OPINION – Works of August

It was not the big shock of the summer (or the silly season, if you prefer), but it was nonetheless an August surprise. The Legislative Assembly’s Commission in charge of monitoring the public concessions (and land matters, for the record) produced a report on the future of gambling, published on the second of August.

Remember, the current concessions will end in less than one year. But the approaching deadline means concerns about the future are rising, and we have seen, subtly but steadily, increasing demands for clarification about the government intentions.

Yet, no timing for the future tenders has been set; no (known) negotiations are scheduled; no hints about the sector’s future direction have been put forward. 

The government has been especially shy about disclosing its cards, holding them close to the chest, and keeping its best poker’s face (puns intended.) And the covid epidemic and all the associated uncertainties have only reinforced the secretive mood, as it were. 

So, the report is the closest thing we get on both the preoccupations of the society at large, at least as represented at the assembly, and the general orientations that should frame future negotiations – probably both play a role in that document and its timing.

But, that speculation aside, what does it bring that is worth underlining at the first moment? Two topics, yet not fully developed or framed, deserve possibly the front spots. 

The first one concerns the timing and conditions for the gambling concessions’ tender. And it states that no tenders and negotiations should take place before the conditions are right.

More precisely, I quote: “several opinions believed the public tender does not need to take place before the end of the [current] contracts.”

The argument is expressed in a somewhat contorted manner. Still, it seems to mean mainly that the prevailing uncertainties weaken the government hand: “it might need to accept applicants with less satisfactory conditions.”

Those conditions are not spelt, which leaves a broad field for speculation about what they might be and how they would affect the current concession holders and their operations. 

The second one is the explicit invocation of national security. Here, the document is a bit more explicit and mentions the changes in mainland legislation concerning gambling activities and their promotion. Some have speculated about its enforcement impact in Macau. We are possibly about to find out shortly.