [without higher education].'
The total gaming revenue, in patacas, in Macau last year, making it - in money terms - the world's largest gambling centre