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The global gaming industry is a dynamic one, ever evolving to accommodate new players, or witnessing exits and takeovers. Headlining the recent developments that call for attention is the announcement by 888 Holdings on the rollout its new poker client, Poker 8 that will bring about a total overhaul of 888poker’s online poker functionality.
In Philippines, clouds of trouble hand heavy over the casino industry with the continued opposition to gambling by President Rodrigo Duterte who has created roadblocks in the completion of two important casino-resort projects.
Star Entertainment Group has announced its Asian campaign to attract Chinese gamers, while Delaware registered $16.8 Million in sports betting revenue even as September turned out to be one of the worst months in two years for Macau casinos.
Meanwhile, allaying concerns of a substantial drop in foreign high-roller volume in Australian casinos, a Morgan Stanley report affirmed that high-roller volumes have witnessed a rebound and that the trading conditions for foreign VIP programs in Australia remain sound.
888 Holdings has announced its plans for initiating a phased rollout of its new poker client, ‘Poker 8’ this year. The new product promises to facilitate a complete overhaul of the company’s online poker offering.
The announcement for the launch of Poker 8 comes close on the heels of the reported sharp decline, to the tune of 28% from previous year, of 888 Holdings in its online poker vertical for H1 2018. For the first time, the firm’s online poker revenue trails the company’s revenue from sports betting.
In a recent presentation to investors, the group’s COO, Itai Pazner reiterated the company’s commitment to remain a big stakeholder in poker.
“We’re still investing very much in poker,”Pazner said, adding, “We have several unique assets. We probably have the best network in terms of recreational players in the market, which we still believe is the way forward in poker. We sponsor the WSOP for over four years which is creating a very strong brand presence. And we have probably the best relationship with all of the leading content sites, the affiliate sites, where we are ranking number one in the industry.”
Notably, 888 Holdings and WSOP.com have partnered for operating in the regulated US markets. Together, they hold the top spot in the New Jersey market for cash game traffic where their partnered efforts overtook former market leader PokerStars NJ this year in May.
888 Holdings is reported to have attributed the decline to tough market conditions and increasing competition from operators using so-called “old school tactics” to draw customers away from 888poker and onto their platform.
In their investor’s report, 888 Holdings has revealed that Poker 8 will see improved table display, enhanced graphics and lobby functionality to deliver “an even more engaging and modern poker experience.”
With the Poker 8 client’s upcoming launch, the 888-WSOP.com brand offerings are likely to receive a fresh breather.
The casino and gaming sector of Philippines has undergone rapid expansion in recent years, with several big casino brands enjoying a good presence, and a couple of ambitious resort projects in various stages of completion. However, with President Rodrigo Duterte’s continued opposition to gambling,the country’s casino industry is in the danger of coming to a standstill.
President Duterte has waged a war against gambling right from June 2016, when he assumed charge of his office. He threatened to revoke the licenses of gaming operators currently functional in the country before shifting his focus on illegal drug trade.
This year in January, Duterte trained guns on land-based gaming. In January, he directed the Philippines gambling authority, Philippines Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) to issue a moratorium on new gambling licenses, permitting only applications submitted before January 13 to be considered.
Notably, PAGCOR owns and operates more than 40 casinos in the country. While casino operators, Resorts World Manila and City of Dreams, Manila are actively operational in Philippines, two casino projects are being undertaken by the Macau-based Galaxy Entertainment Group and Hong-Kong based Landing International.
While Galaxy Entertainment partnered with its Leisure & Resorts World Corporation to develop a $500 Million integrated resort over 23 hectares of land on the Boracay Island, Landing International is developing a $1.5 Billion casino resort in Manila.
Both Galaxy Entertainment and Landing International managed to submit their applications and have obtained provisional approval in January for their plans to develop new casinos.
However, the provisional approval has caught the attention of President Duterte who has vowed that he would ensure to prevent materialization of the two casino plans, as well as of any other gambling project that might emerge in future.
Hours after Landing International officially broke grounds of its Manila project on August 7, President Duterto announced that the project would be nixed. “I hate gambling. I do not want it. There will be no casinos outside of what are existing. I am not granting anything,” he said.
The president’s administration then stated that the lease contract that allows Landing to build the resort on the land leased from Nayong Pilipino Foundation was flawed and thus invalid. In September end, the Philippine Department of Justice supported the president’s claim and recommended cancellation of the project.
With the PAGCOR issuing a notice in September to ban casino staff from gambling in the country’s casinos, it is evident that casino operators in Philippines have a tough battle to fight, in order to survive.
Star Entertainment Group has launched a new marketing campaign to pull in more Asian gamblers. The Group has introduced a Chinese branding campaign, along with an accompanying WeChat account to increase the brand appeal of the company’s properties to Chinese gamblers.
