The magazine for the owners and management of international casinos
Volume 17: Issue 145
MOHEGAN SUN WHERE INNOVATION NEVER STOPS
WHERE THE GLOBAL GAMING INDUSTRY COMES TOGETHER Reunite with the global gaming industry at Global Gaming Expo (G2E). Set in Las Vegas, the heart of gaming, G2E is the premier event for commercial and tribal gaming professionals to reconnect, discover cutting-edge technology, and experience innovative content. Whether in-person or virtually, October 4-7, 2021 (Education: October 4-7 | Expo Hall: October 5-7) will be when G2E unites the community that is shaping the future of gaming.
PRE-REGISTER TODAY AT: GLOBALGAMINGEXPO.COM EDUCATION OCTOBER 4-7 EXPO HALL OCTOBER 5-7 SANDS EXPO, LAS VEGAS
CASINO The magazine for the owners and management of international casinos
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Welcome... It’s summer and a young man’s fancy turns to gambling – as it does for players of any age, gender or hue. Or it would, were casinos open yet. At present, it’s a tale of two worlds. In the United States, gaming is at a sizzling pace and nothing symbolizes that like the June 24 opening of Resorts World Las Vegas, coming just as Sin City returns to its torrid 2019 levels. But it’s a very different story across the Atlantic, one that Per Jaldung eloquently chronicles. Across the continent, casinos are only just reopening (as in Poland) or “Others are still unable to greet guests as national lockdowns continue to inflict extreme hardship on our sector.” Says Jaldung, “we are still very far from business as usual,” and the same could be said of Macao, where a faltering recovery is threatened by another round of Coronavirus and concomitant travel constraints. Gaming’s erstwhile Mecca has definitely seen better days. On a much happier note, the American Gaming Association has announced that it is bringing back Global Gaming Expo in pre-pandemic format October 4-7. In a nod to our changed world, some sessions will be virtual, which is also a nod to the logistical difficulty of getting all the top minds in gaming together in one place at one time. Still, it will be comforting to return to the G2E of yore, renewing relationships that had grown Covid cobwebs.
In South Korea, the impact of Coronavirus slowed construction of megaresort Inspire but hasn’t dimmed the enthusiasm of Mohegan Gaming Entertainment’s International President Bobby Soper, who gave us a tantalizing preview of a property that promises to have something for everyone. Gambling will be off-limits to Korean players but there will be many international ones to replace them and all should find something to like amid Inspire’s cornucopia of amenities. As it puts the finishing touches on Inspire, MGE turns its eyes to Nagasaki, as it seeks to gain an edge in Japan’s tortoise-powered casino-selection process. Or, as Joji Kokuryo wittily puts it, “there has been as much excitement as can be had while nothing is actually happening.” What’s more, with fewer and fewer major casino operators willing to endure the constipated bureaucracy in Japan and the high tax rate, MGE finds Melco Resorts & Entertainment and MGM Resorts International as its biggest reigning competitors, in a battle of the M’s. You might call it alphabet soup.
DMcKee David McKee Editor
Contents 3 Editor’s Note 4 Contents Page 5 Guest Comment ECA President Per Jaldung 7 European Casino Association Dealer Championships 2022 8 Irons In The Fire
Mohegan Gaming Entertainment’s Bobby Soper shoulders a vast and varied portfolio. By David McKee 18 Bang For The Buck Resorts World Las Vegas will be the most expensive resort in Sin City history. By David McKee 29 A 33rd Casino for the JOA Group in the
Heart of Haut-Jura Laurent Lassiaz, CEO, and Pauline Boyer Martin, Operations and Marketing Director of JOA discuss the Group’s latest ‘new generation’ casino with Damien Connelly. 34 A Year To Forget The American Gaming Association looks back on 2020. By David McKee 36 Moving Beyond Recovery
By Lisa Waterfield, The LW Consulting, LLC
37 Japan IR Timeline Update By Joji Kokuryo, Bay City Ventures, Managing Director 41 Ambient Scent Is ambient scent what casinos need moving into a post-pandemic world? Research says yes. By Damien Connelly 46 Audio Branding for Themed Slot Machines
It’s all about the game. By Willie Wilcox
54 Digitalisation of Casinos
By Jonathan Strock
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.
Guest Comment Per Jaldung
and-based casinos in Europe are a piece of our shared history and heritage. Generations from all walks of life have enjoyed the wonderful hospitality and service offered within the walls of our establishments, which have become community hubs for people to gather, socialise and have fun. Casinos in Europe are a pillar of our societies and seeing them empty and desolate was a terrible shock. As terrible as having to tell your loyal and high-skilled employees that there is no more work for them. The crisis has hit the retail hospitality industry, our sector, the hardest worldwide. It caught us by surprise, and we were unprepared for the impact it would have on our lives and our businesses. Since the start of the pandemic, the toll has been heavy. European casinos were closed for an average of 136 days in 2020, with many yet to welcome guests in 2021. As members start to open their doors for the first time in months, relieved to be working alongside their colleagues once again, they are operating under severe restrictions that cannot be maintained in the long-term. Others are still unable to greet guests as national lockdowns continue to inflict extreme hardship on our sector. Thanks to ECA members’ strong network and high engagement in the Association’s activities, our surveys have revealed that land-based casinos lost an average of over 37 percent of regular operating days throughout 2020 due to mandated COVID-19 closures, and have experienced a fall in revenues of over 50 percent. Many casinos still do not have clear reopening schedules for 2021 and this uncertainty is not only causing distress for our businesses, but also for our employees. Our employees are essential to us. It’s due to their diligence and hard work that customers feel loyalty to our brands and want to return again and again to our Volume 17: Issue 145
European Casino Association President, Per Jaldung 5
Guest Comment locations. But the situation is bleak. Pre-pandemic, ECA members’ 900 European casinos employed more than 70,000 people. Post-pandemic this employment figure is estimated to fall to 50,000. The loss of so many of our colleagues, which we have worked side-by-side with for countless years, is the heaviest burden our members have to carry right now. Simply put, this is one of the darkest times ever for our sector. The financial impact has been extreme, with a significant number of casinos closed permanently. Although we see the light at the end of the tunnel, we are still very far from business as usual. In fact, our members’ casinos continue to be subject to restrictions that potentially discourage guests from playing with us. Reduced opening hours, maximum occupancy and amenity limitations, social distancing protocols, restricted gaming offers, protective measures including plexiglass, masks and on-site testing are just some of the hurdles that the landbased casino business is currently facing. Countryto-country variations in the restrictions have also
been compounded by regional variations within national borders. These restrictions are the next major challenge for a sector that the pandemic has hit the hardest. At this time, it is essential to make clear to policymakers that our industry is suffering, like so many others, and that we need help to recover. The European Union has drawn up a terrific tool to respond to the pandemic crisis, the Next Generation EU package. It is now the duty of our governments to allocate key investments for the recovery of our industry. Casinos are an essential part of the service and tourism sector, which has had to wait the longest to reopen and yet it is one of the sectors that people miss the most. The good news is that with vaccination programmes advancing and summer finally here, tourism is regaining its vitality and people are looking for entertainment. In the last year, we have realised how important it is to get together and have fun, and how much we miss that lighter side of life. Now we look forward to enjoying these moments again.
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Events: European Dealer Campionship 2022
The best of the best are going to meet again, in Monte Carlo
mproving and promoting the safe, fun, and professional environment of licensed landbased casinos across Europe is one of the top priorities of the European Casino Association (ECA). It is therefore with great joy that we can announce that the European Dealer Championship 2022 will take place at the fantastic Casino de MonteCarlo in Monaco from May 16-18, 2022. Postponed twice due to the impact of the pandemic and ongoing restrictions affecting European travellers, the EDC is an eagerly awaited event which is not only the occasion to showcase the amazing skills of dealers of European casinos, but also the perfect opportunity to exchange information, expand networks, and meet with friends and colleagues from all over Europe. We have missed the welcoming, fun, safe and fair environment of the EDC. We enthusiastically look forward to the upcoming event in spring 2022, especially after having cancelled it for two years in a row. “Every year, the EDC has brought together and recognised the amazing talent nurtured across our member locations Europe-wide,” comments ECA Chair Per Jaldung. “The spirit of healthy competition, best practices gleaned from over 25 different European countries, and the personal connections made at such a truly international event remain invaluable. The European Dealer Championship has been sorely missed for the last two years, and its return to the fabulous location of Monte-Carlo is enthusiastically welcomed by all members and participants.” The much-anticipated Monte-Carlo event will be an extra-special occasion as the industry reunites after so long apart in an extraordinary location. “Casino de Monte-Carlo has been waiting for two years to finally Volume 17: Issue 145
welcome the best dealers in Europe to Monaco,” states Pascal Camia, executive vice president of the Gaming Operations of Monte-Carlo Société des Bains de Mer
and Vice-Chair of the ECA. “Monte-Carlo is the perfect stage for both the comeback of land-based casinos in Europe and the celebration of the amazing talent and dedication of those working in our sector.” Hermann Pamminger, ECA’s Secretary-General, adds, “We look forward to gathering in Monaco in May 2022 for a special edition in a symbolic location. The importance of the EDC is highlighted by the fact that this year’s cancelled event was on track to become the largest competition in its 15-year history, with over 40 participating casino members. Events such as the European Dealer Championship are more important than ever in 2022 as the industry rebounds from the pandemic and seeks to address the challenges of the unprecedented crisis currently facing the land-based sector.” The ECA welcomes members to Monaco May 16-18, 2022 and to the European Dealer Championship’s next stop, Montreux Casino in Switzerland, in 2023. 7
Lead Feature: Mohegan Sun
Lead Feature: Mohegan Sun
Irons in the fire Mohegan Gaming Entertainment’s Bobby Soper shoulders a vast and varied portfolio. By David McKee
Volume 17: Issue 145
Lead Feature: Mohegan Sun
Scott Fitzgerald’s most-famous quote is that there are no second acts in American lives. Not only is Bobby Soper living out a second act (with who knows how many more to come) he’s doing it with the same company where he played Act One: Mohegan Gaming Entertainment. The tribal-gaming titan is reaching across the oceans, and decided that Soper was the man to head up its international operations, particularly those in Korea and Japan. Soper is relatively new to his remit but has clearly hit the ground running, speaking to his responsibilities with great assurance. Then again, Soper is no stranger to Mohegan country. From 2015 to 2017, he was CEO of MGE. Prior to that, he spent 11 years with the company, in a variety of executive capacities. Between his two Mohegan stints, he headed his own startup, Sun Gaming & Hospitality. Nor is Soper’s brief confined to gaming, as he explains below, although he is playing a vigorous role in MGE’s transition to the i-gaming sphere. He spoke with Casino Life from his office in Korea. What brought you back to Mohegan Sun? The Mohegan Management Board asked if I would be willing to take on this role. The opportunity to help my Tribal family was the primary reason I took on this engagement. Also, in my former tenure as CEO, one of the last major undertakings was the pursuit and award of the IR license for Incheon, so the success of the project is somewhat personal for me. This role would allow me to help ensure the success of this project and other overseas projects that will be transformational for the Tribe and those host communities.
