Image: Brett Anderson CEO Christchurch Casinos
Can you explain a little more about Christchurch Casino, how it has evolved from the original opening to in comparison to present day?
Christchurch Casino is New Zealand’s first Casino, opening in November 1994. In the time since the curiosity has worn off as such and it is not enough to be just a Casino, competition for the discretionary spend is high so a greater emphasis is placed on the overall guest experience rather than just the gaming. We consider ourselves to be Christchurch’s Premier Entertainment destination and feedback from guests supports this. The addition of a new hospitality venue referred to later in the interview will enhance this further.
How did the Casino cope with the earth quake?
Structurally the Casino had minimal damage, we did have the earthquake scenes of tables falling over, bar stock ending up on the floor etc., some slot machines also ended up on the floor but overall we came out of it well. Most important was that while some employees lost their homes and others had significant damage no one lost their life. Our biggest challenge was the Casino being in the cordoned off area of the City, referred to as the red zone. It is the second casino I have worked at where there has been an armoured vehicle in place restricting access to it. The other being Jericho. Once access was arranged to start the cleanup and then the cordon was decreased in size we were soon able to open, having been closed for 87 days after the February 2011 quake. The most significant ongoing impact is lack of foot traffic in our vicinity and a decrease in tourism. Christchurch no longer has a CBD; the 50,000 people that lived and/or worked there no longer do so in the vicinity of the Casino.
Are there any plans for expansion of the Casino?
New Zealand’s casinos operate in a highly regulated environment. The Gambling Act 2003 established a benchmark for gambling opportunities and this cannot be increased without a change to the law. In terms of non-gambling, we will be opening a new entertainment venue in the next few months with a capacity of 450 people located within the current Casino building having the ability to host bands, functions and the like.
How does Christchurch Casino contribute to the City’s economy?
Christchurch Casino employs 440 people which make a direct contribution. Where we can we buy local and use local services .We also have our own independent trust which has contributed over $3 million to local charities in addition to the other local charities that the Casino directly supports. Additionally we provide sponsorship to many clubs, events and teams that help make up the social fabric of Christchurch, these also drive visitation to the city. Some sponsorships are identified by the City Council as key events and we work together to make these a success, the major one being Christchurch Casino Cup Week held in November, with the World Buskers Festival in January and the Ellerslie International Flower Show in March being two other very successful events we support as well as the very successful Crusaders Rugby team of which we are proud sponsors. This far reaching support is more important now than it ever has been due to the impact of the earthquakes and, in some areas, the on-going view is that there is nothing happening in Christchurch which is far from the truth.
What is involved in your role of Chief Executive?
Setting the tone for the business and ensuring that the team have the tools and resources in place to successfully fulfil their roles. Significant amount of engagement with other entities within the City, both public and private. For many it is being the face of the Casino. There is also a significant strategic aspect to the role.
What aspects of your role do you find most satisfying?
The ability to influence and make change and the variety and challenge that the role provides me.
How closely do you work with your marketing team on gaming promotions?
Not so much the gaming promotions, that is more the Gaming Manager. We are a small property and in addition to me, the Gaming and F&B Managers also work closely with the Marketing Team in general.
Have you a favourite quote or phrase?
Not as such no. The aphorism “Carpe Diem” does come to mind but this is reflected in my actions more than my words.
A choice of restaurants is a significant factor and the Christchurch Casino clearly provides an impressive choice.
We have a great F&B Team which ensures consistent quality of service and food. With the outlets we have we are able to provide a good range of options for our guests. The Grand Café is a now a Christchurch “must do” for many and Monza, our new sports bar has been key in introducing people to Christchurch Casino that previously may not have considered visiting. To enhance this experience we make a point of showing all sport including pay per view on the multiple screens in the bar.
Do you see any chance given the success of Christchurch Casino that the operation could gain a licence for another such resort?
No, current legislation (Gambling Act 2003) has a moratorium on any new Casino licenses in New Zealand.
What percentage of the patrons to the Casino local vs tourist and business visitors?
Prior to the earthquake it was approx. 60 to 70% local and the remainder a mix of local and international tourists/business people. Since the earthquake it is now more 90% local, the city has lost the majority of its hotel rooms, the convention centre and the town hall due to the earthquakes and the CBD is no more. It will be 2017 if not later before these have been rebuilt or numbers are back up to where they were in terms of room supply. Christchurch lost 1 million room nights in the year after the February 2011 earthquakes and, while tourism figures are increasing room, capacity is limiting these.
Does the Christchurch Casino have online gaming website involved with the Casino?
Not anymore, we did previously but it was deemed as remote interactive gambling which under the 2003 Act is illegal and prohibited; this was sold to an overseas buyer in 2007.
Do table games prove more popular than the slot machines or is it similar to Australia?
It is similar to Australia with the electronic gaming machine being the preferred platform.
Does the Casino hold Slot tournaments?
We have in the past but it is been a very labour intensive and manual process. We have just installed the Bally CMS and will be looking at this feature of the system in the future.
Recent years have seen a ever increasing range of technical advances in Slots but also machines such as those termed as multiplayer’s, are there any such machines at the Christchurch Casino if so what was the thinking behind your choice of supplier?
We have a 20 station Rapid Roulette from Shuffle Master, outside of the quality of the product and it meeting our requirements the key influence is the level of service and support.
Do you have TITO / Smart cards?
No, there are some legislative issues around TITO. Smart cards have been discussed but nothing more at this stage.
What gaming systems and equipment installed over recent years in the Casino have made the biggest significant difference, and what slot machines have been the most successful or are there several in both cases?
Bally install has just been completed but it is too early to comment on that as yet. We will be making a push for the use of front money for the electronic gaming machines which will enhance anti money laundering monitoring which will be advantageous when new AML legislation comes into force on 30 June of this year in New Zealand. The earthquakes slowed things down somewhat in terms of investment but we are getting that back on track, new electronic gaming machines have been successful in particular those with recognised themes or associations with movies, TV series and the like. Rapid Roulette has also been very successful. A major project for us over the last few years has been the refurbishment of the property, getting it out of the early 90’s to where it is now.
Finally, when you are not at work – how do you relax?
Living in Christchurch, New Zealand we are spoilt for choice. Summer time it is mountain biking and training for triathlons, did the Asia Pacific 70.3 Champs in Auckland in January and at time of writing am training for the Asia Pacific Ironman Champs in Melbourne end of March. Have a Triumph Thunderbird Storm which is great for getting away on and clearing the head as well. Winter time we have a good range of ski fields within 1 to 3 hrs. drive away so make good use of those. When the opportunity allows travel is always a great option.