Dennis Hudson, Senior Director for Table Games at Newport World Resorts: exciting times ahead

Exciting times ahead for the Philippines, as punters return with, and are welcomed by, a smile. Dennis Hudson, Senior Director for Table Games at Newport World Resorts […] says that by the third quarter the property should be seeing 2019 figures and grow even more beyond that, as new VIP areas and luxury shopping additions come online.

Expectations are for the international market to grow the most, while local VIP continues and mass further expands, with the property less reliant on Chinese customers as the country further tightens its reins.

Dennis Hudson, Senior Director of Table Games Operations at Newport World Resorts, very happy to have you here. We’re very happy to be in the property for the ASEAN Gaming Summit, it’s been a great time to be in Manila, seeing everybody together in person for the first time. But I wanted to ask specifically about the outlook that you’re expecting now for Newport World Resorts itself, and then also for Entertainment City.

Yeah, I think 2023 is gonna be a very exciting year for us. We’ve got many, many projects in line. Grand Wing second floor will be a very exclusive private VIP area for our locals, plus internationals. We’re working on a nice bar-lounge restaurant scene. Plus, we’ll have four to six private salons being built for people that don’t want to be seen. So that’s just Grand Wing. The mall area has got many, many new shops coming,  many, many more restaurants. And we are looking at some very luxurious goods. I can’t say the names at the moment because the contracts have not been signed. But they’re visiting in the next couple of weeks. So, as Newport World Resort moves forward, 2023 should be a very bumper year for all outlets, mass gaming, VIP gaming and our international market.

Are these expansions a continuation of what you had announced last year? There was a $75 million investment announced previously.

Part of it, but not all of it. Because we’ve had some new members come on board. And they’ve kind of shone the light on where our direction should be going. And so we’ve had many, many meetings, and we’ve got the actual designer from Singapore here, just tweaking it a little bit. By the end of August, everything should be in play. And come October, November, it should be a great finish to the year.

Newport World Resorts did pretty well, last year. Right? How did that shape up?

It was a good end to the year. Obviously, in the beginning of 2022, we still had table/slot restrictions, where we couldn’t open X amount. And we could only have like three or four players on each table that were open. Plus, we had the big screens which are (now) all gone, the masks are finally gone, it’s voluntary now. But we had facial shields and, in the Philippines, I think it was a tough time for everybody because the facial shields were outside and indoors. And it was quite unpleasant. So when it was announced that facial masks were voluntary, I took it off within seconds. Because it was just three years of… it drove everyone mad.

Not only from the operation side, but also from the player side, it’s nice to be able to have that welcoming, engaging environment. Not only from the croupier, but everybody that you’re encountering once you walk into the property, it makes it that personal service that especially VIPs enjoy.

It is. The Philippines, they do give a great service, welcoming smile, they got some beautiful smiles. But unfortunately, when you got the mask on; your eyes kind of tell the story, but it’s the smile, you want to see the mouth. And the players love it. And it’s it’s really good to be back.

Speaking of players, I mean, I wanted to zoom out a little bit and look at two different markets: Macau and the Philippines. Macau is starting to come back, it’s quite a bit delayed compared to how quickly the Philippines opened up. We only started a little bit within January and we’re starting to see those returns within January/February GGR. How is Macau looking from your point of view?

Having worked there for 12 years: 2006 2018 to see it go from very low key to the peak, which outshone Vegas, I think four or five to one, and then start to dive, it was sad to see how it ended. But it’s now back. But it’s going to be, I believe, a struggle for Macau because there’s so many operators fighting for the same customer and obviously no junkets, or maybe a junket for property – but when I say per property, you can’t have the same junket in every property, so it’s just one junket per property. I hope for them, I wish them well, because I’ve got some very good friends there. But it’s going to take a long time for it to, not get back to normality but maybe get to the to 2010 figures, to 2011 figures, but they’ll never see the 2013 to 2014 figures ever again. You know, that was just an incredible time to be there.

It was and it’s hard to replicate something that is so successful, and such a large growth period. What is it like in the Philippines? How’s it looking?

