CASINO Volume 17: Issue 144
AGUA CALIENTE CASINOS WELCOMES THE WORLD
Image: Courtesy of Ethan Kaminsky
The magazine for the owners and management of international casinos
CASINO The magazine for the owners and management of international casinos
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Editorial: Editor: David McKee firstname.lastname@example.org Features Editor: Damien Connelly email@example.com Associate Editor Asia: Bill Healey firstname.lastname@example.org Associate Editor EMEA: Aydin Guney aydin.guney@outsourcedigital media.com International Correspondent: Lyudmyla Kyrychenko lyudmyla.kyrychenko@outsource digitalmedia.com
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Welcome... Although Hotels Editorial recently reported that lodging transactions in Europe were down 69 percent this year and unlikely to recover until 2022, gaming is looking like a very attractive proposition indeed. Consider the $6.25 billion that Apollo Capital and Vici Properties plunked down to acquire the Las Vegas Strip assets of Las Vegas Sands. That’s a big chunk of change, even if it nets them two resorts, the premier Sands Expo Center and the underconstruction MSG Sphere event venue. The Las Vegas-less Sands, for its part, will deploy the capital toward casino development in Macao, New York City and Texas (in descending order of likelihood). Scarcely to be outdone, Blackstone Group, seeing a company in distress, ponied up $6.2 billion for Crown Resorts, owner of three casino mega resorts in Australia. That’s conditional on Crown retaining its casino licenses, one of which (Sydney) is suspended and two of which (Melbourne and Perth) are under investigation. Crown sailed much too close to the wind for regulators’ comfort, both in its screening of VIP players and its (lax) anti-money-laundering regimen. As a consequence it finds itself with a deflated stock price and Blackstone knocking on the door with an attractive offer. Sands was thought to be in the running for Crown but has seemingly lost direction since the sudden death of founder and visionary Sheldon Adelson last winter. There’s nothing like a budget crisis for lawmakers to see the virtues of legalized gambling. Our Bill Healey visits Cambodia, long a casino bastion, whose success is sparking debate in neighboring Thailand over whether to follow suit. Legislation in France is in train to expand casino legality to every department in the country. Newest to the party is Ukraine, which has re-legitimized gambling after a decade-long dark age. Betting on practically everything except esports is permitted and it’s expected to engender at least a $1 billion/year industry. The regulations are dizzyingly complex but certain to keep bad actors at bay. (Are you taking notes, Australia?) Finally, stateside, legislators in Maryland and Arizona just legalized sports betting, while New York State expanded it – not without considerable controversy in the latter instance. Next up is Louisiana, where lawmakers have to devise regulations that will please a fragmented electorate. We wish them well. Yes, gaming is back.
DMcKee David McKee Editor 3
Contents 3 Editor’s Note 4 Contents Page 5 Guest Comment Jeannette Gilbert, Clarion Gaming’s Head of Marketing
7 Cultivating Success Saverio Scheri and his Agua Caliente workforce reap awards for their combined efforts. By David McKee 18 Britain’s Gambling Act Review – Building Back Brighter
By Simon Thomas Chief Executive, Hippodrome Casino 22 Building the Future
Bill Healey speaks with Gary Tham, Director of Strategic Planning, Jin Bei Group 28 Local Gaming in the Coachella Valley Bill Healey chats with Augustine Casino’s
Jef Bauer 33 A helping hand
Global Gaming Women aids those seeking to move up in the casino realm. By David McKee 37 Unquenched Optimism American Gaming Association President Bill Miller sees better times ahead for gaming. By David McKee 40 Challenges Excite Us
DR Gaming Technology: Mexico’s Managing Director, Alfredo Moreno, and Group CEO, Jurgen De Munck speak to Peter White 44 Industry First
Tim Kennedy, Vice President Sales EMEA, SUZOHAPP chats with Damien Connelly 47 Safer Gambling Report by Damien Connelly & Peter White 51 NFT technology shows how to win new fans in gaming
By Raymond Chan
Editorial Policy: The views and opinions expressed in Casino Life remain principally the views of contributors and do not necessarily reflect those of the editor or publishers. The publishers wish to avoid inaccuracies and, whilst every precaution has been taken to ensure that information contained in this publication is accurate, no liability is accepted by the editor or publishers for errors or omissions, however caused. Unless otherwise stated, articles appearing in this publication remain the copyright of the publishers and may not be reproduced in any form without the publisher’s written consent. Printed in the UK by Severn Print.
Partnership is the key theme for Jeannette Gilbert, Clarion Gaming’s Head of Marketing
irst impressions, as they say, count and since my introduction to the international gambling industry at the beginning of the year, I have to say that I have been suitably impressed! In my 20-year marketing career I’ve worked in fascinating sectors such as travel and tourism, and I have to say that gambling is right up there in terms of innovation and excitement. It is one of the earliest adopters of new technology and includes some really notable and inspirational entrepreneurs. It’s a great shame that I have joined Clarion during the Pandemic. Although it has meant that I haven’t been able to meet the industry face to face it strikes me as being a resilient, creative, and super-smart sector that’s full of energy and optimism. My career has been spent driving creative marketing and partnership strategies as well as launching and building brands. Clarion Gaming’s track record demonstrates that it has always put customers front and centre-stage and I will always
seek to work in collaboration with all of our customers including stakeholders such as the European Casino Association (ECA) and AGEM, to deliver businesscentric solutions and opportunities. Both the ECA and AGEM are making important contributions to our preparations for the muchanticipated return of in-person events, not least ICE London which will take place across 1-3 February 2022 at ExCeL London. While in-person or live events remain the lifeblood of any industry Clarion Gaming has used the last 12 months in order to accelerate its development into a customer-first, omnichannel, year-round service provider, with the launch of two exciting new innovations both of which carry the ICE name and share the values of what is a world-leading brand. ICE Connect is an invitation-only Executive Summit digital programme that uses algorithms to scientifically match senior level decision-makers with industryVolume 17: Issue 144
Jeannette Gilbert, Clarion Gaming’s Head of Marketing
leading solution providers. ICE 365.com is a dedicated global-gaming platform where content is available on demand and free of charge 24/7. The ICE 365 content series is a deep dive into key sectors of the global gaming industry delivering expert insights in a variety of formats, including reports, exclusive C-Level interviews, unique data, video and live discussions. The aim of both of these innovations is to help support the industry with year round business-centric insight running alongside the return of in-person events. Clarion has made a significant investment to make its digital channels the very best in the industry, sitting alongside and complementing what are the very best live events in the industry. I look forward to meeting Casino Life readers at ICE London 2022, if not before! Jeannette Gilbert, Clarion Gaming’s Head of Marketing 5
Lead Feature: Agua Caliente
Cultivating Success Saverio Scheri and his Agua Caliente workforce reap awards for their combined efforts. By David McKee
Volume 17: Issue 144
Lead Feature: Agua Caliente
What we strive for is to wake up every day, be excited about coming to work and not looking at this as a job but as a career. We do so much work to promote from within and I think that’s what’s made us one of the largest employers in the valley.” Saverio Scheri, COO, Agua Caliente Casinos
Rancho Mirage Resort 8
Lead Feature: Agua Caliente
eam” is a word you’ll hear a lot from Agua Caliente Casinos COO Saverio “Sal” R. Scheri III, a lifelong baseball fan. (Even after years in California, he is still a die-hard Yankee fan.) It’s key to the passion that infuses his leadership of one of tribal gaming’s most exciting ventures. The Coachella Valley-based gaming empire has transformed a patch of bare desert into award-winning Rancho Mirage resort. It’s got a premier night spot in downtown Palm Springs with a cool vibe. And it braved the Covid-19 pandemic to finish and open its Cathedral City casino, a smaller but distinctive variant on the Agua Caliente brand. Nor is gaming the only string on the Agua Caliente nation’s guitar. In addition to the dining, nightlife and spa options at its casino properties, it has recently diversified into the automobile industry with Agua Fuel. Despite having absorbed the body blow that was Coronavirus, things are looking up in the Agua Caliente sphere. We caught up with Scheri on a balmy spring day to see what had changed in the Palm Springs area since our last visit. Is Agua Caliente Casinos still the biggest employer in the Coachella Valley? We are certainly one of the largest in the entire Valley. What we strive for is for team members to wake up every day, be excited about coming to work and not looking at this as a job but as a career. We love to promote from within and I think that’s what’s made us one of the most popular employers in the valley.
