Focus on Asia: A Year in Time By Ben Blaschke, Managing Editor, Inside Asian Gaming January 5, 2021 at 8:00 am A year is a long time in our usually fast-moving industry, but there is no doubt that 2020 felt much longer than most. I was pondering this notion over the Christmas and New Year’s break, and found myself looking back to this same time last year. What was it shaping our hopes and dreams as 2019 came to an end? Needless to say, it wasn’t COVID-19! It’s hard to believe that just 12 months ago it was all business as usual in the world’s major casino jurisdictions, with Macau particularly excited about the long-awaited launch of the Taipa light rail in December, which brought 60,000 passenger journeys on its first three days of operation. Ironically, Macau authorities also entered 2020 in discussions over introducing a new tourist tax as a means of solving issues of “over-tourism.” What they would give to have those same problems today … the plan was officially scrapped in May. In the Philippines, all eyes were on the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGO) industry amid growing pressure from both China and local opposition groups to better regulate the industry. Such pressure, which followed a move by Cambodia to cancel all online gaming licenses from 1 January 2020, included calls for greater control over the influx of foreign POGO workers and various proposals to increase tax revenue – despite the Department of Finance revealing in January that it had collected US$126 million in POGO taxes in 2019. Meanwhile, the Philippines farewelled 2019 on a high, with Okada Manila reporting record visitation and GGR and Solaire Resort & Casino hitting new highs in mass market table and slot GGR. In Japan, the IR field narrowed around the turn of the year with Hokkaido and Chiba both confirming their withdrawal from Japan’s IR race, followed shortly after by Kitakyushu. In one of the few positives to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been some recent murmurings that Hokkaido may reconsider its position as a result of the extra time COVID-19 has provided to complete important environmental studies. Of those continuing to push forward with IR plans, Wakayama announced in December 2019 its intention to settle on an IR operator partner by fall of 2020 while Nagasaki released its draft IR Implementation Policy with plans to launch an RFP by the spring. Both have since been postponed, as has the national government’s own selection schedule – originally planned to launch in January 2021 but now delayed until October. As for COVID-19 itself, IAG’s very first article of 2020 turned out to be a precursor of what was to follow over the next 12 months. On 5 January 2020, we reported that officials from Macau’s Gaming Inspection and Coordination Bureau and the Health Bureau had met with representatives of the SAR’s six casino concessionaires to brief them on new measures aimed at preventing the outbreak of disease. The meeting, IAG said at the time, was in response to a recent outbreak of pneumonia in Wuhan, China, and warnings that some local residents had carried the virus back to Macau. Exactly one month later to the day, all 41 Macau casinos shut their doors for 15 days as the impact COVID-19 would have on our industry became abundantly clear. Let’s hope for better times ahead in 2021.