Asia and its gambling markets have been dramatically promoted up the agenda for the I-gaming industry over the course of 2007. Software developer Playtech, for example, recently announced that is has signed a new license contract with "one of the largest Asian-facing online gaming operators." It is just the latest in a series of developments relating to Asian markets in the last 12 months.
As the year comes to a close, there is some merit in reviewing a few of the approaches that different companies have adopted to try and establish themselves in the region.
The importance of knowing the right people when doing business in Asia has been much discussed. In this regard, Playtech seems to have positioned itself quite well, judging by a couple of the deals it has done in 2007.
Through its agreement with the Hong Kong-based Foundation Group, Playtech said it would be supplying P2P gaming software to China's Communist Youth League, which is responsible for implementing elements of the government's Internet policy.
In a separate development, Playtech has also become the exclusive sponsor and software provider to the China Mahjong Association. It is claimed that some 60 percent of the association's 47,000 members are either government officials or company leaders.
Austria-listed I-gaming company bwin is another operator that seems to be taking the political route into Asia. In its Q3 2007 results, bwin stated that its Beijing-based team was "aiming to start a discussion process with policymakers to convince them of the advantages of a legalization and regulation of online gaming in these (Asian) markets."
As already reported by IGamingNews.com, bwin is also said to be discussing the introduction of football betting in India with the All India Football Federation.
The Perfect Partners
Teaming up with existing gaming companies in Asia has been another popular option for several Western companies seeking to increase their presence in the region this past year.
In January software developer CryptoLogic signed an MOU with two Asian-facing companies, Brilliance Technology (www.brilliance.com.cn) and 568 Network Inc. (www.network568.com), to create a new company to expand in Asia. Since then, CryptoLogic has made a further investment in 568 Network itself.
At the start of November, the company also took a stake in Singapore-based Mikoishi (www.mikoishi.com), which specializes in game development for mobile phones, consoles, and online. Understanding the games that are most popular in a new market is a key issue for software developers, and buying into some local expertise is obviously a quick way of achieving this.
Ladbrokes is more established in certain parts of Asia than other gambling firms through projects such as its consultancy work with the Happy Pool lottery shops in mainland China. The bookmaker furthered it links in the sports lottery field by agreeing a joint venture (Asia Gaming Technologies, www.agtech.com) with Hong Kong technology company MegaInfo Holdings. In addition to the sports lottery market, this venture is looking into opportunities in both the fixed-odds betting and payment fields.
The organization of offline tournaments is another strategy that several I-gaming operators have used to promote themselves across Asia.
Among the first was Betfair, which hosted its Asian Poker Tour in Singapore in November 2006, while a few months later MaharajahClub.com held the Asian Poker Classic in Goa, India.
The World Poker Tour started a nationwide Traktor tournament in China in October (www.wptpoker.cn), which also incorporates online qualifiers. It all builds to a grand final to be held in Beijing in spring 2008.
PokerStars.net has launched the more ambitious Asia Pacific Poker Tour (www.appt.com) which began with a tournament in Manila (Philippines) in August before moving on to Seoul (South Korea) in September, with further tournaments in Macau (China) and Sydney (Australia) before the year ends.
Too Much Too Soon?
It is no coincidence that the greatly increased interest and activity in Asia over the past year follows the passing of the UIGEA in the United States. The effective closure of the U.S. market has undoubtedly brought forward operators' plans for the Asian region as they try to replace the lost revenues from U.S. players.
But, it remains to be seen how the region's various governments and regulators will react to this new focus and whether they will welcome the quickening pace of development in their gambling markets.