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SCMP: Macau casinos insider on fleeing the Ayatollah’s Iran, finding love and ...

By: Ed Peters
South China Morning Post 5 May 2023

Alidad Tash only sees films at a cinema, has a database of every one he has seen since 1990, with whom, and a rating – and a log of his kids’ movie watching

I was born into a prosperous upper-middle-class family in Tehran, the capital of Iran, in November 1965. My mother ran a girls’ primary school and my father was an agricultural engineer and entrepreneur.

I had what can only be described as an idyllic childhood. Every summer we would spend a couple of months at my grandmother’s house, and sleep on her roof looking up at the stars.

In those days Iran was ruled by the shah and there were none of the religious restrictions that are enforced now. Women wore bikinis and miniskirts, and people could patronise casinos and bars.

Short notice

Everything changed in 1979, after the shah fled to the United States and was replaced by a religious hardliner, Ayatollah Khomeini. Life got tougher for people like us, who were associated with the old regime, as the laws became more strict, and many people started looking to leave.

That summer, my parents told me that they thought my elite school, which had been set up by Queen Farah Diba, the shah’s wife, might be closed down and said I had 24 hours to decide if I wanted to stay in Iran or go to boarding school in the US.

Alidad Tash aged 14 on his first day at the Athenian School in California in September 1979 after abruptly leaving Iran. He would not see his familiy again for 11 years.

My cousin had already gone there, so the idea wasn’t scary for me. I told them I didn’t need time to think: I wanted to go. Looking back, it was a huge step that was to change my life completely.

A family divided

I started at the Athenian School in San Francisco that September. I was not quite 14, spoke very little English and had only been to Europe before, so the US was like another planet.

Alidad Tash’s parents at their wedding in August 1964.

My dad had planned to sell up and move to the US with my mother and my kid sister, Nazanin, in a few months’ time – but then militants stormed the American embassy in Tehran and war broke out with Iraq in 1980. We didn’t all meet up again for 11 years. Relatives or friends of my dad’s looked after me during the vacations.

Safety in numbers

Living in a dorm with American and international kids, I picked up English fairly quickly. It also helped me learn to look after myself, and boosted my self-confidence.

I was lucky to have very good mathematical skills so I did well in school, but at the same time could run a bit wild as I got older – partying with friends, creating fake IDs, riding fast motorcycles and drinking more than I should have. Naturally, my parents didn’t ever find out about this. I spent most of the 1980s at various universities in California, studying robotics, engineering, statistics – always something to do with numbers. I loved the precision: two plus two is always four, whereas if you’re writing about English or literature or history the answer is going to be subjective.

Taking a gamble

After university, I worked for a couple of banks, one of which was in Las Vegas. I went back to Iran for a while, but couldn’t settle down there. I had no intention of getting into the casino industry, but a recruiter called with the offer of a job as director of strategic marketing at The Venetian in Las Vegas, which I took.

I didn’t realise it then, but it marked the second big watershed in my life. One day, after I had been in the job for a while, my boss asked me how many people from Macau we had in the database. I asked my team but they hadn’t heard of Macau, so we looked it up and found one in Brazil and the other in China. The answer was 10 for the latter, zero for the former. Little did we know, but our company was bidding for one of the new gaming licences following the liberalisation of the industry in Macau. In 2005, I was told to get on a plane and fly to Macau and help our sister company, Sands, which had opened a year earlier.

Moving on up

I wasn’t keen on the humidity at first, but I was lucky to land in Macau just as it was transforming itself into a major gaming hub.

Alidad Tash with colleagues at The Venetian Macau in 2010.

From the Sands casino, which had been so successful it paid for itself in eight months, I moved to The Venetian, where I popularised no-commission baccarat, which usually makes around 35 per cent more money than the traditional game. I shifted to Melco in 2010, helping it to become the city’s premium destination.

I’d built up a solid reputation by then, so, in 2017, I set up my own company, 2NT8, helping clients in Vietnam, Japan and Korea as well as Macau understand the intricacies of casinos and integrated resorts, data visualisation and marketing and management.

Constructive criticism

Macau’s gaming industry is in flux, with the junket trade having been pared back and mainland Chinese high rollers, who would stake US$250,000 a hand in times gone by, discouraged by currency restrictions. As Macau transitions, we are going to see fewer “whales” and more smaller “fishes” as the government tries to make the city more of an all-round tourist destination rather than a gambling hub.

Other destinations, and I’m thinking of Japan in particular, are going to build newer and smarter casinos. And if Macau wants to attract more visitors from abroad, it needs to sort out its infrastructure and hire more English speakers. I criticise Macau – but I’m a loving critic.

The big bucks

I’ve done well out of the casino industry, but I’ve also branched out a little. Back in the 1990s a friend and I took out a patent on an automatic needle guard, which we’d invented – a world first that prevents anyone getting accidentally pricked after a syringe has been used.

We got the idea from a ballpoint pen that you can click on and off. I went to a store and bought 10 pens and took them apart to see how they worked. It’s the one time in my entire life that I’ve actually used my engineering knowledge. You never get rich off a salary – you only make the big bucks through something like stock options, or a crazy investment.

Screen buff

I read a lot of books, maybe 50 a year, but I find one of the best ways to de-stress is watching a movie, though my fondness for numbers does make its presence felt. I have added every movie I have seen since 1990 to a database, including when I saw it and who I saw it with, together with an overall rating.

I always watch at the cinema – not DVDs. One month I saw 41 movies in 31 days. I try to see a movie in every city I go to, so you could say my life actually revolves around movies. My all-time favourite is The Best of Youth (2003), a six-hour Italian biopic about the life and times of two brothers, directed by Marco Tullio Giordana.

So, do I have something wrong with me? No. I think the rest of the world has something wrong with me. Do I like movies? No. I love movies.

Alidad Tash and his wife, Sally.

True love

I’ve not only found my true métier in Macau, I’ve also found true love. I met Sally, who is from Hong Kong, in 2012, and we married the following year, so 2023 marks our 10th anniversary. We have two children, Kayvon, seven, and Layla, who is nine. I’ve made Excel sheets for the movies they’ve watched, too.

Our family includes three cats – Charlie, Heidi and, the most recent arrival, Yogi. I’ve always been a cat person, and during the pandemic, when the kids were trapped inside with nothing to do, we thought, “Let’s give them something.” They truly love them.

I devote as much time as I can to my kids, perhaps because my dad and I were separated for so long.

Alidad Tash, his wife, Sally, daughter, Layla, and son, Kayvon. Tash is the managing director of 2NT8, a consultancy specialiing in international casinos and integrated resorts.

Wild and sexy

A couple of years back I taught casino marketing at the University of Macau, and they’ve asked me to come back – but although I love to teach, it’s a lot of work. I’m concentrating on co-writing a book about the golden age of Macau, which ran from the early 2000s until we got hit by Covid.

Those were the rainbow years, when anything was possible and Macau just boomed, so as well as outlining the historical side it will be packed with insider anecdotes. Casinos are interesting and wild and sexy, so it’s going to be a fantastic read – it’ll be out in time for this Christmas.


Anchor 1 Fiction
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