What were some of the highlights of your previous tenure?
As most executives in this industry would probably agree, developing and opening a new property is always a highlight. In my case, being part of the team to open our major expansion at our flagship in Connecticut in 2001 was certainly gratifying and, as CEO, overseeing the opening of the first casino in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs) in 2006 also makes the list. And then of course, successfully procuring the integratedresort license in South Korea in 2016 was the start of our global expansion and a pinnacle moment for the organization. Those were all some memorable moments. However, truthfully my greatest memories and highlights were all those moments working with team members I consider dear friends that are truly industry leaders. What did you learn as an independent operator? For the last several years most of my time and focus has been serving as an investor, partner and board member in numerous projects, both gaming and nongaming. While I have also spent time advising in the hospitality space, the reality is that I have spent less time in the operational trenches. However, I would say these entrepreneurial initiatives taught me a great deal about raising capital, especially in various alternative sectors outside of gaming. What is your portfolio these days? For the past several years, I have invested most of
my time and resources on opportunities that focus on innovation with exponential growth potential. Some of those include renewable energy, manufacturing, agriculture, online gaming, online lottery and some other high-growth-opportunity areas. For example, I’m an investor and part of a team developing a micro steel mill in Miami which will be considered the greenest micro steel mill in the United States and one of the greenest steel mills in the world. We
For the past several years, I have invested most of my time and resources on opportunities that focus on innovation with exponential growth potential. Some of those include renewable energy, manufacturing, agriculture, online gaming, online lottery and some other high-growth-opportunity areas.” 10
Lead Feature: Mohegan Sun
will recycle scrap metal into finished construction steel products using a de minimis carbon footprint. Steel has a history of being perceived as having an adverse perception in environmental circles. This is a unique opportunity to both overcome environmental challenges while generating strong economic returns.
provide specific names, but I have been assisting online-gaming companies to distribute their product in new jurisdictions, focusing on those ones that are moving forward with the legalization of online gaming, as well as online sports wagering both domestically and overseas.
How much are you involved in the gaming and resort-development sector? I have spent some of my time overseas in gaming and resort opportunities, primarily in South America and Asia. Domestically, I was fortunate enough to assist colleagues at Juniper Capital and Richard Bosworth in their transaction to purchase the Hard Rock Casino in Las Vegas, which was recently rebranded as a Virgin Resort with the casino operated by our company. I’ve also been advising the Mohegan Board the past year and a half prior to taking on this current role. In addition, I have been involved as an investor and advisor in a handful of online-gaming initiatives, including some startups as well.
How much of Inspire is MGE responsible for building and operating? We are responsible for the development of all aspects of the project and we’re also managing all elements with the caveat that Hanwha Hotel & Resorts, a toptier Korean hotel operator and manager, will manage our rooms.
Could you talk a little bit more about what you’re doing in i-gaming? Non-disclosure obligations do not permit me to Volume 17: Issue 145
What will it contain when finished and when do you expect that to be? This is truly an integrated resort with over 1,200 rooms, a significant retail offering, 24-plus food and beverage options, MICE amenities in addition to a 15,000-seat, state-of-the- art arena, and a large, indoor, water complex referred to as Splash Bay. Of course, it will also include various other nightlife and entertainment amenities throughout the property. We anticipate opening in the second quarter of 2023. 11
Lead Feature: Mohegan Sun
Bobby Soper, International President at Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment 12
Lead Feature: Mohegan Sun
This is truly an integrated resort with over 1,200 rooms, a significant retail offering, 24-plus food and beverage options, MICE amenities in addition to a 15,000-seat, state-ofthe- art arena, and a large, indoor, water complex referred to as Splash Bay. Of course, it will also include various other nightlife and entertainment amenities throughout the property.” How has Covid-19 complicated the construction process? Or has it? There has been some indirect impact. The finalization of our financing was stalled a bit due to Covid, which in turn slowed down our construction. However, now that there is light at the end of the tunnel and things are opening up a little more, we feel confident we will secure all remaining funds and will proceed with full mobilization and construction shortly. How many visitors do you expect per year and from where will they come? We estimate approximately five million visitors annually coming to the property, much of which will be driven by significant non-gaming offerings, including specific high-volume offerings such as Volume 17: Issue 145
our 15,000 seat arena. When you’re talking about 28 million residents within an hour and a half of our property, it provides a tremendous opportunity to be a leader in entertainment. Mohegan is an entertainment company first and foremost – this is core to our model at all of our properties. Korea, and Seoul specifically, is an Asian hub for pop culture, especially live entertainment. Simply there is a very limited number of entertainment venues in the greater Seoul area, and those that do exist are sub-optimal for live entertainment. Accordingly, we believe Inspire will be a market maker and market leader in entertainment for Greater Seoul, which will allow us to drive tremendous local traffic, and which also in turn will allow us to monetize and optimize other elements of the project. 13
Lead Feature: Mohegan Sun
In regards specifically to gaming customers, a majority of them will come from China and Japan as well as surrounding countries, though there is a remarkably robust number of Seoul-area foreign residents who will also be permitted to gamble. How would you characterize the difference between doing business in South Korea and in Japan? They’re actually more alike than dissimilar, especially 14
when you look at how they compare relative to all the jurisdictions within Asia. Both of these countries have great pride and appreciation for their history and culture. They both have had strong growth in their economies the past decade. Family is central to both and there’s a great respect for their surrounding environment, which makes it more pleasant to operate in either environment. They are both facing super-aging societies which could have economic consequences. As regards gaming, they www.casinolifemagazine.com
Lead Feature: Mohegan Sun Given how long the casino-approval process has taken in Japan, how does one stay patient? [chuckles] Well, I guess you could say some things are worth waiting for. So that’s the case here. It’s pretty well indisputable that Japan will be one of the largest gaming markets in the world. When there is an opportunity this large, investments have to be made which not only include money, but also include time and patience. How large of a market do you think it is? The estimates have been all over the ballpark. Yes, there are a wide range of forecasts out there. As it relates to Japan in its entirety, in my opinion the most realistic estimate is closer to $15 billion annual GGR, but of course, potential is not only driven by population, but also location and various rules of operation. Assuming reasonable commercial terms, I think this number is within the most likely range of possibilities – give or take a few billion less or a few billion more. Losing Hokkaido does not seem to have been much of a setback. How receptive has Nagasaki been? Nagasaki seems very committed, based upon their transparency and the schedule for the request-forproposals initiative, which is relatively aggressive. They appear to understand the specific advantages and economic benefits that an integrated resort can bring to the community.
both take regulation very seriously and want to be cautious on how large-scale gaming operations are integrated into their major urban centers. Perhaps one difference I’ve observed is the manner for which foreign investors can penetrate the private sector. While local partners are essential in both countries, Korea is influenced by a more concentrated group of family conglomerates. It’s important, when doing business, to have relationships with those conglomerate families. Volume 17: Issue 145
What kind of a resort do you plan and at what cost? For clarity, this project is primarily owned and being developed by a consortium led by Oshidori International Holdings. We are their casino partner. Oshidori is planning a $4 billion integrated resort, and undoubtedly it’s going to be a remarkable property. The IR program includes over 2,500 rooms inclusive of significant suite product, a number of VIP experiences, world-class dining, over 20 restaurants, and a major retail complex, which encompasses over 19,000 square meters. Along with a casino accommodating approximately 250 table games and 3,000 traditional slots and electronic table games, there will be significant convention and MICE amenities as well as a 15,000seat arena. 15
Lead Feature: Mohegan Sun
When you’re talking about 28 million residents within an hour and a half of our property, it provides a tremendous opportunity to be a leader in entertainment. Mohegan is an entertainment company first and foremost – this is core to our model at all of our properties.” 16
Lead Feature: Mohegan Sun in close proximity to our site. For example, Saga, which is just over an hour away, is home to 800,000 residents. And Fukuoka, which is within 90 minutes of our site, is home to five million residents. Obviously it depends on where all the integrated-resort licenses will be located, but we feel confident that there will be a significant population base to draw from that will be much closer to our property relative to any other property. When do you and Oshidori expect approval of your bid? We anticipate a decision by the prefecture by late summer or early fall of this year. Having resorts as close as South Korea and Japan might seem redundant but isn’t. Why not? We believe there is a substantial number of crossmarket opportunities between the two properties. Both Korea and Japan are top global tourist destinations – including, significantly, travel from Korea to Japan and vice versa. And so having shared databases across the water in relatively close proximity to each other with major reciprocal visitation provides tremendous opportunity to optimize our respective databases. There are other synergistic benefits as well. As just one example, we will be bringing major Western entertainment acts to Asia to Inspire Arena in Incheon. It’s typically very expensive and sometimes costprohibitive to bring such acts from afar, but the ability
to generate greater economies of scale by having such acts play at more than one location during the visit will make it more economically feasible, and therefore provide us more opportunities to bring over such acts. That’s one of many examples where we will be able to capture synergies between the two properties.
