Uncertainty caused by regulatory instability in Cambodia and the Philippines has prompted operators to search for new markets, with India and Japan top of the list.
Such was the conclusion from panels dealing with Asian online gaming opportunities at the Betting on Sports conference in London last week.
Rune Loderup, chairman at Asia-facing and Manila-based Goldblue, said the online gaming sector in Asia was currently enduring a “rollercoaster” due to the upheavals involving the outright ban on online gaming in Cambodia and China's efforts to pressure the Duterte administration in the Philippines.
“We have a situation in Asia where it is illegal to live in the country where you offer into,” he pointed out.
One such example is India where – at least for most states within the country – sports-betting remains illegal. However, there is provision within the law for the operation of games of skill meaning that both poker and, increasingly rummy are proving popular with online audiences.
Speaking on a later panel, Navneet Makharia, the chief executive of Kolkata-based gaming supplier Ability Games, said that the “nascent” Indian online market was “yet to be explored.”
And now, due to increased penetration of high-speed internet, smartphone and the huge demographic potential, India is starting to arouse serious interest. “There are 800 million potential sports lovers; it’s right behind China so there is huge potential,” he told the audience.
“Fantasy sport users will cross 100 million in 2019. Think about this number when it is open to the betting side. This is the potential for the market today. Any operator offering this can cross sell any other product.”
Charlie Zhang, vice president AG Tech/Alibaba agreed about the potential for fantasy sports in India suggesting that the love of cricket combined with fantasy could be a huge growth area. “The core thing is there is a sports gene in the Indian fans. Cricket takes 90 percent of the share, and Kabaddi takes another 5 percent,” he said. “The companies that are looking at India start by adding cricket, with tips. It’s similar to China.”
On the previous panel, Zhang’s colleague Gilbert Wong, vice president AGTech/Alibaba, said the company has been investing in India including forming a joint venture with local payments giant PayTM. “Fantasy is huge, there is unlimited potential,” he added. “We love India.”
Big in Japan
India wasn’t the only country given a mention with Loderup pointing out that Japan was also a “special market” which was “similar to European markets” partly because many of the larger affiliate organisations are already up-and-running with Japanese-facing offerings.
“The Japanese are quite shy to gamble online; they like it but don’t talk about it,” he added. “But when they open land-based, it will open the market further and make it even bigger.”
Japan is currently drawing up regulations to cover land-based gaming, but online gambling does not form part of the legislation.
Marcos Oliveira, chief affiliate officer at Clever Advertising, chipped in that grey online growth had, as yet, to provoke any “huge kickback” from the government. “So there aren’t big issues and we are taking advantage,” he said. “Japan is easier than Thailand and Vietnam, for instance. I can easily see Japan becoming one of the biggest online markets.”
The key to gaining an audience in Japan is distinct localisation. “You can’t look like a European gambling site,” said Loderup. “It must have instructions, (and be) very detailed. People must speak the language fluently.”
“Only bet365 works there,” added Oliveira. “If you don’t have a super-detailed Asian facing operation you will certainly fail. It’s the same with Africa. People like what they like and you need to adapt.”
Talking broadly, Oliveira said that patience was needed to make an Asian-facing operation work. “Asia is a persistence market,” he said. “You have to wait, wait, wait for the opportunity. For it is the most difficult market to establish. If you find yourself with enough patience, you will make amazing games. Once you are established. Don’t just expect to succeed.”
The difficulty in reaching the audience in any Asian jurisdiction was addressed by Loderup. “Most Asian countries have agents but not affiliates,” he said. “And they are afraid of putting their head above the parapet. That is why affiliates don’t work in China. But the affiliation business is slowly growing.”
The first problem was the marketing, then there was the issue of payments. “Even if you advertise a brand, you get blocked,” says Oliveira. But he added that affiliation was growing and that the various messaging services such as WeChat and Telegram “are creating massive groups of punters.” “That can drive traffic to your website,” he said.
Asia Gaming Brief is a news and intelligence service providing up to date market information for worldwide executives on relevant gaming issues in Asia.
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