Technology could play a role in the recovery of gaming businesses amid social distancing measures implemented in a number of jurisdictions as part of efforts to stem the novel coronavirus pandemic. But cashless solutions applicable to gaming floors, in the Macau context, could take time to be adopted due to regulatory concerns, said industry experts on Tuesday during a webinar panel discussion.
The initiative, titled “Macau Gaming Tourism: The Road to Recovery”, was hosted by Macau law firm MdME Lawyers, and moderated by the firm’s managing partner, Rui Proença.
One of the panellists, Lloyd Robson, general manager for the Asia Pacific region at casino gaming supplier Aristocrat Leisure Ltd, pointed out that an immediate impact resulting from the challenge of the Covid-19 pandemic were the changes seen in the floor configurations for gaming machines.
“We did see almost immediately, throughout the regional reopening, different floor configurations: more of a focus towards pods-, or circular- or triangular-type solutions” in response to the “element of social distancing, and not players sitting next to each other,” stated Mr Robson. “With that obviously comes more manual stall solutions, maybe things like shields or dividers; [the industry is] certainly hearing a bit about that …particularly in the U.S. and throughout the region,” he added.
The executive said: “I think first of all some of the [gaming floor] layout side of things will evolve, and actually probably lead to a lot of diversity in floors today, where some would argue they look quite similar,” currently.
Cashless transactions could also be a way to address the hygiene and comfort concerns for players on gaming floors in a post-crisis market. Such technology, if adopted, could potentially impact the deployment of gaming machines at casinos, said the Aristocrat representative.
“If things did go down the cashless path, then … what you could see is [that the] actual size of machines would potentially change. The bank note acceptor is probably the maximum depth of a lot of machines, so you could see machine sizes shrink a little bit, which could contribute to social distancing and a number of machines that could be accommodated on the floor,” said Mr Robson.
“If there were significant comfort concerns amongst players, technology could bridge that gap,” suggested the executive. He said that personal devices could be use within the premises of a casino to link to a slot machine or a gaming table. “That could be cash in the machine and playing on the device, or that could actually just be on-device driven,” Mr Robson noted.
Some gaming suppliers have already developed applications that utilise embedded technology to enable casino patrons to play at live tables through their smartphone or tablet from any permitted area within a casino.
In the Macau context, technological solutions for gaming floors that involve money transactions – and that might raise concerns regarding social and responsible gaming - would require from the local authorities the time to prepare and adapt regulations accordingly, said legal adviser Nuno Martins.
Mr Martins made the remarks in response to whether the current coronavirus crisis could lead to the adoption of cashless technology, such as mobile wallets, at the city’s gaming venues. He is a senior legal counsel at Macau casino operator Sociedade de Jogos de Macau SA, a unit of SJM Holdings Ltd.
“We are shifting from a cash society to cashless society. This will imply some [regulatory] adaptation,” said Mr Martins during the panel session.
“For sure there are some controls that the government wants to impose in order to ensure a safe way [adoption of such technology]; and also to have the relevant anti-money laundering rules in place in order to trace where the money comes from,” noted Mr Martins. “It is normal that the government wants to take its time to adapt the regulation and to adapt the control measures,” he added.
During the recovery stage in the different regional gaming markets, including Macau, the “fun” environment at gaming floors will be absent amid the social distancing measures, remarked fellow panelist Alidad Tash, a former senior executive in Macau casino operations and now managing director of gaming consultancy 2NT8 Ltd.
Several gaming markets across the region – including Singapore, the Philippines and Cambodia – remain temporarily suspended amid efforts to contain the further spread of the coronavirus. The Macau casinos are currently operating – following a 15-day suspension in February – but since the reopening of the market on February 20, such gaming venues have been running with limited capacity due to social distancing policies on gaming floors.
Mr Tash said however that slot games might not be the winner in Macau’s recovery stage amid the distancing concerns, as the majority of the city’s casino patrons still largely value the “experience of playing and transacting” gaming chips, and the “community feel” at the traditional gaming table setting.
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