|The Asian Gaming 50 – 2009|
|The Asian Gaming 50 – 2009: 1-10|
|The Asian Gaming 50 – 2009: 11-20|
|The Asian Gaming 50 – 2009: 21-30|
|The Asian Gaming 50 – 2009: 31-40|
|The Asian Gaming 50 – 2009: 41-50|
31 (36) Steven Lim Tow Boon
Group Executive Director, RGB Ltd
RGB Ltd describes itself as a ‘one-stop hub’ for supplying, manufacturing, refurbishing and servicing casino equipment, as well as amusement and electronic gaming machines.
The company, based in Penang, Malaysia, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dreamgate Corporation Berhad. RGB makes original gaming equipment under RGBGames branding; produces other famous gaming machine brands under licence; and markets equipment on behalf of RGB and its licensing partners. An example is that RGB is an agent for Chicago-based equipment supplier WMS in the new Singapore casino market. RGB’s parent Dreamgate also has experience as a gaming operator. It is an equity investor in boutique casinos, hotels and clubs with gaming licences across the Asia Pacific region.
RGB is leveraging on its extensive contracts in the regional industry following its decision to become directly involved in the operation of the slot machines at L’Arc, an SJM-licensed Macau casino, scheduled to open in the fourth quarter.
Steven Lim, RGB’s Group Executive Director, has had an exceptionally busy 2009. He has helped to oversee not only the preparatory work for L’Arc, but also the launch of new RGB Games products across the region. That includes the award-winning video slot game Shanghai Night. In the spring, RGB entered the Macau slot equipment market for the first time, judging that the timing was right given that slots now account for more than 5% of gross gaming revenue in Macau.
“The timing for us to go into Macau now was right, because if you look at Macau in 2005 the slot machine revenue was only a little over 2% of the casino gross. Since then, it’s increased tremendously,” Mr Lim told Inside Asian Gaming earlier this year.
Mr Lim, who started his career with Dreamgate in 1988, is a graduate of Brock University, Canada. He has more than 20 years of experience in the gaming and amusement machine industry, including as an adviser to the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR)—that country’s regulator-cum-operator. Mr Lim is also a keen soccer player and soccer supporter and sits on the management committees of a number of social and membership clubs in Malaysia.
32 (-) John Gomes
Managing Director, IGT Asia
IGT’s acquisition of the assets of Progressive Gaming International (PGI) in January marked a milestone in IGT’s business development in the expanding Asian gaming market.
PGI’s radio frequency identification chip systems and automated table equipment are complementary to, rather than directly competitive with, the IGT Advantage® suite of products. The combination of the two product lines has allowed IGT to cover even more market segments. This is important in an Asian region that is culturally very diverse in terms of player preferences and casino management culture.
John Gomes, the Managing Director of IGT Asia, has been leading the company’s expansion in the region. He was also responsible for the launch in Asia recently of IGT’s well received REELdepth™ games, which use Multi-Layer Display® technology to create 3-D virtual reels. The launch was at Resorts World at Manila, the largest casino in Philippines, which opened at the end of August.
Mr Gomes joined IGT in 2004 as General Manager for Russia with the responsibility of setting up and running the company’s business and offices in that emerging gaming market. Prior to his job with IGT in Russia, Mr Gomes worked for the biggest local gaming operator in that country.
He has more than two decades of experience in gaming. He started his career with leading leisure group Sun International. When gaming was legalised in South Africa, Mr Gomes joined Tsogo Sun Gaming before relocating to Russia.
33 (32) Paul Steelman
President and CEO, Paul Steelman Design Group
World-leading casino architect Paul Steelman draws his insights from a career spanning over two decades, during which he has designed several market-revolutionizing casino properties, from the original ‘integrated resort’, The Mirage in Las Vegas, to the unique stadium-style gaming venue that is Sands Macao.
Mr Steelman’s latest Asian creation is the Hard Rock Casino, which opened on 1st June at Macau’s City of Dreams resort on Cotai. Even with the modest-sized Hard Rock Casino, Mr Steelman continues pushing the envelope in terms of gaming-venue design. “There’s no casino in the world that’s like it,” he explains. “The single casino with a diversified hotel use spread around—there’s none like it. CityCenter [MGM MIRAGE’s US$8 billion mixed-use casino development in Las Vegas] will be similar to it, but doesn’t have the same planning characteristics that this one has.”
Using lessons from behavioural psychology, Mr Steelman 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).
