Inside Asian Gaming recently visited Light & Wonder’s Macau showroom, where we spoke with the company’s Vice President and Managing Director, Asia, Ken Jolly, to discuss the company’s 2022 outlook.
Inside Asian Gaming: Ken, it’s been a tough few years for our industry in Asia but we’re starting to see much of the region re-opening and preparing for life after COVID. What is Light & Wonder’s agenda during this process?
Ken Jolly: Certainly we can see that markets are opening up all over the world, although I would say Asia is the market that is lagging the most in general terms. But when you look at the Philippines for instance, it is now open for visitors and casinos are operating at capacity. In Macau, visitation is still limited and the requirements for visas to visit from China are slowing things down in terms of the recovery, so Macau is currently at about a 30% or less visitation rate.
In other parts of Asia, Singapore has done a great job with a very high vaccination rate, Indochina is opening up slowly – the recovery here is not as fast as other parts of the world but populations continue to get their vaccination rates up and borders are opening – so we’re starting to see a bit of movement in visitation. We think as the rest of this year goes by and things continue to open, there will be further improvement.
IAG: Does that mean Light & Wonder is focusing more on other markets than on Macau this year?
KJ: Most gaming companies would say the same thing. The focus was on Macau in past years, but certainly we’ve seen the Philippines come up as a strong market and you’ll see more emphasis placed on that market – particularly in 2022 while Macau is going through the rebidding process for concessionaires and the new gaming law. I think a lot of the concessionaires are reviewing the reported new gaming law amendments now and taking more time before moving forward with any changes to casino floors.
From our perspective, it’s the Philippines, Indochina in the latter part of this year – and then Singapore is showing some good signs, as is Malaysia.
IAG: How do you see the “VIP versus mass” make up of the industry post-COVID?
KJ: The Macau market is already changing to mass as junkets diminish. With the visitation controls coming from China, the dynamic for Macau has changed and it’s likely to stay that way.
In the other markets around Asia, I think you will see a bit more normalization back to what we had before. Players are starting to come back in and are spending their entertainment dollars in casinos again outside of Macau.
IAG: For many years slot machines have contributed around 6% of Macau’s GGR, which is a small percentage but of a very large market. Can you see this figure rising in future as Macau moves to a mass market?
KJ: We always figured back in the early days of the Macau market that the slot machine numbers would be greater than they have been. It’s always been a tables market and that’s not going to change to any great extent any time soon.
Right now, you’ve also got a lot of machines turned off for product distancing among other measures. That will change in time as casino floors are reconfigured. We’re also in the process of upgrading to Version 2.0 software (under Macau’s new EGM Technical Standards) which is required across the market by 2024, and cabinet expenditure in casinos is being put into that, so I can’t see the electronic gaming market growing dramatically any time soon.
It’s going to take time and certainly it’s not going to be a high electronic gaming to tables ratio like we see in other markets.
IAG: What about ETGs? We’re sitting in your showroom looking at products like Roulette X and Dragon Tail Baccarat – do you see these sorts of products becoming more important in the future and will this be a focus of Light & Wonder?
KJ: Scientific Games ETGs came about from the originally developed Stargames ETGs and ended up with SG via acquisitions along the way. We continue to develop ETGs for the future with new features and ideas.
We still lead the world with shuffler development and continue to enhance the functionality with new models, like with ETGs. We continue to develop great content for our slot products and gaming products that take content across all of our different verticals, whether that be play-for-fun games, digital or land-based casino games.
IAG: You’ve spoken about the differences in recovery across Asia. How about the ANZ (Australia-New Zealand) market?
KJ: Australia was locked down throughout COVID, but the market has come back very quickly and is very open today. Masks are off and people are travelling around the country. Even foreign tourists are travelling back into the country. All of that stuff helps recovery and that’s what we are seeing in Australia right now.
IAG: What can you tell us about the recent name change from Scientific Games to Light & Wonder?
KJ: We divested the lottery company. With this it was a great opportunity to redefine who we are. This transformation will allow us to focus on being the leading cross-platform global games company, so an inspirational and bold name was required – “Light & Wonder”. It is exciting for our staff, stakeholders and customers as we embark on this future journey.
IAG: It’s remarkable the company managed to keep it all secret until the official announcement.
KJ: That was the idea, to create a wow factor, to tell the market who we want to be, who we are moving forward and to create that excitement. Internally the staff are very excited about what the future holds for us. Look for our future products as we continue to develop the best in class for the casino industry.