How many people do you employ? Over 3,000 now with our new additions to the family. I’m sure it was difficult to navigate the variety of shutdowns that we were dealing with in the past year. How did Agua Caliente cope? When did you close and reopen, and how many people were you able to keep on payroll? It was a very difficult time. We closed mid-March 2020 and we reopened at the end of May. The good news is that we were able to keep almost everyone on the payroll, even during the time that we were closed. We did it in a variety of different ways and our Human Resources department worked with team members to utilize their vacation time, but the Tribe really stepped up by giving everyone payments through the end of the following month. So for the folks that were out Volume 17: Issue 144
Lead Feature: Agua Caliente
The regional casinos, we weathered that much better than places in Las Vegas did. What was really interesting was that we were able to track our visitation and volume and revenue in direct correlation to Coronavirus caseloads.”
Saverio Scheri, COO, Agua Caliente Casinos
Agua Caliente Cathedral City
during the closure, they had very little or no disruption for themselves. When we reopened, we worked really hard to move those who were idle to other departments to keep them employed. How soon did business return and how strong was demand when it did? We’ve seen throughout the gaming industry where destination resorts got hit a lot harder because people wouldn’t get on planes and couldn’t get to places like Las Vegas. The regional casinos weathered much better than places in Las Vegas. What was really interesting was that we were able to track our visitation and volume and revenue and saw it was in direct correlation to Coronavirus caseloads. As caseloads rose, we saw visitation dip and as caseloads went down we saw visits go up. We followed that trend and we are still following that today. With cases coming down, we’re seeing that uptick in visits and revenue. 10
And Cathedral City’s open now. It wasn’t the last time we talked? I’m sitting in my office in Cathedral City right now. How much gaming inventory does Cathedral City Casino offer and what sort of amenities? We’re really excited about opening Cathedral City because it is a casino property unlike anything else. I’m proud to say that each of the Agua Caliente casinos has its own personality. Rancho Mirage has the feel of a destination resort with the pool and the spa and the hotel. Downtown has that hip vibe because it reflects downtown Palm Springs and there’s so much happening there. It’s very electric in downtown Palm Springs. In Cathedral City it’s a little bit more like you’re in a neighborhood casino. You come in, it’s very comfortable, the casino floor is laid out very nicely, with lots of space so you don’t feel crowded. We have over 500 slot games and we have table games here as www.casinolifemagazine.com
Lead Feature: Agua Caliente
well. We have an amazing sports book just like the one we have at Rancho Mirage. It’s called 360 Sports and it has giant, 4K screens and an amazing menu of both bar-food favorites and really exciting, innovative items as well. And it has its own personality. It certainly has a Latin feel here in Cathedral City in a couple of ways. We’ve got a great tequila bar called Agave Caliente with DJ’s, dancing, and live entertainment. We’ve got giant glass doors which, whenever the weather is nice – which is most of the time here in Palm Springs – we open the doors right up onto a beautiful pavilion, where we stage concerts and celebrity DJ’s. We can have dancing, comedians, food trucks, and private parties too. And then we have Café 111, which is more than just a three-meal restaurant. We have an amazing chef from Mexico City and he brings authentic Mexican dishes with hard to find ingredients. It’s so much better than your average Mexican restaurant. The flavors are amazing, the dishes are fantastic and Volume 17: Issue 144
very unique. You’ve got salads and burgers, and then you’ve got wonderful Mexican chicken mole, amazing fish tacos. It’s just so much fun. The food, music, and vibe is what gives this casino in Cathedral City a Latin personality. You always wax lyrical when you talk about your restaurants. Is that a big passion of yours? Oh, absolutely. I can get on my soapbox a long time about what differentiates one casino from another. I’ll never forget casino executives in the late 90s when they said, “We’re going to turn Las Vegas into the dining capital of the world.” That was in the early Nineties. And he succeeded. That’s the thing that sets you apart. And then he did it again with entertainment. It was interesting to see that transition in Las Vegas and then for all the regional casinos to follow suit. We certainly look at things like entertainment and food to differentiate us from our competition, and to 11
Lead Feature: Agua Caliente
be successful at that it’s not just about having good service and good food. It’s about creating ingredients and dishes and menus, combined with a beautiful venue and fantastic customer service. And instead of just going out to eat, we create dining experiences, whether it be very casual – just walk up to our food district at Rancho Mirage – or the very high-end, firstclass experience, to what we’re doing in Cathedral City, which is fun and exciting, it’s all about the experience. So we want people to remember Agua Caliente Casinos as their favorite place to go. It’s
where you have the most fun. It’s where you feel the most comfortable. We have to execute across the board and it starts with the gaming floor for sure, but it extends out to everywhere. Our customer service, our food and beverage, our entertainment – the whole nine yards. I recently saw the announcement of Agua Fuel opening next. Can you tell me a bit about this project? The Tribe is opening a fuel station and convenience store right across from the Rancho Mirage resort. As you might expect, you’ll have your gas – and at a very competitive price – so we’re very excited about that. At the same time, it will offer the things you expect at a convenience store, as well as some of the things we provide over at the casino at Java Caliente, which is our coffee establishment. So we’ll have a Java Caliente in the fuel center. There will be a drive-through, which 12
will be great because the folks who love our coffee, they can get it on their way to work, on their way home. They’ll pick it up and still enjoy what they have in the casino. We’re so thrilled for our customers to be able to fuel up before they get to the casino or after they leave at a very convenient locale and very good price for gas. How is the transition to cashless gaming affecting Agua Caliente? Our business has traditionally focused on varying
demographics. We certainly look to older folks, retired folks, people who are further along in their career and have more disposable income, typically. But at the same time, we don’t forget about our younger demographic because they’re so important to us for a number of reasons. They keep us fresh and exciting, we want them to be exposed to what Agua Caliente is offering. They don’t focus as much on the gaming aspect, but they love the hotel, the pool, the restaurants and the bars. We have a lot to offer them. So we’re always thinking of the younger demographic. They are in tune and comfortable with everything being cashless. They use their phone to pay. It’s not even taking out a credit card and tapping it. Now it’s their phone. We’re starting to see that extend everywhere, including into gaming. It’s not widely adopted yet but we’re providing it to our guests to give them more ways to customize their gaming experience.
Lead Feature: Agua Caliente
During your time in the industry, there’s been so much change driven by technology. You launched a mobile app in 2020. What can you tell us about that? You’re right, we’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry. I’ve been in gaming for almost 38 years in and I wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told me some of the things that would be possible today, including what you can do from an app on your phone. It’s really amazing: Everything from making reservations, booking rooms, interacting with maps, playing games – here in California we have play for free. We are looking at evolving that into something a little different eventually. We know sports betting is going to come to California like it has so many other states in the U.S. Again, all this is delivered through an app on your mobile phone. So we’ve got a great app where we’re evolving in tune with how things are evolving in the great state of California. We’re closely watching what’s working in other jurisdictions and how we would apply that here in California. What’s so different about that is it puts so much in the palm of your hand from a revenue standpoint for the casinos. It truly is amazing. Certain jurisdictions are making revenue from sports and racing that they couldn’t do if they couldn’t bet from their phones on Sunday mornings before the games start. And the best part is we’re not moving money from the casino to a mobile platform: What we’re seeing is the mobile platform becoming its own, brand-new revenue stream. So that’s very exhilarating Volume 17: Issue 144
news because we certainly don’t want to displace our existing brick-and-mortar gaming. But watching the mobile platform become a new revenue stream is very exciting to us. We’re looking at all different ways to be interactive, engage with our customers and provide a source of information, at the same time entertaining and engaging the customers. Agua Caliente continues to win awards for best hotel, best casino, food, service and more, including four- and five-star rankings on Forbes
Travel Guide. Right now, of what are you most proud? I love that question. It is true that we get a lot of awards and I’m very proud of our team. We’ve moved from a three-star resort to a four-star resort and from a four-star spa to a five-star spa, and a brand-new, fourstar steakhouse, along with many, many other awards. I’m so proud of the work the team members have done to achieve that level of excellence. What I tell our team members every day is that we’re not doing the things that we do to win just to win awards; we do these things, and many of them are very difficult, we do them to provide the best guest experience we possibly can, creating the “ultimate” guest experience is always our goal. It’s not so much the award, as it is the journey and the effort that our team members put forth that provides that fantastic guest experience. Our whole approach here is called “ACE” which stands for “Agua Caliente Experience.” We’ve created our own 13
Lead Feature: Agua Caliente
Augua Caliente Palm Springs
guidelines for what that experience is in every venue and every single team member is trained about how to deliver that “ultimate” guest experience. It’s reinforced on a regular basis. They’re attentive and rewarded for the work that they do – and they’re held accountable for providing that level of customer service we provide for all of our guests. That is one of the things that really, truly separates us from our competition: our attention to detail and our focus on providing that ultimate guest experience. It’s those kinds of things that really sets us apart and it adds up to a huge difference. It’s incredible recognition because it shows how hard everyone works to get us there.