Is the relatively small population – half a million people – any sort of a concern, compared to other Japanese markets? When you look at where Nagasaki is located, both in visitation from outside the local market as well as the populations in surrounding areas, the potential is tremendous. For greater Nagasaki – population is approximately a million and a half people. But the surrounding markets are also very attractive and Volume 17: Issue 145
How are you adjusting to life in the Pacific Rim? Do you ever feel like a fish out of water? [laughs] Actually, I am going back and forth from the States to the Pacific Rim. I spent a lot of time in Korea during the IR RFC and RFP process in 2015 and 2016, so I have become quite familiar with the landscape. I’ve always enjoyed the Korean culture and community. While there’s no place like home, this is truly an enjoyable place to spend some time. Thank you and good luck with the jet lag. [chuckles] My pleasure! 17
Image courtesy of Maverick Helicopters
Feature: Resorts World Las Vegas
Bang for the buck
Image Source: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/resorts-world-las-vegas-to-open-june-24-2021-301271154.html
Resorts World Las Vegas will be the most expensive resort in Sin City history. By David McKee
Feature: Resorts World Las Vegas
enting Group is famous worldwide for its casino product but is only now striking into the heart of gambling, Las Vegas. On June 24 it debuted Resorts World Las Vegas, a $4.3 billion metaresort combining three hotels (all Hilton-branded) with a 5,000-seat showroom, a bevy of nightlife and, of course, a casino. The main hotel, the Las Vegas Hilton, brings the brand back to Vegas after it was ignominiously stripped from what is now (under new ownership) Westgate Las Vegas, one of Resorts World’s many signal achievements, which also will eventually include an Elon Musk subway linkup, whereby visitors are shuttled in modified Tesla vehicles to the nearby Las Vegas Convention Center. Resorts World Las Vegas has been long in gestation and some of its more fanciful attractions, such as a panda habitat, long ago fell by the wayside. So too did a water park and recreation of the Great Wall of China. What remains is sleek leisure product that bowed to keen anticipation. Instead of being hobbled by the Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on Las Vegas, Resorts World is riding a faster-than-anticipated wave of recovery, giving tourists something to look forward to as they return to the Las Vegas Strip. If Resorts World succeeds, as all indications are that it will, it will be a much-needed jolt of electricity for the north Strip, where properties like the Sahara and Circus Circus have been hanging in there, waiting for players to have a reason to come north again. (The business plan of short-lived SLS Las Vegas was premised overwhelmingly on sponging off traffic generated by Resorts World.) It’s also well-positioned to capitalize on the new extension of the Las Vegas Convention Center, which is stretching to encompass the old Riviera site, just across the street, and its trio of hotels will make a convenient ‘dormitory’ for the conventioneers who – Vegas has discovered – are its bread-and-butter customer. It was a long and circuitous road that brought Genting to Las Vegas and Resorts World to fruition. It began in 2007 when Boyd Gaming imploded the legendary Stardust, with an eye to replacing it with a megaresort development called Echelon Place. Boyd had sunk 90 percent of the foundation and had started erecting the structural steel when, in 2008, the Great Recession struck. Echelon Place was placed on ice, its future uncertain. By 2012, Boyd gave up and sold the 88 acre-site (valued at $15 million per acre) to Genting at $4 million Volume 17: Issue 145
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Feature: Resorts World Las Vegas
We’re building a truly integrated resort with everything guests need for the ultimate vacation or visit. The resort will offer an array of amenities under one roof, from casual experiences and dining options, to high-end attractions such as fine-dining restaurants, a world-class theater and some of the city’s most luxurious suites.” an acre. To put that fire sale into perspective, two acres of land in CityCenter recently sold for $40 million apiece. So Genting got itself an incredible bargain, which helped ameliorate Resorts World’s $4.3 billion budget – as did its inheritance of the skeleton of Echelon Place. As the Great Recession slowly waned, Genting took its time. It initially announced a 2014 groundbreaking and a 2016 opening. However, delays quickly began to dog the project, in part because of repeated design changes. Paul Steelman’s initial concept, heavy on chinoiserie, was muted and there was a brief scrum with Wynn Resorts when the latter sought injunctive relief over a glass-curtain-wall Volume 17: Issue 145
scheme that resembled Encore Las Vegas. Resorts World quickly fine-tuned its design to remove any likeness. Ground having been broken on May 5, 2015, construction proceeded at a stately pace. Work was done at night, to spare the artisans from the withering Las Vegas heat. Given that the project was heavily reliant on overseas investment, slowdowns were occasioned by fluctuations in Malaysia’s currency and in the Chinese economy ($1 billion of the construction cost was underwritten by EB-5 visa holders from the Pacific Rim). Another holdup was a lack of construction cranes. Ironically, one had been available 21
Feature: Resorts World Las Vegas
just down the street at unfinished Fontainebleau but eventually was dismantled by Carl Icahn. Meanwhile, the design continued to evolve. Olde Peking was out, contemporary Shanghai was in. Construction began in earnest in October 2017, with an initial eye toward a 2020 opening (which, in retrospect would have been disastrous, given Coronavirus). Late additions included showroom The Theatre and a 75,000-square-foot nightclub. Also, with an eye to the Las Vegas Convention Center’s proximity, 250,000 square feet of meeting space were
tacked onto the project. When Covid-19 hit Nevada, Resorts World caught a lucky break: Construction was deemed an “essential” activity, so work on the vast resort could continue unabated. More recently still, it was announced that Resorts World Las Vegas would become the first such property on the Strip to accept cryptocurrency (Derek Stevens takes it at three casinos downtown), albeit not on the gaming floor, as casino regulators have not approved it for use in Nevada. President Scott Sibella is a relative latecomer to the saga, having been brought aboard in May 2019 when the project was well in train. He knows the Strip well, having held the presidencies of MGM Grand (for eight years), The Mirage and Treasure Island. Inveterate TV viewers will know him from his stint as a casino dealer on CBS’ Undercover Boss series. Sibella took a few minutes out from a busy schedule of media appearances to speak with Casino Life. 22
Feature: Resorts World Las Vegas
What will Resorts World Las Vegas bring to the north end of the Las Vegas Strip? We expect Resorts World Las Vegas to redefine the luxury hotel standard in Las Vegas and bring a wealth of new experience not only to the north end of the Strip but to the Las Vegas market. We anticipate that our sizable investment in the north corridor, in addition to the many exciting developments around us, will in time drive business to this side of Las Vegas Boulevard. The developments around us will play a part in the next evolution of the Strip. Resorts World Las Vegas is just one piece in the next chapter for the north corridor.
What do you consider the salient attractions of Resorts World? We’re building a truly integrated resort with everything guests need for the ultimate vacation or visit. The resort will offer an array of amenities under one roof, from casual experiences and dining options, to high-end attractions such as fine-dining restaurants, a world-class theater and some of the city’s most luxurious suites. I believe our guests will really love the way we’ve programmed the property – we have an immersive arrival journey, a variety of room products and plenty of fun, new experiences. The diversity of offerings, advanced technology and the exciting moments awaiting within the property will set the resort apart.
Volume 17: Issue 145
Feature: Resorts World Las Vegas
HOTELS: Las Vegas Hilton: 1,774 rooms and suites Conrad Las Vegas: 1,496 rooms and suites Crockfords Las Vegas: 236 suites plus private gaming salons CASINO: 117,000 square feet; 1,400 slot machines, 117 table games and 30 poker tables SPA: 27,000 square feet OUTDOOR DISPLAYS: West Tower LED screen, 100,000 square feet East Tower LED screen, 19,000 square feet Video globe, 50 feet in diameter CONVENTION SPACE:
You have an Asian-food alley with 14 restaurants, I believe. How important is the Asian customer to your business plan? The property will be a new luxury hotel experience that combines traditional and modern architecture and progressive technology while also paying homage to Genting’s roots with subtle Asian touches within the art, décor, food and beverage, and service standards. We plan to work closely with our sister properties in Asia and look forward to bringing in clientele from around the world once it is safe to do so. You’re the first Strip casino to accept cryptocurrency. Why this innovation? We recently announced our partnership with Gemini to explore future opportunities which would allow patrons to use their crypto wallet. We are still working through details and more about these services will be finalized in the coming weeks. With so much emphasis on nightlife, dining and entertainment, how do you make the gaming Image Credit: Samuelsson Group
Resorts World at a glance
250,000 square feet (50 rooms, six ballrooms) RESTAURANTS: Ah Chun Shandong Dumpling Boon Tong Kee Fuhu Shack Geyland Claypot Rice Pepita’s Kitchen (Dedet de la Fuente) Springleaf Prata Place Ten Suns Braised Beef Tiger Sugar Sweet Eats Mamak Streetbird Las Vegas (Chef Marcus Samuelsson) Kuru Kuru Pa Yakitori (Steve & Kevin Aoki) Mozz Bar (Chef James Trees) Blood Bros. BBQ Nori Bar Famous Foods Center Bar Here Kitty Kitty Vice Den Genting Palace Wally’s Wine & Spirits ¡Viva! (Chef Ray Garcia) Chef Marcus Samuelsson 24
Feature: Resorts World Las Vegas product stand out and what percentage of your revenue do you hope to derive from the casino floor? Given what we know about today’s Las Vegas traveler, we’ve seen somewhat of a paradigm shift and we’re expecting about 70 percent of our revenue to come from non-gaming amenities such as dining, entertainment and more. While we will offer an incredible casino experience unlike anything else on the Strip and welcome the traditional gaming customer, our property was designed to resonate well with all types of guests and interests. How is your tunnel link to the Las Vegas Convention Center progressing and what kind of synergies do you anticipate with the LVCVA? We are beyond excited that the resort will offer a connector station to the Las Vegas Loop, Elon Musk’s innovative transportation system. This new project will provide a rapid and seamless experience between the Las Vegas Convention Center and Resorts World Las Vegas via underground tunnels in minutes, allowing conventioneers to easily access the property for breakout sessions, lunch and dinner plans, entertainment and more. What do you think Resorts World brings to Las Vegas more than anything else? Being the first resort to be built on the Strip in over a decade, we also have natural advantage to create
the cleanest, safest resort experience in Las Vegas chock full of new experiences simply because today’s technology and advancements didn’t exist 10 years ago.
Kusa Nori Brezza (Chef Nicole Brisson) Bar Zasu (Chef Nicole Brisson) Fuhu (Zouk Group) Craig’s Vegan Sun’s Out Bun’s Out Tacos El Cabron Marigold Richie Palmer’s Mulberry Street Pizza of Beverly Hills The Kitchen at Resorts World The Market Agave Bar & Grill Bites LOUNGES: RedTail (Zouk Group) Dawg House Saloon & Sports Book Starlight on 66 Crystal Bar Gatsby’s Cocktail Lounge (Clique Hospitality) NIGHTLIFE: Zouk Nightclub Ayu Dayclub STORES: Judith Leiber (designer handbags) Hervé Léger (luxury attire) Pepper (“intimate wellness”) Twila True (jewelry) Sneaker Garden (shoes) Clivéi Beauty Salon Dr. Refresh (cosmetics) Sugarfina (high-end candy) Nectar Bath Treats (toiletries) Corso (artisan jewelry) Aubi & Ramsa (ice cream) O Bag (Italian purses) Black Clover (lifestyle apparel) RW Stores (conveniences and sundries) Elephant’s Closet (vacation essentials) Sunkissed (sunbathing products) Swim Society (swimsuits)
Volume 17: Issue 145
Outsource Digital Media We design and deliver effective digital marketing solutions to the Gaming Industry
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Feature: Groupe JOA
Laurent Lassiaz, CEO Group JOA 28
Feature: Groupe JOA
A 33rd Casino for the JOA Group in the Heart of Haut-Jura Laurent Lassiaz, CEO, and Pauline Boyer Martin, Operations and Marketing Director of JOA discuss the Group’s latest ‘new generation’ casino with Damien Connelly.
n Wednesday 19th May, 2021, after 17 months of work, 8.5 million euros of investment, and five long months of waiting linked to the pandemic, JOA Group, the 2nd gaming and leisure operator in France with 33 venues and a sports betting website www.joabet. fr, was finally able to open its new casino in the Jura mountains: in Saint-Laurent-en-Grandvaux. This 33rd establishment strengthens the Group’s presence in the eastern region of France, where seven JOA casinos are already located: Lons-le-Saunier, Bourbonne-les-Bains, Lac du Der, Luxeuil, Gérardmer, Besançon, and Santenay.
