Creating opportunities from crisis

The future may seem bleak for the land-based casino sector at present, though traits fundamental to human beings will ensure that once normality is restored visitors will return to the gaming floors.

That is one of the takeaways from Earle Hall, CEO of Axes Networks, appearing on the inaugural session of Asia Gaming Brief’s webinar series. Hall is an entrepreneur and visionary speaker who was invited to give his outlook on how the current pandemic will shape the way we live and work. 

Although the bulk of the world is in isolation in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus, with borders closed, travel shut down and nearly all global casinos closed, the crisis won’t eradicate the basic human need for interaction. Isolation is toxic for the human race, he says. 

“People need to be in a social setting. People want to get up and go out. 4000 years of humanity won’t change because of a pandemic,” he argues in response to a question from the audience.

Hall argues that local casinos are likely to get back up to speed quickly, perhaps with additional support coming in from technological tools to support player engagement and retention. There may also be more impetus for convergence between the land-based and online gaming sectors given the vulnerability of the former to the type of shock we are now seeing.

However, he adds that there are concerns over Las Vegas and resorts that rely on tourism and major MICE events for revenue generation. 

“Las Vegas, where travel, hotel and expensive restaurants are included and where conferences are the main motor of this, we’re going to have to have incentives to get people moving again,” he said. 

The inaugural webinar was focused on key ways that the current crisis may change our work and lifestyle patterns and not just on gaming. The tone was upbeat, with one of the key messages being that great opportunities spring from great crises once the panic and fear subside.  

“Online everything” will be a key mantra and any business that is not already operating on the cloud will be forced to do so. In the retail sector this will have major implications, especially for the lower end of the market, which may struggle to survive the shift and where we may see major consolidation. At the higher end of the spectrum, however, there is likely to be continued demand for bricks and mortar.  

Hall argues there will need to be a rethink of global supply chains, with the run on toilet paper highlighting the crisis in the just-in-time model that has been so successfully deployed by major retailers. Some kind of stockpiling for pandemic readiness will need to be considered.

This doesn’t mean the end of globalisation, or ultimately of travel. While there is likely to be a greater embrace of locally sourced goods, once the pandemic fear begins to fade, economics will take centre stage, with consumers seeking out cheaper alternatives. 

“Local sustainability is going to be a big thing and it’s going to stick around. While people like to pretend they are loyal to local, they are loyal to price,” he says. “If the local product can be built and distributed at a competitive price then local will be awesome, but once people forget about this, the size of your wallet will determine the product you buy.”

Hall argues that there will be a rise in socialism. “Health is not a luxury item. We have seen way too many people dying from this virus. I really do think there will be a way of rethinking health as a basic need.”

“How do we create some new safeguards in the social safety net to make sure we have access to a healthier life.”

The crisis will also accelerate trends that are already underway, such as a move to digital currencies and towards greater use of artificial intelligence and robots, “which don’t get sick.” 

This greater use of AI will mean improved standards of service in the casino industry. 

“AI is all about predicting who you are and what you love so we can give it to you better, faster and more, so that the experience is unforgettable. It’s about personalised individual marketing and the sooner this message gets to the casinos so they stop sending out those stupid coupons and stop destroying trees.”

While at present, it seems hard to envisage getting back to normal, or what the “new” normal may be, Hall is clear that it doesn’t have to be negative.

“Crisis is opportunity, it’s just disguised as fear. Once you get past being scared to death there is opportunity everywhere.”