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Under the Scope: Myanmar – The Wild East

Gaming in Asia is not unfamiliar with volatility, but the current situation in Myanmar has brought the eyeballs of the world, as ethnic armed groups challenge the military junta. In this week’s Under the Scope, IGamiX’s Managing Partner Ben Lee looks at the scale of gaming in the country and what operators can expect or not expect, especially if Thailand legalizes gaming.

“Myanmar is an interesting frontier market. They have somewhere north of 50 casinos, most ranged across their borders with Thailand and China,” notes Lee.

“The current political instability is affecting all the operators, more so in the north than south. Crossing the border is now a tad more difficult than in normal times, for both employees and players.”

The country enjoyed a short-lived ceasefire, brokered by Chinese authorities, after which shelling resumed in Shan State. The instability has left gaming operators with concerns over how their operations are set to continue, and how to attract their primary clients – the Chinese and the Thai.

“There are probably a dozen casinos located to the east in Tachilek, Myek and Andaman Sea, targeting the Thais,” notes Lee.

Tachilek, Myanmar
Tachilek, Myanmar

“To the north in the rather unstable border areas between Myanmar and China are at least a couple of what they call cowboy towns with a myriad of casinos, ranging from shanty huts to relatively palatial affairs, all targeting the southern Chinese. It’s in this latter region where human and drug trafficking occur.  The zones targeting the Thais are relatively serene in comparison,” points out the expert.

UN, China and Philippines officials pledge joint efforts to crack down on gaming-related crime and human trafficking
Locations of casinos and scam centres in Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar: UNODC

Myanmar has recently been highlighted as one of the hubs for scams and human trafficking, as criminals shift their operations out of the Philippines amongst an ongoing crackdown on illegal operations.

The scope of the gaming operations, and the nascent aspect of the market, offers strong potential for operators who want to set up shop, and brave the risks.

“There is no central license issuer or gaming regulator and the licenses we have seen appear to have been issued by the provincial governors,” notes Lee.

“The lack of regulation has meant a relatively unencumbered profit margin provided the operators do not engage in cutthroat competition – which they do every so often when the market is depressed.”

Despite its population of over 53 million, the nation recorded just 131,000 tourists in 2021 and the United States Department of State continues to have a travel advisory for the country, indicating ‘civil unrest and armed conflict’ – highlighting the military coup in 2021 and the fighting between the military and ethnic groups.

The unrest is unlikely to be the only factor to limit interest by gaming operators in the country, as neighboring Thailand aims to set up its own casino empire.

“Should Thailand introduce gaming, it would kill all the casinos ranged across their borders; in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar,” notes Lee. And Thailand is moving quickly with its legislation to legalize casinos, prompting the question of where, when and how many?

But all is not lost for Myanmar in the meantime, in particular if operators focus on key regions.

“We did a couple of feasibility assessments in Myanmar, in their border regions of Andaman, Tachilek as well as in Yangon and Mandalay. There is a potentially lucrative market in the two main cities but not for the big operators,” notes Lee.

“The market are the Chinese traders who flock to Myanmar’s jade industry. They are cashed up and always ready to play. More recently , other Chinese entrepreneurs have moved in on the back of China’s BRI (Belt and Road Initiative), involved in anything from coal mining to marble and logging,” notes the IGamiX Managing Partner.

While a far cry from the next Asian gaming hub, for smaller scale operators looking to get a piece of the Chinese and Thai market, Myanmar is conveniently located and offers quite some potential, as long as punters don’t have to dodge bullets.

Kelsey Wilhelm
Kelsey Wilhelmhttps://agbrief.com
Kelsey Wilhelm is a broadcast, print journalist and editor based in Asia for over 15 years. Focused on content creation, management, cross-cultural exchange and interviews for multi-lingual productions. Writing focus on gaming, business, politics, culture and heritage, events and celebrities, subcultures, music, film, art and fashion. Some of Kelsey's specialties are: editing, writing, copy creation, multi-lingual content production, cross-cultural exchange, content creation and management for Asian markets.

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