Esports is booming right now, especially during the pandemic. What can you tell us about Agua Caliente’s esports program? Esports is a big component of our offerings. We were doing a lot more with it pre-Covid. Social distancing has certainly changed the way we do our esports, but we’re looking forward to get that going again. And now with two of our three venues having our 360 Sports bar, that’s where we’re doing our esports, so it’s absolutely a remarkable venue for esports. We’ve got folks that are dedicated to that product and it’s attracting a whole new demographic to our properties, 14
which we’re very excited about and we think that the future of esports is unlimited. It’s going to develop in so many different directions. We’re embracing it and we’re excited to see our customers embrace it as well. As COO, you play a key role in all aspects of design, development and operations. What are you
focused on right now? Right now my focus is on providing a safe environment for our team members and our guests, and that’s an everyday focus of mine. We have to make sure that we come to work every day safe, and at the same time, we have to focus on the job we have to do, whether it be someone in accounting or information technology or a server in a restaurant or a slot attendant on the casino floor. Aside from the daily COVID-19 safety efforts, I am focused on increasing our business at our existing properties while at the same time looking for new opportunities to expand the Agua Caliente Casinos brand. Big picture, do you have any predictions about the industry in general and its direction in the coming year? I gave up making predictions last year. I thought we’d www.casinolifemagazine.com
Lead Feature: Agua Caliente
only be closed for Covid for three or four weeks; then I anticipated that COVID would be over by August. A
lot of us were wrong about that. But in general, having been in gaming since the early Eighties, the one thing I know about this industry is it’s resilient. It’s weathered a recession, it’s weathered 9/11, it’s weathered the crash of ’08 and it will weather Covid, and we will come out stronger on the other side. I look at it a little differently. Maybe it’s why I have such a passion for what I do. I look at us as a very important escape for people. Everyone has had a tough year. But when you have a chance to walk into a first-class casino resort like Agua Caliente and spend some time with us, whether it’s a few hours or a few days, you get to leave all that behind. You get to play some fun casino games. You get to eat some food that you probably don’t have around the corner from your house. You get to stay in a beautiful hotel, swim in a great pool, see one of your favorite bands. It’s a wonderful, wonderful escape – and I think that’s important for people, probably more so today than ever. Volume 17: Issue 144
FIVE-STAR EX P ER I ENC E . ONE PER F ECT
S U N S T O N E S PA
At Agua Caliente Casinos, it’s the little things that make all the difference in the world. With an unparalleled attention to detail and an uncompromising approach to service, it’s no wonder we are a Forbes award-winning resort. You have high expectations, prepare to have them exceeded.
A 16-story, AAA Four Diamond resort, Rancho Mirage Resort Casino Spa is the Coachella Valley’s premier destination
Embracing the authentic Palm Springs vibe, Agua Caliente Casino Palm Springs is where laid-back meets luxury in the heart of downtown.
The newest addition to the collection, Agua Caliente Casino Cathedral City is “always on” with a tequila bar, outdoor pavilion and more.
T H E AG UA CA L I E N T E CA S I N O C O L L E C T I O N AGUA CAL IEN T E CASI N O, PA L M SP R I N GS | AG UA CAL I ENTE RES O R T CAS I NO S PA, RANCH O MI RAGE AGUA CA LI E N TE CAS I NO, CATH EDRAL CI TY
Problem Gambling? Call 1.800.GAMBLER
Britain’s Gambling Act Review – Building Back Brighter Simon Thomas Chief Executive, Hippdodrome Casino
n June last year, as Britain emerged from its first population and business lockdown, the country’s prime minister, Boris Johnson called for a programme of societal renewal under the slogan ‘build back better’. While the current priority for hard-hit casino operators is survival rather than reinvention, the recently commenced Gambling Act review – which seeks to ensure legislation is ‘fit for the digital age’ – provides an opportunity to support the rhetoric of renewal with action. As Simon Thomas, CEO and chairman of London’s Hippodrome Casino articulates, ambition and innovation have never been more important for the future of Britain’s casino entertainment sector. At the Hippodrome, we have been ‘building back better’ since 2009 when we first started work on the restoration and rebirth of our iconic West End entertainment venue. From the very first day of trading in 2012, we have been engaged in a process of renewal 18
– the result of listening closely to our customers and seeking inspiration from around the world. For large parts of the last 14 months, my team and I have been unable to do the work that we love – providing unforgettable entertainment experiences for customers from around the world – but we have used the time on our hands to good effect. While the Hippodrome was locked down, we pressed on with our plans to transform our small, two-level roof terrace into a much larger, three-level roof garden (expanding our covered heated outdoor entertainment space from 100 square meters to 245 square meters). This has involved the addition of two new bars, four more outdoor gaming tables and some gaming terminals high up above Leicester Square – the top level with stunning views across the rooftops of Soho. The decision to push on with this improvement allowed us to welcome customers back in April this year (for food and drink only) – more than a month ahead of the reopening date www.casinolifemagazine.com
Feature: Hippodrome for casinos. We have already built back better. Now comes the government’s review of the Gambling Act – an opportunity to address our own version of the prime minister’s “unresolved challenges.” In specifically calling for evidence on modernisation of casino legislation, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has acknowledged that the laws governing Britain’s casinos are not fit for the digital age. In the 16 years since the passing of the Gambling Act, there have been two key developments that ought to have triggered a review of casino legislation. The first of these was the expansion of online gambling, which has created far wider access to casino gaming and rendered anachronistic many of the ‘analogue controls’ applied to land-based casinos, such as restrictions on numbers of gaming machines and types of games we can offer on our electronic terminals. The second is the development of a small number of experimental new casinos licensed under the 2005 Gambling Act, such as Aspers Stratford or Genting’s Resorts World Birmingham. The first of these new-style casinos opened in 2011 and the government review (intended as a precursor to modernisation for all casinos) was originally scheduled for 2013. The process of updating our laws is already eight years behind plan. The development of four ‘Large’ casinos (with up to 150 machines and sports betting) involved substantial capital investment and clear improvements to the consumer experience with a more diverse choice of gaming and non-gaming activities. The benefits from the four ‘Small’ casinos (which are required to provide one gaming table for every two gaming machines) has been far more modest – three of the four licences were awarded to existing casinos and the only new venue (in Bath) closed permanently last year after just two years of trading. Two parliamentary select committees – the 2012/13 Culture, Media and Sport Committee and the 2019/20 House of Lords Committee on the Gambling Industry – have recommended that this protracted experiment in licensing modernisation be concluded with the harmonisation of legislation for all casinos. Safer gambling conditions set by the DCMS and the Gambling Commission in 2018 have been met by operators – raising already high standards of social responsibility controls. The casino sector’s calls for modernisation are Volume 17: Issue 144
both modest and already supported by parliamentary authority. In essence, casino operators want to give their customers a more diverse casino experience (both in terms of gaming and non-gaming), allowing customers to play the games that they enjoy and without having to wait for a space to become available – or without feeling pressured by customers waiting to play. “Fit for the digital age” – a modest agenda of reform • Casinos to be able to offer customers up to 80 gaming machines – based on a ratio of five machines for every physical gaming table* • Casinos to be able to offer customers electronic versions of casino card games (in addition to roulette which has been permitted since 2000) • Casinos to be able to offer customers sports betting • Casino customers to be able to use electronic payment methods. *with the exception of existing ‘Large’ casinos, which are already pernmitted to offer customers up to 150 machines. A recent survey of Hippodrome customers found that 71 percent of them had been forced to wait in order to play a gaming machine – waits that could be
very long and were always uncertain. Other customers reported feeling uncomfortable when playing machines due to awareness that others were hovering nearby (waiting for a machine to become available). These negative effects are the result of grandfathered laws that arbitrarily restrict casinos to just 20 machines regardless of the scale of venue or customer numbers. Analysis of data from the Gambling Commission reveals that there are just 0.008 gaming machines for every customer who plays machines in a casino – a rate that is 44 times lower than in other non-remote gambling sectors in Great Britain. A recent review of 22 European jurisdictions revealed that Britain had the lowest ratio of machines to customer visits – around 140 times lower than in Belgium for example. During peak periods at the Hippodrome, we are able to provide just one gaming machine for every 75 customers. Reform is important to us because it is important 19
to our customers. Our survey also revealed that 56 percent of customers wanted to be able to bet on sports and 69 percent wanted to be able to play blackjack on electronical terminals as part of a visit to the Hippodrome.
