Having celebrated 40 years in gaming, Scientific Games Vice President and Managing Director for Asia, Ken Jolly, has enjoyed a front row seat to the evolution of the Asian gaming industry.
Forty years after first discovering the inner workings of a slot machine, the excitement hasn’t waned for Ken Jolly.
“We go to work where other people go to play,” says Jolly. “That’s a fun way to say it. It’s an exciting industry. It’s dynamic and interesting to this day, and I still enjoy being a part of it.”
These days Jolly, 61, is one of the most recognizable figures in the industry. Having started his career with Australian slot machine giant, Aristocrat, in 1989 before moving to Shuffle Master (SHFL) in 2010, Jolly was in the thick of the action when SHFL was acquired by Bally Technologies in 2013 and in turn when Bally was acquired by Scientific Games 12 months later – creating a genuine powerhouse on the global gaming scene.
His experience on that front was timely: originally a technician before moving into sales and marketing soon afterwards, Jolly’s 31 years at Aristocrat comprised stints all around the world from Australia and New Zealand to the US and Europe.
But it is Asia where Jolly has forged his legacy.
“I spent a year in London in 2001, but it was around the time they were changing the [casino] law in Macau, and Aristocrat didn’t have an office in Asia,” Jolly explains of his first foray into the Asian market.
“The company was bringing machines from Australia, so they gave me the opportunity to go to Asia and open up an office. It was an amazing opportunity, and we took Aristocrat to nearly 60% market share of Macau as well as the rest of Asia. It was a hugely successful business.”
It was also a steep learning curve for Jolly in a market that presented a series of unique challenges.
“In Macau, prior to the introduction of concessions, there wasn’t a focus on slot machines in that market,” he recalls.
“There were 800 or 900 machines in the SJM network, so one of the challenges was getting the message out there that slots would work in the market. It’s still not as big a market as other parts of the world, but it’s certainly growing and proving its worth, particularly on the mass side of the business.”
Less challenging, Jolly says, was adapting to cultural differences and conducting business in unfamiliar surroundings.“When they asked me to set up and run the Asia office, I was concerned. There was a stigma about Asia that business wasn’t straight up and down,” he continues. “But I’ve found that if you are straight-forward, honest and let people know what’s going on, then business is no different than anywhere else in the world.
“It is all based on integrity and your ability to set course for where you want to go, as long as you stick to your guns. It was easier than I initially expected.”
Macau has come far since those early days. From the 800 machines held by SJM towards the end of its monopoly in 2001, today Macau’s six concessionaires operate a hefty 17,300 machines between them, raking in annual GGR of around MOP$15 billion (US$1.86 billion).
“I look back to the opening of Sands Macao in 2004, which was the first American-run casino in Macau. While the opening itself was pretty special, I think the visitation to that casino really changed Macau,” Jolly says.
“I don’t think anyone expected the casino to do as much as it did. Prior to the Sands Macao opening was the launch of Waldo across the road, and the turnover through that place was extraordinary – no one in the world had heard of numbers like it. That was really the beginning of Macau becoming the Chinese-dominated gambling destination.”
Jolly has played a leading role in the evolution of the slot machine business in Asia, not only by growing the market, but by bringing another major player into the region by joining Scientific Games. He has also helped educate the growing ASEAN gaming markets, with nations like Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos becoming increasingly sophisticated.
“They’re looking for technology, systems and advances in the systems that will give them a competitive edge,” Jolly observes. “That really didn’t exist 10 or 15 years ago, and all those markets in Asia are on the same path – becoming more professional and moving in a very positive direction.”
So what does Jolly see as his greatest contribution to the industry?
“I’d like to think that over the years I was instrumental in starting a number of careers for others,” he explains. “In my role in the US, for instance, I started six cadets in the American markets, and I believe they are all still in gaming in good positions now.
“It’s an enjoyable industry to be in, and I certainly believe that I’ve been of value to the companies I’ve worked for. With the work I’ve done with Scientific Games in Asia, I’d like to have some influence on where they’re going.
“We have plans for the future, continuing to grow the Asian business and the Japan market. I’m sure I will be of some support in that regard.”