Last year Inside Asian Gaming celebrated 10 years of the Asian Gaming Power 50. This time around we kick off the second decade of our industry’s definitive list of its 50 most powerful people in Asia.
What began in 2008 as a fun and innovative look at those who make our industry tick has evolved into an important annual insight that is anxiously awaited by all. Compiling the Asian Gaming Power 50 is an intriguing, demanding, educational and exhausting task yet one that comes with considerable responsibility to “get it right.”
It is with this in mind that IAG employs a panel of highly experienced gaming veterans each year to pore over and debate every candidate, with the whole process taking close to two months in its entirety. More on this year’s panel shortly.
It’s just over 10 years since we first launched the Asian Gaming Power 50 in 2008 and not much longer than that since the Venetian Macao changed the face of the region’s land-based casino industry when it opened its doors in 2007.
Since then, a small parcel of land measuring just 6.7 square kilometres has become the richest place on earth, home to world class integrated resorts City of Dreams, Galaxy Macau, MGM Cotai, Sands Cotai Central, Studio City, Wynn Palace and The Parisian Macao.
Not too far away, the Philippines has emerged as Asia’s second gaming hub with Resorts World Manila paving the way and a new district known as Entertainment City now home to Solaire, City of Dreams Manila and Okada Manila. In Singapore, Resorts World Sentosa and Marina Bay Sands have changed the face of the city while more recently Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia have opened their arms to the tourism boom that such high-end casino-resorts can offer. Now all eyes are firmly fixed on Japan in anticipation of Asia’s “next big thing.”
Despite such incredible development, only four people have sat atop the Asian Gaming Power 50 over the past 10 years. They are:
2008: Dr Stanley Ho
2009: Tan Sri KT Lim
2010: Mr Sheldon Adelson
2011 and 2012: Mr Francis Lui
2013 to 2017: Mr Sheldon Adelson
2018: read on to find out!
Yet, as has become the norm, so much has changed over the past 12 months with the industry’s highs and lows all reflected in the make-up of our 2018 Asian Gaming Power 50.
From the sudden and shocking fall from grace of global gaming icon Steve Wynn to the disappearance of Landing International Chairman Dr Yang Zhihui and Crown Resorts figurehead James Packer stepping away for mental health reasons, there was never a dull moment in this fascinating and fast-moving industry.
IAG published the inaugural “BIG 50” in July 2008. The following year it moved to September, so that it was the current issue of IAG for 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 in 2017 we decided to move the BIG 50 to December so that each year’s list can take 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 10 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 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 a spot on the list 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. We often hear claims of not reading the list or not caring about it, but we are often 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!
This year we welcome two new members to the selection panel: Professor Davis Fong, Director of the Institute for the Study of Commercial Gaming at the University of Macau and member of Macau’s Legislative Assembly; and Constance Hsu, Director of Cheng Ying Group and former President of Mocha Clubs.
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 in 2016 we completely overhauled the Power 50 ranking methodology and in an effort to be more scientific and objective in the rankings we introduced a numerical “Power Score” for each person on the list. This proved popular and we have continued the tradition since then.
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 idea 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 the 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 put it, “You can’t put him in with normal people.” We agree.