Macau: Gambling innovators are betting on creating culturally-specific slot machines and computerized games to lure Asian players away from well-worn seats at the baccarat tables to more profitable pursuits.
In the face of rocketing labour costs and a need to diversify gaming revenue away from the traditional table game, casinos in the gaming haven of Macau are hoping the new designs will recreate the success of slots in Las Vegas.
“There are plenty of games in the market with themes on Star Wars, Spiderman and the like,” said Tony Tong, chief executive officer of PacificNet, a gaming technology company.
“Asians are well versed with these stories but they do not have an emotional or cultural attachment to them,” he told AFP, on the sidelines of Global Gaming Expo Asia, at Macau’s vast Venetian casino resort.
Tong said computerized games needed to use stars like martial arts actor Jackie Chan, and singers from the hit television series “Super Voice Girls,” the Chinese equivalent of “American Idol” for users to relate to the games better.
Tong, who is a major supplier to casinos owned by Macau’s gaming tycoon Stanley Ho, said although some games were linked to late kung fu star Bruce Lee and ancient Chinese stories such as the Monkey King, they had become outdated for Asian gamblers.
Tong’s company employs 500 game designers and engineers in Macau, Hong Kong and China and are aiming to outdo foreign rivals. If he succeeds he will meet a much-needed shift in the southern Chinese city’s model, as the tripling of croupier salaries in recent years has pressured casinos’ bottom line.
While gaming revenues in Macau last year overtook those of the Las Vegas Strip, government figures show up to 88% of it was spent on baccarat tables, where one dealer can only serve a maximum 12 players at any one time.
Chinese gamblers tend to congregate around tables they feel are on a lucky streak, with tables nearby standing empty, cutting into casino profits.
Government figures show that only 4.3% of the city’s total revenues were from slot machines, compared to what Tong says is as much as 60% in Las Vegas.
Some industry observers doubt slot machines will ever take off in Asia, arguing that Asian players prefer communal games and try to predict the game results by looking at their dealers’ facial expressions.
Mark Yoseloff, chairman and CEO of Shuffle Master, a major international gaming products provider for Macau’s casinos, said more research was needed on gamblers’ patterns and motivations. “It is very important we gain a better understanding of Asian gamblers, or more particularly Chinese gamblers,” he said. Mainland Chinese make up the bulk of Macau’s casino customers.
There are currently around 15,000 slot machines in Macau’s casinos, compared to just 2,000 eight years ago, said Tong. He estimated that number would rise to 30,000 to 40,000 in a few years.
Gabe Hunterton, vice president of casino operations at the MGM Grand Macau, said “Chinese customers are generally more technologically-advanced than US-based customers but they tend to be less comfortable just with slot machines because they don’t have much experience with them.”
Meanwhile, the race is on to provide electronic tables that retain the element of live dealers and real cards while the wagering is done electronically, without the hassle of making changes or payout.
Tong said his company’s machines could deal with between 200 and 300 players at one time, cut the length of each deal from two minutes to 30 seconds and minimize dealer errors and fraud.