Focus on Asia: Want to attract foreigners? Make Macau the poker capital of Asia

January 5, 2023 8:00 AM

Focus on Asia: Want to attract foreigners? Make Macau the poker capital of Asia

Photo: Shutterstock
  • Ben Blaschke — Managing Editor, IAG
January 5, 2023 8:00 AM
  • Ben Blaschke — Managing Editor, IAG

In what has become a point of widespread debate, the Macau SAR Government has called on its gaming concessionaires to significantly increase foreign visitation – that being tourists from outside mainland China, Hong Kong or Taiwan. Achieving such a goal is challenging to say the least, as Macau is seriously lacking in key infrastructure to make such foreign visitation as easy as it should be and, at 30 square kilometers in size, simply doesn’t have enough attractions on offer to lure people from the opposite side of the world.

But there is one simple and sure-fire way to bring in thousands of people from all corners of the globe each and every year – make Macau the poker capital of Asia.

Sounds too good to be true, and perhaps it is, but consider this: the World Series of Poker, a series of 88 tournaments held over two months in Las Vegas each summer, attracted a combined 197,626 entries in 2022, with the Main Event alone featuring players from 87 different countries.

The WSOP is a massive brand that continues to grow, particularly via its main international expansion project, WSOP Europe (WSOPE), held in the Czech Republic each November. Although much smaller than its Las Vegas cousin and

primarily targeting a European audience, WSOPE has nevertheless seen bracelet winners from 19 different countries since its inception and in 2022 attracted its biggest ever Main Event field with 763 starters.

Well, for some clues we need only look back at the 2018 Macau Millions, held in the now defunct PokerStars LIVE Macau room at City of Dreams with a massive field of 2,499 players taking part.

Sadly, Macau’s gaming table cap has for the most part seen poker fall by the wayside, with operators naturally preferring to utilize their limited table allocation for baccarat.

But the government could easily solve this problem by exempting poker from the cap – at least for the duration of any major tournament series that came Macau’s way.

And it’s not like the WSOP isn’t interested. Some years ago, I actually met with WSOP representatives to discuss this very issue: how and where to host a “WSOP Asia”. (WSOP Asia-Pacific had previously been held in Australia for two years in 2013 and 2014 before fizzling out).

At the time, issues around the table cap and how enthusiastic Macau might really be to welcome this “foreign invasion” poured cold water on the concept, but with the government apparently now keen to bring these same foreigners in, it appears there’s no better time than now to try again. Certainly there is no shortage of venues offering the size and scale required located along the Cotai Strip!

And why stop at the WSOP?

The World Poker Tour (WPT), which coincidentally has spread to Australia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Japan in recent years, has just concluded its biggest event in history at Wynn Las Vegas, with the WPT World Championship smashing all prize pool guarantees.

There is no reason Macau couldn’t set itself up to welcome the WSOP, WPT, Asian Poker Tour, Asia-Pacific Poker Tour and more each and every year. The government could even make a song and dance about it – literally – with music, film, food and cultural festivals running in conjunction to give international visitors reason to head out and explore the city while they’re here.

Seems like Macau’s chance to play the perfect hand.