Asian Gaming 50: Part II (26-50)July 17, 2008
Unlike other gaming operators, Mr Chandra is in the unique position of being able to promote his lottery business on his own television channels. Essel Group operates (through a subsidiary) Play TV, India’s first interactive gaming channel. Mr Chandra also founded and still runs Zee TV, the world’s first Hindi language satellite channel, which now has an estimated audience of 500 million and broadcasts to the Indian diaspora in 120 countries.
Mr Chandra is able to cross promote without any national regulator breathing down his neck because lotteries in India are licensed on a state-by-state basis. In return for their permit, operators give some of their revenues to charity (in Playwin’s case via the Playwin Foundation) but have no tax liability on gross sales. A number of states have attempted to impose sales tax on lottery sales, but the Indian Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that lottery tickets were not ‘goods’ and therefore were exempt. This sales tax break may soon end as India is considering setting up a national regulator similar to the body that oversees the country’s stock exchange.
30 Albee Benitez
President, Leisure and Resorts World Corp
President, First Cagayan Leisure and Resorts Corp
This US-educated Filipino entrepreneur has steadily built a diversified gaming business in the Philippines through his Philippines-listed flagship company, Leisure and Resorts World Corp (LRWC). Mr Benitez heads the Philippines’s largest chain of bingo halls with 36 sites—all licensed and regulated by PAGCOR—located in the country’s major shopping malls. The halls offer traditional bingo, electronic bingo, instant bingo pull-tabs and “Rapid Bingo”—a keno-type game.
Mr Benitez proved to be forward thinking when five years ago he separately started First Cagayan Inc, which was appointed as the exclusive master licensor for online gaming in the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Free Port. The Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA) is mandated to manage the resources of the Zone and has signed a joint venture partnership with First Cagayan until 2031.
Mr Benitez’s Leisure and Resorts flagship now owns 70% of First Cagayan. CEZA has become one of the world’s leading online gaming regulatory jurisdictions and the only such jurisdiction in Asia. First Cagayan’s partnership with CEZA was instrumental in attracting over 40 online gaming groups to set up their operations in the Philippines and the company also helps CEZA promote and regulate a stable regime for Asian online gaming operators.
Mr Benitez plans to offer players further gaming options via his popular bingo outlets. He is also eyeing international expansion through joint ventures for other types of gaming.
31 Sang H. Park
Chief Marketing Officer, T.H.E. Hotel and LVegas Casino
T.H.E. Hotel & LVegas Casino opened on Korea’s Jeju Island on April 25, 2008. By May, the property had secured a 39% share of casino revenue on the resort island, making it the biggest earner of Jeju’s 8 casinos. Mainland Korea has a further 9 casinos, and out of the country’s 17 casinos, the LVegas Casino ranked fifth—behind first placed KangwonLand, which is the only casino open to locals, and properties from established operators Paradise Group and Seven Luck.
T.H.E. Hotel & LVegas Casino can fairly be termed an instant success, and is the brainchild of Sang H. Park, who previously worked in the US at HAS International—a supplier of various goods to hotels and casino resorts. Mr Park told Inside Asian Gaming he had a vision to bring “a very boutique, high-roller casino hotel,” to Jeju, and points out that apart from KangwonLand, “we’re the only casino in Korea that owns its own hotel.” This makes his company better able to control the total experience of high rollers, who are shuttled in from the airport in a fleet of Hummers and Mercedes.
Mr Park holds an MBA from the prestigious Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. He pitched the the idea for T.H.E. Hotel and LVegas Casino to Geoff McDowell, president of leading casino development company The Gillmann Group. Mr Park and Mr McDowell became partners in the venture through Gillmann subsidiary Gillman Investment Asia and together raised funds to purchase a publicly traded company, Nasign, Inc. Through that vehicle, they purchased the Crown Hotel in Jeju and undertook a major remodelling to create an upscale property with 213-rooms—128 of which are suites. The niche casino has 29 tables, including 3 VIP rooms with four tables each, and 48 slot machines. Over 40% of customers hail from Japan, another 35-40% from mainland China, and the rest predominantly from neighbouring Asian countries, including Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam.
Mr Park wants to bring a mega resort to Jeju, and is currently negotiating the land purchase under Gillmann Investment Asia, a subsidiary company of The Gillmann Group. He expects the envisioned Vegas-style mega resort, featuring “a total hospitality hotel and casino concept, with lots of entertainment, a nightclub, dining, etc,” to be open by 2010. He points out that Jeju hosts over 5.6 million visitors a year and claims “this mega resort will be a place everyone wants to go see.”
Additionally, while KangwonLand is the only casino currently open to locals, Mr Park believes “there will be more domestic licenses given out,” perhaps within the next three or four years. By that time, Mr Park’s company will have established a solid track record providing high-end gaming and integrated resort offerings on Jeju, making it well positioned to secure one of those licenses.
32 Paul Steelman
President and CEO, Paul Steelman Design Group
According to casino architect Paul Steelman, themed casinos are faux pas and today’s trends are tomorrow’s design disasters.
Mr Steelman is widely regarded as the world’s leading casino architect. Drawing on experience gleaned from a career spanning more than 20 years and using lessons from behavioural psychology, he has formulated a set of “rules of casino design” intended to lure people into casinos and keep them there. These rules include ensuring exits— actual exits, not just exit signs—are clearly visible (which apparently keeps players at the tables for an average of five minutes longer) and using curved rather than straight corridors (which makes visitors feel there is more to the property than they have seen, encouraging them to return).