Following the tremendous market response to Sands Macao in the wake of its May 2004 opening, Mr Steelman’s services have been much in demand throughout Asia, though that demand has been tempered recently owing to the credit crisis-induced slowdown in new casino resort development. Only when liquidity returns can several other ambitious Paul Steelman designs—including the US$2 billion Macao Studio City adjacent to Venetian Macao and the US$4.2 billion beachfront Ho Tram Strip destination resort—be realised.
According to Mr Steelman, themed casinos are faux pas and today’s trends are tomorrow’s design disasters. One sinking copycat theme we were spared from was a Titanic casino. In 1998, immediately after the movie’s tremendous box office success, Mr Steelman recalls “a guy called me up, and brought in a drawing made by a sign guy. Here was the Titanic casino with melting ice in Las Vegas. That year I saw four people come in with the Titanic Casino idea.
“People tend to copy success, but here’s the difference between people who copy success, and people who learn from it. People who learn from success advance it. They learn and then they advance.
“People have an idea, and they think the idea is worth some money. But believe me; Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson have a million ideas. So they’re not going to buy any idea from anyone else. Steve Wynn, over a period of time, advanced. He advanced The Mirage to the Bellagio. He advanced Bellagio to the Wynn. He always advances.”
34 (-) Cath Burns
Managing Director and Vice President Asia Pacific, Bally Technologies
Cath Burns is widely considered to be one of the rising stars of Asian gaming for her leadership and performance in building Bally’s market share in Macau from what amounted to a standing start.
That track record was confirmed in August when the company announced that L’Arc Macau and RGB Macau, operators of the new L’Arc Macau casino resort, had purchased a range of Bally Systems products for the venue’s autumn 2009 opening.
Bally Systems products ordered by L’Arc Macau include: Bally’s SDS® slot-accounting and player-tracking system; 420 Bally iVIEW™ player-interface displays; the company’s CMP Casino Management System with a new junket module fully adapted and configurable to Asia’s requirements; and the award-winning TableView™ Real-Time Table Rating and Player-Tracking system.
Ms Burns is also leading Bally’s relaunch in Australia. Bally, along with other slots and systems manufacturers, has identified new sales opportunities in this mature market as operators look to boost margins and profits by re-equipping with the latest and most revenue-efficient casino management technology.
Ms Burns joined Bally Technologies in March 2005 and immediately set about establishing the company’s head office in Macau for both its gaming and systems business operations. This included hiring staff, implementing policies and procedures and directing daily operations.
One of her major accomplishments was managing the near flawless installation of Bally’s slot and player-tracking systems at the Venetian Macao Resort and Casino—Asia’s largest casino with more than 3,500 slot machines and 1,200 table games. She and her team were also responsible for acquiring a 23.9% share of the machines on the gaming floor at the new City of Dreams casino resort complex on the Cotai Strip in Macau. This represents the largest property-opening order Bally has obtained in the Asia-Pacific market to date.
Immediately prior to joining Bally, Ms Burns was President of Sandals, Sandals, Sandals, a shoe retail business. In that role she increased sales by 20% and created a cost-saving inventory management system. Previously, Ms Burns was an account manager for IBM Australia, providing consulting expertise to customers on information technology trends and equipment options for the gaming industry. During her tenure with IBM, Ms Burns received the Asia Pacific Marketing Excellence Award and the Asia Pacific Region Marketing Award, and was a member of IBM’s “100% Club.” She also managed the Australia office of Video Lottery Consultants for six years.
35 (-) Yasushi Shigeta
President & CEO, Angel Group
In terms of casino inventory, playing cards are the ‘softest’ bit of the ‘hardware’, requiring a very high replacement rate. The replacement rate is highest in Asia, where baccarat players bend the cards as they slowly peek at them, requiring the cards to be discarded after each hand.
To give an idea of the higher intensity of playing card usage in a baccarat-dominated market such as Macau, Wynn Resorts’ Macau property, with 400 gaming tables, goes through about half a million decks each month, and although its Vegas property only has 140 tables, it takes a year for it to go through that many decks (i.e. the Macau property uses about four times as many decks per table).
Any supplier that claims to control the majority of the playing card supply segment in the world’s high betting volume baccarat market—namely Macau—stands to generate a very high turnover of business.
Japan’s Angel Playing Cards, which with its US subsidiary trades under the name Angel Group, claims an 80% share of the Macau casino supply market and a 70% share in Asia Pacific as a whole.
Apart from supplying playing cards, Angel also pioneered the electronic baccarat card shoe. The Angel Eye shoe is used on over 4,000 tables around the world, enabling big improvements in security and efficiency for casino operators.
Since its foundation in 1956, Angel has been dedicated to manufacturing all types of playing cards and gaming cards for domestic and international markets. The company started supplying major casinos in 1998.