While the last 14 months have been economically damaging, the Hippodrome remains ambitious and forward-looking. The modest and long overdue reforms we seek would (if granted) trigger an additional £1 million in capital expenditure and result in the creation or reinstatement of 90 jobs. Our plans include the development of a new, Asian street food casual-dining area to complement our top-rated Heliot steak house. Legislative modernisation would significantly increase the space allocated to non-gaming activities (from around 75 percent at present to more than 80 Legislative modernisation would trigger a £1m reinvestment programme at the Hippodrome, including the creation of a new Asian street food casual dining area percent). We are keen to play our part in the social and economic recovery of London and Great Britain. out in the DCMS call for evidence. The Gambling Act Our ambitions require only very modest legislative review will test just how committed the government support and are clearly aligned with the objectives set and Parliament really are to ‘building back better.’ 20
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Feature: Jin Bei Palace Hotel
Gary Tham, Director of Strategic Planning, Jin Bei Group 22
Feature: Jin Bei Palace Hotel
Building the Future Bill Healey chats with Gary Tham, Director of Strategic Planning, Jin Bei Group
ive us a bit of a background of your involvement in the casino gaming industry. What led you to Jin Bei Group? Considering myself still new to the industry, and having the need to continually learn and improve based on vast information and strategies of the business to be executed in this challenging environment. I was recruited by Jin Bei Group to be part of the pre-opening team, now looking after two hotel and casino properties packed with a myriad of entertainment options with a total construction area of 50,000 square meters and 60,500 square meters. We started construction in 2018 and we officially opened on the March 9 2020. What is your position, and what are your responsibilities with Jin Bei Group? Volume 17: Issue 144
Being the director of strategic planning of the Group, my key responsibilities involves: a. Shaping the company’s overall business strategy and mission b. Develop and materialize strategies and performance c. Continuous assessment of the company’s operational and strategic performance d. Advising members of the board of directors on making informed and effective decisions e. Provide insights into significant organizational changes (e.g. shift in strategic focus, mergers and acquisitions) 23
Feature: Jin Bei Palace Hotel
Feature: Jin Bei Palace Hotel
What does the future hold for the casino? The company is expected to be the hottest
entertainment outlet in Sihanoukville given its capability to deliver from our architecture, design, service, game types, F&B outlets, Sky Gardens, etc. In the long run, the company will seek further expansion as all other developing companies do. Located in Sihanoukville, how has Jin Bei Group been affected by the rapid growth in casinos in area? Competition in the market within Sihanoukville was tight and having said that, it doesn’t affect us really. We have a huge team of business development from all countries with a vast network of clientele. Since opening, we gained traction in the market share as one of the top-visited and -favored properties in town. What is the size of the casino? Number of slot machines and table games? Volume 17: Issue 144
We have a total of 3,740 square meters of floor area for our guests to enjoy their time here with a huge
selection of both international and local games from our 95 tables and 112 slot machines on the premises. What are the more popular games within the casino? In this region, table games like Baccarat, Blackjack and Niu Niu (also known as Cow Cow) which is directly translated from its Chinese name are the favorite ones among the community. Aside from gaming, are there other activities that complement the gaming to attract customers? Our property is equipped with the biggest aquarium in a hotel in Cambodia, a see-through pool, threehole golf, garden, cigar bar with all premium cigars, a private dining room (booking only), Dragon Palace Restaurant, Lobby Lounge, Encore Casino Bar, allday dining of international cuisines, Palate Restaurant and much more. 25
Feature: Eureka Casino
This pandemic basically hit all industries hard and especially us where tourism was our key business drivers and the statistics indicate almost a 100% down, month on month and at times a pickup of five to 10 percent of flights, month on month. Competition is even harder.”
How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the casino? This pandemic basically hit all industries hard and especially us where tourism was our key business drivers and the statistics informs almost a 100% down, month on month and at times a pickup of five10% flights month on month. Competition is even harder. What practices has the casino put in place to protect staff and customers from the Covid virus? Under strict prevention measures which we adopted from the Ministry of Health of Cambodia, all employees and guests are basically all equipped 26
with masks, visors or goggles, alcohol sanitizer on all tables of gaming and F&B, regular sanitization of public areas and high physical interaction areas such as lifts, doorknobs, etc. It’s a myriad of precautions that we’ve implemented in all aspects. Are there social programs Jin Bei Group has put in place to work with the local community? We’re a strong advocate and believer in giving back, and I’d dare to say that no other private business in Sihanoukville is as active. We have been a long supporter towards the Tourism Department, Municipal Department and other nonprofits such as orphanages, senior homes and schools. www.casinolifemagazine.com
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Feature: Augustine Casino
Local Gaming in the Coachella Valley Bill Healey chats with Augustine Casino’s Jef Bauer
outhern California’s Coachella Valley is well known for its many golf courses, its eight casinos, multiple music festivals, and notably as a winter destination for vacationers from Canada and the northern states. It is also home to the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians’ Augustine Casino. Augustine Casino was the first modern-day business enterprise of the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians when it opened in July of 2002. Though a short two hour drive from Los Angeles, the casino remains a draw for locals within a 15-mile (25km) radius. Casino Life Magazine was fortunate to catch up with Jef Bauer, the general manager at Augustine Casino. Could you give us a bit of your background and how you got your start in the casino gaming
industry. I entered the industry completely by accident. While attending college at University of Nevada and virtually broke, I realized I needed to find a job to support not only my education but my young family (I had a newborn daughter). Perusing the job boards at the university, I noticed an interesting posting for a “Sports Writer.” Since I was a journalism major, knowledgeable about sports, I thought it would be perfect. However, I was confused as to why Harrah’s Reno would have this position. Since the job paid $5.25 an hour, I was excited to find out. I interviewed and was hired...as a sports book ticket writer. This was in 1987 and was the beginning of my career in gaming. Has a career in casinos always been an interest of yours? When did you realize this was the career you’d want to have? 28
Augustine Casino General Manager, Jef Bauer
I had been in the business for nearly 10 years before I realized I wanted to make a career of it. I decided I would set my sights on becoming a general manager. At the time, I was in marketing, still working for Harrah’s in a corporate role. Until that point, I had literally just considered it my “summer job” from May ‘87 and hadn’t even recognized the growth in my own career as heading somewhere. What was your first big break in the industry? By 1993 I had worked my way up into managing the www.casinolifemagazine.com
Feature: Augustine Casino
race and sports book at Harrah’s Reno. One day, I spotted the communications manager carrying boxes out the door at the end of her day. I asked her what she was doing and she said she was taking a position at a local hospital so this was her last day at Harrah’s. She suggested I apply for her old position. I did and was hired. I finally felt like my degree was being put to use. After a year, I was offered the communications manager role at Promus Companies (Harrah’s parent company at that time). This all happened at a time when gaming was expanding nationwide. I spent these years working in nearly every gaming market in the country while in this role at Promus. What path led you to Augustine Casino? By the late ‘90s, I was carving out a niche as a turnaround guy. When a casino or company was underperforming, I discovered a knack for diagnosing the problem, putting together a plan to fix it and putting the right team in place to achieve new levels of prosperity. This was starting to lead to bigger roles and challenges. I worked in a variety of markets from land-based to riverboats to limited-stakes to tribal casinos. I have always loved the West and fell in love Volume 17: Issue 144
with the Coachella Valley when my wife and I visited. Beyond that, I grew up among Native Americans in South Dakota and had helped open four tribal casinos during my tenure with Harrah’s. So, when the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians called to ask
if I was interested in helping them out, it was an easy decision. I committed to helping this tribe through a transitional period, fell in love with them and this area, and will likely stay for a long, long time (so far, eight years). Who has been instrumental in helping you along your journey? I believe any individual success in life is the result of those we’ve surrounded ourselves with. I’ve had some great mentors, amazing colleagues and incredible employees over the years. All have been influential and have shaped who I am as a team member and leader. What are some highlights in your casino gaming career? One of my first big successes came when I conceived of, and designed, the nation’s first truly national slot 29
Feature: Augustine Casino
I believe any individual success in life is the result of those we’ve surrounded ourselves with. I’ve had some great mentors, amazing colleagues and incredible employees over the years.”
