A decade of making the Asian Gaming Power 50
By Andrew W Scott
IAG Asian Gaming Power 50 selection panel Chairman
EVERY year for the last decade, Inside Asian Gaming has completed a task that is fascinating, exhilarating, intellectually stimulating and industry-defining whilst simultaneously being frustrating, infuriating, prone to creating conflict and perhaps even downright dangerous!
Yes, it’s time once again for the Asian Gaming Power 50 – our industry’s definitive list of its 50 most powerful people in Asia.
This year we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Asian Gaming Power 50 – and what a fascinating decade it has been for our industry. It started with the grand opening of the Venetian Macao in 2007, giving birth to the Cotai of today. As the years rolled on Macau’s new gaming hub saw the openings of City of Dreams, Galaxy Macau, Sands Cotai Central, Studio City, Wynn Palace and The Parisian. Not to be outdone, the Philippines’ Entertainment City sprouted forth from its greenfield site, with the openings of Solaire, City of Dreams Manila and Okada. The decade also provided numerous industry developments in Korea, Vietnam, Saipan, Cambodia and across the rest of Asia.
Over the decade only four people have sat atop the “BIG 50” (as it is commonly known):
2008: Dr Stanley Ho
2009: Tan Sri KT Lim
2010: Mr Sheldon Adelson
2011 and 2012: Mr Francis Lui
2013 to 2016: Mr Sheldon Adelson
2017: read on to find out!
Just in the last year we’ve seen so much happen in our industry. Both Macau and Manila have blossomed more than expected but other Asian jurisdictions have remained stubbornly stagnant. We saw tragedies connected to our industry in Las Vegas and Manila and the worst typhoon in over half a century in Macau. After premature declarations of its demise, the VIP industry is back with a vengeance. Japan was a “yes”, then a “no” and is now a “probably eventually.” We saw two unexpected property openings in Macau in The Macau Roosevelt and Royal Dragon, and two properties that were expected to open, The 13 and MGM Cotai, didn’t.
IAG published the inaugural “BIG 50” in July 2008. The following year it moved to September, the issue of IAG displayed at the G2E trade show in Las Vegas each year. It remained in September for the next eight years, to 2016. As the years have rolled on, the importance of G2E in Las Vegas to the Asian gaming industry has waned (while the importance of G2E Asia in Macau has waxed), and from this year onwards we’ve decided to move the BIG 50 to December each year so that each year’s list takes into account all the activities and machinations of the preceding calendar year.
The Power 50 list is not a place for people to rest on their laurels. While there are some points awarded for company longevity and/or executive tenure, the list predominantly focuses on the activities of the prior 12 months. It’s all about “what are you doing now?” and “what have you done lately?” not “what have you done in the last 15 years?” As such the Power 50 list is very dynamic as people move up, and down, and on, for a multitude of reasons. As part of this year’s exercise we looked over the lists for the previous nine years and surprised ourselves at how many names are no longer on the list, or the names who were once in the top 10 or 20 and who are now ranked much lower.
A phenomenon that repeatedly presents during the making of the list each year is the “My business has grown therefore I should move up the list” fallacy. The truth is everyone lifts in a rising tide and because, as a general rule, the majority of people on the list are managing businesses that grow each year, just to maintain any given spot on the list usually requires annual growth. Someone doing the same thing year after year and achieving similar results will slowly slip down the list as the years roll by.
Although we have become quite adept at putting this list together, the task seems to get more complex each year as the Asian gaming industry matures and becomes more nuanced. How on earth does one compare the sole owner of a smaller property to the brand new “hired help” COO of a much larger one? How about comparing a large property that is still in pre- opening to a smaller one that has been active for years? A junket operator in Macau versus the CEO of the Hong Kong Jockey Club? Or the head of a smallish casino company about to go public to the President of a casino chain in Korea that doesn’t have locals gaming? These are the types of tough questions the selection panel of the Asian Gaming Power 50 wrestles with.
As with any such ranked list, there are always criticisms and objections, usually from those who feel slighted against. We often hear claims of not reading the list or not caring about it, but just as often we are contacted either directly or through surrogates to bemoan the injustice of a perceived lowly position and to lobby for the following year. Strangely, no-one has ever contacted us to complain about being ranked too high! However, this year two people even asked not to be on the list, for fear of the exposure and profile it creates – perhaps placing a target on their back! In the interests of the credibility and accuracy of the list, these requests were politely declined.
This year we welcome two new members to the selection panel, Mr Michael Zhu, Senior Vice President of International Operations Planning and Analysis for The Innovation Group, and Mr David Green, former gaming regulator with the Independent Gambling Authority in South Australia and CEO at Newpage Consulting – a Macau-based gaming consultancy firm. Mr Green is also Chairman of Silver Heritage Limited and recused himself from any discussions regarding executives from that company.
Over the last decade the Asian Gaming Power 50 has become the definitive list of the industry’s most important people – and as such we play a vital role in the industry and have a responsibility to simply get it right. Keen followers of the list will remember that last year we completely overhauled the Power 50 ranking methodology and in an effort to be more scientific and objective in the rankings introduced a numerical “Power Score” for each person on the list. This proved popular and we’ve continued this tradition in 2017.
Power Score points arise from a number of factors including the GGR of the person’s organization (or a surrogate comparative measure if necessary), a weighted “carving up” of those points between the top senior executives with key policy control of that organization, adjustments for whether the person is hired or has a major equity position, their length of tenure, how active in business initiatives the person has been in the prior 12 months, the long-term gaming pedigree of the person, the jurisdiction in which he or she operates and many more. Some factors are necessarily subjective, but we’ve always assigned a points value in an attempt to be objective. We have done this without any predetermined notion or goal of where any person should or should not be ranked.
At the end of the day, in our industry the concept of “power” generally comes down to direct or indirect control of money. The greater the GGR controlled, the greater the power. But what, exactly, is control? It’s about influence, it’s about who is the ultimate decision maker, and sometimes it’s simply about who is the person everyone in the room looks to for answers. In the same way that a country is a country because other countries say it is, some people are powerful simply because other people say they are.
Here are some other questions that have arisen during the selection process:
What countries count as Asia?
As west as India, as south as New Zealand, as east as Saipan and as north as Mongolia.
What about non-operators who have a strong voice in the industry, like regulators, media commentators, analysts, academics, suppliers, consultants, gaming lawyers and so on?
We have looked at the power wielded by all of those, but after careful consideration concluded that it was impossible to include regulators (Pagcor’s Andrea Domingo’s position on the list is purely as an operator, not a regulator) and after considering the power of people in all the other categories it was only direct operators who made it into the top 50.
How do you pick between the owner/CEO and the COO of a company?
Many gaming companies have a charismatic and entrepreneurial owner/CEO and a perhaps more seasoned and level-headed gaming professional in charge as President and/or COO. By default, being an owner necessarily ranks many more Power Score points. After all, the owner can always force an appointed COO out of his job. But in some cases a hired COO can be even more powerful than their “boss” when the owner delegates a very large proportion of decision making responsibility. The answer is decided on a case by case basis.
Why isn’t Dr Stanley Ho on the list anymore?
Dr Ho was retired from the list in 2011 after he effectively withdrew from active day-to-day management of SJM. As one seasoned industry professional told us, “You can’t put him in with normal people.” We agree.
Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow selection panel members for their tireless work and excellent insights. And so, without any further ado, we present the 10th edition of the Asian Gaming Power 50. Enjoy!
To see the full list of 2017 Asian Gaming Power 50 winners, click here.