21 April 2006

Macau residency for expats

This post is about how Macau expats acquire temporary residency in Macau. It's a little out of left field compared to the usual tech and gambling posts. As igaming (ok, Internet Gambling) really picks up in Macau, hopefully some of you will find it useful.

There are two common ways to live and work in Macau. The first way is to acquire a work permit (aka, "blue card"). This process takes 3-6 months from the time you first file your work permit paperwork. You lose the right to live and work in Macau if you cease working for the employer that sponsored you. Less pleasant employers prefer this route because it gives them leverage over you. Others might just be ignorant of the temporary residency process.

Nice and well-informed employers suggest that while they start the blue card process for you, you should also go out and start your "temporary residency" process. Temporary residency is like a superset of the blue card, and allows you to continue to live and work in Macau, even if you change jobs.

Unless you're Macanese, you're not legally entitled to work in Macau unless you have one of these two permits.
The temporary residency process is managed by the "IPIM" (Macau Trade and Invesetment Promotion Institute) Office. They are located in the red and silver World Trade Center building on Avendia da Amizade. While there are 4 reasons you can request temporary residency, the one I'm going to write about is "Management staff and professional technicians" (if you're wealthy enough to do the other 3, you wouldn't be the type reading this blog!).

The first step is to go to the office and declare your intent to seek temporary residency. When you do that you receive an appointment card for an appointment at least 6 weeks after you get the card. Having the card is good. It is a stay of execution down at immigration - they will extend your entry visa to at least a week or two after your appointment. You will also receive the paperwork you need to fill out and some guidence notes. The notes are ALMOST complete (see below for my checklist). Even better, they are all in English, and chances are the staff you met and will meet through this process speak pretty good English.

Next is your appointment where you present all the paperwork you had to gather. The important thing here is that you most likely WILL NOT have gathered everything you need, and that's ok. So long as you have most of it, you'll pass the meeting. The people that I've dealt with at the IPIM have been VERY nice, amazingly nice compared to most government officials I've dealt with (immigration official, Heathrow airport, need I say more).

Providing your appointment is successful, you receive the all important "beige paper" titled "Gabinete Juridico e de Fixacao de Residencia". This is the magic! Take this paper down to the immigration office, and you should be able to get a 4-6 month extension on your entry visa. Plenty of time to sort out whatever you need to sort out.
Now, on to the list. I originally made up the list as a summary of the paperwork they give you at the start, and I've added a few gotchas to it as well.
AgentOfKaos' Macau Temporary Residency Checklist

  1. Passport - two copies of complete passport, all pages of passport
  2. Proof of residency granted by another country (e.g., passport; yes, redundant with number 1) – two copies
  3. Departure card – one copy
  4. Non-resident worker card – one copy (original taken back by government) – only if you have a current and active card; previous ones don’t matter
  5. Birth certificate – one copy
  6. Police criminal declaration
    1. From country of origin (original)
    2. If you have had a work permit or a temporary residency permit in Macau previously, then also one from Macau
  7. One set of original fingerprints (like the ones you used to get your criminal declaration)
  8. Photos – 5 black and white or colour photos; print your name on the back of 4 of the photos
  9. Proof of marriage – one copy
  10. Employment contract – one copy; should include all of the following:
    1. employment period, remuneration, name of post
    2. “the contract will take effect from the date the temporary residency is granted to the applicant” (this is important, the employment contract must make this reference and reference to the work permit law isn’t acceptable)
    3. Main description of job and duties
    4. Proof of education certificates
    5. CV
    6. Proof of professional qualifications
    7. Certificate of commercial registration of organization employing or offering employment to the applicant
    8. If applicant currently working in said position, Individual Professional Tax receipt should be submitted
  11. Job description (must be separate from employment contract)
If your spouse is going through the process, she also has to submit 1-9 above.
A few other things to keep in mind:
  • This isn't Hawaii or Sweden - verbally expressed undying love and domestic partnerships don't fly here - you need to be married or your partner can't participate in this process
  • For everything above that says "copy", be sure to bring the original as well - the clerk will verify each copy against the original
  • Everything can be submitted in English
  • When I applied I was told it would take... 9 months... to process (in other words, get the blue card to gain the right to work in Macau, don't wait for your temporary residency!)
  • If you get your blue card, when you receive your temporary residency you will need to forfeit your blue card in exchange for the temporary residency
  • If you do happen to be working in Macau, without a blue card or temporary residency, DON'T MENTION IT! IT'S ILLEGAL! YOU WILL BE IN DEEP DOO DOO! (In all seriousness, they are plenty of examples of illegal workers being arrested at labor raids at offices and construction sites big and small. Don't mess with it. Fines. Jail. Bad. Your employer may be able to arrange a 45 day consultancy agreement with you to alleviate this. Make sure your employer is paying consultant level taxes to the Macau government if you do arrange this. This is safe and legal.)
  • Conversely, it does seem to be ok to mention that you are currently living in Macau
Ok, I hope that helps some expat out there, in whatever industry they're in, to make their Macau experience just a little better.

