The latest amendments to Macau’s gaming law have generated lengthy discussion around issues such as satellite casinos and the future development of gaming concessionaires. IAG sat down with Ryan Hong-Wai Ho, lecturer at the Centre for Gaming and Tourism Studies, Macao Polytechnic University – who has been researching the industry for over 15 years – to get his thoughts on the future of Macau’s gaming industry.
IAG: Thanks for speaking with us Ryan. Could you start by telling us a bit about your background?
Ryan Ho (RH): I’ve been working in the gaming industry since right after graduating from college. I used to work in roles such as human resources and public relations, which helped me get to know the industry better and also led me to begin studying it. I’ve been a full-time lecturer at Macao Polytechnic University since 2019, teaching and sharing with students my knowledge from previous careers and research.
For now, I mainly work in two areas: one is teaching –my classes are about the gaming industry and I also supervise undergraduate students’ graduation reports– and the other is researching. My research areas cover topics such as gaming laws and policies, the industry, and human resources such as the latest “1+1 model” launched by the concessionaires, and talking with people who work in the industry to learn about what’s going on now.
IAG: What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a lecturer?
RH: In terms of my teaching and research work, there’s always something new. In our center we have students who are not only undergraduates but also those who have already been working in the gaming industry for years. By talking with them, I can learn more from them than from books. That’s the most impressive thing about being a lecturer for me — that I learn something new every day.
IAG: The gaming industry of Macau has changed a lot over the past 20 years. Could you share your thoughts on the gaming industry?
RH: During the past decades of my career relating to the gaming industry, I’ve witnessed the 2008 Financial Crisis. Fortunately, Macau was not hit as hard as Hong Kong, and the gaming industry was still developing at a rapid pace.
When the Chinese government started its series of anti-graft crackdowns, it dealt a huge blow to Macau’s gaming industry, especially to the VIP sector. After reaching its peak in 2013, the VIP sector has never regained its momentum and was gradually replaced by the mass market. And after the series of junkets incidents at the end of 2021, the junket industry as we have known it is officially dead.
In my opinion, there are three main factors in the development of the gaming industry so far: firstly, the impact of policies on the gaming industry; secondly, the level of investment by gaming concessionaires, and thirdly, human resources.
IAG: You mentioned the demise of junkets. What is your opinion on what has happened?
RH: I believe the series of events reflects the consensus in the industry that the traditional business model no longer exists. The only way junkets can operate now is to introduce clients to play in the casinos and get commissions from concessionaires. It is believed this will be easier to supervise and therefore eliminate gray areas.
In the past, junket operators enjoyed lots of “hidden” power; they often joked saying that “junket rooms are not just rooms, many things that happen inside are not to be overseen by the concessionaires.”
Many illegal activities in VIP rooms could not be monitored immediately. Concessionaires will never engage in illegal activities because they’re licensed companies and won’t give up their future for a business that may violate the law. But that’s not the case with the junkets.
IAG: In the latest amendments to Macau’s Gaming Law, the provisions on satellite casinos have aroused widespread public discussion. What is your opinion on it?
RH: We definitely should not ignore the existence of satellite casinos. They’ve made great contributions to Macau’s tourism and economy, but it is true the existence of satellite casinos lacks any legal basis. If we look at the current operating mode of the satellite casinos, it would be a direct violation of the law if they were in foreign countries. The satellite casinos have always been service providers but the staff that work in their casinos are managed by the concessionaires, while promoters belong to satellite casinos. Undoubtedly, there is a blank regarding the legal supervision of satellite casinos.
In my opinion, the new gaming law has to a certain extent filled in the loopholes in the law, and the current economic environment is very different from that of the past.
IAG: Do you think the Legislative Assembly will pass the new gaming law before 26 June?
RH: The reason why the new law will be passed before 26 June this year is that all six gaming concessions will expire on that date. Although all concessionaires have submitted their applications for renewal, it will take some time for all the tenders – whether existing ones or new ones – to prepare their tender documents accordingly.
IAG: There’s a thought that the current six concessionaires will win the six licenses on offer, so there is a lack of interest in competitive bidding. What do you think about that?
RH: Some people think there’s no competition in terms of the upcoming gaming license tendering, and the six concessions will be given to the original concessionaires. However, think of it in another way – Macau is a very important place for companies looking to enter the Asian market. I still remember that back in 2002, there were 21 companies shortlisted for tendering, 18 of them submitted all the required documents, and finally three companies succeeded. Those gaming companies that have not been able to enter the Asian market should definitely be interested in competing for a gaming license in Macau.
Furthermore, the current satellite casino operators may try to get a piece of the pie too – especially seeing that in the past 10 years, many satellite casino operators have shifted their gaze to Southeast Asia and some of them have collected quite a lot of experience. So there should be plenty of experienced companies interested in this tender.
IAG: What is your view on the future of the gaming industry?
RH: The vision for the future is diversified development. The difference between Macau and Las Vegas is that Macau is only a small town and has to rely on visitors from outside to develop, therefore it is easily affected by the surrounding environment.
Macau needs to think more about different directions of development in the future. We hope to see more non-gaming elements so that Macau can have more than just gaming. We’re looking forward to seeing that gaming will be just part of Macau’s economy, rather than the whole.