This article first appeared in the Mar/Apr 2015 issue of WGM.
Macau’s casino revenue might have flattened last year but 2015 signals the dawn of an exciting new era with the opening of Galaxy Phase 2 and Broadway in the coming months. This also represents a unique opportunity for gaming product manufacturers and Aristocrat – the largest supplier of slot machines in the region – has prepared by appointing a new Managing Director Asia-Pacific, Vincent Kelly. WGM spoke with Mr Kelly about his background and what to expect from Aristocrat in the near future.
WGM: First of all Vincent, congratulations on your recent appointment. Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Vincent Kelly: Sure, I was born east of London and worked in the UK, firstly in packaged consumer goods and then I moved into alcoholic beverages and hospitality – industries I was lucky to enjoy for 25 years. That took us to Hong Kong in 1999 where I worked for Carlsberg, which in turn brought me to Macau every month for business. Our family would also come across to Macau every quarter or so for a weekend break. In 2002 we moved to Australia, living in Melbourne and Sydney, then at the start of 2014 I joined Aristocrat which took us to Las Vegas and finally to Macau last October.
WGM: How did you come to work with Aristocrat?
VK: I first met our CEO, Jamie Odell, in 1990 when we were working for Allied Domecq, the alcoholic beverage and hospitality company, in the UK. By coincidence I moved to Hong Kong and then Australia around the same time Jamie moved to Singapore then Australia. In 2003 I sold the business I was running there to Foster’s, which Jamie had joined. We had some discussions at the time but nothing came of it and I ended up joining Lion, a competitor of Foster’s. Anyway, we kept in touch and in mid-2013 I let Jamie know I was looking for a new challenge and that led to me joining Aristocrat in January last year.
WGM: Did you have much knowledge about the gaming industry before starting at Aristocrat?
VK: Other than as a consumer and stepson of an on and off course bookmaker, none at all. Obviously having been in alcohol and licensed hospitality for so long I’ve always kept a close eye on the “on premise” or land based gaming world as there are a lot of commonalities. The industries are both regulated, taxed, have social responsibilities and of course are in adult entertainment. So I would say having now had the chance to work in both they are a lot closer than you would first think. I am very grateful to have the chance to work in gaming and I feel very much at home.
WGM: In what ways do you feel your experience in previous positions can help in your new role?
VK: In addition to what I mentioned earlier about the industries I’ve worked in having so many commonalities, there is the general running of the business. These skills are the same for all industries and include planning, organizing, leading, communicating, developing and selling in all its forms.
WGM: You mentioned that you already have plenty of experience doing business in this part of the world. How does Macau in particular but also Asia-Pacific in general differ to other regions?
VK: My take is that in Macau, like Hong Kong, developments occur very fast. The business community is highly connected, news travels fast and wide and a fast response is quite rightly expected. The high quality of service that our customers give their customers is also expected from us and it is our job to match the quality our customers offer.
WGM: Gaming in this part of the world has been very much about Macau for the best part of a decade but recently we’ve seen some other Asian destinations grow too. Are there any new jurisdictions in the region you believe will make their presence felt in the near future?
VK: Macau is obviously always going to be big news for Asia-Pacific and indeed the world. The less known big news, outside the gaming world, is of course Manila. My sense is that The Philippines have been flying under most people’s radar for a long time now and I believe that there is a lot of upside to come from there. It’s going to be very exciting. If you haven’t had a chance to go, do try to find time. In addition to The Philippines we are of course working with our business partners across a wide number of other markets which are developing and opening up across the region. It’s an exciting time to be working in the Asia-Pacific region.
WGM: How do Asian players differ from players in other parts of the world? Are there certain trends you’ve seen in terms of the types of machines they prefer?
VK: I think the preferences we see for higher volatility and jackpots across most of the markets in the region are well known and we are lucky to be in a good position to service these player and customer needs.
WGM: Aristocrat is the market leader when it comes to Asian slots and has a proud history in the region. Does that bring a responsibility to keep leading the field?
VK: Yes it does and one of the reasons I chose to join Aristocrat was because of the investment that Jamie has led and made in game creation talent and our R&D budget. Our R&D budget is greater than our annual EBIT. There are very few industries or even technology companies that make anything like that kind of investment in their product. We definitely have a history of great product, but even more importantly we are investing very heavily in the future of our product which will benefit all our stakeholders.
WGM: Although baccarat dominates the gaming scene in and around Macau, accounting for just over 90 percent of turnover, slots come in a very respectable second. Do you see much potential to be able to increase the current market share?
VK: Yes I do. We see two opportunities here. Firstly, for more players to try the existing slot products available from ourselves and other suppliers and secondly to introduce slot product concepts that don’t exist today. What that will be? We’ll have to wait and see.
WGM: Perhaps we’ll have to get you back to talk to our readers about those new concepts at a later date. What are the main challenges Aristocrat faces in the foreseeable future?
VK: To continue to develop products that entertain our players. I’m pleased to say that we recognize this challenge, this responsibility, we take it seriously and we make the required investment.
WGM: Likewise, what opportunities do you believe are presenting themselves?
VK: Developing and new markets, casino visitors who don’t currently play slots and of course new slot product concepts.
WGM: Aristocrat has led the way in terms of innovation in slots over the years. Can we expect anything new in the near future?
VK: Yes of course; we have new games and a new cabinet, our Helix, in the market now and we have new product to talk about later in the year. The Helix cabinets are infinity-edged frameless displays so they give the visual effect of a floating screen. They are Full HD with quad audio and a subwoofer plus additional speakers to deliver an immersive player experience.
WGM: What big leaps can we expect from slots in general over the next year or two?
VK: New technology must always play an increasing role and it will be no different for slots and for us.
WGM: 2015 signals the first of eight new casino openings around Cotai over the next few years. What does this mean for Aristocrat?
VK: It means a significant responsibility for us to ensure that we help our customers make the right choices on their slot product offerings. We think we are well placed to do that and will have a great choice of old favorites and exciting new products for them to consider.