Star poker players Phil Ivey (pictured), Stanley Choi and Johnny Chan played a charity game at Sands China Ltd’s Venetian Macao on Friday to launch a new Poker King Club promoted by Macau VIP junket room investor Suncity Group Ltd.
Suncity’s Poker King brand has in the past been strongly associated with a VIP lifestyle, if not always a VIP level of buy-in. The first Poker King room opened at Galaxy Entertainment Group Ltd’s StarWorld Hotel in 2009 and was named after a Hong Kong film of the same name starring Louis Koo and Sean Lau Ching Wan.
Friday’s charity event marked the launch of a full time poker tournament area on the main floor of the Venetian Macao, close to both a bar and a smoking area – two facilities said by the organisers to appeal to a significant number of poker players.
“Venetian has supported this poker programme so much that we are going to have a 24-tables, permanent tournament area,” Winfred Yu, president of Kings Consulting Ltd, a unit of Suncity Group, told GGRAsia on the sidelines of the event.
The poker room currently has eight cash play tables and two tables in the VIP area.
“The Venetian has given us a better opportunity to grow to serve the poker market,” he added.
Full-time poker rooms have been tried previously in Macau casinos with varying degrees of success. The economics of the rake model used with poker – in effect giving the house a fixed ‘rent’ on its table real estate for the duration of the game; and the relatively slow speed of poker – has been compared unfavourably to the house’s share of the 40 or 50 hands per hour that table games managers say can be obtained from baccarat by the most skilful dealers.
That meant it was hard for Macau casino managers previously to justify giving precious table space for the game in a market with limited table supply – due to a government cap on live dealer tables – and extremely high demand for baccarat up to May of last year.
Mr Yu conceded that the rake model used with poker hasn’t always appealed to Macau casinos.
“It has not always been the most profitable game among the casino games. But due to the slowdown in the revenues coming, poker becomes a bit more recognised as a way of bringing in traffic [gaming customers],” explained Mr Yu.
Rake is defined by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Center for Gaming Research as where the casino takes a share of each pot, rather than accepting bets directly from the player.
Suncity poker expansion
The Poker King brand is on a path of international expansion. Last week it opened a poker room at Solaire Resort and Casino in Manila, a property operated by Bloomberry Resorts Corp. Poker King collaborates additionally with the Asian Poker Tour and the World Poker Tour.
“Suncity has always been into a variety of market segments… we have opened up overseas operations in London [U.K.], in Melbourne [Australia], in Italy and other places in Europe, and to Vietnam, Cambodia. So we are catering for all markets; not strictly for super VIPs,” said Mr Yu.
Mr Yu also indicated the poker model was a way for Suncity to extend its membership base. Poker is said to be growing in popularity in mainland China, although poker tournaments held within the country have sometimes face legal trouble, as happened in April when police in Nanjing closed down the Asia Pacific Poker Tour’s Nanjing Millions event.
But Mr Yu said, commenting on the benefits to Chinese and other Asian players of Poker King Club membership: “If they become Suncity members by becoming Poker King members, they can benefit from all the luxuries and all the things we offer from the customers – from level one, to super VIP customers,” added the executive.
“There’s a lot of growth for poker inside China. And people are just waiting for the experience of coming to play in a world class tournament,” he added.
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”The Macau government is not aiming to trivialise or drive out the junket sector, but to regulate the sector so that it would not hurt Macau’s reputation”
Alvin Chau Cheok Wa
Chief executive of privately-held VIP junket business Suncity Group