What can you tell us about this “new generation” casino in Saint-Laurent-en-Grandvaux? This is the 4th JOA casino, after La Seyne-sur-Mer, Montrondles-Bains, and Le Lac du Der that is built in line with our “new generation” development strategy. It perfectly embodies our brand’s ambition to change the way people see the world of casinos and make our venues into true outing destinations. We thought of it as a real leisure center in the heart of nature. Out of the 2,000m2, 50% is dedicated to non-gaming activities. It brings together, in the same place, gambling, catering, and entertainment. This casino is dedicated to all those looking for an hospitably designed and friendly place to have some good times – either alone or with family and friends – to eat, have a drink on the terrace facing the Jura mountains, dance, entertain, and...why not...play! Volume 17: Issue 145
Feature: Groupe JOA
This is the 4th JOA casino, after La Seyne-sur-Mer, Montrond-les-Bains, and Le Lac du Der that is built in line with our ‘new generation’ development strategy. It perfectly embodies our brand’s ambition to change the way people see the world of casinos and make our venues into true outing destinations.”
What is the uniqueness of this casino? The first singularity of this casino is its architecture between sky and mountain. Our ambition for this project was to design a warm place that perfectly fits into the environment of this magnificent region of Jura where nature is everywhere. The architectural bias results in a break in the architectural codes of the sector in favor of a light, bright building, open to the outside. The mixtures of wood and stone on the exterior facades allow the casino to integrate perfectly into the existing environment. From inside, you can enjoy magical views of the surrounding nature and a huge 30
pine forest. Thought out like a cocoon, the interior is very cozy. Noble materials and bright colors bring a feeling of comfort and well-being. All spaces have been designed to promote conviviality. The outdoors and the good Jura fresh air are also in the spotlight thanks to the outdoor terrace of the smoking patio, equipped with slot machines, and the restaurant’s huge terrace with fantastic views. For its construction, we partnered with an architect specialized in mid-mountain projects. What are the advantages of this casino? www.casinolifemagazine.com
Feature: Groupe JOA
In addition to its modern architecture, the casino’s gaming and leisure offer has many strengths. Each of the spaces has been designed to make the customer feel good: to journey through a unique and friendly experience. The gaming area has been designed to satisfy all types of players: from beginners to experienced. It offers 75 of the latest generation slot machines, including European exclusives such as the monumental “XXL” slot machine (3 meters high and 1 meter wide), 2 table games and electronic games (English Roulette and Black Jack). It also offers a magnificent outdoor patio for smokers, open to nature, Volume 17: Issue 145
and equipped with slot machines. The lounge bar, a real place of life and entertainment, is the beating heart of the casino. It is accessible to everyone, players and non-players, without any ID control. It is the ideal place to have a drink and contemplate the panoramic views of the Jura mountains. An elaborate yet ‘lite’ catering offer is available for hungry customers. Our “bistronomique” restaurant – Le Comptoir – combines quality cuisine with the conviviality of a bistro. On the menu, you will find ‘Signature JOA dishes’ that have proven their worth (the famous revisited Caesar salad or the 300g beef tab skewer 31
Feature: Groupe JOA
We are about an hour’s drive from the Swiss cities of Nyon and Geneva. We estimate that this casino will accommodate around 30% of Helvetians. But our first clientele will be local people.”
for meat lovers), as well as daily menus giving pride of place to local products, mainly cheeses and meats: Morbier cromesquis, Cacouyard crisp, chicken fillet with morels and Yellow Wine, small mountain trout with almonds, or Morteau sausage will delight all taste buds! All this at a reasonable price. In a modern, neat and warm setting, regular and passing customers will enjoy panoramic views of the Jura forest. And for lovers of the great outdoors, the terrace can accommodate around 60 people in summer. As soon as sanitary measures are relaxed, entertainment and dinner shows will be scheduled.
its unprecedented leisure offer in the heart of the Jura – and at an altitude of more than 1,000 meters – will help attract new customers. We chose the municipality of Saint-Laurent-enGrandvaux because the attractiveness of the area is strong. We are about an hour’s drive from the Swiss cities of Nyon and Geneva. We estimate that this casino will accommodate around 30% of Helvetians. But our first clientele will be local people. Indeed, our ambition is to become the favorite destination for gaming and leisure activities for Jura people and residents of the Geneva basin.
How does the casino position itself in its regional market? This JOA casino is a place of recreation, dining, and entertainment. As a real tourist attraction for the town,
How did you manage the recruitment of the team during this health crisis? How did you live during this exceptional period? The casino has made it possible to create around
Feature: Groupe JOA
fifty positions in a wide variety of professions. The
Covid crisis unfortunately forced us to put the new casino staff out of work as soon as they were hired. It was a real challenge in the process of integrating and mobilizing the teams. Especially since we have strongly favored local recruitment, with young teams, mostly from other sectors of activity. We took advantage of this time to do in-depth training for the teams, in particular on JOA culture and values, which is a key point in our strategy. Casino Life has followed and supported JOA for many years as the Group has developed and builtout its strategy to change consumers’ perceptions of casinos: transforming them into leisure and entertainment destinations that also provide options to play. We have had the great fortune to visit many JOA casinos since 2014 – including its “new generation” properties. Both Casino Life and myself look forward to continuing our support of this Operator. As the strapline for the Group notes: Jouer, Oser, s’Amuser. Volume 17: Issue 144
Laurent Lassiaz, CEO and Pauline Boyer Martin, Operations & Marketing Director of JOA 33
American Gaming Association President, Bill Miller
A year to forget
The American Gaming Association looks back on 2020. By David McKee
leak.” That was American Gaming Association President Bill Miller’s oneword summation of the gaming industry’s 2020, the year that Coronavirus brought gambling to a grinding halt nationwide. First the bad news: Industry winnings fell to a level not seen since 2003. As for the good news, customers found different—and legal—ways to gamble, as online sports betting and Internet gambling boomed. Sports-betting handle was $21.5 billion, of which operators kept $1.5 billion, a climb of 69 percent from 2019. Meanwhile, I-gaming grew 1,990 percent, as it spread to new jurisdictions and as sheltering-at-home players turned to their computers and mobile devices in search of a fiddle. The timing of Covid-19 could scarcely have been worse, nipping in the bud what promised to be the best first quarter (perhaps the best year) in the U.S. casino industry’s history. Gaming revenue fell to a 34
hairsbreadth below $30 billion, scarcely chicken feed but a shadow of 2019’s numbers, down 31 percent. Tribal gaming revenues have yet to be aggregated but will probably be 25 percent off 2019’s $34.5 billion. Casinos lost 27 percent of their business days (45,600 for the whole industry), with not one of 25 casinoenabled states posting a year-over-year revenue increase. “While gaming revenue fell, it’s remarkable it only dropped as much as it did. That’s a testament to our ability to reopen quickly and safely,” said Miller. 2020 came as an unpleasant jolt to an industry that had enjoyed five consecutive years of revenue growth. Also, with casinos reliant less and less upon gaming revenue and more on attractions (conventions, dining and entertainment, not to mention hotel rooms, no longer a loss leader), there was a doublewhammy. This was especially true for Las Vegas, where gambling represents but 30 percent of the total revenue pie and where visitation plunged 74 percent. www.casinolifemagazine.com
Gaming revenue fell to a hairsbreadth below $30 billion, scarcely chicken feed but a shadow of 2019’s numbers, down 31 percent. Tribal gaming revenues have yet to be aggregated but will probably be 25 percent off 2019’s $34.5 billion. Casinos lost 27 percent of their business days (45,600 for the whole industry), with not one of 25 casino-enabled states posting a year-over-year revenue increase.” Hardest-hit was New Mexico, where casinos closed in mid-March and never reopened last year, leading to a 79 percent declivity. Least affected was South Dakota, which only shuttered its casinos for seven weeks and got off with a 4.5 percent dip in winnings. However, four states (Illinois, Michigan, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania) were hobbled by a second wave of closings as Covid-19 resurfaced in the fall. State and local governments were hurting, too, as the reliance upon gaming taxes caused them pain in the form of a 34 percent slide in revenues. That may just be a flesh wound. Reports the AGA, “It does not include the billions more paid by the industry in the form of income, sales and various other corporate taxes, nor does the total reflect payroll taxes paid by gaming operators and suppliers.” All this pain and suffering concealed a few silver linings for the casino business. The surge in sports betting and i-gaming has already been noted. Casinos were also incentivized to move more speedily to a cashless gestalt. In Nevada, for instance, casino play can now be funded through digital wallets, thanks to a Covid-conscious regulatory change of heart. This trend is being followed in other states. Not only was sports betting more popular, it also continued to expand its beachhead. The District of Columbia and five states (Illinois, Colorado, Michigan, Tennessee and Montana) went live and Tennessee, which had opted for an online-only sports betting model, saw particular success, although Michigan was fast out of the box, quickly becoming one of the nation’s top markets, while Colorado surprised many with the durable popularity of niche sports from the pandemic, especially table tennis (nine percent of the state’s handle). In the 2020 elections, while the pandemic was still raging, gaming struck a decisive blow at the ballot box. In went six-for-six in statewide elections, an Volume 17: Issue 145
unprecedented success. Maryland, South Dakota and Louisiana all approved sports betting, voters in Nebraska legalized racinos, four Virginia cities out of four voted in casino development, whilst Colorado voters approved the expansion of game offerings and removal of loss limits. This was in keeping with AGA polling that showed a consistent increase of public sentiment in gaming’s favor. In a few states, the introduction of new casino product softened the Coronavirus blow. Thanks to Encore Boston Harbor, Massachusetts was down only 23 percent while gaming expansions in Arkansas limited the pain to minus 16 percent. I-gaming was most prevalent in New Jersey ($970 million) and Pennsylvania ($566 million), although Michigan came on strong near the end. As terrestrial play resumed, slots—which could be physically sequestered— outperformed table games, where players and proximity were diminished by health precautions.
