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Casino and Gambling Industry in 2023 - Predictions and Trends

After three very turbulent years, the casino industry is back on its feet. Most online and land based casinos have now matched their 2019 performance or even exceeded it. We will discuss ten predictions for the industry in 2023 and beyond.

Introduction

I am sure you have heard the saying, "Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future!" This quote has been variously attributed to several historical celebrities, including Niels Bohr, Samuel Goldwyn, K. K. Steincke, Robert Storm Petersen, and, of course, Yogi Berra. It does not matter who first said these prescient words; what matters is how well they resonate with the gaming industry.

After all, two top leaders of the casino industry in Macau said not too long ago that the six operators will boast gross gaming revenues in excess of $100 billion by 2020. Of course, these high-powered executives could not have foreseen COVID, nor would they have expected the authorities in Mainland China to engage in every conceivable measure to strangle Macau's casino industry.

Having admitted the hazards of forecasting, I shall proceed to mention my top casino and iGaming predictions and trends for the year 2023. I look into my crystal ball around December each year to see what the industry will look like in the new year. Here then, are my predictions for the industry in general and for key gaming jurisdictions in particular.

Ten Predictions for the Upcoming 2023 and Beyond

  • 1. Continued headwinds in Macau

Most analysts attribute Macau's dismal performance over the last three years to the COVID-19 pandemic. Where properties of Sands China Ltd. could previously draw in over 200 000 people every day, this number dwindled to a few hundred during the pandemic.

We routinely hear murmurs of the authorities in Macau wanting to loosen the draconian measures related to COVID-19. However, the oppressive measures imposed by the government on its citizens wanting to gamble will continue to suck the oxygen out of Macau's casino operators. All in all, it may take at least five years (or never) for Macau's casino industry to reach its pre-COVID glory.

  • 2. Thailand will formalize its gaming regulations

Thailand has been toying with the idea of allowing casinos on its soil for several years. In June 2022, a committee from Thailand's House of Representatives heralded that a plan was developed to allow casinos in five regions of Thailand, including one in Greater Bangkok.

According to my Casino Consultants Consortium (C3) colleague Andrew Klebanow, Thailand's integrated resorts would serve as a magnet for attracting more foreign tourists and, at the same time, discourage Thais from playing in illegal casinos or in casinos located in foreign countries bordering Thailand.

While several industry observers have doubted Thailand's ability to implement a regulatory framework strong enough to attract the world's leading casino operators, the Thai government has lately demonstrated its resolve to do what it takes to shore up the country's tourist dollar (or baht). A case in point is the relative swiftness with which marijuana was legalized in the country. 2023 could probably be the year when Thailand enacts responsible legislation to make integrated casino resorts within its borders a reality.

  • 3. Singapore will surpass its pre-pandemic revenues (some say it already has)

In their November 2021 report, Fitch Ratings 2022 Outlook: Global Gaming, Fitch Ratings, Inc. predicted that Singapore casino revenue in 2022 will approach 75% of the revenue achieved in 2019. Singapore shares a casino duopoly between Marina Bay Sands and Resort World Sentosa. Their combined casino revenue in 2019 was $3.35 bn.

With a strong local market and backed by a sensible COVID management policy, the Singapore casino market has recovered from COVID stronger than was expected. Singapore casino observers anticipate the casino revenues in 2022 to be around $3.5 billion. For 2023, Singapore's anticipated gaming revenues are between $4.80 bn to $5.50 bn, an increase of over 50% on 2019 numbers. These numbers are expected to be reached without factoring in the Mainland Chinese customer. Rob Goldstein, Chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands, when discussing Singapore, said in a recent earnings call, "We can still make a lot of money, maybe a billion and a half USD, without Chinese input."

  • 4. The Philippines will continue to impress with its stellar recovery

Of all casino jurisdictions, the Philippines was the quickest to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The recovery, according to GCG Gaming Advisory Services, has been made possible because of a strong local market, a strong expat community (comprising migrants from Korea, Mainland China, Taiwan, and Japan), and fully open international borders.

