The changing character of casinos
FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - April 8, 2018 - 12:00am

First of all, I am new to gambling. I had the notion, mistakenly that casinos are places where you gamble and nothing else. So I never volunteered to go to gambling conferences. What could I know that was new about it? 

I decided to attend the 10th annual iGaming Asia Congress held at the Grand Hyatt in Macau. With me were AVP SM Angelito Reyta, SM Hector D. Melencio MD Buiser Jr. CMED, SM Luis de la Concepcion:GLDD V. Gomez:BD; SM Luis V. de la Concepcion GLDD and SM JoselitoV. Gomez:BD and my assistant, Karen Banzon. COM Jomar B. Salazar, GDSRO Joseph J. Lobo, OGLD EA Christian Oliver V. Ziga, OPCOO and my assistant EA Karen Ann D. Banzon: ODCNP

I’m glad I went along and saw for myself what casinos are all about. It is an evolving industry. It is not about gambling only but includes anything related to chance and that means all of life. With the technological development any one in theory can gamble anywhere. Regulation has become more difficult and the means of regulating found.

We were to listen and know the latest trends in Gaming and Entertainment as well as compare how well Pagcor  compared with other countries in the development of the industry. Consul General of Namibia Agnes Huibonhoa was also with us. She was a good friend of the owners of Galaxy. We were invited to stay at the Ritz Carlton Macau. From the rooftop of the Ritz, Ronald To, senior executive and operating officer of the group, pointed out to me that the extensive reach of the group’s development is so large we were only looking at phase 1 of the Galaxy’s Game and Entertainment. There were still Phase 2 and 3 and once done it would be the biggest  game and entertainment venue in Macau. At the moment the no. 1 position was held by The Venetian.

Pagcor sent the delegates from different departments to attend the 10th Annual iGaming Asia (iGA) Congress, held at the Grand Hyatt, Macau from March 13 to 15, where close to a hundred executives from the regional and global igaming industry gathered to have a first-hand look at the latest developments in Asia.

“The iGaming Asia Congress (iGA) is the longest running dedicated C-level iGaming event in Asia. For a decade, the event has hosted 1,600+ delegates, 400+ speakers, and 100+ sponsors and exhibitors. The iGA conference and exhibition attracts Asia’s leading sports betting, online casino, lottery, social and mobile gaming executives to learn about the latest developments in industry, incoming regulations and disruptions, and strategies to stay ahead of the curve in Asia. 

Compared to the other participants, the Philippines was a newcomer but it was catching up. Speakers gave a brief history on the iGaming industry in Asia, from its early days in Australia and Hong Kong, to its growth in the Philippines. 

To give participants an idea on what the industry involved several topics were tackled among the growing synergy between sports betting and sports (horse/dog racing, basketball, football, and even Esports) in the region, and where new and existing opportunities can be found. More than an estimated $ 1.5 trillion is being wagered (total bets) on all sports globally per annum (2016, both legal and underground), where 70 percent of sports bets are being placed in Asia. 

That is the reason why we need to move fast with fixing Boracay. The stakes are high. It has been chosen as probably the most promising venue for the changing character of casinos. Indeed, I seldom heard the word casino in describing the industry. It was especially gratifying that Mr. Ronaldo To of Galaxy said that with the revival of the industry, the Philippines Boracay has been specially selected as the ideal place to secure growing opportunities. But with the different contenders for that opportunity, it was Boracay who had the qualities required for the center of game and entertainment industry in the Asian region.

Although not yet fully regulated, future opportunities in blockchain, cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings (ICOs) piqued the attention of most of the conference delegates. Besides having sessions on blockchain, the exhibition floor also showcased blockchain-driven companies, including True Flip, Sp8de, Fire Lotto and HEROcoin.

Gaming in China, Cybersecurity, new prospects in E-sports, skill-based and mobile gaming, innovative and alternative marketing solutions for iGaming, and the latest technology including payment solutions, Artificial Intelligence and big data were also examined.

There were Separate panel discussions (Examining the Licensing Alternatives and Their Value Regionally and Globally; and Looking Closely at the ASEAN Landscape) talked about pending concerns such as regulatory authorities, money laundering, payment options, and the role of agents / bookies. 

Specially mentioned was Pagcor’s role in offshore online gaming, foreign industry observers noted the need for an effective auditing system and a consistent regulatory environment to continue making the Philippines a very attractive base of operations for operators (vis-à-vis Cambodia, Vietnam, Curacao and Malta). 

It was also pointed out that E-sports can also have positive effects for traditional/land-based casinos: wagering and drawing crowds. Wagering means betting on games is possible (standard sports betting). Holding E-sports tournaments inside casinos are like putting up prize fights (boxing/mixed martial arts), and are effective in drawing in crowds.

With a relatively high 10% conversion rate (from event attendees to actual casino play), Las Vegas casinos are increasingly using E-sports to attract millennials to their properties. 

Regulatory wise, Pagcor is moving in the right direction. The trust and confidence in our offshore gaming regulatory actions have resulted in an estimated 5,000 or more people directly employed by Pagcor-licensed online gaming companies. Continuing the stable regulatory environment and procuring a secure and transparent auditing system are needed to help the industry grow.

In relation to Pagcor’s duty as operator, Casino Filipino could capitalize on E-sports to help acquire new players and increase customer interest. Since Casino Filipino already holds/hosts sporting events to attract specific target markets (Mixed Martial Arts with CF-Battle Extreme of Superstars, Darts with CF-Darts Tournament, viewing parties for boxing megafights, and various dance sport events, among others), the marketing department could explore spearheading an E-sports event to help attract millennials into our casinos and convert them into playing patrons.

“The Philippines is seen to be the next big thing in Asian gaming given its robust growth prospects and the surge in Chinese tourist arrivals,” a top gaming industry analyst said.

During the annual Global Gaming Expo (G2E) Asia convention, Union Gaming managing director Grant Govertson said while Singapore,  South Korea,  and Vietnam are all playing their cards right, the Philippines could turn out to be the ace in the pack given its growth story.

The Philippines is vying with Macau and Singapore to become Asia’s top gaming  destination  with the opening of the Pagcor Entertainment City, Manila’s version of a Las-Vegas like gaming strip along Manila Bay.

Earlier in the year, Pagcor Chairman Andrea Domingo said that government revenue from POGO is expected to nearly double this year from P3.4 billion in 2017 to P6 billion. This may be boosted by foreign online casinos from Greece, Malta, among others taking interest in starting business in the Philippines.

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