When analysts from Merrill Lynch announced 18 months ago that they anticipated there would be 50 new casinos in Asia by 2012, the prediction was met with excitement and – if the truth be told – a degree of skepticism. Today that growth is an everyday fact for our industry, legitimizing the increasingly global nature of gaming entertainment.
I began my column for this magazine with those words in June 2007. We have had some bumps in the road since then, but as far as growth in the Asian marketplace goes, the analysts appear to have had it right.
Today the Asian gaming sector is entering an unprecedented era of opportunity. Revenues in Macau are at record levels, and several companies have renewed or are pursuing major expansion plans. The opening of the two integrated gaming resorts in Singapore has thus far been an unqualified success, exceeding expectations of investors and heralding a major new force in the Asian gaming market. The progress of the Ho Tram Strip project in Vietnam as well as continued growth in Cambodia, India, the Philippines and Korea represent exciting new developments.
As I’ve noted before, growth and opportunity inevitably come with challenges. In fact, one has only to look at the market in Macau to understand how the promises of growth and opportunity are often leavened by the need to confront various challenges.
There is, for example, the recent government announcement that a new law is being considered to restrict the number of nonresident workers on construction projects. If enacted, this legislation would require that one local construction worker be employed for every worker from outside Macau brought onto a project. Restrictions like these would make it difficult for casino operators to hire the workers they need to complete their projects without severe delays.
Another potential hurdle facing the industry in Macau is the suggestion by the government that it will cap the number of gambling tables allowed in the territory. The current number – about 5,000 gaming tables – would be capped at 5,500 until 2013, calling into question whether existing properties would be forced to reduce their number of tables to make way for new casino floors scheduled to open in the near future. And Chief Executive Fernando Chui is considering reclaiming land promised to casino operators who have yet to move forward with their projects, with the sites to be designated for other purposes.
A challenge the industry faces in every jurisdiction where it operates is the need to focus on responsible gambling. Several nations in the pan-Asian region, along with local and U.S. companies entering the market, are leading efforts to address this issue. For U.S. companies doing business in the region, this challenge is somewhat stiffer due to the vastly different cultural constructs for gambling in Asia. Ideas of luck and destiny and how they relate to the act of gambling are very different in Asia than in the U.S., so developing effective programs to address gambling problems requires a level of nuance and sensitivity quite apart from that required here. But strides are being made by government, non-profit and industry stakeholders, and future collaboration on these issues appears promising.
Another serious test for commercial gaming companies – whether based in Asia, Australia, the U.S. or elsewhere – comes with the need to understand myriad unique systems of government regulation. Operating across several international jurisdictions can be extremely demanding when many different licensing regimes, compliance questions and information requests must be managed.
As the global economy begins its recovery, and the gaming industry rebounds along with this resurgence, never has it been more important for the industry to cultivate a strong understanding of the forces at work across borders and oceans. This is especially the case in Asia as the region continues to expand and mature. In order to succeed in this market, it is important to develop the skills and insights to capitalize on the emerging opportunities.
The American Gaming Association, along with our partner Reed Exhibitions, is making it possible to do just that at this year’s G2E Asia event taking place June 8-10 in Macau. This event – now in its fourth year – will provide the opportunity for those who do business in the Asian commercial casino market to come together to hear from the key leaders in the region and share ideas for moving the industry forward.
In planning G2E Asia this year, we maintained our commitment – one that characterizes all events in the G2E family – to develop an event “by the industry, for the industry.” Senior gaming executives from throughout Asia helped develop this year’s program to ensure it probes issues that most concern the modern gaming executive. We were also guided by feedback from past G2E Asia attendees.
Consequently, there is a Global Markets Forum that will review the universe of opportunities within the pan-Asian market, from the markets like Macau that are well on the way to maturation to emerging markets like Singapore, where the promise is fresh, to prospective markets like Japan. And the 65,000-square-foot show floor will offer access to cutting-edge products from more than 120 exhibitors, products that will help attract new customers, keep existing ones coming back, and help enhance efficiencies. The seminars and breakout sessions feature some of the region’s key thought leaders who will provide in-depth insights into where gaming in the region is headed and how gaming professionals can best capitalize on the opportunities ahead.
The future of the Asian gaming industry is bright, a fact due in no small part to the ingenuity and innovation of the leaders who have built it from the ground up. There is no better place than G2E Asia for executives to gain the tools to take another step forward into this future.
We are looking forward to a long and fruitful partnership in Asia that will allow professionals in our industry to not only trade knowledge and expertise, but also acquire tools to make their business, and by extension our industry, as successful as possible.
That’s how I ended this column in 2007 and that thought tracks today. With commercial casino gaming an ever growing international presence, success in one corner of the globe can beget success in another corner. The lessons learned at G2E Asia can be applied – with variations, of course – to business practices wherever commercial gaming is active.