Challenges and Prospects of the Asian Gambling Market – An Interview with Felix Ng
The next in our interview series saw us have a talk with Felix Ng from Asia Gaming Brief. Ng has vast experience in the Asian gaming industry, and he kindly sat down to answer our questions and provide us with some fascinating insights into the challenges facing the region and, in particular, the state of play in the Philippines.
Hi Felix, thanks for doing this interview with casinoreviews.net. Tell our audience a bit about yourself, your background, and how you became interested in the gaming industry.
I’ve been organizing conferences for the gambling industry across Asia and Australia for almost a decade. I’ve been a news editor, tasked with keeping the industry abreast of the industry’s latest happenings for almost as long. Gaming is home to me.
My first introduction to the gaming industry came about in 2012, working for a Hong Kong-based events company that produced a yearly iGaming conference held in Macau. A few years later, I was hired as the Asia Editor and Conference Director of Asia Gaming Brief, a B2B publication serving Asia’s online and land-based gaming industry.
It was there, and then our flagship conference, the ASEAN Gaming Summit, was born. Fast forward six years, it’s now one of the leading standalone conferences for the gaming industry in Asia.
Can you tell us about the gaming market in the Philippines, both land-based casinos and online gaming? What is the size of the market, and who are the major operators?
Outside of Macau, the Philippines is known by the industry as Asia’s biggest gambling hub. Pre-pandemic, the country welcomed more than 8.2 million tourists and recorded more than US$5.1 billion in gross gaming revenue. Whilst the pandemic has hurt these numbers, understandably, analysts have tipped the country to bounce back sharply once restrictions ease and travel is able to resume.
The country is a mecca for both online and land-based gaming operators.
The Philippines is one of the only countries in Asia that allows its own locals to gamble in their own country’s casinos. Many of these are run and owned by the country’s gaming regulator itself – the Philippines Amusement and Gaming Corporation. However, there are also plenty of companies investing in the country’s gaming industry.
In Manila, you’ll find the largest concentration of casino hotels and resorts. Most high-profile are the integrated resorts located in Entertainment City, Philippines’ answer to Cotai or Las Vegas. It’s there you’ll find five of the country’s biggest casino operators – Bloomberry Resorts, operator of Solaire Resort and Casino, Melco Resorts Philippines, operator of City of Dreams Manila, Tiger Resorts Leisure, operator of Okada Manila, and Entertainment, Travellers International Hotel Group, operator of Resorts World Genting, and Suncity Group, who’s building the Westside City Resort.
On the other hand, you have the online gaming industry – which is licensed under the country’s Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) licenses. Many of these have offices in Metro Manila and offer online gambling to punters around Asia and the world. In 2019 there were more than 50 PAGCOR-licensed POGOs, today that number has dropped a little as a result of business and travel restrictions that have made operating a POGO more difficult than usual.
That being said, it’s an industry full of opportunity – with the regulator most recently allowing betting on cockfights (Е-sabong), sports betting, and the PIGO scheme – which allows land-based casino operators to offer remote gambling to domestic punters.
A follow-up question—How much business do POGOs generate, and what are the taxes they pay to the government?
In 2020, the country’s offshore gaming operators licensed under the POGO scheme generated a record PHP7.2 billion (US$151 million) in taxes, despite the pandemic causing the suspension of operations and the exiting of some firms. As of September this year, POGOs are subject to a 5 percent franchise tax on gross gambling revenue.
The casino industry in the Philippines is interesting in that all casinos are regulated by PAGCOR. This government agency runs casinos as well as regulates casinos. Could you shed some light on this unusual arrangement and tell us whether it is likely to continue?
Indeed, PAGCOR is both the regulator of the country’s gaming industry, whilst also being the operator of nine casinos under the Casino Filipino brand and another 32 satellite casinos across the country – an arrangement that has earned the regulator a hefty amount of criticism from outside observers.
In 2019, PAGCOR’s regulator and Chief Operating Officer told reporters at the ASEAN Gaming Summit that the privatization of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. casinos would be “out of the question,” as they are providing revenue to fund government programs. The pandemic restarted the debate over the potential privatization of its casinos in order to raise funds to fight the pandemic though nothing has come from that yet. We suspect that this debate will continue for some time as currently, there is not enough of a political push for the regulator to forego its casino assets.
Getting back to the land-based casinos, what new properties will be opening in the next couple of years?
A few properties of note include Suncity Group’s Westside City Resorts in Entertainment City and Udenna Corp’s Emerald Bay Resort in Cebu. One should also be keeping an eye on the proposed casinos on Boracay island.
Do you think the government will be allowing casinos in the resort island of Boracay in the Western Visayas region of the Philippines? If so, who would be the most likely owners of casinos in this region?
It’s hard to say for sure at this point. Certainly, the most recent indication from Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte points to the allowing of casinos in the resort island as a way to revive the economy following the pandemic. There are also investors that have already confirmed they have the planning permission to go ahead with a casino on the island, including Alliance Global and Leisure and Resorts World Corporation. Certainly, this is a topic that will be addressed at the upcoming ASEAN Gaming Summit in March next year.
As you are aware, Mainland China has been engaged in an active campaign designed to stop its citizens from gambling overseas. The government has created a “blacklist” of overseas gambling destinations. Is the Philippines on this blacklist? How would the blacklist and other moves to discourage overseas gambling impact the casino industry in the Philippines?
China’s tourism blacklist has not been made public, but certainly, countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and Cambodia could be seen as potential targets given the amount of Chinese tourists they attract to their gaming venues.
Professor Wolfgang Arlt., CEO and Founder of the China Outbound Tourism Research Institute (COTRI), told Asia Gaming Brief in an interview in April that the blacklist is a move from the Chinese government to encourage more tourism spending domestically and funneling more gambling tourists to Macau. That being said, Wolfgang believes that such a blacklist will not do too much to curb Chinese gambling spend overseas, as they will always find a way regardless of what the government may want them to do.
Finally, we’d love to know more about ASEAN Gaming Summit’s role to further the casino industry in the Philippines. Is the focus more on land-based casinos or online gaming, and who are your usual attendees and presenters?
The ASEAN Gaming Summit has always been about bringing the right people together.
In 2022, the conference is split into two main days. The first day will be for the land-based gambling industry. We’re going to hear from some of the Philippines’ biggest casino operators and investors – who will discuss their plans for the upcoming years of recovery. We’ll hear about the new properties they’re working on and what their plans are as they work on attracting patrons through their doors again. We’ll also be attracting suppliers to these casinos, industry consultants that know their way around, and the country’s key regulators and government officials.
The second day will be for the online gambling industry. We’ll be attracting online gambling operators not only from the Philippines but around Asia. At the event, they’ll hear the latest strategies in customer acquisition and marketing, hear about the latest technology and innovation and meet the people behind those ideas.
For those that are reading this and have an interest in the Philippines and/or Asia’s gaming industry and are looking for opportunities to be a part of it. Come to the ASEAN Gaming Summit in March 2022.
(Dates are 21-23 March 2022 – held at Shangri-La At the Fort in Manila).
The ASEAN Gaming Summit looks set to be a fantastic event for anyone interested in the gambling industry. We’d like to thank Ng for taking the time to provide us with such detailed answers and analysis of the region. We found it a truly enlightening experience that has given us plenty of food for thought.