Covid triggered a surge in online gambling in Asia’s unregulated markets, but competition is intense and if you don’t understand the culture you will waste money on player acquisition, says igaming specialist Bhavesh Parthi. 

Bhavesh Parthi, OppaBet, Online gambling, Asia
Bhavesh Parthi, Oppa Asia

Parthi, who is the managing director of Oppa Asia, the operator of Oppa Bet, said analysts have estimated that online gambling increased by about 84 percent in regulated markets. Although, if you take Asia’s unregulated markets there has been an increase of almost 300 percent. 

“With no land-based places to visit, more users made use of Google search engines to find suitable online casinos, this is where SEO played a much bigger and more important role than prior to Covid.” 

From the operator point of view, more payment providers are now covering ASEAN currencies, making it easier to provide services to Asian players. 

Seven years ago, the only option was online banking, but now there are many more online payment options, he said. 

Asia is home to almost two thirds of the world’s population and in many nations disposable income levels have been rising rapidly. It is a prime target for online gambling firms, but so far most regional governments have been unwilling to reap the potential through regulation and taxation.

The Philippines has licensed operators who want to offer their services to other countries since 2016 through Philippines Offshore Gaming Operator (POGOs) permits. From late 2020 it also began to dabble with regulating online gambling targeting its domestic market to raise revenue for Covid-hit coffers and stamp out the black market. 

Parthi said there are some signs that other regional countries may be more receptive to regulating online gambling since Covid as they also seek to shore up their economies, but it’s a slow process. 

“Other countries in Southeast Asia, during the pandemic, took a special interest in online gambling as they saw it as lost revenue and taxes (something they should have noticed a long time ago.) So politicians in countries like Thailand and Malaysia have already begun talking about legalizing and obviously taxing the online gambling industry within their borders,” he said. 

These are still in the infant stage however, and Parthi said it could be anywhere from five to 15 years before plans come to fruition, if at all.

After years of trying to block online gambling, in late 2021, Malaysia’s Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Zahidi Zainul Abidin said the country was considering regulation and taxation instead. It’s not clear how much progress has been made.

Thailand has set up a committee to discuss legalizing land-based casinos to boost its tourism industry. However, some political groups have vocally called for the government to also include online.

Parthi, whose company focuses mainly on Southeast Asia, India and Thailand, said progress is better in India, where skill-based gaming is protected by the Supreme Court, with some recent moves to establish a central regulatory framework. 

“And let’s not talk about Japan, where they just can’t make up their minds,” he said. Although a gray market, Tokyo has not tended to actively crack down on the industry. 

In terms of player trends, Parthi said he has not seen too much change during Covid. 

“Those who previously played only sports, now do dabble a bit in either slots, live casinos or arcade games, however their betting amounts in these other categories still amount to less than 15 percent of their total lifetime bets.”

Despite the apparently growing pie, Parthi said competition is also fierce, which will mean that brand awareness, competitive and good marketing campaigns and “superb” customer support will become more and more important in acquiring and retaining players.  

In addition, companies need to understand the unique features of each market and if you don’t do adequate research you risk wasting all the money spent on player acquisition. 

He warns that player loyalty is low, so don’t expect high lifetime values.

“If you’re extremely lucky, you’ll have some big players who like your brand and games and stay loyal to you.”