15 April 2006

About the author

It's probably worthwhile briefly mentioning my background so the readers of this blog might develop some belief that there is some credibility to what they're reading.
I've been involved in online gambling for over five years, touching all types of products and functional areas in several igaming businesses. I've worked with casinos, bingo, poker, betting exchanges, and soft games. I've had responsibility for all functional areas within a business, including P&L responsibility for several product areas. I've been involved in the US, UK, European and Asian markets.

Although familiar with all of these areas, my passion is particularly at the intersection of gambling, technology, and the Internet.
I am currently based in Asia, splitting my time between igaming consulting and new business development. If you're interested in getting involved in igaming in Asia as either an operator or investor, please don't hestitate to contact me.
-- AoK (agentofkaos AT gmail DOT com)

14 April 2006

More on Scalability - At the Application Level

A few weeks ago I posted on scalability, in particular high level systems and software scalability (please refer to this previous post if you don't understand some of the terms in this post). I want now to briefly touch on a business's ability to scale geographically and how this applies to software applications. This post therefore contains a few more areas to use as part of evaluating potential software vendors. Also, as before it is generally about internet gambling products.

One way a business can scale up is to take its products and services from one market and sell them in a different market. It is important that if this type of activity is part of the business strategy, the business's applications that make up its products and services will faciliate this expansion.
When Internet games/gambling businesses expand in this way, they tend to get caught out in three primary areas:
  • Language translation
  • Localization and usability
  • Currency
1. Language translation

For web pages and from a customer facing perspective, language should be a simple matter to change. This process is often called localization, although it should be called translation. Providing there is good separation between presentation and logic, it's typically easy to break down all the text into chunks, translate each chunk, then re-forumulate the pages.

Some languages present unique challenges such as right to left and top to bottom reading - that will be covered under Localization and usability.

This is typically more difficult for a heavy client as the text is sometimes more difficult to get at and change, and there is a heavier process for testing and distributing the resultant new heavy client. Again, providing a solid process was used to maintain text catalogs in the client, this should be fairly straightforward.
This is somewhat obvious, but on both the customer facing side AND the back office side, you should be able to effortlessly switch languages. While this isn't so important for customers, it is invaluable from a backoffice and testing side.

There are several gotchas I've encountered when discussing localization with a vendor. First, they may claim to have "localized", but all they've really done is translate the customer-visible test. Second, error messages, often generate at the applications layer, are missed by the translation effort. Third, translations haven't been done end-to-end such that the backoffice has had all text fully translated as well. All of three of these areas are required for a product to even start to be considered "localized".
Therefore, another way to measure product scalability is how quickly the product can be translated, end-to-end (customer facing to back office).
A subtlty in this area is not just what customers and employees see, but also how they enter data. For example, when a customer enters their stake for a football bet, are you ready to accept numbers both in Western Arabic form (1, 2, 3, ...) and Chinese form ( 一, 二, 三)?
Lastly, in the area translation, you may want to be able to set, easily change, and translate to/from your primary back office language. For example, to save money you may decide your Thai customer support team doesn't need to be bi-lingual. This means that all your customer facing and backoffice system must be in Thai. However, the common corporate language may be English, and all the customer service KPI results must be viewable in English and Thai.