tournament at Harrah’s – The Millionaire Maker. Since then, righting the ship for several gaming companies over the years has always felt like an accomplishment. Typically, there are many naysayers whenever you’re trying to implement change, especially when a business has been floundering for a while. I love turning around not only the business but the team’s perception of their own abilities as well as customers’ perception of the business and its standing in the market. The Covid pandemic was a significant challenge 30
to the casino industry. How did Augustine Casino adjust? Will some of these changes be long-term, well beyond the end of this pandemic? At Augustine, the Tribe and the leadership team immediately focused on the safety of our team and our guests. We were the first in the market to close our doors last March and the last to reopen in June. We have made every decision since with an emphasis on safety and cleanliness in the long-term. We removed the buffet, table games, valet parking and discontinued smoking on the casino floor. Any high-touch aspect of our business was discontinued www.casinolifemagazine.com
Feature: Augustine Casino
or reimagined. We actually close the casino each night for a deep cleaning, reopening at 7 a.m. We continue to operate in this way and will for the foreseeable future. On the bright side, this pandemic has forced us to learn new ways of creatively operating in a responsible manner while trying to remain profitable. I do believe the majority of the changes we’ve made will be permanent. How is Augustine Casino placed in the regional market? As a locals’ casino, we are focused almost entirely on residents in a 15-mile radius from our facility. While we do enjoy increased visitation during the winter months from “snowbirds” who spend half their year with us in the valley, we remain busy year-round with locals. The other competitors in our market focus much more on regional tourists, leaving locals for us. Volume 17: Issue 144
UKRAINIAN GAMING WEEK
Feature: Women In Gaming
Nicole Fields, SiGMA Vice President for Growth & Strategy
A helping hand Global Gaming Women aids those seeking to move up in the casino realm. By David McKee Volume 17: Issue 144
Feature: Women In Gaming
ounded in 2015, Global Gaming Women (GGW) provides mentorship for ladies seeking to advance their careers in fields within—or directly related to—the gaming industry. It aims to provide a broad range of peer-topeer relationships and forge ongoing connections. One of those who has benefited from its parenting is Nicole Fields, SiGMA Vice President for Growth & Strategy who shared some of her experiences with Casino Life. We started with the obvious query … Why Global Gaming Women? The most successful women know how valuable relationships are and they usually have built a strong network of people around them. It can be hard or intimidating for women to make connections, especially with someone more senior than them or someone they’ve always aspired to emulate. Global Gaming Women helps break down those barriers for women and brings together women at all job levels to network and meet one another all year-round. They offer networking events and educational opportunities that help women create a close inner circle of peers and advisors that can help them advance in their careers. Networking is such a huge part of the business and GGW brings together women from all segments of the gaming industry worldwide and give them opportunities to build new relationships and find new opportunities that they simply wouldn’t have otherwise. How wide-reaching is GGW? Global Gaming Women has a global reach and we are growing every day. The challenges women face in the gaming industry are not unique to one geographic region, so we formed GGW to be an inclusive resource for women from all strata and all geographies to learn from each other and grow with each other. What resources do you provide to empower members? There are many resources for our members that fall into four general categories: education, training, mentoring and events. However, they have one common goal – to connect women of different experience levels and different backgrounds to create a comfortable mentoring-and-learning atmosphere. There are strong, incredibly insightful women in our industry, and at GGW, we provide a variety of forums 34
and tools to facilitate and stimulate conversations and learning. What is GGW’s greatest accomplishment? That is a challenging question with many answers. Some might say the fact that GGW was formed in and of itself is a major accomplishment, and there were strong, visionary women leaders who made it happen. Perhaps recently, however, a major accomplishment was how we were able to pivot during the pandemic. We quickly modified everything we do to help women stay connected and face the new challenges of the new world that erupted around us all. For example, we took our speaker series online and had a tremendous response at each event, culminating in our Lean-In Breakfast in January where we had more than 400 attendees from multiple time zones. We kept our lean-in circles going over the past 18 months and, as many women fell out of the industry, we allowed those women to remain connected in the organization. Although some have left the industry altogether, they still want to be involved with GGW, which is a great testament to GGW and our programs. What has GGW been able to do for your personal career? Opportunities and access to people! I first got involved with GGW in 2015 because my employer at the time wanted to get more involved in the gaming industry and decided partnering with GGW was a
good way to show our commitment to the industry. I started building a relationship with GGW and worked with them on a fundraiser called “The Power of the Suite” which featured a fashion show showcasing professional workwear paired with a panel of corporate-level speakers talking about positive mental health for women in the workplace. It was during this event planning I was exposed and introduced to many powerful female senior leaders in the industry and made me personally and professionally feel like a million bucks. I specifically remember meeting Scientific Games Executive Vice President Eileen Moore-Johnson during this event and looking up to her like an idol and then years later being at a Chairman’s Reception during Global Gaming Expo with her and talking like we were old friends. At that moment I remember feeling “I’ve made it.” I was so happy. At that event Eileen introduced me to Hospital Gaming Consulting President Holly Gagnon, whom www.casinolifemagazine.com
Feature: Women In Gaming I become friends with and she’s been advising me throughout my career. It’s these types of introductions that are the power of Global Gaming Women. How is the success of GGW measured? In the success of each individual person. If we can help one person, or a group, or an industry, then we have been successful. Has the pandemic crimped GGW’s style, its ability to deliver its product? What we never could have predicted 18 months ago is the pandemic actually made us stronger as a group and as individuals. Our programs have grown, our impact has grown, and we are truly thankful to our many sponsors who, even during their own times of crisis, saw the importance of what we were doing and stepped up to help.
however, from GGW’s perspective, that question highlights the purpose of the mentor/mentee relationship. There are strong, insightful women leaders at every level, in every company, and in every country, and the more we can learn from each other, the more we can mentor each other and share our growth, the better the industry will continue to be, and the less distance there will be between now and “how far.” It would be remiss not to say how supportive men throughout the industry have been and continue to me. We have a great number of male sponsors, and they understand the importance of what we do. They have team members, they have wives, they have daughters, and they get the big picture of what we are doing and why it matters.
How far are we from seeing another major female CEO in gaming? That’s a question for the industry’s companies;
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American Gaming Association President and CEO, Bill Miller sees better times ahead for gaming. By David McKee
020 was the worst of years for the gaming industry and yet showed it at its finest. To cite but one example, Las Vegas Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson not only deployed some of the most stringent and earliest anti-Covid protocols in the business, he also kept his entire workforce on salary throughout the pandemic. One thinks of Adelson as his sudden death prefaced American Gaming Association President Bill Miller’s State of the Industry speech by only a few days. And if the ghost of Adelson seemed to be hovering over the conference call, it was because the previous afternoon, new Sands CEO Rob Goldstein said the company would be “exploring” online sports betting and Internet gambling—a 180-degree reversal from Adelson’s entrenched opposition. Breaking with previous AGA neutrality on these issues, Miller called OSB and i-gaming “essential” to the industry’s future, especially as they had been mainstays of revenue and sources of continuity during the Great Shutdown. “But optimism is no excuse for complacency,” he added, before outlining his agenda for the new(ish) year. To get more of a sense of what Miller hopes—and fears—we caught up with him just after the Super Bowl.