Now, we’re back. The shops are open, restaurants are open, bars are open, the people are walking around the streets free and easy. I’d still say maybe 10, maybe 20 percent of the population is still wearing facial masks. And that’s their choice. But for me, it’s just nice walking down the street, and to say hello to everybody. But the friendly smiles are back, and I think it’s a great time now for the Philippines for the next five to 10 years.

We saw that, especially towards the end of the year, as you mentioned, the gaming floor was picking up quite a lot. Has that picked up even more in the first quarter?

We’re not in the 2019 figures, but come – I would say – by the third quarter we should peak at the 2019 figures, and then keep on continuing.

So you don’t expect that to plateau?

No. I think the way the economy is going, as I said, the businesses are going, everything’s opened, the flights are coming in, tourism’s coming in, it’s exciting times here in the Philippines.

Well, the domestic market did help quite a bit during the pandemic, during the shutdowns when people couldn’t come in (to the country) as much. Do you think that that’s going to be as significant a contributor going forward?

Yes, it is. I mean, don’t get me wrong here, every sector: mass, VIP, and VIP international will grow sufficiently.

Which one’s gonna grow the most?

That’s a good question. I’m still gonna say the international market, because that’s where the big dollars are. But I’m not gonna take it away from the mass market, because the people just love to come in and be entertained. And we got bars, shows, I mean, it’s great seeing the shows back in NPAT (Newport Performing Arts Theater), and I just hope there’s more and more coming. Because it holds 1,500 people and every time we have a show, it’s sold out.  And the restaurants in the mall are sold out. So it’s great times.

What about in terms of the VIP, that international VIP that you’re mentioning? How much of that is coming from China?

Not much. Yeah, I mean, mainly the majority of our international market’s Korean, Taiwanese, Thai, Japanese. And then we have a mixture of Malay, Singapore. Chinese, yes we have, but not like it used to be. China’s tightened the reins and it’s very hard for a China person to actually travel.  (Also), you have to be a member to play in the international area, and there are times when players don’t wanna be a member. So sorry, you cannot play.

There are also new openings which are happening and some of these operators, like Hoiana and INSPIRE are also fighting for some of that higher-end clientele. How’s that going to work over the course of this year, and going forward?

I think players are players. If there’s a new place opening, they will go and visit. But, at the end of the day, they’ll play where they’re comfortable. So, if they’re living in the Philippine regions, they’ll stay here, but they might take trips, because it’s always good to go and see a new place, see what they offer. Competition is a good thing. But I think (there is a) strong market in the Philippines, even though Vietnam, Cambodia, all these other places are gonna open up, possibly Thailand in the near future. Players will try but they’ll come back. So I think it’s good. I’m looking forward to Thailand actually, I know there’s a referendum in April. We’re not sure which way it’s gonna go. But I’ve got my fingers crossed.

It’s looking pretty positive so far. And from the feedback from most of the people here (at the ASEAN Gaming Summit, many are estimating that if not a done deal, it’s going to be likely.

Well you look at Japan, they’ve been talking about it since 2000. Even my friends and my family are saying “Dad, would you go to Japan?” I say “It’s over for me.” I mean, they started talking about it in 2000, it’s 2023 now and they haven’t even got any companies. They were interested, but maybe another five years.

Meanwhile, Thailand’s moving at light speed.

If they get it, they’ll fast-track it. I think it was mentioned in one of the seminars, that if they do it right: one big integrated resort, Bangkok start, then move forward to other areas. I think it’s great. Thailand is going to be a great spot.

Looking back at the Philippines, domestic tourism improved quite a lot during COVID. International tourism has been on the rebound. What else do you want to see?

I suppose more people walking in the property. But, look, it’s great to see people coming back. As I said, the flights are increasing, the international market, VIP local market is a strong, strong market. But you know, the mass market, it’s increasing. Our head headcount is going not through the ceiling, but it’s getting close to that. So for me, it’s just seeing more people come in, just to keep us busy, which we are. And shows like this (the ASEAN Gaming Summit), it creates interest. If we have more MICE events, that will certainly create an atmosphere. So I think, again, exciting times, it’s gonna be great.

It’s great to see how quickly the Philippines has come back. And let’s just hope that it continues.

I’m sure it will. Yeah, I’m confident it will.

Thank you for your time.