Poker rooms were the biggest casualty and are just beginning to come back in some states. At least the story has a happy ending. Gaming revenues in the regional markets quickly reached and even exceeded 2019 levels in 2021, culminating in April with the slow-to-recover Las Vegas Strip matching its 2019 tally. (Only Atlantic City still lags among the major markets.) A combination of federal economic-stimulus payments, high savings rates and long-suppressed demand is working in gaming’s favor. Could 2021 be the biggest year yet? It certainly is looking that way.
Feature: Lisa Waterfield
Moving Beyond Recovery By Lisa Waterfield, The LW Consulting, LLC
ith the worst pandemic ever in our rearview mirror, the gaming industry is on the road to a strong recovery. Vaccines have provided the well needed economic shot in the arm for Vegas, lifting mask restrictions and
bringing capacity levels back to 100 percent. Tourism, bookings and gaming win hit the highest levels since February 2020. Changes made during the early stages of the pandemic, resulted in a flurry of activity with several industry-changing outcomes. With casinos shut down in 2020, online casino play was accelerated together with the rollout of sports betting across North America. The pandemic forced traditional casino operators to embrace online gaming and sports betting in states where it has been legalized. As states seek alternative revenue sources to offset significant declines in tax revenues, state leaders are becoming more receptive to legalized sports gambling across the country. Sports betting expands a casino’s player population, both online and within bricks-andmortar locations. The popularity of sports betting and igaming will continue to climb, as will the revenues, especially as more states take steps to supplement their revenue streams by legalizing it online. It is important for manufacturers to continue to evolve technology in the form of modern and modular platforms, as operators continue to evaluate their technical capabilities and efficiencies. It is crucial that platforms are well equipped to meet the changing demands of their customers and increased volumes. The pandemic also induced digital adoption within casino operations by prioritizing safety for in-person guest experiences, streamlining operating procedures, and expanding contactless interactions. Cashless wagering, contactless payments and cashless slot markers are just some of the digital solutions that have been accelerated due to Covid. Casino operators have been focusing on high-tech/low-touch solutions using smartphones, and it is likely the surge of digital technologies will continue to improve efficiencies and the customer experience across bricks-and-mortar and online. 36
Lisa Waterfield, The LW Consulting, LLC
Las Vegas welcomes back trade shows this year, with NIGA being the first in July followed by G2E in October. Both shows are expected to be well attended with a focus on the expansion of sports betting and emerging technology. These are the first steps to putting some normality back in our lives with human social interaction, seeing our friends, colleagues and customers gathering in more than a year. These events mark great milestone in our road to recovery. While the Covid-19 pandemic has been devastating to the gaming industry, through persistence as well as operational and technological advances, it has once again proven to be resilient by positioning itself to move beyond recovery as a leaner, more focused and more productive industry. While a full economic recovery could still take time, we are encouraged by early results that the gaming industry will bounce back stronger than ever. www.casinolifemagazine.com
Feature: Japan IR
Japan IR Timeline Update By Joji Kokuryo, Bay City Ventures, Managing Director
he land of the rising sun has definitely been taking its time when it comes to implementation of integrated resorts (IR). The long and arduous procedure has reached the very important stage in which local municipal governments select their IR operators through a public tender. The three of the four candidate locations, Osaka, Yokohama and Nagasaki are expected to select their respective IR operating partner between June and October. The fourth candidate site, Wakayama, decided to move forward with the Clairvest consortium in early June. The Japanese government currently requires local prefecture and/or city governments to first select their own IR operator and then create and submit a joint development plan for national approval. This development plan must be submitted to the national government by April 28, 2022. This means that the candidate sites and their operator partners will have roughly half a year to create their development plans to submit first for local council approval in late February to March next year, and then finally to the national government by the end of April.
One of the biggest updates to the Japan IRdevelopment procedure was the release of the gaming regulation drafts by the Japan Casino Regulatory Commission on April 2nd, 2021, which focused on licensing requirements and the types of games to be allowed on the casino floors. In terms of licensing, much was borrowed from the requirements for gaming operators in Nevada. As for the games to be played, a run of the mill set of games and their variants that are typical in the Asian market was listed, including baccarat, blackjack, poker, roulette, sic bo, craps, casino war, money wheel, pai gow and electronic gaming machines including electronic table games. However, it is the licensing requirements, not the games, that have caused a bit of stir in the country. The sheer amount of background information required to be submitted goes above and beyond what any normal Japanese company would have expected. This is of course no surprise to those in the gaming Volume 17: Issue 145
Joji Kokuryo, Bay City Ventures, Managing Director
industry, as we know that markets such as Nevada and New Jersey have set extremely high standards in terms of background and suitability reviews. So while Japan’s goal of being the most highly regulated gaming market in the world is still a long ways away, the regulation draft has achieved an important step in clarifying that this will be one of, if not the most, highly regulated industries in Japan. Moving our focus to the actual candidate sites, there has been as much excitement as can be had while nothing is actually happening. To put that 37
Feature: Japan IR strange phrase into perspective, we can use the site most familiar to those outside of Japan, Osaka, as our example. Osaka’s “public tender” for their IR operator has been ongoing for over a year now, with the much-publicized Orix/MGM Resorts bid being the only candidate. Much of the continuous delay has to do with the spread of Covid-19, as Osaka is one the hardest hit areas in the country for positive Covid cases. The area has also had to face the economic and social effects of business and school closures and restrictions. The Osaka story took a peculiar turn this February when the prefectural government revised its IR development requirements and re-opened the door for additional bids. The time frame for new submissions was only a month and a half, and although the reopening was likely communicated to other potential operators beforehand, the March deadline passed with no new bidders and no overhaul to the current bidding consortium. What this process did achieve however, was the watering down of requirements such as allowing for exhibition facilities to be opened in phases and setting the accommodation standards to the minimum level required by the national government. This is a far cry from requirements that once caused major gaming operators to give up an IR push in Osaka, including $182 million solely for railway extensions. For comparison, Nagasaki’s requirement of at least $128 million for local development includes all of transportation infrastructure, MICE and inboundtourism promotion and gambling-addiction measures. Of course, the situation is comparing apples and oranges, as Osaka is a major market but also continues to have very little leverage with only one bidder in the competition. The submission deadline to the national government is looming, so Osaka and Orix/MGM best get their agreement in place this summer, although the advantage of having only one bidder is that the expectations for the creation of the joint development plan should be smooth once it starts rolling. Osaka’s Kansai region neighbor to the south, Wakayama, has for better or worse been ahead of the pack when it comes to progress. The early start to the public tender left them with few options, as it was in the midst of the first worldwide Covid wave last spring. Only two applications were made, one by Macau junket and Hoiana Resort operator Suncity Group, and the other by Canadian equity firm 38
Clairvest, the latter of which at the time certainly had not lined up their partners for a bid. Suncity eventually dropped their bid, citing Covid-19 as the main reason, although the timing after the release of the licensing framework leaves much to speculate upon. Nevertheless, Wakayama settled on Clairvest and their unproven newfound partners on June 1st. Yokohama, a major city just south of Tokyo has also had quite the rocky road. While it is confirmed that Genting and Melco Resorts are the two final candidates for their IR operator, nobody can know for sure if the city will actually continue with their IR pursuit after the mayoral election this August. The heavy-hitting political parties have yet to put up their candidates and even incumbent Fumiko Hayashi, whose IR push has been extremely unpopular with local citizens, has yet to declare if she will run for reelection as of this writing. If the result of the election is a pro-IR mayor, we will see one of these two major operators lined up to partner with the city. On the contrary, in the case an anti-IR mayor is elected, then we can most likely kiss the Yokohama IR prospects goodbye for this first round. Only time will tell for this major IR market. This brings us finally to Nagasaki Prefecture from the island of Kyushu, which seems to be making all the right moves to make up for its lack of name value and firepower. The prefecture has brought on the powerful support of their Kyushu neighbors such as Fukuoka in the form of support from the Kyushu Governors’ Association and the Kyushu Economic Federation. This led to the formation of the Kyushu IR Council this April, a business-oriented group that aims to help unite the region’s businesses in development centered around an IR. The prefecture’s IR operator selection has been narrowed down to Oshidori with Mohegan as their gaming operator representative, Casinos Austria, and NIKI/Parkview which has strong ties to a major Asian gaming operator. A very interesting set of candidates, the prefecture actually cut down its original candidate list of five to three in a first-round of applications. One would assume that for a regional market such as Nagasaki, where development costs can easily be less than half of the $10 billion range thrown around for a metropolitan site, gaming operators would be attracted to the regional proximity to eastern Asia and abundance of tourism resources in the region. Add a very transparent and active media push and what
Feature: Japan IR resulted was the only IR operator tender in Japan to clearly have real competition. Of course, none of the bigger operators are directly involved, but that has mostly to with business and market scale more than viability of the market. The prefecture is set to decide on its operator before the end of summer, and while the candidates do leave much to be desired, there is hope that better prefectural management and an effective competitive dialogue will lead to a quality IR development plan to be submitted for national approval. Last but not least, there are two big elephants still hanging around in the room. One is named Tokyo, but at this time it seems almost impossible for the metropolis to officially move forward with an IR pursuit before the Summer Olympics fiasco has been completed one way or another. By then, it will for sure be too late to meet the national submission deadline. On that topic, the second elephant in the room is the possibility of another national timeline delay. It is still very premature to expect any more changes to national timeline, one which was already pushed back nine months due to the effects of Covid on operators and the candidate municipalities. The deadline for IR
development submissions is still the end of April 2022, and with more pressing matters regarding economic downturn, Covid vaccination, and the aforementioned Olympic and Paralympic Games, deliberation on the IR topic would hopefully be put on the backburner when more pressing needs are at hand.
About Joji Kokuryo Joji is a Japanese national who grew up in Los Angeles, California, and currently resides in Yokohama, Japan. He was previously based in Macau, Manila and Hong Kong. He has senior management experience in the land-based gaming industry, most notably in roles as the head of Asian and European business operations, and regulatory compliance for gaming manufacturer Aruze Gaming, playing a big part in the second wave of electronic table game expansion in the Asian market. He is also a founding board member and technical advisor for the International Gaming Standards Association Japan, the second Asian branch of the international entity headquartered in the United States. A sports fanatic, there is no sport he can not have deep discussions on, except for cricket.