What have we learned from the pandemic about gaming’s resilience? The last year has been…‘trying’ is an understatement. To have an industry that was literally, completely shut down with the exception of online. The industry has shown resilience that it has over many decades that have usually been more localized, if you think of the industry’s resilience after Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy or 2008-9’s financial crisis. There was a resilience that had to be evident in those crises but never anything like this. What we’ve weathered over the last 11 months has really showed the toughness of the industry, the ability of the industry 36
to show compassion for the people that work for us. It’s created an opportunity for us to drive innovation because it was required, whether that be in payment modernization or redesign of casino floors. What was unquestionably the most difficult year in the history of the American gaming industry was one that brought us together, made us stronger, and set the table for what will be an exceptional short- and long-term future. You’re very optimistic about the prospects for this year. What are the reasons behind this? First and foremost, the American public was understandably terrified of the virus and the pandemic, and it created a situation where government leaders, health experts mandated a shutdown, in essence, of the global economy. And while that was and continues www.casinolifemagazine.com
Feature: AGA to be quite damaging for industry in general but specifically our industry, the other thing that people have come to recognize is they really want to get out and have something that works like normal. It may well be a different ‘normal.’ The precursor to getting out and having fun is ‘Is this safe?’ As we continue to vaccinate over a million and a half people per day in this country—the first thing I look at every day is what’s the seven-day average in terms of deaths, reported cases and hospitalizations—and now I’m tracking the number of people that are being vaccinated. For our industry, an industry that is a fun and entertainment outlet, and a return to normal life, it is important. Saving rates are historically high for Americans during this time. They’ve been paying their bills down. As the economy opens up and travel continues to become less worrisome for the American public, our industry is poised for a real exciting rebound. Brick-and-mortar revenues have been mixed but sports betting and i-gaming are way up and continuing to rise. Are we seeing a shift in how we spend our gaming dollars or is this a temporary phenomenon? It’s difficult to make a comparison. Brick-and-mortar were shut down by governmental leaders in the past year, and sports betting has only recently been legal—since May of 2018—anywhere but Nevada. We continue to see strong uptick by a number of
states: 25 states plus the District of Columbia, in terms of those that actually have sports betting. That increase was going to happen whether brick-andmortar casinos were necessarily closed or not, simply because in the entire country with the exception of Nevada nobody could bet legally on sports. So that increase is one that we will continue to see as brickand-mortar continues to reopen. In terms of i-gaming, it’s only in a reasonably small number of states but the pandemic would have been far more devastating to the industry had we not had mobility and the ability to access gaming offerings in your own home. The experiences are completely different, right? I do not think they are a zero-sum dynamic. You’re seeing almost all the operators across the country begin to have an online component and it’s because they recognize a need to offset the illegal market, which is a combination of your corner bookie and offshore, online illegal operators. Having a legal, regulated Volume 17: Issue 144
option to the market is important and it is additive to the omnichannel experience that our members can offer. The addition of mobility is not something that takes the place of being able to go to one of our properties and go to a restaurant, and see a show, enjoy the pool and hit the casino floor. Is litigation of the Federal Wire Act in the rearview mirror at last? We now have a new administration. We don’t have a great deal of insight into the Attorney Generaldesignate’s position on that and hope to get clarity when he goes before his confirmation hearings. Like every business in America, our industry looks for clarity and certainty. With the court’s ruling I believe that is issue is largely behind us. You’ve been generally supportive of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal. What’s in it for gaming? The additional stimulus, from our perspective, is getting money in Americans’ hands so they can pay their bills and be able to travel and purchase things. It’s very important, we have—as a gaming industry— for a long time been carved out. From our perspective, it’s very important to remain where we are, which is being treated like any other business in America. Is there anything that isn’t in there but should be? We’ve pressed for liability protection. Nevada made
some important steps in and around liability. We have to do it in a targeted manner. But part of the challenge of moving the Covid-relief bill through reconciliation, which is probably more archaic that you may or may not want to dive down into, it does limit the number of issues in and around the Covid environment into almost strictly finding-money issues. So there are some pieces that we will not be able to have addressed in this first Covid-relief bill. But I hope we’ll get an opportunity to move with this forward. There’s important measures that need to be addressed and supported to restart business travel, conferences, conventions. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto had an important amendment to the Covid-relief bill and we’ll continue to work towards moving that because it’s bipartisan, it’s something that we need to do as we’re looking not just to stimulate vacation travel but the business-travel segment that is so important to many of our destinations, specifically Las Vegas. 37
Feature: AGA A huge part of your constituency are tribal casinos. What distinctive challenges is Native American gaming facing during this crisis? One of the things that I felt was very important when I took this job was to make our tribal members feel how important they were to me, and my relationship with the National Indian Gaming Association and Chairman Ernest Stevens has been one that we have worked shoulder to shoulder and side by side to make sure that our collective interests are felt, worked through and then supported from the advocacy perspective. We’ve gotten a lot done in the CARES Act last year, but in many cases the casinos, the gaming elements of the tribe are the principal engine of social support for so many of our tribal friends that it’s important that the administration and the Congress address some of those issues in the coming bill and going forward. I believe there has been strong receptivity around tribal issues in the Covid relief.
Gaming expansion ran the table in 2020’s elections. What does this say about public acceptance and the industry’s image? We’re now in 44 states and the District of Columbia. In every one of those states governmental leaders can look at the impact we make in our communities and say, ‘We are much better off to have the gaming industry in our jurisdiction.’ That is why we achieved successes on ballot referendums and achieved new respect from lawmakers. We do a lot of research and survey work. Fifty percent of Americans have a favorable view of the casino industry and that was five percent up from two years ago. It played a very large role in why, for the first time in the history of the industry, we weren’t discriminated against when the CARES Act was passed. That’s because lawmakers and community leaders and social groups all recognized the important role we play in the communities in which we operate.
In your last press conference you sounded a warning about increased taxation. Are there strong indications that gaming taxes could be increased and, if so, where? So far, so good. We have to remain vigilant in that regard. Our industry almost always shoulders a higher tax base than any other industry in the states in which we operate, and we want to make sure that political leaders and legislative leaders understand the important role we play in job creation, economic
In which states do you expect expansion or additional expansion to occur? On the sports-betting side, there’s four states that are pretty close: Massachusetts, Georgia (which would be a first for that state), Ohio and Kentucky. And then Texas is certainly the largest state in the country that doesn’t really have any major gaming and there has been a renewed focus in the legislative session on sports betting as well as casino gaming, and for the first time ever that state is open to the notion of
In the past you’ve been accepting of current tax levels and have pointed out that gaming isn’t an industry that asks for financial incentives to come into a community. Are tax levels becoming a burden? Is relief needed? We’ve seen relief in some states. Because of the outsized role that we play, as it relates to revenues to the states, they are reluctant to hound our industry and that’s important. That’s the right posture for them to take. To the degree that other businesses are getting relief and local stimulus, we obviously think that our industry should receive the same benefit as other businesses. We’re not looking to be treated any differently, either negative or positive.
Casinos were extremely proactive in dealing with Covid-19. What changes do you think are permanent? Casino operators, whether operating testing sites or distributing vaccinations, have shown we are responsible members of our communities. And then
revitalization and taxes paid to the jurisdictions in which we operate, and there is a limit to how high that tax rate goes and we can continue to be the community leaders that we are.
having integrated resorts as well as sports betting. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, in his State of the State, talked about raising sports betting and he realizes that, in the neighborhood in which he resides, there’s other states that have either moved forward successfully with sports betting or are currently moving that and he doesn’t want to get left behind. Then in California, where we have a very strong tribal constituency, there’s some continued momentum in how best to construct a sports-betting regime that respects the tribal-jurisdictional issues that would be required in any piece of sports-betting legislation.
Feature: AGA one of the innovations, maybe the greatest innovation that will come from this, is they moved toward consumer choice as it relates to payments. For a long time this was an industry that primarily was a cashoriented industry. And that still is the preponderance but the pandemic has accelerated the industry’s experimentation with and successful implementation of contactless, mobile, digital payments. I don’t think we’re ever going backwards in that regard. It may well be in 10 years’ time that the design of the casino is completely different. It doesn’t have to be built like a fortress because of all of the cash that is housed within it. It opens up tremendous opportunities to think very creatively in how casinos are designed. That is one of the things that we probably didn’t think of when had to work our way through the pandemic but the issue of cash has always been something that vexed me and we’ve made a great deal of movement toward accepting digital payments in every facet of the industry. And that’s due to the consumer because, frankly, in every other aspect of their lives they’re using digital transactions, from going to Starbucks to
every other piece of their lives. Two, it helps with our commitment to anti-money laundering and knowing our customer. There’s issues around bank secrecy, and ensuring that we are continued partners with FinCEN and law enforcement. That only helps us in that regard. Given the AGA’s proprietary revenue tracking, what’s the runway for recovery in 2021? What does your crystal ball tell you? We’ve just kind of looked at the numbers for 2020, and January and February were the best months we’ve ever had in the industry’s history. We closed out the year down 31 percent. My view is incredibly optimistic for 2021, particularly the back half of the year.
