Inside Asian Gaming discovers a bit more about Herman Ng, CEO and Executive Director of Macau-based slot machine services firm Asia Pioneer Entertainment (APE).
Ben Blaschke: Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and your background?
Herman Ng: I grew up in Macau and then when I was 16 I went to the United States to study. After I graduated I came back to Macau in 1996. After I came back I took a job as an arcade operations manager in an arcade games center. By that time I had met a bunch of Japanese guys in the industry and they kept asking me to do some distribution of Japanese products.
That was around the same time, after 1999, that the Macau government started to open up the gaming licenses and my Japanese business colleagues asked me to start distributing some Japanese gaming products to Macau. I didn’t have any knowledge of gaming at the time and I thought it was the same thing as arcade games so I started doing it all together. My company was called Japan Pioneer Entertainment.
BB: So how did you end up working specifically in the gaming industry?
HN: Well after one year I found out that the Japanese gaming parlor wasn’t making any sense at all – gaming and arcades are totally different. The arcade games looked like slot machines but were not slot machines! So after a year I decided to leave, I didn’t want to do that anymore, but then SJM asked me to stay. They said that just because the Japanese products didn’t make sense didn’t mean my company had no value. They asked me to change the business model and find some products that were good for Macau and qualify for what Macau needed. So I started again and changed the name to Asia Pioneer Entertainment.
BB: What are your memories of Macau in those early days?
HN: In terms of the gaming industry, at that time it was a monopoly by SJM so the gaming industry was very closed and the most important sector for the industry was junkets. The image wasn’t very good – if you were part of the business people thought you must be mafia. It was no good. But I liked Macau back then because everything was much easier. It was humble. I liked the old times because of it all being so humble. But I do like what has happened too because all of the big brands have come here now – there are something like seven Louis Vuitton shops! The most important change though has been regulation. Everything is black and white. It’s more mature and is part of the top level of gaming in the world.
BB: What did you think the future of slot machines was in Macau when you first started?
NG: Well even now table games are still 95% of the gaming market, but at that time I knew Wynn had been given a gaming license and Galaxy was another one so that’s when I knew the Las Vegas style was heading to Macau. There were only 2,000 slot machines back then so I’ve seen the growth. And if all the properties were filled, Macau could hold 50,000 machines. Right now we only have 18,000 so I think the opportunity is there and I believed back then that it would grow continuously which is why I started the business.
BB: What do you enjoy most about your job?
HN: If I can sell the games and those games are popular – if the operator says, “Herman this is good” – then I am happy. This is the most enjoyable part and it all happens very fast because when you launch a new game on the floor you will see the reaction immediately. You don’t have to wait to find out if people like it, you can see if the players are happy or not and if the operator is happy or not. That cannot be faked.
BB: What does a typical day at work entail for you?
HN: A typical day involves seeing customers and doing all my emails! There are lots of emails because the company is growing. Especially these past two years with the IPO process, we had to go backwards in order to do all the due process and corrections. A typical day for me is all about gaming. I have to walk around the casinos to see their live operations, otherwise I have no topic to talk to the operators about because I don’t have the numbers they have! I’m the third party. They can tell me the numbers whereas I cannot, but I can feel it when I go to the casino and feel the live environment.
BB: APE listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange last year. How has that impacted you and the business in the months since?
HN: It was a great moment. I couldn’t believe that I really passed the Hong Kong Stock Exchange approvals! Getting to that point was quite a difficult job but everything was on time. In a way I can say it was lucky in that everything was fate that it was all on time and perfect.
BB: What other markets is APE looking at now?
HN: Southeast Asia. Any market in Southeast Asia, I will go for that. Now I’m looking at the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, and India is another market that is going to grow. Some other countries are trying to open their gaming markets too like Japan. A lot of countries, when they look at Macau, they want to open areas for gaming too. I believe that in another 20 to 40 years, this story will have developed a lot.
BB: What do you do to relax and get away from the stresses of work?
HN: Well to tell you the truth I play slot machines! I go around and play other games. At the end of the day they are still games, so I can relax. While I’m playing, I play as a customer. I really want to win money and I really want to enjoy it. Then after that I know how I can improve my games and why some other games are so popular. It lets me come up with some ideas to give to the manufacturers about how to make the games better. Other than that I just spend time with my family.
BB: What is your favorite thing about Macau?
HN: It’s small so everything is close – friends, family, business – everything is fast. It can be difficult to make appointments with me because I travel a lot but usually when I’m in Macau, if you call me I will be there.