When talking about gambling in Asia, the first place that usually springs to mind is Macau – also dubbed the Monte Carlo of the Orient – and it is with good reason. Often regarded as the gambling capital of the world, taxes from its casinos make up over 80 percent of the government’s revenue. However, Macau’s reputation as Asia’s premier gambling destination could be under threat soon considering the booming gambling industry that’s developing in Southeast Asia.
The gambling industry in Southeast Asia has been on the rise in the past decade. Casinos are mushrooming throughout the region with at least three planned in Vietnam and two in the Philippines. Existing casinos in the region are also seeing steady growth in revenue.
Perhaps the best-known gambling hub in Southeast Asia today is Singapore. While there are heavy restrictions on locals to enter and gamble at the casino, the tables at the Marina Bay Sands continue to be a top draw for tourists. Last week, Marina Bay Sands stated it wanted to hire an additional 1,000 workers by the end of the year.
Fastest-growing casino hub
The Philippines is currently among the fastest-growing casino hubs in Asia. Despite an attack on a Manila casino in 2017 which killed 36 people, the Philippines still recorded a 7.6 percent increase in revenue for that year. Its casinos earned US$3.6 billion last year, a 22.9 percent increase on their 2017 performance.
The main gambling hub in the Philippines is also known as Entertainment City, where integrated resorts (resorts that integrate features such as convention facilities, theme parks, and casinos) like the City of Dreams Manila, Solaire Resort & Casino and Genting’s Resorts World Bayshore are the main attractions.
In Vietnam, the government there recently overturned a ruling which outlawed gaming for their local population. Besides that, casinos are among the projects planned for Vietnam’s Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Phu Quoc and Van Don. These projects are expected to lead a wave of casino investment in the country. One of Vietnam’s biggest ongoing casino projects is the US$4 billion Ho Tram Strip project. Upon completion, the Grand Ho Tram Strip will include five integrated resorts and a golf course.
Among the main drivers of investment in casinos and integrated resorts is the growing number of Chinese tourists in the region, who make up the bulk of visitors to these casinos and resorts. With the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) well underway, accessibility to different parts of Southeast Asia is increasing. This is why Vietnam is planning to develop Phu Quoc and Van Don into a gambling hub, due to their proximity to China.
Even small casino cities such as Sihanoukville in Cambodia are thriving with property prices ballooning due to the growing number of Chinese visitors. Last month, Malaysian hotel operator WA Hospitality signed an agreement to operate the Won Majestic Casino Hotel & Resort in Sihanoukville. The property is currently under development and is slated to open in the first quarter of 2021. When completed, the complex will feature a five-star hotel, 270 apartment units, 313 grade A offices, retail spaces, a 2,500-square-metre casino and food and beverage outlets.
With everyone rushing to cater to the flood of Chinese tourists, there could easily be a danger of oversupply. There are fears in the industry that the growing number of casinos could cannibalise the market.
Other fears that could possibly threaten these new casinos is the emergence of online gambling. The Philippines reported that growth in revenue from gambling in the country has mostly come from offshore gaming operators.
While it could be a good thing that governments are diversifying their sources of revenue, it could spell bad news for casino operators. However, since many casinos in the region offer more than just gambling but also theme parks, convention facilities and shopping malls – something online casinos cannot offer – the emergence of gambling websites shouldn’t be a cause of great concern.
This article was first published by The ASEAN Post on 24 October 2018 and has been updated to reflect the latest data.