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The HiT Group

                                                      The HiT Group

Dimitrij Piciga MSc President of the Management Board Hit Company Interview with Peter White Publisher Casino Life

During the 29 years since the organisation was founded the Hit Group has amassed a great deal of experience and success in providing top quality leisure entertainment to the people of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, along with their neighbours such as Italy and as well as tourists from all over Europe and world. With the 30th anniversary barely a year ago,  Casino Life recently met up with the new President of the Management Board of the Hit Company Dimitrij Piciga to hear his thoughts and opinions & plans for the organisation in the years ahead.

If we look back to the period over 29 years ago, what was the business of the Hit company like at the beginning and how many casinos and gaming venues along with hotels and restaurants is the Hit Group operating now?

The very beginning of what represents and consists of the Hit Group today goes back to the beginning of the eighties, while the moment marking the form, content and mission of the Hit Company  took place the first casino in Nova Gorica was opened, more precisely on 22 December 1984 in the then Park Hotel, i.e. the present Park Gaming and Entertainment Centre. In that period Casinò Roulette (that is how the casino was called), offered to the guests entertainment while gambling on one gaming table (boule) and thirty slot machines.  Today the Hit Group consists of the Hit parent company as well as several subsidiaries, together managing seven gaming-entertainment centres, a casino, two gaming halls, two integrated tourist resorts, six hotels and more than twenty restaurants and bars. A really enviable offer, isn’t it?

This year one of Europe’s most popular casinos venues that accommodates 946 state-of-the-art slot machines and 87 gaming tables the Perla Nova Gorica, recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.

By opening the Perla Gaming and Entertainment Centre in 1993, following the model of the American Las Vegas, the Hit Company realized its idea to offer their guests various, attractive form of entertainment different from the offer in the existing European casinos. Thus, Perla became the first integrated gaming-entertainment centre in Europe, where games of chance are inseparably  connected  with other possibilities of spending free time – from entertainment, concerts, social evenings with dance, enogastronomic events, thematic evenings, to relaxation in the wellness and spa centre,  getting to know cultural and natural specialities in the Perla’s surrounding and finally, opportunities for different sport activities. Altogether 14.5 million registered visits of the casino since its opening prove that Perla truly won hearts of the guests, mostly Italians, but also from all over the world.  Many of them would know neither Nova Gorica nor Slovenia, if there wasn’t Perla. And we are especially proud of that.  

What gaming systems and equipment installed over recent years, as well as any other additional services and offer in the gaming and entertainment centres have made the biggest significant difference?

There are several changes that I have noticed myself as well as our guests over the recent years.  For example, the players have fast get used to the changed game method brought by the change of gaming tokens on the slot machines with gaming tickets. The game on slot machines, offer of which is regularly updated with new developments, has become faster, yet ,at the same time, more controlled.  The anti-smoking law has also influenced a lot the operation of Hit casinos in Slovenia, however, we’ve been able to adjust and offer to the guests a possibility to smoke and play at the same time in the so-called Open Air Casino. Daily habits of guests have also contributed to the transformation of the games offer (Texas Hold'em Poker, Hit Draw Poker, Punto banco …)  as well as other services within centres -  for example, Perla may boast one of the most state-of-the-art wellness centre in its wider surrounding. We also try to provide to the guests a multi-day stay full of experience, not only in the comfort of Hit’s centres, but also by getting to know tourist destinations in which we operate – our tourist agencies  Hit tours and Hit tours DMC take care especially of that. And what is the most important among all: in all these years, the employees of the Hit Company have known how to deal with guests, i.e. with attention, care, working pleasantly and professionally.   

Could you provide an insight into the organisations approach to its Privilege and rewards program? 

The programme is designed on the idea of remuneration and building of satisfaction and good relations with guests of different Hit’s business units.  Thus, the Privilege Club at the same time connects the offer of our business units and enables the guests to collect the points in order to change them, according to their wish, for any of our services (night stays, catering services, visits of concerts and entertainment programmes, services in the wellness centre … ) in Hit’s business units they know well. We also prepare special benefits and promotions for them bringing numerous positive responses.

Do you operate tournaments and prize games at the Hit Group gaming facilities?

Tournaments and prize games are traditional additional contents not only variegating the atmosphere in casinos but also stimulating the guests to visits, since they bring an additional challenge while gambling.  Tournaments on the slot machines as well as on the gaming tables, especially in the ‘privée’, are regularly on the calendar of events in Hit’s casinos. In the recent years, especially due to a big media attention and high prizes, poker tournaments have represented a big boom. By opening one of the biggest poker rooms in Europe we’ve attracted numerous new players to come to Perla, who otherwise like to return to Perla due to a good organization of tournaments and the centre rich offer. 

Is the conference centre an area of development in attracting corporate events and as well as providing a very amenable location for Corporations AGM’s?

