Michael Cheers arrived in Macau just a few months ago to fill the role of Sales Director – Asia for IGT. Vastly experienced in the gaming industry, Cheers shares with Inside Asian Gaming some of his personal and professional insights.
Oscar Guijarro: Can you tell us a bit about you background?
Michael Cheers: I’m born and bred in Broken Hill which is a mining town in far western New South Wales in Australia. I studied there and then left at 18 and travelled to Sydney to start an apprenticeship in cookery. I am a chef by trade. I did a cookery trade in Sydney and certainly it was a shock to the system to go from Broken Hill with around 20,000 people to a city of 4 million!
OG: What led you to work in the gaming industry?
MC: I went back to study at college and the course that I did was Personnel and Industrial Relations, which led me to come in contact with a job opportunity with a major employer. I had moved to Adelaide at that time and the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) needed someone who had experience in cooking, someone who had some human resource management or personnel skills. So, I was partway through my training and I was lucky enough to get that position. As part of my role there, I had dealt with a lot of the members of the AHA and I was offered a position by the AHA to be their membership manager. The AHA in South Australia also began lobbying at that time for the introduction of gaming machines. My role at the time in regards to getting the legislation passed was to inform our hotel and club members about how to handle a gaming environment, so I conducted many courses and because of my engagement to the manufacturing side of the business I was eventually offered a position by one of those companies, Olympic Video Gaming. I worked with them for a number of years and then they were acquired by IGT. That’s where my connection with IGT began. I was South Australian state manager, then Northern Territory and then I did Western Australia as well. In 2008 I was asked if I’d like to take on a new role and move to Sydney with IGT. That role was National Manager for System Sales, which I accepted.
OG: And the move to Asia followed on from there?
MC: I was offered a position as our Channel Sales Manager to look after all of our distributors in Asia, which was based in Singapore. I was also responsible for directly looking after some of our major accounts. That role morphed a bit and I ended up being responsible for all of our Tier 1 accounts outside of Macau. Then when the company restructured recently and the previous director moved on from Macau, I was asked if I would be interested in moving here and taking up a director’s role. They wanted to really focus the position in Macau which is sort of recognized as the premium gaming center as far as Asia is concerned, with the volume of major players. I accepted, so we moved here five months ago.
OG: What are your early impressions of Macau?
MC: I think it’s a really interesting mix of the old and the new. I find it exciting. I find it really interesting about the volume of play – the nature of players often staying for only around 30 hours. The mix between table and slot revenue is also different to any other market I’ve dealt with before. So, I had to adjust my thinking a little bit. Probably one thing that struck me was the importance of having quality gaming systems, because you’re managing such high volumes, such a diversity of people, you need to have very good gaming systems to do that.
OG: Where do you see yourself working in 10 years? Will you stay in gaming forever?
MC: Yes, I think so. I mean, I’ve done 25 years now and I really love it. It offers challenges. Short answer? In five years I’ll still be in the industry.
OG: What achievement are you most proud of?
MC: When I moved into the national system sales role in Australia, we had 12 to 14 customers because it had not been an area that IGT had focused on, and we ignited that and then localized the product to fit the market. We took the best of the advanced system and we made it available to smaller operators, as well as growing our business with the larger operators. By the time I left that role we had over 200 customers.
OG: What challenges will the gaming industry face in the next few years?
MC: I think we need, as an industry, to continue to be mindful of our responsibility in working with regulators and governments of respective countries to ensure that our product is used sensibly. Probably more immediate is the fact that we can potentially access a gambling product on a mobile phone these days, depending on the jurisdiction, and the ability for people to wager on those. Also, what will our players like look like in 10 or 15 or 20 years? There will still be those traditional games but to broaden the customer base we need to be mindful of much greater diversity in that sort of digital space whereby players can connect. So, I think innovation, diversity, utilizing current platforms such as mobile phones all within the regulations of the country. They are the challenges that we have to meet.
OG: What do you like to do when you are not working?
MC: I enjoy dining out with friends. That sort of comes from my food heritage. Generally, I enjoy horse racing as an interest. We’re lucky enough that we’re only walking distance to Macau Jockey Club. As an Australian I enjoy some of the traditional sports too such as Aussie Rules footy and cricket.