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Volume 17: Issue 144
Feature: DR Gaming Technology
Alfredo Moreno, MD: Mexico
Challenges Excite Us
DR Gaming Technology: Mexico’s Managing Director, Alfredo Moreno, and Group CEO, Jurgen De Munck speak with Peter White
ver 1,000 beds delivered in a single day, a record as far as I understand; well done! This assistance though is not your first, how did your Company get involved with this specific NPO? Jurgen: As we’ve grown Peter, specifically here in Mexico, I have become far more aware of just how important communities, that in many cases are just massive families, are. As you know I moved here about two years ago, quite soon after we established 40
an office here in 2017; the culture, and the sense of community I feel here is very different to what I grew up with in Belgium, and in a good way. Those that ‘have’ today help those that ‘have not’ today, because tomorrow the shoe will in all likelihood be on the other foot. The challenges that face many communities here and in many other under-resourced countries across the globe are at times almost impossible to comprehend until you see them first-hand, and yet www.casinolifemagazine.com
Feature: DR Gaming Technology these communities stand together, help one another, and do their best to make things work with what they have. It is that exact spirit that drove the establishment of Curando México in 2010, an initiative that Alfredo was part of at the outset, and one that he has tirelessly served as President since inception. In essence the short answer to your ‘how’ question is: through Alfredo. Wow Alfredo, I raise my glass: ¡Salud! Can you tell our readers a bit more about the charity? Alfredo: Well, the global charity Project C.U.R.E. (of which Curando México is the local partner) was established as far back as the late 80s by current CEO and President Dr. Doug Jackson’s dad. Doug’s dad was on a work assignment in Brazil, and while in Rio, his interpreter, a medical student, took him to see the small clinic at which she volunteered. Doug’s dad was completely shocked at what he saw; a community without proper healthcare facilities, doctors without resources and as a result (he says) people without hope. So, when Doug’s dad got back to Colorado, he and Doug’s mom started collecting medical supplies to send to Brazil. Thanks to generous friends they filled their garage with donated supplies, and then paid for the actual delivery of those supplies themselves; that was the beginning of Project C.U.R.E. The organisation now, almost 25 years later, has distribution warehouses in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Texas, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, and smaller collection centres in 9 U.S. cities, shipping three to four cargo containers of medical equipment and supplies weekly; and although they never enter a community without an invitation, to date Project C.U.R.E. has assisted communities in more than 130 countries worldwide. Are the beds you assisted in supplying and delivering standard beds Alfredo? Alfredo: No they are not. They are designed specifically for medical relief, and as such are perfect for the set-up of emergency hospitals and clinics in times of natural disasters for example, and in this case pandemics. They fold flat, and can thus be easily stored, accessed, and then loaded and shipped via container or simply on the back of a truck to wherever they are needed in a really short space of time. As I said they are designed specifically for medical relief efforts. Volume 17: Issue 144
Jurgen De Munck, CEO: Group
Let’s get back to the numbers though; 1,000 new beds in a day – the logistics must have been quite challenging just getting that size shipment through the border and then customs, and then actually to the various hospitals where patients were in dire need. How did all get done?
Jurgen: Well Beth Conley, Curando México’s Operations Director is the real Queen of logistics. Alfredo and I just assisted with all the paperwork on the day at the Laredo border crossing, and that was a job and a half in itself; what it did though was put into perspective what the 35-odd Project C.U.R.E. permanent staff and over 15,000 volunteers do on an annual basis, its insane.
With such global reach, and the servicing of such a noble cause how can other operators, suppliers, and/or service providers across our industry, or any other for that matter, get involved? Alfredo: As was the case all those years ago when Doug’s father and mother started Project C.U.R.E. the challenge remains footing the bill to actually get the medical supplies to the communities that need them, and to a far lesser extent the actual sourcing of the supplies. 41
Feature: DR Gaming Technology Jurgen: Of course! What I was referring to in the article you must have read was the fact that through this adversity operators and regulators alike have both expedited their efforts to ‘go cashless’. As I’ve said many times before, casino operators have always seen the value therein, for both themselves in respect of the invaluable data that is captured and the learnings that can be derived from the dissecting thereof, and their players from a plain and simple convenience standpoint, not to mention a security and private adminrelated perspective too. Agreed; from a personal point of view, I’d say that probably 95% of my own transactions these days are done cashlessly, either via an App or a card. Jurgen: There you go Peter, that’s exactly my point. As a consumer we expect transactions to (now) happen cashlessly; and that should be the case at land-based casinos too. Players are accepting at the moment, but I have no doubt they will be demanding very soon, and in some jurisdictions they are already – expedited now due to the pure health and safety benefits associated thereto. Speaking of which: TITO is often a ‘skipped step’ in the migration from cash to cashless; and I have no doubt that now it will in all likelihood not even be considered as an option for current cash-only operators, who, in my view will now migrate directly to NFC and RFID ‘tap and play’ technology and/or a Player App.
The cost to ship one cargo container is roughly USD25,000, and if anyone or any organization would like to contribute towards that cost in part, or in total, they are more than welcome to contact me and I will gladly facilitate whatever introductions are required. Alternately the full details are available on Project C.U.R.E.s website: www.projectcure.org Now, notwithstanding your contributions to Curando México and your philanthropic endeavours via Project C.U.R.E. you still have a global business to run; I read recently though that despite the pandemic you remain optimistic, particularly in respect of the opportunities being created by the expedition of cashless gaming – can you explain? 42
What you’re saying makes sense, and really is logical. That said, surely security and costs pose the biggest challenge, how does one address these? Jurgen: I think one only has to look to the online gaming sector here for an answer; and I’m referring to gaming, gambling, and sports betting. All three of these business models operate very successfully and very securely without any hard cash changing hands at all. Granted land-based casinos have physical slot machines, tables, and cashiers and that is what sets us apart and what our players like – otherwise they’d all ‘just’ be playing online, but the fundamentals are the same. So in our case, security is addressed by the data redundancy, real-time data, and reporting our patented drSMIB affords operators. What it does is individually connect all player and staff touch points www.casinolifemagazine.com
Feature: DR Gaming Technology
like EGMs, live tables, cash desks, redemption kiosks and the like and then ‘pulls and pushes’ all game play and transactional data as well as any instructions like jackpot updates or bill validator software updates for example, in the aforementioned real-time, across all other drSMIBs in the local (casino) or groupwide (operator’s estate) network.
So there’s the answer to my security question, what about costs? Jurgen: Well Peter, as you know our management system is designed to operate without a permanent server connection, and as such, the purchase of expensive servers by the operator is negated at the outset – that in itself is a considerable saving. Add to that the fact that no trading time is lost as with the proper pre-planning a change-over to our system can happen within the course of a single day, without having to close the casino at all, and the numbers make sense. Commercially, operationally, and from a pure player convenience perspective cashless, as you so rightly said a little earlier, makes sense and really is quite logical. Volume 17: Issue 144
Industry First Tim Kennedy, Vice President Sales EMEA, SUZOHAPP shares with Damien Connelly
020 was a considerably challenging year for the gaming, leisure and entertainment sectors. What would you say were amongst SUZOHAPP’s most impressive achievements during the course of that year? Last year was definitely one of those most challenging years our industry has ever seen. With travel and 44
hospitality closed, we saw a lot of businesses shutter their doors forever because the closures were so long and restricted reopening was just not enough to bounce back with. That being said, I think one of the biggest achievements of any company has just been to make it through to 2021. We had a stellar team at the helm in 2020 that was able to make difficult decisions quickly and react to the constantly changing www.casinolifemagazine.com
Feature: SuzoHapp times. We also took then mentality of “industry first” knowing that in order to make our business survive, we had to make sure our customers could survive first. So we looked at what products could best serve customers in helping them reopen, like PPE products, separators and items to help meet reopening guidelines. We also donated PPE to assist in the front lines in the hopes that even that small gesture would help keep more customers safe and get us all one step closer to reopening. What are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the gaming sector in the coming years and what steps is SUZOHAPP taking to ensure it can deliver the answers? The pandemic has changed peoples’ mentalities in some ways. I think the return to table games might be more challenging than we would like as people get accustomed to being around others again. The biggest opportunities are the shifts towards cashless payments and the potential for mobile integration in the gaming experience. As people have gotten used to doing their betting online, casinos will need to find unique ways to align the methods that people bet online with how they bet in person. I think we will find that the demand to be in a casino is there, it’s simply the nuances of how to make it easier for customers to acclimate back to being in person that the industry will need to figure out how to get right. G2E Las Vegas is looking good to go ahead this year with everything going as planned. Are you in a position at this time to provide readers any insight into what is planned for this year’s show?
Tim Kennedy, Vice President of Sales EMEA, SUZOHAPP
We are cautiously excited about G2E this year. If we have learned anything in the pandemic, it’s not to make concrete plans because you’ll likely have to change them. For the most part our plans include making sure we highlight the importance of our partnerships that have really shone over the past year. Our partner Elo, for example, has come up with great new products in the display and touch-screen space, which has been exceptionally difficult considering there is a global display shortage. Mostly, however we are taking our G2E plans one day at a time to see how everything will turn out globally, as the state of Europe will have a big effect on the show and how many will be able to attend. Volume 17: Issue 144
Do you see land-based casinos going more in the direction of electronic gaming with more EGT’s? Casinos are definitely headed towards more electronic gaming. EGT’s are one way to help align those expectations that customers bring from their year of digitally exclusive content to the in-person casino floor. As a society, we may be wary of groups and crowds for a while, even after vaccines and whatever herd immunity we can achieve, just given how quickly we got into this mess in the first place. So seeing an increase in this type of gaming makes total sense.
