Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Happy FU Day as truth, lies converge

November 13, 2021

“On November 13th, Felix Unger was asked to leave his place of residence. That request came from his wife...”

Amid pandemics of Covid-19 and disinformation, truth and fiction are this year’s odd couple.

This year, Felix Unger Day arrives as we enter approach a third calendar year with the Covid-19 pandemic. So much that was once commonplace and taken for granted has become a major effort if not a distant dream. It’s a situation that seems too strange to be real. Combining this reality that’s stranger than fiction with the epidemic of falsehoods presented as facts makes truth and fiction an apt odd couple for 2021.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes,columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Global casino leaders can still rediscover Japan

October 27, 2021

Japan Fuji

Japanese authorities have made creating integrated resorts a mountainous task. Photo credit: JNTO

Hopes of creating the next big thing in Asian gaming skyrocketed as Japan began moving toward casino legalization in 2013. That enthusiasm has dissipated over these past eight years for a variety of reasons, and the smart money now bets building integrated resorts in Japan for billions of dollars won’t pay off.

I’ve been part of the negative wave that’s swept the Japan casino contest, due to culminate in the national government licensing up to three IRs next year. I’ve suggested that Japan stop the IR process to rewrite the rules and that authorities only award one IR license among the three current contenders, hoping for more attractive candidates to emerge later.

Then in late September, Caesars Entertainment, the largest US casino operator, rejoined the Japan IR race as the proposed casino operator for Wakayama prefecture’s IR bid. That’s the best news for Japan’s IR supporters in years. Caesars created the themed IR concept with Caesars Palace 55 years ago, and Harrah’s, which bought Caesars in 2004 before Eldorado Resorts bought the combined company last year, invented the modern casino customer rewards program.

Caesars’ return to Japan – it dropped out the bidding at the time of the Eldorado purchase – is a reminder that Japan remains the world’s third largest economy, and it boasted rapidly growing international visitor arrivals pre-Covid. It’s also a reminder that defying conventional wisdom about Macau remade the global casino business two decades ago. Japan could have similar impact, despite what the smart money says.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes, a columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Party over for Macau nightspot Club Cubic

October 19, 2021

Club Cubic at City of Dreams was a place to go bananas in Macau. Photo by Funky Bambi Lu

Sad to report that Macau’s Club Cubic closed permanently this month. Debuted downtown then relocated to Melco’s City of Dreams in Cotai nearly a decade ago, Club Cubic provided top shelf nightlife that remains scarce in Macau despite seemingly favorable conditions.

My account of Korean pop star Psy playing Cubic in 2012 recalls how the club and the town could step up for the right show. The article also highlights that Macau faced non-gaming entertainment challenges back then; Club Cubic’s closing underscores the lack of progress since.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Macau casinos remain best bet in Asia

October 10, 2021

When Covid restrictions ease, Asian gaming destinations will feel the impact of Chinese government policies to curtail overseas gambling, with Macau likely to suffer least.

Despite investor fears triggered by new gaming law proposals, Macau’s casino sector remains the best bet in Asian gaming. China’s policies to stop overseas gambling by its citizens are real, and their impact will unfold as Covid travel restrictions recede. Destinations will feel the effects differently based on a variety of factors, including bilateral relations with Beijing.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Bali’s Ubud Writers Festival goes hybrid

October 8, 2021

Ubud Writers and Readers Festival founder and director Janet DeNeefe, shown here in 2019, says Covid has forced the festival to be “braver” and “think outside the box.” (Photo credit: Vifick Bolang)

With travelers entering Indonesia still requiring quarantine, Bali’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival launched in hybrid form Thursday. With Covid easing in Bali, some events, running through October 17, are taking place live on the island, with some in Perth due to the difficulties traveling to and from key festival market Australia, some prerecorded and all available online and on demand, making content available globally. Festival founder and director Janet DeNeefe says the hybrid format presents new challenges after last year’s completely online event, but it doesn’t change the mission.

“We have a purpose,” DeNeefe says. “The writers and readers festival began after the first Bali bombings [of 2002]. It was an attempt to re-flower the community, to uplift the people, to boost the economy, to bring a bit of inspiration, create a platform for dialogue.

“That was how we began. And now more than ever we have to continue because this is what people need right now, some sort of event you can see. With the semi lock-down, there’s not a lot of action on the streets here. So, our job is to create the best face to face event as we can, given the situation. So we’ve become a hybrid festival.”

While it may be easier to get top writers to commit to a remote interview rather than spend hours traveling to appear in person, recruiting has become more difficult in some ways, DeNeefe says. “A good deal of the festival’s attraction is the sheer fact that it’s in Ubud, so you’re in this beautiful location with really warm, friendly, hospitable people, great food, great weather. We have so many wonderful aspects of Ubud that attract people, so suddenly when you’re online, you lose the very magic of the festival in a way.”

The 2021 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival welcomes live audiences after going completely online last year. (Photo credit: Anggara Mahendra)

A restaurant owner, chef and cookbook author before she began the literary festival – later adding a food festival – DeNeefe hopes to restore some magic by tapping into Bali’s innate creativity with an artisans market running during the festival’s two weekends. Many vendors are hospitality industry workers who’ve found new pursuits with Bali tourism largely halted for the past 18 months.

“It’s all a learning experience. Some of the aspects that we have learned about the online festival, we will take into this festival. We’re slowly morphing into a modern era,” DeNeefe says. “Of course it has its challenges, but it’s made us think outside the box and be a little bit braver perhaps as we’re venturing into a whole new territory.”

