There is a palpable electricity to the opening of gaming in a new jurisdiction. I know because I’ve seen it happen in almost every instance.
It started in Atlantic City, where I experienced the most pure form of gaming expansion a non-gaming person can. At that time, there was no gaming outside of Nevada, so there was no track record and very little information about what gaming in the U.S. brings to a community. So the results of this new gaming “experiment” were largely unknown, making that “new jurisdiction excitement” that much more intense.
Today, we all know about gaming in a new jurisdiction creating jobs, opportunities, taxes and infrastructure, but who could have guessed that every jurisdiction creates a different creativity that is specific to that region?
There is no doubt this is true in Asia.
After spending nearly two weeks in Asia last month for G2E Asia and other travels, I was struck how this creativity is manifesting itself in this strange (at least to me) jurisdiction.
First of all, while I had been in Macau before, I continue to be amazed by the proliferation of tables. As a former dealer, it warms my heart to see so many table-game players enjoying (and I do mean enjoying) a great game. And as a former baccarat dealer, I can attest that the Asian gambler understands the game, its ebbs and flows, and the psychology of gambling better than most other players around the world. You always hear that gambling is a part of the Asian culture, which is the reason for such passion and understanding on the casino floors of Macau.
Also interesting is the role of the slot machines. Not since the 1970s have I seen the machines relegated to such a secondary status. But I also saw the same passion on the machines that I saw on the tables. Talk about “community” gaming! Frequently, I saw families or groups of friends gathered around a bank of slot machines. Several were actually playing the machines, while the others were rooting them on. As much as I appreciate the table-game players, I can assure you that there will be an explosive growth of gaming machines in a few short years.
Another aspect of the Asian casinos that mystifies me is the VIP market. Now I know what junkets are. We had plenty of them when I worked for Caesars and the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City. But those junkets bear little resemblance to the junkets in Macau.
The VIP operators are essentially a partner with the casinos of Asia. Unfortunately, they are partners who take little risk. By claiming a commission on the money gambled by their clients, the VIP operators remove themselves from the built-in volatility of baccarat. They are guaranteed a profit while the casinos take all the risk.
The stranglehold the VIP operators have on Macau and other Asian casino jurisdictions is something that will have to change. They need to be licensed, their operations need transparency, and the scales need to be balanced.
While the Macau operators have all agreed to a 1.25 percent ceiling on the commission payments, everyone knows there are ways around that. Whether it’s payments after the fact, travel “vouchers” or “gifts” offered to the more important VIP operators, there is little faith throughout Macau that much will change.
When Las Vegas Sands committed to spending almost $2 billion on the Venetian, it was with a tacit understanding that the VIP business would be brought under control by Macau regulators. As one LVS executive told me: “If we had known nothing would change, we would have built another Sands (for about $300 million) and dedicated it to the VIPs.”
I’m willing to write this all off to growing pains. After all, it’s only been a few years since Macau opened its market to international development and there will be adjustments as we go along. In fact, the first “adjustment” came under orders from Beijing to reign in the uncontrolled development by cutting off all new licensing for the time being.
Check out our blog at blog.casinoconnection.com to get even more of our musings about Asia and all other gaming jurisdictions.
Yes, Asia is the bright light in gaming’s future. It’s clearly the most exciting gaming region in the world. Each subsequent Asian jurisdiction that opens up will bring its own innovations and creativity. And you can be sure that Global Gaming Business will be there to report and to comment on every and all of these developments.