2. Localization and usability
Localization is really much more than just translating text. It is about refactoring your product or service so that it is usable by your target market.
As a first pass on the road to localization, a business will often translate and offer one or more new languages.
The next step is to conduct usability studies to verify that your translations make contextual sense. This will often result in substantially different application UI ("User Interface", e.g., web page) layout changes, different types of help offerings, brand/color changes, and changed emphasize of product features.
Scalability in this area primarily means that the products UI allows for quick and simple changes to how information is presented to your customers and staff. Are the web pages made up of components that can be shuffled about easily? Do the web pages allow for global style changes to be made?
3. Currency
There are many aspects of handling financial accounts in gambling systems. Limiting this post to scalability, a financial system is scalable if it provides the following major features:
  • Does the system support any number of different currencies?
  • Can a customer select their working currency of choice, that is, the currency used to display all monetary figures to that customer?
  • Can each discrete customer have multiple financial accounts (e.g., a credit card in USD, a bank account in GBP, and a Neteller account in EUR) each in multiple different currencies?
  • Can the system accept and calculate against any number of currency conversion values on a frequent (at least daily) basis?
  • Can the system have any number of financial accounts to represent internal operations
  • Can the system easily switch between any number of currencies for back office reporting?
On the last point, a business will typically select its internal operating currency on a corporate level and work to it. However, for ad-hoc reporting, it is quite convenient to be able to easily switch between currencies for reporting.
The above areas are three more points you can use when evaluating gambling platform software vendors, at least if you're interested in adding a second language or currency.

06 April 2006

World Poker/Betting Exchange (WSEX) Poker offers 100% rake refund

Sometimes you come across something that is so blatantly silly, you just have to highlight it.

WSEX (World Sports Exchange) has announced that their internet poker room has gone rake free.
Now as far as I know, most businesses and especially most gambling businesses are not generally run as non-profits. In fact, not charging customers a rake for a poker room means that a significant loss will be incurred by the business for poker room operating expenses. Whenever a business (especially a gambling business) makes such an altruistic statement, you can pretty much assume you're being mislead.

There are maybe five possibilities here:
  • They really are a lovable bunch of guys running a business they love for a bunch of customers they love, or
  • WSEX's sports betting overrounds are so big that they have (their customer's) money to throw at a zero rake model in "we do it because we love our customers" activities, or
  • Although WorldPx appears to use proprietary software, perhaps they have found a loophole in their poker software supplier's contract that means if they don't earn any poker revenue, no revenue share goes to the supplier, and they're using zero revenue to pressurize a better deal from the software supplier, or
  • WSEX poker room is doing poorly and they plan to use zero rake as an marketing loss lead to attract customers to save face, OR
  • WSEX poker room is doing poorly and they are using a zero rake model long enough to get to a critical mass customer base and will then re-activate commission
If WSEX was serious about a forever zero rake for their loyal customers, they would:
  • They would only offer zero rake to their long time loyal customers
  • Not heavily advertise the fact they offer zero rake in order to attract new customers
  • They would put a "you get zero rake forever" clause in the T&Cs of the game
  • Not collect the rake in the first place and then redistribute it back to their customers on a weekly basis
Promotional activities are an important part of business. Is this promotion just another thinly veiled and misleading attempt to gain customers? Is it an ego play to address a failing product in any way possible? Or perhaps its a clever publicity play a la Golden Palace. One option I'd guess its not is truth in advertising.