SPORTS BETTING OPERATOR
Sports Betting Operator provides new product and technology features and the latest Sports Betting News, keeping Online gambling companies up to date with the fastest growing Gambling Sector in the world. www.sportsbettingoperator.com Volume 17: Issue 145
Is Ambient Scent What Casinos Need Moving into a Post-Pandemic World? Research Says Yes. By Damien Connelly
t’s a good bet that people are going to be more concerned with cleanliness and air quality as we emerge from COVID-19. The global gambling market is expected to rally back from $465.76 billion in 2020 to $516.03 billion in 2021 and while players coming back to brickand-mortar casinos means big dollars, it also means the return of stubborn, high-traffic odor issues. So how are casino managers alleviating guests’ anxiety and reassuring returning players as lockdown restrictions lift? Studies show that 63 percent of people are looking for fresh, clean-smelling atmospheres and casino managers are listening. More and more gaming facilities are turning to ambient-scent providers to target their biggest odor challenges – restrooms and cigarettes – and bring a breath of fresh air to the gaming experience. Volume 17: Issue 145
Improving the Go
Restrooms are one of the most obvious high-traffic spaces that need the ‘scents of clean.’ Research shows that 94 percent of adults believe odor contributes to a restroom’s dirtiness and nearly one in three customers won’t return to a business with dirty bathrooms. And if losing a customer isn’t bad enough, casinos are at higher risk of damaging their reputation in the process. When customers have a negative experience with a bathroom, including bad odors, 50 percent tell it to their friends. But eliminating stubborn restroom odors is not as easy as just pumping out scent. Today’s sophisticated ambient-scent providers use highly specialized, proprietary technology that neutralize unwanted odors on the molecular level. Leading scent providers Prolitec and Ambius, explained how new technology is having an impact on casinos’ guest experience. Prolitec provides 41
their “Genie” line of fragrances specifically to target malodor challenges and Ambius offers their Premium Scenting services to augment their Hygiene360 line. Prolitec Vice President of Fragrance Sandra Barvaux explained what makes a clean scent effective: “Each Genie fragrance is carefully crafted to reinforce the perception of a sanitary environment by conveying a clean, fresh, healthy and hygienic feel,” Barvaux said. “It’s the technology that makes us unique.” And this ‘hygienic feel’ is backed by testing. The world’s largest private fragrance and flavor company tested the Prolitec Genie line against restroom malodors and proved them to counteract restroom malodor by reducing its perception in all fragrances by more than half and some more than 70 percent. This technology captured the attention of Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Featuring more than 2,000 slots and 1.1 million square feet (about the area of Chicago’s Millennium Park), the gaming facility wanted to communicate to guests the cleanliness of their facility, especially high-traffic areas. The casino reached out to Prolitec to employ Genie scenting technology in their restroom areas, improving customer satisfaction and retention. After installation, 42
guests report Potawatomi restrooms feel clean and safe, which has encouraged them to keep coming back. “I enjoyed everything,” a guest said. “They take pride and are very onto keeping the facility safe, clean and taking temperatures at all times. I would do it all
over again.” Ambius’s Janice Nath, one of their elite designers, echoes the importance of giving guests the reassuring feeling of cleanliness and safety. “Gaming businesses are turning to companies such as Ambius for resources on creating smarter, healthier spaces. Revamping protocols to ensure the indoor environment is clean, safe and hygienic by properly disinfecting surfaces, purifying the air and providing hand sanitizer is crucial. High-traffic areas such as restrooms and playing areas, which are vulnerable to additional dirt, odors and germs, should also incorporate Premium Scenting,” Nath said. “Premium Scenting creates a sensory experience allowing guests to see, feel and smell that a space is clean. By reinforcing these hygiene practices, gaming businesses will lessen consumer anxiety and reassure guests that their health and safety is a number-one priority.” www.casinolifemagazine.com
Odor Woes Up In Smoke
Bathroom malodors are only part of the challenge that casinos deal with. The University of Nevada conducted a study to find on average how many smokers can be found at casinos. Data showed that in larger gaming facilities, it’s expected an average
of 20.9 percent of gamblers will be smoking at a casino. Small, rural casinos are higher at around 36.5 percent. With this much smoke in the air, ambient-scent providers target smoke malodors at the source to reassure both smokers and nonsmokers alike that the casino is clean and refreshing. Snoqualmie Casino in Washington State offers 51,000 square feet of gaming space, with anywhere from 4,000 to 6,000 people passing through the casino each day. To combat the smoky odors, they employ ambient scent. Harold Ellebracht, director of facilities at Snoqualmie, emphasized just how much finding the right scent helped the casino. “We are a smoking establishment, which has its unique challenges,” Ellebracht said. “We have issues with smoke odors in the fabrics and the carpets, and that’s why we needed the scenting system. We wanted something that was not overwhelming Volume 17: Issue 145
in the casino, something that would blend into the background, that would be an enhancement to our environment, rather than being the focus.” The scent effect was so successful at blending in as a subtle enhancement that it wasn’t until a power surge occurred that Ellebracht realized how happy his
guests were with the atmosphere. The surge cut the power supply to the HVAC system, where the Prolitec diffusers were installed, leaving the systems turned off. “All of a sudden, I’m getting a lot of complaints about the smell of cigarette smoke in the casino,” Ellebracht said. It was then that Ellebracht decided to check on the scent systems and, to his surprise, they were off. When the system was turned back on, the malodor issues went away, along with the complaints. “It was at that point that I knew the system was working,” Ellebracht said. Today, Snoqualmie continues to focus on providing the best gaming experience for their guests, without having to worry about the impact of smoke odors. Prolitec is an example of a fullservice provider, meaning their technicians perform regular maintenance to ensure the system is working efficiently. 43
“I have a lot of things on my plate and I don’t think about it,” Ellebracht said. “It’s been a fantastic deal the whole way around.”
When The Chips Are Down, You Can Depend On Scent
Richard Weening, Chairman and CEO, Prolitec 44
Creating a reassuringly clean atmosphere can be a big win for casinos. As players return, looking for a break from the anxiety of COVID-19, a pleasantly scented, odor-free atmosphere can give them feelings of reassurance and relaxation. And when players feel comfortable, they stay longer and yes – spend more. The Journal of Psychology and Marketing shows that pleasant scents can increase money spent in slot machines by up to 53 percent. Furthermore, research indicates that a pleasant scent can cause customers to linger longer and spend more in general. “Everything smells like something, so it ought to be something good,” Prolitec CEO Richard Weening said. “Scent is an excellent way to reinforce a refreshing atmosphere, encouraging people to stay and play.” www.casinolifemagazine.com
Companies like Prolitec and Ambius have been using scent to get people to “stay and play” from casinos in Las Vegas to Macau, the gambling capitals of the world.
Sudhir Kalé, marketing consultant for many casinos in Macau, such as City of Dreams and Star World, explains why this type of scenting has such a powerful impact on people and increases the likelihood guests will stay. “Our sense of smell is the only [sense] that circumvents our rational sense of thinking and connects directly to the emotions,” he explained. In fact, research echoes Kalé’s sentiments, reporting that nearly 75 percent of the emotions we generate on a daily basis are affected by smell, which encourages guests to feel good, spend money and increase revenue. Casinos aren’t rolling the dice on player satisfaction as we emerge from the pandemic. They are turning to ambient-scent providers to alleviate lingering uncertainty in the air, and reassure guests their spaces are clean and safe. And happy, reassured players are indeed the real jackpot. Volume 17: Issue 145
Harold Ellebracht, Director of Facilities, Projects, Senior Management, Snoqualmie Casino 45
Feature: Willie Wilcox
Willie’s Las Vegas studio
Audio Branding for Themed Slot Machines
It’s all about the game. By Willie Wilcox
y career as senior audio director, music composer and sound designer has presented me with a series of opportunities to design and produce the audio brand for “Licensed and Internally Themed” games for the worldwide slot machine manufacturers Bally Technologies and Scientific Games. The challenges were invigorating and the players’ expectations were great. What is audio branding? Why is it important? How does it support the creative development of themed slot machine games? How does it affect the cadence of the game play and connect with the player’s ultimate game play experience? 46
I am always passionate about sharing my creative approach of audio branding for the slot machine industry. When preparing for these projects I focus on a few key perspectives and production goals. The player’s experience. Meeting the player’s expectations. Sonically defining, supporting and enhancing the player’s emotional game chase. Creating a feeling of anticipation with the audio where the player feels that next spin might be the winner. The “I almost got it” moment. I enjoy developing new audio experiences for players, designing and incorporating innovative speaker designs, real time loudness-management tools, real time audio player tracking, catchy melodies, and always a very strong musical vibe and character www.casinolifemagazine.com
Feature: Willie Wilcox combined with a unique perspective that drives the personalities of the themed games. It’s a merging of the recording and entertainment industries’ best audio practices with the game-development process to create gaming experiences that leave a memorable and impactful experience for the players. The hardcore gamers will tell you: You should be able to play the game with your eyes closed, hear the sounds and know exactly what’s happening in the game. Let’s break down these themed games into two categories. Licensed Themed Games. Internally Branded Themed Games. These are a few of themed games that I have had the pleasure of producing the audio brand for: Michael Jackson’s “King of Pop,” “Icon,” “Wanna Be Starting Something,” “Legend,” James Bond’s “Goldfinger” and Willy Wonka’s “Dream Factory.” The first Michael Jackson game was released by Bally Technologies and the subsequent MJ games were released through the Scientific Games Corporation as were “Goldfinger” and “Willy Wonka Dream Factory”. I’ll start by discussing one of these licensed themed games. Michael Jackson’s “King of Pop!” (Online game versions are not authored in surround sound)
The player’s expectation
It’s quite obvious that most of the people on the planet know Michael Jackson’s music. So logically any degradation of the original musical experience here would be sacrilegious. With the right math model, clarity of game chase, a roadmap for the producer’s rollout of the future games, legal departments securing the correct game assets to make the game and with a new immersive audio experience we should hopefully satisfy and surpass the player’s expectations for this game.
The player’s experience
I thought about how I might present Michael’s music Volume 17: Issue 145
with a more immersive, audio experience where the players could actually feel the music and experience the songs in a way that they never had before. I wanted to not only sonically amplify the Holy Grail of gaming, the “emotional chase of almost winning or achieving a win.” I also wanted to edit the music together in a way that would be a seamless musical experience for the player. Michael’s music was never intended to be played in a slot game. The challenge is to not fall into the trap of playing all of the songs from the start. You need to adapt the music to the cadence of the game and the game-chase curve. I’m always disappointed when I hear versions of licensed musical themes that start out by playing the full songs of the artist immediately during the base game play. It’s like hearing the punch line of the joke before you have heard the story! You can have a song playlist experience at home on Apple Music or Spotify. I feel that as a part of the emotional game chase we should allow the unfolding of the music to be included in the momentum of the win, contributing as a significant part of the award-bonus sequence of the game. In this way you are not only celebrating your win but you’re also celebrating your successful chase conclusion with your favorite artist’s music. It feels great! It’s like trying on clothing in a high-end boutique while they’re playing cool music soundtracks that make you feel like you’re looking great. It’s another example of how music and sound impact us emotionally.
