Surprisingly, the cradle of humanity is also a test bed for casino slot products aimed at Asians
Africa may seem an unlikely testing ground for slot machines targeted at Asian players. Globalisation has, though, made big changes to the way the gaming industry operates, and Africa is no exception, says John A. Robbins.
Mr Robbins is a gaming executive with more than 30 years of experience, including an executive role with Sol Kerzner’s Sun International group, which has extensive gaming and leisure interests across southern Africa.
Recently, Mr Robbins, chairman of a Gibraltar-based company called KaiRo International, has been travelling in Asia looking at possible gaming business opportunities in Indochina. The idea is to transfer the knowledge he’s gained in serving the many East Asian customers found in African casinos back to Asia proper.
Inside Asian Gaming spoke to Mr Robbins in Hong Kong on one of his recent visits to Asia.
“The guys I’ve been talking to about possibly doing business in Asia, they say ‘You don’t know how things work out here.’ I disagree with that. I left the UK in the 1970s, and I’ve been in and out of Africa for 30 years. In that time most of my customers have been Indians or East Asians,” he says.
“When I first worked in southern Africa in the late 1970s, most of the Chinese people I knew were from families who had been there for several generations and were established as professionals.
“Then when I worked in Lesotho and Swaziland with Sun International, the Chinese people we saw were mainly Taiwanese who went out there because of the textile industry. They kept to themselves but liked to gamble. They generally visited the casinos in a group of 20 to 30, and actually became the main clients,” recalls Mr Robbins.
In 1991, Mr Robbins and a business partner, Tommy Kai, who also happens to be ethnic Chinese, set up KaiRo International, an independent management company, in order to develop casinos at several Hilton Hotels venues in Turkey. The name of the company, formed from the surnames of the partners, also turned out to be prophetic, as Mr Robbins was soon back in Africa. In 1996 KaiRo sold its Turkish casino business to a local group called TGI, spotting instead a gap in the market for small club-style casinos in some of the newly liberalised African economies. The countries targeted were Ghana in the west and Tanzania in the east, away from the more developed southern tip of the continent.