Taking the N. Asian market pulse: Is Korea flatlining?

South korea
Covid-19, trade tensions and China’s battle against capital outflows have all had an impact on Asia’s gambling jurisdictions in one way or another, with some significantly losing their appeal and others showing surprising resilience.

In this edition’s Focus section we look at the North Asian jurisdictions of Japan, Korea and the Russian Far East to see how they have fared. 

Firstly we go to Japan, which had been counting on the Asian VIP market for about a quarter of its gross gambling revenue for its planned multi-billion dollar IRs. However, much has changed since the law allowing IRs was passed in 2018 and that sector of the market has been particularly hard hit. Spectrum Gaming’s Fred Gushin and Paul Bromberg take us through some of the key developments that have taken the gild off the VIP lily and suggest the course Japan may need to steer to ensure it doesn’t incur China’s ire.

Our second piece stays in Japan. While IRs are unlikely to open their doors for years to come, one gambling segment is quietly booming. Although online gambling is technically not legal, authorities turn a blind eye to the practice. 

Betting on horse racing, motor boats and cycling is legal and there has been a gradual shift to betting online. So much so that the Google Play App store began offering real money sites for download in Japan from March.

The next North Asian market under the spotlight is South Korea. The jurisdiction was seen as highly promising and attracted high profile investment from global players such as Caesars Entertainment and Mohegan Sun. However, gradually the appeal has diminished as Covid and other geopolitical events highlighted the risk of foreigner-only markets. Caesars threw in the towel earlier this year and Mohegan is looking for financing. We look at what operators could do to adjust their offering and regain their lustre.

The third jurisdiction is the Primorye gambling zone in Russia’s Far East. The gaming hub has been slow to develop, however does appear to be gaining traction. A second resort opened last year and NagaCorp has said it’s on track to open its delayed property in 2022.

The first company to open its doors, Tigre de Cristal, is now part of the Suncity Group, via Summit Ascent, and its performance has shown significant promise.

The latter company has attracted attention from analysts recently, who see its access to Suncity’s database and close proximity to other North Asian markets as key draws. Covid-19 has undoubtedly had an impact on the region’s revenues, however, its casinos attracted support from local Russians who are allowed to gamble, supporting the operators in the absence of international travel. 

Lastly in this focus section we change tack slightly to examine the latest trends in live dealer. It has been the most popular online vertical in Asia for many years, but as the field gets increasingly crowded, we ask what trends are emerging and what stands out in the pack.