In late 2020, the Philippines government began to issue Philippines Inland Gaming Operator (PIGO) licenses to the country's integrated resorts and e-cafes. Holders of PIGO licenses can let registered players participate in casino games remotely. Leaders in the gaming industry in the Philippines say that PIGO has been a lifesaver, allowing business continuity during difficult times.

Casino's gross gaming revenues in 2019 were $5.15 bn. David Lawrence, General Manager of Thunderbird Resorts in the Philippines, says that the country should be back to 2019 levels by the end of 2022 "easily." Several new casino resorts will fully open going forward, including Nustar, Emerald Bay in Cebu, Solaire in Cavite, Solaire North in Quezon City, and Westside City. New airports are also to open in Cebu and Clark. All these developments, according to GGC, point towards GGR in excess of $10 bn by 2027, a massive tripling of revenues in five years!

  • 5. Gaming revenues in the United States will soften

The United States is home to more than 2,100 casinos, more than any other country in the world. More than a third of these casinos are based in Nevada. Pretty much every casino in the U.S. was shuttered at some point during the COVID-19 pandemic, as were most entertainment businesses. The lack of traveling and entertainment options during the pandemic allowed Americans to save money at a rate that was previously unheard of. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, Americans have saved $1.6 trillion since the pandemic started.

As soon as casinos reopened their doors, Americans tried to make good on lost time. Most casinos, especially in Nevada, saw their gaming revenues reach new heights—month after month. The pent-up consumer demand sent casino revenues into an entirely new orbit. According to the American Gaming Association, "After three very strong quarters, 2022 will almost certainly be gaming's strongest year ever. Year-to-date revenue of $44.48 billion is 14.7 percent ahead of the same period last year."

The 2022 U.S. revenue scenario is most probably a snapshot, not a movie. Moving into 2023 and beyond, the overall economic conditions in the U.S. will probably take their toll on the casino industry. Rising interest rates will hit people's wallets hard. Mortgages will become more expensive, as will the interest rate on credit cards and other loans. The prices for petrol are also making a dent in the discretionary spending budget of most Americans. Also, there will be only a few new casino resorts that will be opened in the next few years. All things considered, it will be difficult for U.S. casinos to match their 2022 performance.

  • 6. Australian casinos will continue their struggle with regulators

Every Australian casino company is under a dark cloud and has been subject to allegations of impropriety from numerous authorities. Over the last couple of years, there have been numerous inquiries into the operations of The Star Entertainment Group and Crown Resorts (who, between them, account for around 90% of all casino revenues in Australia), and both companies have been found woefully deficient in their practices as they relate to responsible gambling, anti-money laundering (AML), and counter-terrorism financing (CTF).

Violation of regulations on multiple fronts by both companies over extended periods of time has raised serious doubts about the ability of the management of both companies to effectively self-regulate. Just this month, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) launched civil proceedings against eleven current and former Star Entertainment executives over alleged violations with regard to anti-money laundering protocols at the company's two casinos.

These include the former Chairman, the CEO, and the company's board of directors, who were in office from 2017-2019. For its part, Crown Resorts has also been charged with hundreds of violations relating to money laundering and responsible gambling. Both companies will continue to operate, for now, under the direct supervision of a government appointee. While both companies are considered "too big to fail," compliance with the probity requirements will have to be their number one priority. Their international business has disappeared, and most of their energies in 2023 will be spent on compliance-related issues.

  • 7. India's gambling sector will show remarkable growth

While most industry observers recognize the huge potential of India as a gaming market, few appreciate the present-day reality. While the exact figures remain a mystery, knowledgeable sources estimate casino revenues to be around $500 million in the State of Goa alone. Goa and Sikkim are the two states in India where casinos are legal. Goa's "live casinos" are currently offshore, docked on the Mandovi river.

For the past few years, the State of Goa has been contemplating moving the six offshore casinos inland. Grant Govertsen, Managing Director of CBRE Capital Advisors, estimates that GGR for Goan casinos will quickly exceed US$1 billion a year should land-based casinos be authorized in Goa.

In a note to subscribers, Govertsen wrote, "We compare the Goa transition from riverboat to land-based as like the Midwest US riverboat transition story on steroids," and went on to say, "We expect Goa to quickly transition to land-based casinos." In another place, Govertsen wrote, "If integrated resorts would one day come to India, as they have in places like the Philippines, Singapore, Macau, and potentially Japan, they could generate GGR of up to US$17 billion a year."