Since then it has established a reputation for quality and service amongst customers. The company says this has allowed it to build market share in the land-based gaming and cruise ship segments of the Asia Pacific market in particular.
Angel, based in Higashiomi, Japan, has 135 staff dedicated to producing high specification products, including packs tailor-made for individual operators and venues.
Since 2005 the Angel success story has been led by Yasushi Shigeta, the company’s President & CEO.
Mr Shigeta began his career by working as a management consultant after graduating from Kyoto University in 1990.
In 1993 he joined Angel Group where he worked his way up from middle management to become a director of the business in 1995, finally being appointed to the top job in 2005.
36 (23) Albert Yeung
Founder and Chairman, Emperor Group
Albert Yeung is well known in Macau and beyond as the businessman who built the ‘casino paved with gold’. The lobby of the Grand Emperor Hotel & Casino in downtown Macau features a ‘Golden Pathway,’ with 78 gold bars, each weighing one kilogram, recessed in the floor under glass panels.
The gesture aptly sums up Mr Yeung’s personality as a showman and show business entrepreneur. He counts Hong Kong and Hollywood actor Jackie Chan among his friends, with Mr Chan named as a minority shareholder in the Grand Emperor Hotel & Casino when it opened in January 2006.
Mr Yeung was also one of the minority financial backers of the controversial Oliver Stone film ‘W’ about the life of former President George W. Bush, released last year.
Mr Yeung’s official biography recounts that he started in business as a jewellery retailer with one shop selling jewellery and watches. From that foundation, he expanded into property development and investment, financial services, entertainment and movies, hotels, publishing, catering and general retailing. The Emperor Group, based in Hong Kong, has become a regional player in entertainment and leisure, with ventures in Macau, China, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia, employing some 7,000 staff.
37 (40) Sonny Yeung Hoi Sing
Chairman, Success Universe Group Ltd
Success Universe Group Ltd (formerly Macau Success) is a joint venture investor with Dr Stanley Ho’s SJM Holdings in Ponte 16, a gaming resort that opened in February 2008 at Macau’s historic Inner Harbour. The company also runs a casino cruise ship, the M.V. Macau Success, out of Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong.
In June, Macau Success announced it had changed its name to Success Universe Group Ltd. The Hong Kong-listed business said this was to reflect the international expansion of its business into North America, where it operates Jade Travel Group, an air ticket consolidator serving customers in Canada and the United States.
Mr Yeung’s formative gaming industry experience was as a VIP room operator at Dr Stanley Ho’s Casino Lisboa. The relationship forged during that time paid dividends when he was able to broker the investment deal with Dr Ho for Ponte 16, where the gaming rooms also operate under an SJM licence.
Ponte 16 is the only gaming resort currently operating next door to Macau’s old town, which is a UNESCO-listed World Heritage site. A ferry terminal at Macau’s Inner Harbour next to Ponte 16 provides visitors from Zhuhai on the Chinese Mainland easy access to the resort via a five-minute ferry ride.
Ponte 16 is a predominantly mass-market facility. As at 31st December 2008, the casino had 97 gaming tables, only eight of which were high-roller tables, plus 278 slot machines. In 2008, the then Macau Success recorded an operating loss of HK$170.3 million (US$21.9 million) on its share of the Ponte 16 venture.
38 (43) Chen Lip Keong
Founder and CEO, NagaCorp
Chen Lip Keong’s three decades-plus of experience in business management will be invaluable in navigating Hong Kong-listed NagaCorp, the operator of the Cambodian casino resort NagaWorld, through the generally choppy waters faced by all gaming companies in Asia and beyond.
Dr Chen is an official advisor to Hun Sen, the prime minister of Cambodia, and is credited with helping to revitalise the country’s tourism industry following two decades of civil war.
NagaCorp’s first-half performance in 2009 has been a tale of two markets.
On the mass side, NagaWorld’s slot machines increased aggregate handle by more than 1,000%. The huge improvement in slot performance coincides with the revenue share agreement made between NagaCorp and Elixir Gaming Technologies (EGT) in January. This allows the latter to manage NagaWorld’s slots on a revenue share basis with win per unit per day split 80:20 in favour of NagaCorp, according to a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission made by EGT.
In the VIP table sector, however, NagaWorld’s revenues in the six months to the end of June fell 66.8% to US$34.1 million from US$102.8 million in the equivalent period last year, said the Hong Kong-listed parent company. This was despite the fact that the number of VIP players remained more or less stable.
In the first half of 2008, high roller play accounted for 94.2% of gross gaming revenue at NagaWorld. That was stimulated by the resort’s positioning as a mid-market facility with modest check-in limits of around US$25,000 to US$30,000 per customer, in a region with a shortage of quality high roller casinos.