The conference offer in Nova Gorica is extremely various and absolutely flexible regarding the needs and wishes of guests in organization of events for business or any other purposes. We also use the conference premises for important business opportunities, press conferences, organization of evenings at special opportunities, in the company of the best guests ... Thanks to the conference offer of the Perla centre, Nova Gorica has often welcomed important events and guests, also from the world of actors. Let us remind that last year, when, in cooperation with the European Casino Association (ECA), we organized their Annual General Assembly, a special challenge from professional, logistical and content point of view, which will be remembered by the participants, as well numerous others before and after them, at the possibilities that Nova Gorica and its surrounding offers as a tourist destination.     

Entertainment is also a big factor with the Group’s Casinos, what are the facilities for staging concerts and do you provide a busy schedule of different entertainment and entertainers or do you have a number of regular resident singers and bands?

Right on the 20th anniversary of Perla we altogether look at the wide range of events, performers, singers, dance groups, animators...who performed on the Perla’s stage: more than 10,000 musicians, music and dance groups, cabaret singers, animators and ice dancers. Among Perla’s guests we can find world famous stars, well-known voices and faces of Italian music … also in other centres (Park, Korona, Mond, Mestral …), entertainment programmes represent one of the key steps before the competition. These are of different kind, from big concerts to events when also the guests perform on the stage and discover their own talents. Many stars performed several times on the Hit’s stages and it is a special confirmation for us also the fact that they can’t wait to perform in our centres again.

Has the Casino operation ever considered franchised themed restaurant’s to complement and provide an additional mix of options to cater for your ever widening variety of patrons?

It is a fact that in Hit’s gastronomic offer there is a wide range of possibilities, from the most exclusive restaurants, where the best Hit’s chefs, sommeliers and waiters provide for unforgettable enogastronomic experience, to the restaurants where the guests can afford a fast and cheap healthy meal. The quality of services proved by our satisfied guests is still the best guarantee for a successful operation.  Looking more widely, obviously the connection with the well-known trademarks is deemed to be one of the most frequent business practices, also in tourism. We took this in consideration in one of the Hit’s destination, i.e. Kranjska Gora, when we entrusted the management of hotels to the Swiss company Sophos Hotels, which sees the opportunities for the development of this destination also in the opportunity to include our hotels in one of the world famous hotel chains.

Can you explain a little more about the Hit Group, and its development strategy to cope with the gaming relaxations that have taken place in neighbouring countries such as Italy?

The business operation, especially of the Hit Company, parent company of the Hit Group, depends in a larger extent from the primary Italian market. However, Italy is deeply affected by recession, which can be noticed also in our guests who like to return to Hit’s centres, but less often, and they pay more attention when spending money. The competition is becoming increasingly fierce, moreover, in the recent years the Italian market has become more liberated and the competitive bidders can direct the assets into marketing promotions with a more suitable fiscal policy.  The situation is anything but enviable requiring efficient answers. Our common challenge is now a successful implementation of plans of financial and organizational restructuring of the company that would provide for a successful breakthrough in a new company growth, implementation of the planned development projects and improvement of the company’s competitiveness, by taking all the planned measures and by a close cooperation of all participants.  

Can you confirm whether the Slovenian Government is considering reviewing the current gaming legislation, and in that review is an option for opening up the industry to competition, so then it follows that it would not be unsurprising to gain a bid from a major overseas operator for the buyout of the Hit Company would follow shortly after any such legislation was ratified in law.

The existing Slovenian gaming legislation is a bit obsolete and set for the golden years of Slovenian gambling that already passed. Thus, we truly need changes enabling the actors on the Slovenian gambling market to work in a more competitive business environment. With a suitable updating of the Slovenian gambling legislation, one of the key solutions for turning the company into growth, more attractive opportunities for investors and connecting with internationally renowned tourist actors are offered  – this also applies to the Hit Company.

I understand you have extensive experience in the Leisure industry that involved the Presidency of the Slovenian Tourist Board.

My career is inseparably connected with tourism since its start: business experience that I gained throughout the years working in well-known Slovenian tourist companies, challenges in Slovenia and abroad had a significant influence also on the decision on management of the Slovenian Tourist Board. Tourism is a branch of the future that has extremely changed in the recent years – no wonder, as all living habits of all us. Deciding how, where and when we will spend our free time is becoming faster and less planned … Last but not least, in this moment, Slovenia is an ideal solution for all those who would like to experience a lot of good things in an extremely short time. However, we must not forget that the guests are becoming more and more conscious what they want for their money and so we are in the Hit Company.   

What aspects of your role do you find most satisfying?

Especially new ideas and new achievements give me a great pleasure in everyday work challenges. With active and courageous decisions, achieving small and big wins in overcoming problems is therefore even more rewarding.

Have you a favourite quote or phrase?

Only the sky is the limit! There are no problems, only solutions.

Finally, when you are not at work – how do you relax?

Well-being is essential for being always active in everyday life. I go jogging regularly and I try to spend my free time, which is otherwise very limited, with my family as good as I can. I like to visit the local market and I am also inspired by visiting mountains and travelling, combined also with taking part in sport events, e.g. football games.