Large as this revenue number is, it fades into insignificance when compared to India's (mostly illegal) sports betting market. According to the Doha-based International Centre of Sports Security—which promotes integrity and security in sports—the illegal sports betting market in India is worth $150 billion a year. Almost all betting happens with cricket, with more than a billion Indians addicted to the sport. Calls are underway to legalize sports betting in India, whereby instances of "match-fixing" will diminish, and the government will earn billions in taxes every year. Sooner rather than later, the Indian government will legalize sports betting.

  • 8. There will be widespread use of AI and ML for understanding the casino customer

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technologies are ideally suited for the gaming industry. These technologies offer several benefits to casino operators, including more effective management of operations, better customer service, enhanced security, better prediction of customer behavior, increased transparency, and reduced churn. AI and ML technologies, combined with computer vision, offer a total solution for casino management and customer relationship management.

As of now, the application of these technologies within the casino industry is in its stage of infancy. However, the benefits of these applications are far too compelling to ignore. By using chatbots and other AI-powered tools, casinos and other gaming establishments can provide their customers with 24/7 support, answer any questions that players may have, and plan player visits with little human input. The costs of deploying AI technology are also dropping each day. It is, therefore, safe to say that the year 2023 will be one where the casino industry will widely embrace AI and Ml.

  • 9. Sports betting and online gambling will continue to post healthy revenues

During the period of severe COVID infections, there were hardly any sporting events to bet on. However, as the intensity of the pandemic subsided, sporting events resumed all over the world. With live sports now available, online sports bettors returned to betting on their favorite sports. Consequently, betting revenues are already at pre-pandemic levels and are expected to grow at a healthy rate.

While sports betting took a severe hit during the pandemic, online casinos got an unexpected boost. As land-based gaming shops and offshore casinos shut down, many people shifted to online gambling. It wasn't just seasoned gamblers who moved to online platforms; there was also an influx of new gamblers signing on to online websites. The free time available to people during COVID allowed many people to explore the world of online gambling for the first time. According to Sticpay, online gamblers spend an average of 6.6 hours a week on online betting websites.

Since the start of the pandemic, many online gaming platforms have registered record revenues. The ease of access and diversity of games available on online platforms will continue to draw those customers who were exposed to online gaming for the first time during COVID-19 restrictions. The online gambling industry will continue to register compounded annual revenue growth (CAGR) in the region of 12-15%.

  • 10. Investments in metaverse casinos will accelerate

The best definition of metaverse that I have seen is "a scaled and interoperable network of real-time 3-D virtual world". The metaverse creates convergence between online and land-based casinos to increase player engagement and loyalty. Like many other innovations preceding it, the metaverse is currently shrouded in cynicism and mysticism. Bill Gates has already pumped $25 billion into the metaverse, and scores of gambling companies will be following his lead.

Chateau Satoshi Casino

Currently, there exist dozens of casinos on the metaverse offering diverse games such as blackjack, roulette, slots, and poker. These games are all powered by blockchain tokens which can be used for deposits and withdrawals. The lure of the metaverse is its use of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). The hardware needed for experiencing the metaverse is dropping in price each year, making it more affordable for everyone. For example, the price of a typical VR headset dropped from $5,000 in 2016 to $300 in 2021.

In 2021, ICE Casino became the object of attention after reporting revenues of $7.5 million in a span of three months. Chateau Satoshi is another futuristic casino that has received considerable media attention. This casino was created by Decentral Games in Decentraland. Lucky Block, BC Game, and Itari are some other major players in Metaverse.

Operating casinos in the metaverse is only going to intensify. Innovative businesses will continue to jump on the metaverse bandwagon over the next few years.

Conclusion

For the most part, the gambling industry will welcome 2023 with positivity and enthusiasm. Barring a repeat of COVID or something worse, the industry is poised for substantial growth in revenue and profitability. Technological advances in AI, ML, AR, and VR will ensure that customers have a delightful experience, both online and off. Here's to an exciting 2023.

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