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Ex-Sands exec Weidner attacked in Japan role

September 2, 2021

Wakayama Palace stands tall in the prefecture bidding for a Japan casino license. (Photo courtesy Wakayama Prefecture Govt)

Former Las Vegas Sands president and COO William Weidner may be the most accomplished gaming executive still in the business. Weidner’s 14 years with LVS included building its Vegas Strip Venetian complex, gaining entry to Macau, developing Cotai as world’s most lucrative casino cluster, winning a license in Singapore and conceiving what’s become the world’s most admired integrated resort there. So Weidner provided instant credibility when he joined Canadian private equity investor Clairvest’s effort to win an integrated resort license in Wakayama Prefecture near Osaka.

Perhaps, then, it shouldn’t be surprising that Weidner came under attack via anonymous documents recounting legal settlements of US government charges against Las Vegas Sands during his tenure. The documents may aim to weaken Wakayama’s IR bid, but it’s equally likely they stem from a long running dispute involving Weidner’s Global Gaming Asset Management firm and Philippine billionaire Enrique Razon’s Bloomberry Resorts, or a Taiwan’s American Asian Entertainment’s US$12 billion lawsuit against LVS over termination of their Macau partnership, in which Weidner was a leading actor but is not a party to the litigation.

In any case, the attack is another ugly aspect of Japan’s casino legalization saga that has limited public support and gotten the cold shoulder from leading international casino companies and Japan’s largest cities and tourist destinations.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

India failure threatens freedom globally

August 29, 2021

The decline of democracy in India highlights challenges freedom faces around the world and how malevolent forces exploit them. To Kill a Democracy by acclaimed journalist Debasish Roy Chowdhury and renowned political scientist John Keane combines reporting from deep within the Indian polity and academic rigor to portray the issues tearing at the social fabric of the world’s largest democracy. (Full disclosure, Chowdhury and I have worked together intermittently since the mid-2000s.) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu sectarianism runs counter to democratic tenets such as equal treatment under the law, but the authors note that many of his opponents embrace similarly toxic tactics.

Subtitled “India’s passage to despotism,” the book holds that democracy extends beyond electoral processes and rights guarantees. “To the man in the street, democracy doesn’t exist, and he knows the situation isn’t right,” Chowdhury explained during the online launch of To Kill a Democracy. “He knows it in the daily struggle and choices he has to make between his budget and his family’s needs, in the frantic phone calls from his wife if their daughter is 10 minutes late coming home. This could not be the kind of life that the patriots who founded the country meant for him to be living 74 years after India’s independence.”

The authors argue that providing a decent standard of living underpins democracy, and India’s failure on this point has planted the seeds for alternatives. As in so many other fields, technology and Covid have accelerated preexisting trends. Although economic desperation is far less severe in developed countries, similar alienation drives the success of other would be despots. People feel that politics dominated by an elite no longer responds to what matters most to them. Chowdhury and Keane note the irony that those impulses are most often exploited by the rich and powerful, seeking to enhance their own positions.

It’s not a pretty picture, but it’s an important one to understand and address. For nuclear armed India, and its 1.4 billion people plus the world at large, the alternatives are terrifying.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Measuring Macau’s loudest jingling

July 27, 2021

Lawrence Ho’s Melco Group operates City of Dreams Macau and gets high marks for recent non-gaming initiatives.

Macau casinos’ second quarter results, still below 40% of pre-pandemic levels, just show whose pockets are jingling loudest. What really matters in Macau won’t be found in earnings reports, due to factors that will to outlast Covid-19.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

Las Vegas Sands, Genting avert Strip rematch

July 14, 2021

Genting Group opened Resorts World Las Vegas on the Strip in June amid a strong rebound in Sin City. (Photo courtesy of Paul Steelman.)

Las Vegas Sands and Genting looked set to extend their Singapore competition to the Vegas Strip. But three months ahead of Genting opening US$4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas in June, LVS announced a deal selling its Las Vegas resorts and convention center to focus on Asia .

This pair of casino giants, whose Singapore properties Marina Bay Sands and Resorts Wold Sentosa rank among the most lucrative integrated resorts on earth, could square off elsewhere. Asia is an obvious pick, though given the paucity of new opportunities in the region, it’s just as likely LVS and Genting could open a new chapter of their rivalry in New York or Texas.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for ICE 365, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.

In March, Las Vegas Sands announced sale of its flagship Venetian complex to focus on Asia. (Company provided photo)

Bank of Bangladesh money trail crosses Macau

June 29, 2021

The US$101 million theft from the Bank of Bangladesh account at the US Federal Reserve Bank of New York saw a majority of the funds sent the Philippines, much of it laundered via Manila gambling tables. A new BBC World Service podcast, The Lazarus Heist, looks at the theft in the broader context of North Korea hacking and other criminal activities. It’s a thoroughly compelling yarn.

Podcast producers reached out to me to help them understand the casino business in Asia. Some of my comments about Macau are featured in the ninth installment of the series, which begins in earnest around the seven minute mark, with my remarks beginning after 14:30.

I’m delighted to say that fellow CNN alumnus Mike Chinoy is also featured in the same podcast episode, sharing his insights into North Korea. During my 1991-1995 tenure in the CNN newsroom, amid the William Kennedy Smith (Blue Dot) rape trial and the OJ Simpson murder trial, Chinoy’s unflinchingly honest reporting from Beijing and North Korea – along with Christiane Amanpour’s life saving work in Bosnia – made us proud to be associated with the network.

Former US diplomat and broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen is a columnist for iGaming Business, a contributor to Forbes and Inside Asian Gaming, columnist/correspondent for Asia Times, and author of Hong Kong On Air, a novel set in his adopted hometown during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal, high finance, and cheap lingerie. See his bio, online archive and more at www.muhammadcohen.com; follow him on Facebook and Twitter @MuhammadCohen.


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