Per Jaldung, Chairman, European Casino Association chats with Peter White
Can you provide details on the measures the ECA has taken to assist its members during Covid crisis?
Unquestionably, the Covid crisis found us all unprepared. Faced with such an unpredictable situation, no one initially knew how to deal with a precarious present and an uncertain future, with the only certainty that the crisis would harshly impact the licensed land-based casino industry. In response, we mustered the full resources of the association and its members.
The ECA began by exploiting the potential of its international reach and consolidated itself as a hub for the exchange of information and know-how. Members actively discussed the local difficulties they faced within their countries. Social media groups were created, round tables and webinars were organised. The Secretariat developed and shared a hygiene handbook with best practices based on members’ experiences.
Members exchanged helpful measures to be adopted within their casinos and discussed how to negotiate the reopening of locations with their respective governments. We also supported our members in gathering information through ad-hoc surveys and virtual networking. At the same time, we have been promoting casinos as safe places where trained staff are happy to work and deliver the best entertainment experience to guests. We used social media to inform members of the measures in place, gaining excellent media exposure at the European level.
What is the outlook for the next 18 months and how are land-based casinos reviewing their business strategies?
We are relieved to see the light at the end of the tunnel. All our members’ casinos are now operational and there are even new casinos opening. Our members are revising their business strategies and trying new approaches to offer a broader entertainment experience. The new casino in Venlo, the Netherlands, is an excellent example of this. It aims to create a casino in harmony with nature combining sustainability, technology and architecture focusing on diversifying the entertainment and F&B offer.
Our members continue to integrate digital into their business strategies. On the one side, technology will help increase efficiency, especially in procedures such as client registrations and data processing. On the other side, our industry is aware of the potential of online gambling, and many members include this offer within their product portfolio.
The live casino experience remains at the heart of our business. This social activity is our heritage and unique selling point. We are seeking to combine the digital experience with the classic casino experience, protecting the tradition and culture of the live casino, and the skills of the amazing people working to make each casino visit a memorable event.
Has it been possible to confirm yet a date and venue for the ECA Industry Forum 2022? The previous Forum was June 2019 – I guess it will have packed agenda?
We are looking forward to the next Industry Forum, one of the ECA’s most successful and distinctive events, since it has unfortunately been postponed twice. The only detail we can share at this time is the month in which it is due to be held – September 2022. The date and venue will be communicated at a later stage.
The Forum’s agenda will include the ongoing fight against illegal gambling, which is always a clear and present threat to the regulated market across Europe. The upcoming European Union anti-money-laundering developments are also drawing our attention, particularly regarding their impact on our industry and the preparations we need to make. Another crucial topic is the role of new technologies, including cashless payments and crypto assets, and their implications for our business and our guests.
The Industry Forum is a great place to discuss, at the international level, how to balance the current intense digitalisation of the industry in relation to General Data Protection Regulation requirements and the challenges this presents to our compliance teams. Additionally, there are also two significant topics we always keep on our radar: responsible gambling and sustainability. The ECA is a long-standing member of the UN Global Compact and we want to intensify our engagement in this respect.
There has been concern that many patrons are remaining with online and may remain online and not return to brick-and-mortar casinos? What can casinos do to attract patrons back?
There is no doubt that the pandemic has boosted online gambling. It is also true that many ECA members already offer their products and services online. However, we also know that the demand for land-based services is undiminished. Customers have returned to our premises, drawn to the unique casino experience we offer. Online play and land-based play are not mutally exclusive. Customers play both, and they do so to enjoy different experiences.
We are also focused upon improving the land-based customer experience through digitalisation. For example, we want to have digital and efficient registration processes, to simplify the purchase of chips, the ordering of food and drinks, payments via smartphones, and other helpful technology-driven applications. We should always aim to deliver the best service we can and meet our guests’ expectations, and we accomplish this thanks to our well-trained and qualified staff.
The UK casino industry does not appear to be a member since the industry move to the Betting & Gaming Council. Is their any discussions at present with that organisation?
Since its foundation, we have been in contact with the Betting & Gaming Council, and some of the most prominent UK casino companies are working very closely with the ECA in their capacity as ECA Observer Members. The Observer Membership was introduced by the ECA in June 2021 and is open to entities conducting business with and on the behalf of the European casino industry. For instance, we have been working with the well-renowned Hippodrome Casino since it became the first ECA Observer Member. Hippodrome Chairman Simon Thomas, has been a great help as a liaison person in the UK during the pandemic, participating in the different functions organised by the ECA. It is definitely a mutually beneficial relationship.
Image: European Dealer Championships Finals, Olympic Casinom, Tallinn 2019
How is the build up to the 2022 Dealer Championships progressing? Can you provide details for those casinos that are yet to register for the event next year?
It is with great anticipation that we look forward to the European Dealer Championship 2022. The organising committee has set to work upon what will be the highest-attended edition so far, set in a glamorous location after two years of postponement. It will be a fantastic edition that will be marked out in the competition’s history forever. We can’t wait to gather in Monte-Carlo in May 2022, where we will meet friends and colleagues from all over Europe, and see the incredible talented dealers challenging each other in this fantastic and historic venue.
Have you anything else you would like to add?
Now in its fourth consecutive year, the European Casino Association continues to promote gender diversity and education through its scholarship program. Sponsored by the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers, Clarion and the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, the ECA participates in the internationally recognised Executive Development Program, a demanding course organised by the Universities of Nevada. The ECA Scholarship Program is a crucial initiative to enable talented women working in the European casino industry to achieve their full potential and maximise their career opportunities.
Additionally, the ECA continues to support its long-standing partner Clarion, which, despite the cancellation of its outstanding events, has reinvented itself through the pandemic and provides premium content with ICE 365 and ICE CONNECT. We are actively participating in content creation thanks to the expert input of our members, who provide a unique hands-on perspective.
Finally, we look forward to ICE London 2022, an in-person event at which we can gather, reconnect, discover new products and discuss the industry’s future. Exciting times ahead!
* This interview was undertaken in August 2021 and origianlly published in Casino Life Issue 146 "