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Changing the sentiment towards casinos in Asia

By - 17 March 2020

G3 caught up with HOGO Digital’s Chris Wieners to get his insights into the latest trends and developments in the Asian gaming market.

What are some of the similarities and differences you see between the model for Japan and other regional Integrated Resorts?

Japan has one major benefit amongst some of Asia’s other jurisdictions – the country is one of the fastest growing inbound tourism destinations for Chinese outbound travellers, among others. Shinzo Abe’s government has been in a very aggressive plan for tourism growth by 2030 and has several major events on the horizon that will only further drive interest in the country (2020 Tokyo Olympics and 2025 World Expo Osaka).The country offers a treasure trove of assets that are already attractive to visitors; the culture alone will allow Japan’s IR to function uniquely to any other in Asia, or globally for that matter.

With regards to IR, the industry will still be very reliant on the Chinese market place, so from a marketing perspective, the actual marketing operations, channels etc. will be similar to other jurisdictions going after similar mass and premium mass clientele. VIP will be treated differently to say Macau as a result of the presumed ban of junket operators.

Right now in Japan our (HOGO’s) major involvement has been working with Prefectural government across branding and marketing initiatives. One such initiative has been raising the profile of Prefectures who are interested in showcasing their attractiveness as a location to develop an IR ultimately attracting operators to participate in their RFC / RFP processes. HOGO has worked to help build their brand and showcase their credibility through development of professional events, seminars and more including operators, academics and other experts, allowing the Prefectures to uniquely stand out.

Obviously in Japan a major issue is that no one has done this before. It doesn’t matter the size or scale; we’re talking about a new industry. Our goal has been to assist government with regards to making their locations attractive and helping to gain interest from a variety of IR operators. It’s something we have been focused on for the last two and a half years and will continue to do so.

Under the terms of Japan’s new act for integrated resorts and casinos all advertisements for casinos will only be permitted in international terminals of the country’s airports and seaports. How will IR’s help change perceptions of gambling and what is the perception of casinos and gambling in Japan?

The general conception of the term “casino”, even up to two years ago, was primarily negative. I think a lot of Japanese equated a casino to the movie “Casino” or even to the pachinko industry, something many see as a dirty business. As a result, sentiment had remained negative. I feel that sentiment has changed dramatically in the last year or two with the introduction of the IR bill and operators spending time and money to promote their own brands and offerings. Most Japanese were not aware of what an “Integrated Resort” really was; there are many who still aren’t. It remains an uphill battle and I feel that operators will have a lot of work cut out for them to further redefine the public’s image of a “casino”.

Strictly speaking gambling citizens placing bets via offshore sites while in Japan are acting in contravention to the Penal Code. Do you see online gambling laws changing at some point in the future?

I think absolutely in the future but the question is when does that take place. The market is lucrative; and you see that in the launch of so many operators attempting to target Japan. However due to advertising and marketing restrictions there is not much open dialogue or discussion right now – definitely not from the Japanese side. I think it’s a long time coming before we see major shifts, but in the meantime because it’s a lucrative market and online payment solutions are relatively easy to develop for this market. The market is exploding in regards to interest from online operators. At some point it’s going to come across the regulators desk. But I think there’s going to be so much focus on the launch of land based gambling in the coming years that I don’t think online is of any major priority yet; I would doubt any serious discussions before the opening of Japan’s first IR and probably quite a bit after that.

What are some of the opportunities in the IR space in the region?

China continues to be the key but there’s also other markets such as Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. We have an ability to target those markets and really create unique advertising across both digital and offline channels that are best practice. We’re also a smaller boutique agency, which allows us to learn, move and solve problems quickly. Our goal has been to help our clients in the IR space solve problems and keep up on digital trends that allow them to stay ahead of the technology curve while building their brands in the relevant target markets they wish to pursue.

Could you tell us more about attitudes towards gambling and how they have changed over recent years in Asia?

During the boom time in Macau the sentiment was incredibly positive – nearly overnight, there was an opportunity for everyone to make money. This trickled down to real estate, minimum wages…students coming out of school were earning amazing salaries that were unheard of in places like Macau before. The sentiment was very positive. It still exists but now you’ve got issues such as infrastructure not keeping up with tourism demands and general overcrowding. You have an economy that is 100 per cent reliant on gaming and that can be dangerous; diversification in a significant manner needs to occur.

How can IR’s and governments ensure they gain support in the local community?

The government has to be very careful. They don’t only have to handle infrastructure, but local sentiment and all of these pieces in conjunction with operators based on what local culture demands.

So in Japan, for example, one major group you may consider targeting for advocacy is women and children’s rights groups. Japan has considerable women who want to enter the workforce but day-care is really expensive. If IR operator can offer incentives such as inhouse day-care services, this can go a long way. This is an example of a very simple initiatives however there are so many of these simple but meaningful thoughts that have to be promoted at this stage to get people to say ‘wow, there’s no other company here that does that. Nothing on that scale.’

So you’ve got to get people excited. . . in South Asia the industry is able to do this through the promising of benefits to the local population outside of the obvious economic ones. The general public needs to feel the benefits will trickle down and affect their everyday quality of life; people want to know where the funds will be utilized and how.

Japan will be very good at that – I feel the government here will be very good at transparency. Cities such as Osaka have already begun to define the use of monies, including splits and discussions on where these funds may be utilized (problem gaming institutional funding, career training opportunities, infrastructure and more). As a result people understand and feel there is transparency, which in turn builds further advocacy.

Most recently a scandal related to the use of funds as bribes has rocked the boat a bit. People are obviously concerned about an industry that has yet to launch already causing issues within the political scene. Operators and governments need to manage and reassure the public through actions (such as limiting meetings between operators and government officials) that this type of behaviour is not the norm and will not be tolerated in Japan.

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