Words by John Bamidele, founder of gbc.ng, a leading digital news portal on gaming in Africa. Well versed and experienced in Africa gaming, John has been a journalist for two decades working in Print and electronic media, writing on Sport, Marketing, Marketing Communication, Tourism and Politics
Watching Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent interview Dr. Albert Bourla Chairman and CEO Pfizer discuss the new vaccine for coronavirus brought joy to my heart. Pfizer and partner BioNTech have revealed that the vaccine is 90 percent effective exceeding expectations with results likely to be met with cautious excitement. According to Pfizer, the reason for the efficacy an early analysis of the results showed that individuals who received two injections of the vaccine three weeks apart experienced more than 90 percent few cases of symptomatic COVID-19 than those who received a placebo. A month ago, l received an invitation to be a speaker at SiGMA Europe, the world’s biggest gaming event in Malta next February but with a proviso, l either possess a foreign passport or a Shengen visa.
Unfortunately, l only possess a Nigerian International Passport which l use when travelling out of the country but do not have a valid Shengen visa. The organizers of the event could not issue a letter of invitation because of travel restrictions occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic. Stakeholders in the gaming industry and the industry as a whole have gone through a lot since the outbreak of the pandemic and the second wave in Europe, America and the rest of the world, and this might worsen the already fragile situation of the industry. Keith Marshall, Chief Philanthropy Officer of the SiGMA Foundation in our discussion to involve the foundation in a safe gambling idea in Africa spoke of the need to have a vaccine before we even go ahead with the discussion. The idea though lofty, could best be described as a “super spreader” and might even include Keith Marshall and his team travelling down to Africa. So, safety first. “It’s an extraordinary good news and a remarkable breathe of fresh air” enthused Dr Anthony Fauci, leading infectious disease expert in United States.
The Pfizer vaccine which is the first acknowledged vaccine for COVID-19 requires that it should be stored cold at 75 degree centigrade and the pharmaceutical firm plans to distribute 1.3 billion doses latest by next year. United States of America has ordered that all citizens should not pay to receive the vaccine meaning, it’s free for all US citizens. The global gambling market has been hard hit by the virus when the first global lockdown was announced as early as March this year. Aside from ICE London which took place in February this year, all other gaming events are either cancelled or postponed to a later date. Gaming event companies resorted to organizing digital events across the world but digital events cannot replace physical gaming events. Gaming event companies had to downsize to be able to cope with staff salaries and emoluments. Therefore, the news that a vaccine has been found for the virus is a welcome development to them and would afford them plan for next year.
The sport betting industry was greatly affected too, due to the cancellation of physical sporting events worldwide. All major football leagues in Europe, major football competitions like the UEFA Champions league, Europe Cup, European Nations Cup, Copa America, Africa Cup of Nations, NBA in America etc were put on hold and when it was restarted, fans were not allowed into the stadium leading to colossal loss of match day revenue for sport clubs. In South Africa, Absa the South African Premier League sponsor pulled out of its sponsorship of the league with a year left. Football clubs all over the world are in financial dire strait and clubs in United Kingdom have collectively lost over 100 million pounds on match day gate takings. The second wave experienced in Europe right now have further contributed to the loss because countries like France, Italy and Ireland have all gone on one month lockdown, although their football leagues are still on, betting shops are to remain under lock and key. In the United States where NBA, America football (Rugby), cricket, soccer and WWE wrestling hold sway, the discovery of the vaccine is considered a game changer. In the US, close to 240,000 deaths have been recorded and virtually all the states have recorded a spike in the spread of the virus.
The return of fans to the stadia of various sporting events is desperately needed to preserve the sport clubs on one hand and the television rights of various sports which runs into billions of dollars need to be maintained because it’s a great revenue generation for the clubs. Organizers of the Olympics which would have taken place in Tokyo, Japan and had to be shifted till next year summer will heave a sigh of relief. The International Olympic Committee (IOC), organizers of the event were contemplating an outright cancellation of the event at a point when it seems it might be difficult to curtail the spread of the virus.
In Africa, where football is king, the sport betting industry which relies heavily on major football leagues in Europe and sporting activities in other parts of the world will be saved an imminent collapse. When other countries in other climes gave incentives to the gaming market in their regions, no government in Africa did that and a lot of jobs were lost in that regard. Although major football leagues in Africa is not on television, bookmakers hardly include our leagues on their platform majorly because of integrity. Despite the fact that football is the leading sport in sub-saharan Africa, the round leather game is poorly sponsored and lack good and standard facilities. Therefore, the reliance on foreign football leagues, competitions and other sporting events.
In Europe, America, Latin America, Asia and Africa, the discovery of the vaccine is a good news for land-based casino owners and workers alike. Land-based gaming venues and betting shops and casinos have closed in Latvia, Lithuania, Greece, Germany, Italy, England and France as governments announced further lockdown measures in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Lithuanian gambling revenue fell by 15.9 percent to 43 million euros in the first half of 2020. The Lithuanian government has announced a lockdown which started from 7 November until 29 November, banning all land-based venues from operating. The Latvian government has declared a state of emergency in relation to the pandemic from 9 November to 6 December. In Greece, a 3- week suspension of land-based gaming was announced by government as part of national lockdown from 7 November up to 30 November. Netherlands and Belgium have also announced lockdown in November but England have been worst hit by the second wave and Prime Minister Boris Johnson have announced a month long lockdown. This measures will definitely affect land-based casinos and betting shops in the United Kingdom.
Recently, the Macao Gaming Enterprises Staff Association reveal 60 percent of casino workers were forced to take unpaid leave during the pandemic. This figure was obtained in a poll conducted by the association among 611 employees at casino venues. The survey further reveal that 80 percent of gaming workers are worried about the future of their jobs, however the main concern relates to possible dismissals and the extension of unpaid leave. Macao’s unemployment rate has increased due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic with the general unemployment rate reaching 2.9 percent and 4.1 percent respectively. Those with more than 10 years in the industry feel most insecure. Wynn Palace, a big casino operator in Macao brought in only $15.7 million down by 97.4 percent year-on-year as the Macao market struggled due to travel restriction. In all, the Wynn Macao property brought in just $51.4 million, down 89.2 percent. Macao a small open economy dependent on tourism and gambling is part of the People’s Republic of China and had had the status of Special Administrative Region since 1999. The economic consequence to the casino industry which supplies 85 percent of the government’s total tax revenue have been dramatic.
There might be light of the end of the tunnel for the gambling industry which has suffered a gargantuan financial loss due to the effect of COVID-19. The Pfizer vaccine will help the gambling ecosystem plan for next year and beyond. Gambling events will slowly return as most of the events have been shifted from their traditional dates, fans would be allowed back into the stadiums and major sporting and global competitions will come alive again. Macao, the biggest gambling city in the world which rely on land-based casino for its revenue will once again return to its old self. For sure, it will take time for the gambling industry to bounce back, however the vaccine has given the industry a ray of hope.
About SiGMA Europe:
SiGMA Europe will take place on February 16-18, 2021. Europe remains a leading market for gaming, making this the perfect opening gaming show for 2021. Join us for the 7th edition of SiGMA at the MFCC – Malta Fairs & Conventions Centre, and explore how you can benefit from being a delegate, a sponsor, an exhibitor or a keynote speaker.