Base Game Play
As an example. I took the basic rhythm section in “Dirty Diana”: bass, drums and guitars only, with no vocals, and used that as the basis for the audio track for the base game play. When designing audio for a base game state of play the idea is to provide a musical bed that doesn’t overwhelm or fatigue the player. Instead a base game audio track should have audio attributes that move the player along on his or her journey with just enough variety to sustain momentum and provide the right feeling for the emotional game chase. It’s just as important to create a vibe and personality that places the player into the soul of the game. Just the way a good book draws you in as soon as you start to reading it. In this way you provide an inclusive atmosphere for the player while their spending time in the base game play. They still recognize the song they’re hearing because of the signature guitar riffs but, by 47
Image by Danny O’Connor
Feature: Willie Wilcox only sharing a small preview of Michael’s music, you allow them to continue their chase with a feeling of momentum and with the feeling that there’s more to come. When they finally arrive at the bonus features they can enjoy the complete audio-production experience of their favorite artist’s songs and hopefully become winners at the same time.
What are Audio Stems?
Securing the separate audio tracks from Michael’s original recording is key in allowing the ability to seamlessly organize and edit the music into a transparent, developing and connected listening experience. In the music and entertainment industry we call these the “audio stems.” These are the separate individual audio tracks that were produced and recorded to construct the songs that comprise the final audio mix you recognize as a stereo. This is accomplished by taking the individual tracks of the recordings; bass, drums, lead guitars, background vocals, lead vocals, horns, keyboards and percussion, and editing and remixing them in new ways to accommodate the “cadence” of the game being designed, as well as being remixed in surround sound to enhance the game’s audio hardware playbacksystem design and create a more immersive player experience.
Image by Richard Kerris
Audio hardware’s influence on the game play
Utopia Live at the Chicago Theatre 48
The audio hardware playback system is an equally integral part of the player’s experience and the audioproduction process. Casinos are noisy. The average casino floor on a Saturday night ranges around 85Db of noise floor. The Db, (decibel) is a unit that used to measure the intensity or loudness of a sound. To put that in perspective, a jet engine has a Db measurement of 120-140 Db of loudness. This can become very fatiguing for the player. We’ve all experienced this on a long road trip blasting our favorite tunes. Because of the loud outside road and wind noise we crank up the treble and mid-range, and also the volume to make it easier to listen through all the noise. When we arrive we feel strangely exhausted. That’s a good example of audio listening fatigue. It’s exactly the same as playing a slot game in a noisy casino environment. www.casinolifemagazine.com
Feature: Willie Wilcox Therefore, it’s extremely important to design an audio system that has both the correct frequency response, frequency balance and the ability to mitigate loudness issues while on the casino floor in real time. The types of sounds chosen by the composer are also an extremely important in this process. In the gaming industry this translates into “increased coin-in and time on device.”
Surround sound and the gaming experience
The surround sound audio experience dramatically improves a player’s immersive experience. It emphasizes the player’s game states in a deeper way and also privatizes their experience from adjacent game audio leaking from other players’ games in banked configurations. My approach to the surround-sound chair’s design included a small mid-sub-woofer (deeper bass speaker) in the spine of the chair, left and right rear full-range speakers and a device that is called a shaker. A shaker basically is a low-frequency speaker that is not making sound but vibrates when very low frequencies are sent to it to vibrate the player’s seat. It was made to work in coordination with the full-range sub-woofer and left and right full-range speakers in the main slot machine. The speakers are all designed to be at the correct listening heights and have a full-frequency response characteristic to match perfectly with the front pairs of speakers. The end result is a true 5.1 surround-sound experience. The combination of using the surround sound chair and the audio stems provided the ability to control where I was able to place all the instruments and vocals in the audio mix. Michael’s background vocals are directly behind your head. I can move the lead guitar solos around the entire 5.1 audio spectrum, and send the bass and drums to the shaker so when the rhythm section plays you not only can hear the music but you can also feel it. This allows the player to participate and become a part of the gaming experience. These were some of the technical and creative decisions that I incorporated into the audio branding and production process of the licensed, themed, Michael Jackson games. Internally Branded Themed games Dragon Spin/ Bally Technologies/Scientific Games www.vegasslotsonline.com/bally/dragon-spin Volume 17: Issue 145
Willie Wilcox and the Glass Guitar
Licensed and internally branded similarities
An internally branded themed game has many of the
same attributes that a licensed themed game has. They both may share previous commercial history and player expectations. They both need to provide not only what the player expects but also what is not expected. The major difference between the licensed brand and internal brand is a company owned, personalized and internally developed intellectual property that results in the company’s wholly owned and unique branded niche. It affords companies the ability to release premium products without the having to pay external royalties and licensing fees associated with acquiring licensed themed games, thereby driving higher profit margins for the gaming company and the casinos. A win-win for both parties. In the case of “Dragon Spin” its release was partnered with the introduction of the 360 Pro Wave circular cabinet. The Wave cabinet from Bally was a monster success on the casino floors for many 49
years. It was designed by Mike Mitchell in Las Vegas. The 360 was the next big innovation for the Wave’s expansion. It has now become the Wave XL circular 360 for the current Scientific Games portfolio. It demonstrated an important lesson in the value of releasing the “right game” on the “right cabinet” at the “right time.” When all elements of the production, innovation and the marketing process come together in a balanced and well-planned roadmap, a game’s release can be very impactful.
Image by Danny O’Connor
Feature: Willie Wilcox
My audio perspective for Dragon Spin
My audio approach for Dragon Spin really started by imagining the musical soul and personality for this game. This was an Asian-based theme game. I needed to provide the obvious audio Asian characteristics for the game but I also wanted to take it into a more universal direction. I was inspired by the very popular “K-Pop” music style prevalent in Korea today. I chose this approach to become the musical soul and audio direction for this game. In this way I could accomplish a variety of solutions. Traditional Asian instruments are very organicsounding instruments by nature. These types of sounds tend to get lost in noisy environments, so I used synthesizers to emulate the characteristics of
the Asian instruments and melodies, allowing the sounds to cut through the noisy casino environment. Synths are also an important part of the K-Pop sound. I wanted to provide an exciting, upbeat, unexpected and immersive entertainment experience for the players. I have been influenced by the use of vocal phrases that have been the staple for advertising agencies for years and are the real pioneers of the use of the “audio brand.” Gaming companies have incorporated this idea of using vocal phrases as part of their audio brands. You can hear these vocal bytes in games like “Wheel of Fortune” and “Buffaloooo.” These are very strong examples of the advertising style and success of audio branding. They are memorable audio vocal phrases that capture you. In Dragon Spin I chose to record my voice in a Volume 17: Issue 145
particular style to match the musical theme and treated it with audio effects to establish a sonically branded vocal identity shouting “Dragon Spin.” This is another way to reinforce the internally themed brand of a game. Dragon Spin was also a game I mixed in surround sound. I was able to incorporate all the same features of audio immersion and sound placements for Dragon Spin that I did with MJ’s “King of Pop” and Willy Wonka’s “Dream Factory.” I would also add that the software development teams at Bally were able to initiate the first of a kind, multi-cabinet audio sync of the base-game audio to play in synchronization around all game cabinets at the same time. This was a great technological innovation. When an adjacent player started the base 51
Feature: Willie Wilcox game audio, the collective audio play was in sync with everyone’s audio that was already playing, so it didn’t sound like an orchestra tuning up. This was a new experience for the players, demonstrating the value and impact audio has on the player’s experience and how attention to detail can have impactful outcomes.
strong distribution company. Games share all those same elements. It’s not just the math, the graphics, the music, the clarity of the chase, the latest video monitors, the audio playback system or the game producer. The game is everything.
Music and is timeless. When we hear songs, we don’t just remember the lyrics and the melodies. We also remember our emotional state at the time we first heard the song, what we were doing and how we were feeling. We are emotionally connected to these songs. Music is the personal and emotional soundtrack of our lives. Playing a themed musical title is much more than just playing a game. It’s an emotional experience!
The feeling of a themed game
I always strive to get the player to feel something when they play a game. I think a successful game has many of the same attributes that a great song has. The song is everything. After creating a great song, you need the production team, the marketing team, great musicians, great producers, a great artist and a
About Willie Wilcox Willie Wilcox is an audio director, senior sound designer and music composer. Willie’s audio design work can be heard on countless slot machines world-wide. He is a recording artist on Cleopatra records and a member of the acclaimed band Utopia with 2021 Rock ‘N Roll Hall of fame inductee Todd Rundgren. He has recorded with many top artists including Meat Loaf, Bette Midler, Mick Jagger, Hall and Oates, Carlos Santana, Ringo Starr and many other top artists, and continues to provide senior leadership and audio branding for slot machine productions. Check out Willie’s You Tube Channel https:www.youtube.com/c/WILLIEWILCOXMUSIC
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Volume 17: Issue 144
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Feature: Jonathan Strock
Digitalisation of Casinos By Jonathan Strock
hat exactly is money, or currency? What characteristics does it have? We are moving increasingly digital, so we need to consider these questions. First of all, what is its function? According to the Bank of England, money has three main roles: 1) It is a unit of measure. It allows people and companies to value goods and services, and also to evaluate what they owe and are owed by others, 54
2) It is a means of payment, for the aforementioned goods and services, and 3) It is a means of storing value, allowing for a way of saving until needed. As a simplification, there are two main kinds of money. The first is “central bank money” which, as can be guessed from its name, is the responsibility of the central bank, and is generally used by the general www.casinolifemagazine.com
Feature: Jonathan Strock is where most people do their banking. Commercial banks generate their revenue by providing loans and charging interest. The financing of these loans comes from customer deposits. Money as a unit of measure is the remit of the central bank, which holds the assets that give the value to the currency. These are known as an anchor asset. Intervention on interest rates ensures stability in the currency, and ensures that inflation will be steady and low, and preserves confidence in the national money. Commercial bank money is principally used as a means of payment and for storing value. This money, originally from bank deposits, is lent to the bank’s customers, who use it to purchase goods and services. The seller typically puts the money back in the bank. Some deposits are used for saving money. Commercial banks’ money requires both efficiency in the provision of services (loans) and public confidence in the ability to convert the money into cash in order to work. Loss of confidence can lead to hyperinflation, such as in Germany in the 1930s, or more recently in Zimbabwe or Venezuela where banknotes have been denominated in trillions. Today, about 95 percent of money is held and used in the form of commercial bank money, and the rest is in cash. As recently as the Eighties, this figure was only about 65 percent. There is currently about £87 billion of cash in circulation in the UK, to emphasise the intrinsic trust in cash.
