From the Editor's Chair - v22

15 March 2007

I had high hopes when I heard a few months back that the Poker Players Alliance was negotiating to make former U.S. Senator Alfonse D'Amato its chairman. The PPA has been in need of more relationships with high-profile, influential figures, and I thought this news would create a splash of cannonball proportions. Instead we got a belly flop.

Rather than coming to public light through a grand announcement, followed by a multitude of strong statements from the new chairman, the news was leaked in a forum and followed by several days of denials, eventually a lukewarm acknowledgement through an interview posted at on Feb. 15 and finally a formal announcement last week.

The PPA can play an important role in bringing regulated I-gaming to the United States; its focus is clear, and it has grass-roots appeal. The path from Point A to Point B, however, doesn't always seem to be well charted. Hopefully D'Amato can help them find the way.

On a separate, but somewhat-related front, U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., is said to be preparing legislation that would repeal the UIEGA ("ew-ee-jah," if you like). This is good news for the industry, but let's not get overexcited. It is not unreasonable to believe that Washington will eventually vote to regulate I-gaming, but all indications at this point are that the tide isn't ready to turn just yet. It's still a bit early to expect any real action. Nevertheless, if Rep. Frank is indeed planning to introduce something, it's a very positive step for the industry.

And now, the forecast for gambling in the EU: mostly cloudy. So, yes, not much seems to have changed now that the anti-climactic Placanica ruling has been given. Like it did through the Gambelli verdict in 2003, the European Court of Justice has boldly dictated to Italy, "You must change your ways and abide by EU law . . . unless you don't want to." In both cases, the ECJ insists on asserting its commitment to protecting pan-European commerce, while granting member states a set of very subjective exclusionary conditions. So, the court states that pan-European gambling enterprises have every right to offer their services across borders and that member states have every right to preserve their monopolies. The one thing that both sides of the debate agree on is that the Placanica ruling enforces the Gambelli ruling, i.e. everyone feels their opposing positions on the matter have been validated. Must this pointless exercise continue?

Speaking of tentative verdicts, Antigua is once again holding a victory dance in the wake of another WTO ruling being withheld for a long period from the public. I'm not sure how many appeals this is or what WTO body made the ruling, and I haven't actually seen the ruling, but I'm 100 percent confident that the United States will praise the decision and declare that its current policies toward I-gaming are compliant with WTO treaties.

Now for some thoughts on last month's Pacific Congress on I-Gaming: Wow. This was the second year in Macau for PCIG, and the event is definitely getting some traction. It's been a long time since I've seen the excitement level in the I-gaming industry this high--a sight for sore eyes. Everything is fresh and new for Asian businesses and for the Asian market, and it looks like the theme is transitioning from "soon" to "now." A few arguably useful observations:

  • It's good to be MACom. The Macau-based business is extremely well positioned for the gambling renaissance beginning to take place in Asia. The importance of finding gateways into the Asian markets was stressed throughout PCIG, and MACom's director, Jason Chan, was quick to remind attendees during the closing roundtable that his company is open for business.

  • News of Macau regulators' intentions of becoming an I-gaming jurisdiction created a lot of excitement, but I am skeptical. The Gaming Control Board's Jorge Costa Oliveira, who broke the news during his presentation at PCIG, very clearly stated that while they'd like to make this happen, they don't need to make it happen. As far as Oliveira is concerned, Macau is bringing in plenty of money through gambling, and whether I-gaming takes hold there isn't a major concern. "If it works, it works," he said. This tells me that they aren't going to overexert themselves moving obstacles out of the way, and history tells us that there are always obstacles in the way of legalization.

  • It was interesting to see that larger players in the gaming industry are becoming more visible at events like PCIG. This was one of the big differences between PCIG '06 and PCIG '07.

  • Payment processing for I-gaming is still a mystery throughout most of Asia. We're seeing some prepaid-card solutions emerge--a presentation from Xiao Qing of Cosmos International Investment Limited provided a glimpse at the possibilities--but there doesn't appear to be a universal answer on the horizon.

  • Macau is ripe for poker. I'm hearing there are some efforts to legalize the game for local casinos. I imagine the idea of replacing higher yielding games with poker tables isn't an entirely attractive proposition, but if poker is allowed, one of the properties is bound to take a leap of faith, and then we'll see if poker fever catches on.

  • I'm curious to see what the future holds for Macau's casino junkets. For those who aren't familiar with the setup, casinos lease blocks of tables to various operators who serve very loyal customer bases. I wonder whether the arrival of the mega casino complexes will lead to the phasing out of the junkets, and I wonder how the system will translate to online casinos, should Macau opt to regulate.

And a few useless observations:

  • Why do people eat chicken feet? They were on the buffet on Day 2 of PCIG and I don't understand how they can be appetizing. It's not so much the thought of what those chickens could have been stepping in throughout their existence that puzzles me as it is the obvious fact that there's hardly any meat on those things. What's the point?

  • I've been reading for months that Macau's new casinos are similar to Vegas properties--a variety of gaming tables and machines spread throughout lavish architectural masterpieces as far as the eye can see--and during this visit I had a look for myself. Traditional Macau casinos have smaller, more discrete rooms with an abundance of baccarat tables. The new ones have baccarat, baccarat and more baccarat . . . spread throughout lavish architectural masterpieces as far as the eye can see. (To be fair, baccarat is not the only game; there's also VIP baccarat, mini-baccarat and three-card baccarat.) Poker, anyone?

  • The Wynn Macau is an absolutely exquisite property. Clarion Events (our parent company) held a party at Tryst at the Wynn on the first night of PCIG, and it was one of the highlights of my week. A first-class facility all the way.

  • I'm convinced that jetlag must play a roll in botched deals between Asians and Westerners. It is amazing how the ability to form fluid, intelligible thoughts deteriorates when you've slept three hours over the course of two days and your body is going through its nighttime motions during the day (and vice versa). If you're making the long trip to do business and you are not a professional traveler, do yourself a favor and take a couple of days to adapt before diving into meetings.

  • And finally . . . Have other visitors to Macau's new attractions noticed that walking around Fisherman's Wharf feels like strolling through a movie set? It's a delightful place, but I had this feeling that if I leaned on one of the buildings, I would end up pushing over what turned out to be a well decorated fa├žade. Something about it seemed entirely unreal. Maybe the jetlag was getting to me.

Mark Balestra

Mark Balestra is the Managing Director at BolaVerde Media Group. He previously worked at Clarion Gaming and the River City Group where he was the publisher of iGamingNews. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.