First-half after-tax profits at NagaCorp fell to US$11.5 million in the six months to the end of June, down from US$25.5 million last year. The results suggest that secondary Asian gaming markets are even more vulnerable to contraction during general recession than are core ones. This may be the case despite the fact NagaCorp has strong political support from Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen and a 70-year monopoly licence within a 200-kilometre radius of Phnom Penh lasting until 2065.
In terms of yield on total capital invested, however, NagaCorp’s business model for NagaWorld has remained resilient, given the relatively modest cost of redeveloping the site. At most recent estimates that was little more than US$100 million, paid for out of cash generated by the business rather than via costly commercial loans or bonds. Indeed, in the first half of 2009, NagaCorp announced a share buy back equivalent to 10% of the company’s aggregate nominal capital.
39 (-) Gregory S. Gronau
Chief Executive Officer, Gaming Partners International Corporation
Gregory S. Gronau is a new entry on this year’s Asian Gaming 50 – 2009. He earns his place as the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer of Gaming Partners International Corporation (GPI), an industry-leading supplier of gaming chips and plaques.
GPI is not only one of the longest-serving equipment providers to the Macau market, with a 42-year track record, but it is also one of the most dominant, currently claiming a market share of around 90%.
Mr Gronau joined GPI in October 2008 as Chief Operating Officer. He has the benefit of considerable insight into how table games from other manufacturers can utilise and integrate with GPI’s radio frequency identification technology, both at the cage end of the casino floor and at tableside.
From 2002 to 2006, Mr Gronau served as Vice President of Operations for Shuffle Master Inc., a major supplier of automatic card shufflers and proprietary table games. At Shuffle Master, he oversaw software and hardware research for two product lines and directed manufacturing operations for all products.
From 2006 to 2008, Mr Gronau was President and Chief Executive Officer of Cadillac Jack, a supplier of innovative games and systems to the gaming industry. The latter company recently announced plans to expand into the Asian market.
Between 1996 and 2002, Mr Gronau served as Director of Operations and Business Planning for WMS Industries Inc., a major maker of lottery terminals and slot machines, then as Vice President of Distribution Services for that company.
40 (39) Arthur M. Wang
Chief Executive Officer and Director, GigaMedia Ltd
GigaMedia, a Taiwan-based online entertainment business, has not been immune from the global financial crisis. A significant portion of its revenues come from Europe, where it operates the market leading Everest poker software and runs complementary live poker tournaments. Increasingly, however, GigaMedia has been focusing on provision of non-casino online content in the Greater China market, including role-playing and casual games.
Arthur Wang, the CEO, also said his company had responded to the challenging trading conditions by reducing costs and increasing efficiency.
In the first half of 2009, the company’s performance was hit by the euro weakening against the US dollar. GigaMedia said at that time it was in talks with an undisclosed party regarding a possible strategic partnership on its poker and casino software business.
After the Q1 ’09 results were released in June, Mr Wang struck an optimistic note, particularly in relation to the growth of China’s non-casino games market. “We believe we have hit bottom in this cyclical downturn and that the second half will see renewed strength in Europe. And in Asia, we are looking at our best year ever, with strong top and bottom-line growth,” he stated.
In its Q1 ’09 results announcement, the company said it achieved poker and casino software revenues of US$31.7 million, in line with expectations. It said active depositing poker players held steady quarter-over-quarter, while the number of new depositing players grew slightly during the period. In Asia, GigaMedia’s online games revenues amounted to US$12.7 million for Q1, up 33% quarter-over-quarter on strong organic growth. GigaMedia’s casual games portal, FunTown, and its online sports and casual game unit in China, T2CN Holding Limited, saw revenues surge 27% and 43%, respectively.
In June, the company reported global Q1 ’09 revenues of US$44.4 million and net income of US$4.8 million.
As well as being CEO of GigaMedia, Mr Wang is also a member of the board of Linmark Group, a Hong Kong Stockmarket-listed global sourcing firm, where he serves as chair of the compensation committee.
Previously, Mr Wang was a managing partner of 698 Capital Limited, an Asian investment firm, as well as an executive director of KGI Asia Limited, where he served as head of corporate finance. He also served as an investment advisor and board member of UFJ Asia Finance Technology Fund of the UFJ Group (formerly the Sanwa Bank Group of Japan), and as a board member and director of Softbank Investment International (Strategic) Limited, the Hong Kong-listed arm of Softbank Corporation. Mr Wang is also a trained lawyer. Earlier in his career he practised corporate and securities law in the New York and Hong Kong offices of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.