public as cash, though commercial banks also have access to this type of money. The second type is “commercial bank money” which is the deposits made by the public: This type of money is created when commercial banks make loans. A central bank is generally government-run. It has a de facto monopoly and has control over the production (printing) and distribution of money in the national economy. It is also usually responsible for the regulation of commercial banks. A commercial bank Volume 17: Issue 145
So, is Bitcoin a currency? Here we will use Bitcoin as a proxy for all cryptocurrencies. Even though they have different characteristics, they can be considered as similar for the purpose of this article. Bitcoin is generally referred to as a cryptocurrency, but does it have the characteristics that would allow it to be called a currency? The short but not very useful answer would be yes and no. It can fulfil the role of cash. It can be used to purchase things, though this ability is not universal. You cannot just go into any coffee shop or newsagents and buy a coffee or a newspaper with it. While there are more and more retail outlets that do accept Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies, it is less than 1 percent of all outlets in the UK, and considerably less than that in most countries. It is more accepted online: There are quite a few online casinos and other gambling sites and apps that accept various cryptocurrencies, though their legality should first be verified before using their services. 55
Feature: Jonathan Strock Cryptocurrencies are better known as a means of payment on the Dark Web and have a reputation for facilitating illegal transactions. One of the key selling points of Bitcoin (like other cryptos) has always been its anonymity, allowing such Dark Web transactions without risk. The reality of this is slightly different: Bitcoin does not exist in a vacuum. In order to buy, sell and hold cryptocurrencies, it is required to have a wallet such as Coinbase, Mycelium or Trezor, and these, whilst being also anonymous – thanks to the publicly visible blockchain that is an integral part of Bitcoin – can be traced, rendering the anonymity purely theoretical. In the U.S. recently, the systems of Colonial Pipelines were hacked and the contents of their servers were encrypted, the hackers demanding a ransom of 75 Bitcoins ($4.4 million at the time). Although the hackers could not be traced, the FBI managed to follow transactions in and out of the cryptocurrency wallets and located, then seized, most of the ransom money. Interestingly, this identification and seizure by the FBI has led to the greatest loss of confidence in cryptocurrencies since their invention. People have come to understand that it is not enough to be anonymous. The entire system, including wallets, must also be able to be secure for the user in order to continue to trade without risk, so that blockchains are publicly accessible, and thus traceable. This is saying a lot about Bitcoins’ user base: Legal transactions would not be worried about this. As seen above, money has three main functions.
Bitcoin can be used as a means of payment, though the use is rather limited. However, what about the other two uses of money? First, as a unit of measure, for Bitcoin to fulfil this role, the currency needs to be stable – as can be seen from the highs and lows that Bitcoin has undergone in the last few months, it can be easily understood that it is not stable enough to be used as a unit of measure. The final function – that of storing value – is a possibility, but given the instability of the value of Bitcoin, using it simply as a means of saving is not recommended. It can, and indeed is, used as a means of speculation – though this is the opposite of stability – and seems to be the main use of cryptocurrency for legal activity. Notably, the UK bank NatWest has said that it will refuse to serve business customers who accept cryptocurrencies. As for loans, this would be a highly speculative adventure for anyone brave enough to open a money-lending business: don’t expect any high street banks to be interested in this. 56
So, is there a future for cryptocurrencies in casinos? As far as land-based casinos go, there does not seem to be much point. As seen above, Bitcoin is not used to save money, but could be used to buy and redeem chips. However, the main perceived advantage – that of anonymity – has no sense in a business where money laundering laws render any supposed anonymity obsolete, as identification will be established in other ways: either at the entry desk or inside the casino. This could of course change, but the tendency is to strengthen AML rather than loosening it, so this seems unlikely. It is interesting that El Salvador has recently made Bitcoin legal tender in the country, obliging businesses to accept it where possible, so this could be a first trial for the casino industry there. The interest in cryptos has been one factor in governments looking into the possibilities that are offered by a state-run digital currency, and they seem convinced that this is the way forward in a twin pronged strategy: aggressively ban cryptos and allow, or even force, the use of governmental e-money. Many central banks are looking into digital currencies: Perhaps the most interesting of these, and the one that has the most potential for the casino industry being China, where there is talk of the digital Yuan becoming legal tender in Macau. This would, as a result, see it used inside casinos resorts, either alongside, or in replacement of, the Hong Kong dollar that is currently used, though it is a foreign currency in Macau. As we shall see, this will have a profound and lasting effect on gambling habits.
First of all, what is it? Is it like Bitcoin? Well, they have common forefathers. However, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are essentially decentralised, that is to say that they are not controlled by a single person or body, but by the stakeholding community in general, the opposite of the highly centralised digital Yuan, which is operated by China’s central bank, making it highly centralised and not anonymous. How does it work? The central bank distributes the eMoney to commercial banks, who have the responsibility of distribution to customers – usually via an app, although other means are in development. This is one of the purposes of the current trials: to build a flexible but robust system. The digital and physical Yuan are interchangeable. The app, usually in the form of an electronic wallet on a smartphone, is used by www.casinolifemagazine.com
Feature: Jonathan Strock scanning QR codes, although other means of payment are possible. It should be remembered that China has one of the most advanced cashless societies in the world. The Peoples Bank of China (PBOC), China’s central bank, has been leading developmental work on the digital currency, which the bank is currently trialling in five cities, with Macau on the list to be included in the trials shortly. There are several main benefits of the system for the state. The first is that of making payments more efficient, through the introduction of a digital means of payment (so less risk of holding cash), which has no transaction fees. Another benefit is to reduce systemic risk, because a significant number of transactions in China are digital – over 84 percent of all transactions in 2020 (72 percent in the U.S.) and this sector is currently dominated by private entities, including WeChat which is owned by Tencent, and by Alipay, part of the Alibaba group. Should something happen to one of these companies, or both, the Chinese financial system could be put under considerable pressure, whereas a central bank-maintained currency would reduce or remove this risk. A further advantage would be to increase competition, and reduce dependency on private companies and the terms that they can currently dictate to the market. Unlike Bitcoin, a government central bank would not need to be anonymous, and users’ transactions could be tracked in real time. In China, gambling is illegal on the mainland and is limited to Macau for casinos, and Hong Kong for horse racing. Gambling in Macau is primarily by Chinese (mainland) residents. But gambling there is not quite as simple as it is in most other jurisdictions, because China has strict limits on the amount of money that can be taken out of the country (for money exchange and transfers, Macau is not part of the Chinese banking system and has its own currency – the Pataca). To add to this complexity, gambling in Macau is not done in the local currency, nor is it done in the Chinese Yuan: All gambling is in the Hong Kong Dollar. So any Yuan must first be converted to HKD to be played in Macau. Simple isn’t it? Because of the limits on the use of the Yuan outside mainland China, most of the activity in Macau is organised through junkets, that is to say through a third party, who arranges for HKD to be available to the customer. The junket organiser will usually also pay for Volume 17: Issue 145
travelling expenses, hotels, etc., and in return receive
a commission from the casino for every HKD played at the tables and slots. The junket operator then is paid by the customer, frequently back in mainland China. Hong Kong Dollars are freely convertible, and it is often the case that once the gambling has stopped, the winnings, or the sums that remain, are often transferred elsewhere – to Hong Kong, for example – and do not return to mainland China. How much money escapes from China due to this ‘illicit’ nature is hard to estimate, but it is generally accepted that more money escapes than is lost in gross gaming revenue in the casinos of Macau, which can be over $40 billion USD in a good year. This, and corruption – though the two go hand in hand – is a great problem for the Chinese authorities who have tried many times to stem this capital flow: from crackdowns inside China, to using facial recognition on ATMs in Macau and many other methods besides. A recent South China Morning Post article 57
Feature: Jonathan Strock
Today, about 95 percent of money is held and used in the form of commercial bank money, and the rest is in cash. As recently as the Eighties, this figure was only about 65 percent. There is currently about £87 billion of cash in circulation in the UK, to emphasise the intrinsic trust in cash.”
reported that Mr. Ho Lat-Seng, the chief executive of Macau, had recently confirmed that Macau would be introducing legislation to authorise the use of the E-Yuan in the territory, and was looking to the Chinese central bank for a study of its feasibility. It must be noted that the idea of using a digital currency inside a casino is highly tempting for the authorities. Operators have tried to lobby for the use of credit and debit cards inside casino floors – without luck in most jurisdictions – as regulators tend to believe that the risk of irresponsible gambling would be too high, as the temptation to swipe one’s card at the table or slot machine would be too much to resist. However, it may be said that this issue would be completely different with a digital currency. Governments like Big Data as much as any of the internet giants. They would be very keen to be able to trace, in real time, every banknote in circulation. In effect, this is what they would be able to do with a digital currency: every transaction could be monitored as it happened. This has obvious implications for anti-money laundering and the financing of anti-terrorism enforcement, as well as for casino operations. The casino floor would be able to go completely cashless, no more banknotes to be counted at the cage or at the tables, all funds would be used electronically by customers, both buying in, (which could be done directly at tables and machines) and cashing out too, reducing or perhaps eliminating most cash desk transactions, as well as dramatically reducing the opportunity for theft. Casinos worldwide are going cashless, from Genting Resorts World Las Vegas in the U.S. to Crown in Sydney, Australia. There, the government has imposed this cashless gaming floor because of perceived lax practices by the company, including uncontrolled junkets and alleged money laundering, as cited in the recently published Bergin report. 58
Junkets have been a thorn in the side of the Chinese authorities for some time, with an increase in the range and depth of actions against some of them. A digital currency in Macau casinos as the unique means of payment would go a long way to curtail the action of junkets, and with it reduce illicit activity considerably. Junket operators, not surprisingly, have been publicly claiming that the introduction of a digital currency in Macau would be a disaster for their business and for the casinos too, and they may have a point that VIP customers would no longer need the services of a junket, and that they might not play as often or as much if tracked by the Chinese government. That said, the increase in custom from the mass-market customers should be able to more than compensate for any VIP player losses. This would lead to a healthier, more sustainable business model that would be in the interests of both the Chinese government and Macau casino operators. Should the Macau experiment prove to be the success that it looks likely to be, other countries will swiftly follow their example. This will benefit not just crossborder travellers and tourists, but will also benefit the local markets through better transparency, less tax evasion, and better adherence to other laws such as AML and terrorism financing, as all transactions, including prior ones could be traced easily and immediately through the public blockchain that is an essential part of digital currencies. Digital wallets on smartphones will replace TITO, bill acceptors and cash, leaving the customer more in control, and safer from harm through built-in limits, all in all, a very positive advance for casinos, governments and clients. Furthermore, a digital currency may facilitate access to casinos from millennials who are essentially tech-driven when it comes to entertainment, something that has otherwise proved difficult. Digital currency is coming, it is just a question of when.
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