What are your hopes and aspirations for the gaming leisure and gaming sector in the years ahead? We have so many opportunities for innovation in the next few years to really get the digital and casino experiences aligned. There is a lot of pent-up demand to get out of the house and to have fun, and I think we’ll benefit greatly from that, but we have to make sure we live up to those dreams and expectations in order to keep people coming back for more. 46
© Chris O’Donovan Photography/Samaritans
Safer Gambling C
Samaritans publish practical guidance to reduce the risk of gamblingrelated suicide. By Damien Connelly and Peter White onversations that are courageous. Challenging. Difficult. Uncomfortable.
Stigma-breaking. Painful. Heart-breaking. Life changing… This is not an easy topic to either write or talk about and probably not easy to read either. As noted in Samaritans’ research, “Breaking the stigma around suicide and gamblingrelated harms is crucial for any prevention strategy to be successful.” If, by publishing this, we at Casino Life and Outsource Digital Media help break this stigma, we’ve supported our industry in making progress. “…people experiencing gambling-related harms were five times more likely to have suicidal thoughts than other customers. One in twenty (5%) had attempted suicide,” noted this Samaritans report. Suicide is a fact of our industry that is global; it is not specific or exclusive to any one county or jurisdiction. It behooves us as mature and intelligent individuals and organisations to accept and manage this reality to the absolute best of our abilities. Gambling and gamblingrelated harm are risk factors for suicide. We at Casino Volume 17: Issue 144
Life and Outsource Digital Media fully support raising awareness of the guidelines created by Samaritans in
the hope we encourage as many gambling businesses as possible to review and consider enforcing Samaritans’ guidance. In addition to the people with lived experiences who shared their stories and knowledge, the following operators and organisations supported this body of work: Bet365; Kindred; Playtech; Rank Group; GamCare; UK Gambling Commission – project funder; GambleAware; BetKnowMore UK; Epic Risk Management; and PGSolutions Group. Kindred has started to communicate publicly about its ‘Journey Towards Zero’ – such public communication will also hopefully help break the stigma surrounding this topic. Kindred has an ambition to reach zero percent revenue from harmful gambling by 2023. Harmful gambling sources accounted for 3.9 percent of Kindred’s revenue in 1Q21, according to the company. Land-based operators have decades/years of legacy 47
© Chris O’Donovan Photography/Samaritans
processes, face-to-face exposure and intervention experiences, and continuous staff training in place. Based on our industry experience, it is fair to say that online has further to go than land-based in successfully implementing responsible gambling practices that truly place customers at the heart of their corporate and employee actions, rather than shareholders and financial gain. The fact that large numbers of land-based operators have been closed in many jurisdictions for long periods of time since the Coronavirus pandemic started, but calls and digital communications to gambling-related harm support organisations have not stopped (in fact, they’ve probably increased), reinforces the need for online gambling businesses to deal more urgently with this uncomfortable topic.
Recommendations from this research include how to have a robust suicide prevention policy to safeguard customers and staff, how to use harm prevention to guide marketing communications, how to use data to help prevent suicide, and how to communicate sensitively with customers in distress. If you stop and think about the following statement published in these guidelines, you will realise how important it is to address this issue effectively: “For every customer directly experiencing gamblingrelated harms, at least six other people will be negatively affected.” “Suicide is preventable… With a clear association between gambling and suicide, identifying the changes needed in the gambling environment to prevent suicide is a vital part of our work,” noted Mubeen Bhutta, Head of Policy at Samaritans. “We’re proud to publish these industry guidelines and look forward to seeing all gambling businesses engage with them in a proactive 48
effort to do more to prevent gambling-related suicide.” Samaritans’ industry guidelines are uniquely focused on suicide prevention and have been created with the view of sitting alongside existing industry resources that aim to reduce the risk of gamblingrelated harms. Examples of such resources include GamCare’s Safer Gambling Standard and its suite of industry-facing training products. Companies can find out more about suicide awareness and prevention training developed by GamCare and Samaritans at: https://www.safergamblingstandard. org.uk/training-and-resources, and by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone can contact Samaritans FREE any time from
any phone on 116 123 (in the UK), even a mobile without credit. This number won’t show up on your phone bill. Or you can email email@example.com or visit www.samaritans.org. Every day, Samaritans volunteers respond to around 10,000 calls for help. Samaritans is a charity and it’s the public’s kind donations and more than 20,000 volunteers that mean we are always there for anyone struggling to cope. Find out how you can support us or volunteer with us. To find out more about Samaritans’ work in gambling-related harms and suicide, please visit their policy and research page. www.samaritans.org www.facebook.com/samaritanscharity twitter.com/samaritans www.casinolifemagazine.com
NFT technology shows how to win new fans in gaming
ew technology is always a driving force for innovations in gaming and there are opportunities for casino floors to turn things around again. Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs) are the blockchain-backing cryptographic assets on the internet. They are creating the biggest buzz among the younger generation and in the fintech industry right now, with the onset of the global pandemic as consumers spend more time on online platforms looking for entertainment. Even the oncefamous electronic gaming giant Atari has announced that it is selling its own NFT collection. NFTs are seen mainly
as crypto-collectibles on blockchain, and can be transferred easily and used across different games. However, even NFT assets (in-app avatars and accessories purchase) is clearly the leading revenue to help drive in-game economies from new gamers in eSport and casual games. It is not happening on the casino floors because of a disconnection between the game makers and the casino operators. Raymond Chan Casinos are not having the ability to make games on their own desire, thus limiting the interaction with players directly on the casino floor. A new standard of blockchain powered “smart” gaming machines network can help the situation on Volume 17: Issue 144
the casino floor. The new system will directly bridge casinos and customers for increasing incentives to play on the casino floors, and for a longer time than they do in eSport and modern casual games these days. 49
Feature: Alphaslot Image Credit: https://cryptoart.io/data
The estimated total value of the NFT-based crypto art has now passed $100 million according to cryptoart.io/data
In principle, it makes a lot of sense and there are several clear advantages to the idea. Firstly, casinos can offer unique NFT digital accessories on blockchain to players that aren’t available for direct sales. This is likely to be highly useful when it comes to, for example, authorizing one game to react to the digital avatars, creating compulsion and additional in-game boosts to enhance the gaming experience for a new generation of customers. Secondly, players will be better equipped with more control while playing, allowing in-game strategy and potentially position themselves with higher chances of
winning (in selected jurisdictions). These features will engage players for longer time-on-device and drive up revenue from the casino floors. Thirdly, as the blockchain infrastructure becomes mature and widely used, the system offers the potential of greatly improving the overall security of the environment. The new layer will also create access for the regulators to promote responsible gambling and AML, for game designers to tap into new sources of information of their players, for casino operators to expand their reach to customers via CRM, for technology companies to innovate in presently unimaginable ways, and for gaming values to grow exponentially. Every new ecosystem starts with a chicken-and-theegg problem: The supply won’t join the system unless there’s a demand. And demand is challenging to prove without real supply. As the gamers’ data are encrypted and anonymous on the blockchain with NFTs, casinos 50
are more willing to open the customer gateway with game makers for product improvement. Both casino operators and game makers are now able to offer NFT digital assets for gamers to acquire, making them stay longer on their games and increasing revenue for both game makers and casino operators. We believe casino gaming, and more broadly the casino entertainment value, should be appreciated like all other entertainment modes in the internet age today — interactively, securely, globally and responsibly. The unique characteristics of NFT on a blockchain network present new business opportunities for the industry to compete with upstarts and win new fans alike.
About Raymond Chan Raymond is a tech venture partner and a data engineering veteran. He cofounded Alphaslot Foundation in 2018 to help the daring build emerging startups, and serves in advisory roles for local universities to forge closer ties with private and public sectors. Previously, Raymond cofounded two gaming startups in USA and China respectively, led the customer intelligence and regulatory technologies to the industry from 2007-2018. Earlier in his career, Raymond was part of the founding team that developed the data science center for E*TRADE Financial which later acquired by Morgan Stanley, and played a key role in the design of the TiVo customer intelligence system for the internet unicorn in Silicon Valley. www.casinolifemagazine.com
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