As part of the campaign, the company’s Chinese names is being displayed under its logo, with the company’s name translated as ‘Millions of stars’ instead of ‘Star Harbour City’. CEO and MD Matt Bekier explained the move, stating that he was interested in increasing the company’s share in the booming Asian tourism market, by targeting the mainland Chinese tourists who frequently traveled abroad.
“The previous brand was really only identifiable for Sydney, and certainly less prestigious, distinctive and dynamic than the one we will now present to Asian markets. There is a global arms race at present with countries investing heavily and repositioning themselves to capitalize on substantial tourism growth out of Asia, particularly from China.
By presenting ourselves as an integrated resort company where the finest hotels, restaurants, theatre shows, music acts and other entertainment options are available within single precincts in prime locations, we can provide a compelling point of differentiation,” he said.
Star Entertainment has been a prominent player in the Australian casino market. According to Bekier, the company now has terminals at The Star Sydney that can accept China UnionPay, WeChat Pay and Alipay, making it much easier for Chinese tourists to transact.
John O’Sullivan, MD, Tourism Australia welcomed the Chinese centric promotional efforts of Star Entertainment. “It’s great to see operators like The Star Entertainment Group prioritizing what is already a near AU$11 billion market with a clear China strategy that combines investment in their China brand, new infrastructure and tailored services such WeChat Pay payment systems,” he said.
The National Football League season has kicked off and, in its wake, has given a boost to Delaware’s legal sports betting market. In early October, the Delaware Lottery reported that “September’s total sports betting handle hit $16.8 Million, a significant improvement over the $7.7 Million the state’s three licensed casinos-turned-sportsbook-operators – Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington Raceway”
The largest piece of the revenue pie was claimed by Delaware Park for $11.6 Million, while Dover Downs and Harrington only managed to scrape up $3.2 Million and $2 Million, respectively. The net proceeds that Delaware earned totaled $3.15 Million, which was an increase from the $707,000 earned in August.
However, the betting handle total doesn’t include the Lottery’s parlay sports betting product, which was in operation for years prior to the state launching single-game wagering in June. The parlay product reported handle of $6.4 Million in September, from which the state netted a return of around $2.2 Million.
With the launch of a temporary retail sports betting station at the Dover International Speedway, coinciding with Saturday’s Sea Watch International NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff and Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff, a lot more is in store for the sports betting market in Delaware.
22 Billion patacas ($2.73 Billion) were registered by Macau casinos in September which marked the slowest gaming revenue growth for the Chinese gambling industry in more than two years.
A streak of 25 straight months of gaming revenue growth came to an end last month in Macau, just as gaming win grew by only 2.8%, which was 3 to 10% less than what the analysts had predicted.
According to the Financial Times, “casinos in Macau were forced to close for the first time ever thanks to Typhoon Mangkhut in mid-September. The casino-resorts were shuttered for about a day and a half.”
“September’s results were thanks to more than just the storm. Analysts reportedly have lowered their gaming win estimates for 2018 and 2019 thanks to a weakening yuan, China’s economic slowdown and escalating trade tensions with the Trump Administration. The benchmark gauge of Macau casino stocks is down 36 percent since May”, reported Bloomberg.
Macau, the only place in China with legal gambling, had gaming win of $33 billion last year, close to three times what was won in the entire state of Nevada.
Due to a decline in the growth of the Chinese economy, a number of gaming analyst subsequently predicted a substantial drop off in foreign high-roller volume in Australia similar to the one currently being experienced in Macau.
According to a recent report released by Morgan Stanley, “current trading conditions for foreign VIP programs in Australia remains ‘solid’.”
Equity analyst Monique Rooney further explained, “Our recent industry feedback has allayed some of these concerns, with Chinese hotel/leisure companies reporting minimal impact on current trends and ample junket liquidity after recent consolidation. Further feedback suggests that overseas VIP market growth remains very strong relative to Macau – particularly in the Philippines and Cambodia.”
As the share prices in Macau’s casinos dropped by almost 15% following a sharp reduction in spending by Chinese high-rollers, Australian casino operators have been keeping a close watch on the Chinese market. In September, Macau’s casino revenues also fell to a two year low of $2.73 billion, marking a tiny 2.8% year-on-year improvement in a market more used to returning double digit growth.
After the world’s most destructive tropical cyclone, Typhoon Mangkhut, tore its way through China, along with President Donald Trump escalating his trade war with the country, the future of China’s gaming industry seems to be in trouble.
In the meantime, the Star Entertainment Group, Australia’s second-largest casino operator with casinos in Sydney, Brisbane, and on the Gold Coast, has been named as Morgan Stanley’s “top casino pick” on account of its strategic alliance with Hong Kong partners Chow Tai Fook Enterprises (CTFE) and Far East Consortium (FEC) to promote mutual business growth.