In the land-based industry, one has to grasp a unique understanding of the people who gamble and what their requirements are
This article is taken from the 14th edition of SiGMA Magazine which is now available online here.
JJ Woods, Director of Atlantic Casino Consultants, has been immersed in the land-based industry for over 35 years. In this interview, he joins Maria Debrincat to discuss the trends disrupting the brick and mortar industry and what's in store for the future.
When and where did you start your career in the gaming industry?
After a few years working in banking in London, I started my casino career in the early ’80s and it was a marvelous place to begin, as at that time the UK had a formidable reputation for its gaming legislation and the expertise in managing casinos in general worldwide.
I found this quite useful in later years as countries abroad wanted people who were experienced in the UK casino industry to assist them to set up casinos in their countries.
What was the transition from banking to casino life like?
The personalities I worked with within the casino industry were completely different from that of banking, and central London had a lot to offer when it comes to nightlife. It was such an exciting environment. The biggest change is that you are mostly sleeping during the day and working nights and this takes some getting used to.
Tell us more about the time you were setting up casinos in Moscow in the 90s. How risky was that?
This was just after Gorbachev and yes, Moscow was wild and dangerous with various groups trying to seize control of small and large businesses. To put it into perspective, there were bombs going off regularly, with an average of one bank owner or manager being shot per month.
All of this lead up to the White House Siege which almost positioned Russia on the brink of civil war. Too many stories to tell, but safe to say it was an extraordinary experience.
Compared to the old days, do you feel land-based casinos have lost their charm and magic?
Charm and magic, I could not think of a better way to describe it because that was always the experience we sold. Whilst casino staff came from diversified backgrounds, one thing we were all brilliant at was manners and courtesy towards the customers.
Right or wrong, casinos attracted attractive people so regardless if you were a waitress, working in reception, or as a dealer you had something to offer, be it personality or just an attractive way of carrying out your duties. And hand on heart that is not what is happening today.
Casinos are not the big draw or curiosity that they once were, as I have said time and time before: It is not just the décor and the gambling tables that make a casino great, but the personality of the people who work there. Several times, major corporates forget this principle but this might be the last chance for survival for land-based operations.
Why are so many land-based casinos reluctant to move online?
I guess one of the reasons is fear of failure. We must remember when land-based owners over the years were setting out to make their casinos great, online companies were doing the same thing with their offerings.
There is a significant head start achieved here which would cost a serious amount of money to reduce this advantage and the majority of the cost would have to be spent on marketing. A small part of the reluctance to go online is simply policy: Why has Primark’s clothing company never stepped into the online arena?
You said you have a daughter born in 1986 making her a millennial. Do you think with the Millenials the great times of land-based casinos have ended?
I do not think they ever really saw casinos at their best because, in the UK, the market was certainly in decline in the 90’s and with the regulation of the industry in 2005, the whole gaming industry became very complicated from a customer’s perspective. It is all about the mood and the atmosphere, and if you lose that you lose everything.
Do you think Europe is ready to host its own integrated resort?
Yes, this could be the road to survival for the land-based casino model. We must remember that throughout the ’70s, '80s & '90s, golf clubs, hotels, and nightclubs came to the casino operators begging for a casino to be installed at their property.
Today this has changed and casino operators are now begging the hotels and resorts to install a casino on these premises to be part of this existing successful business. This is how much the dynamic has changed. You see, we were the attraction and main show back then, but not today.
What are your predictions for the future of the gaming sector?
It’s time to roll out “boutique-style casinos” which are rather special with more attention on customer service and comfort. Large casinos with more than 40 tables will struggle for some time as people do not want to enter a crowded arena for the foreseeable future.
Online gaming has already reached record highs and will continue to do so, but it will come at a cost to the vulnerable and problem gamblers, which in turn will lead to new laws and ever-increasing compliance both from governments in general and the respective Anti-Money laundering units. FOBTS (Fixed-odds betting terminals) especially in the UK, were allowed for many years but eventually got restricted because of their addictive nature. Regardless of how big the company or corporate is, nothing lasts forever.
Have you been to our SiGMA expo before and what do you think about the introduction of the land-based sector to SiGMA?
I was looking forward to visiting the show prior to the pandemic so I am looking forward to the next event in a happier time. It’s very encouraging that SiGMA is now covering the land-based sector with such enthusiasm. So many others have taken their eyes off this market, which is where gaming all started. You would not have online gaming today if it wasn’t for the original land-based casinos.
SiGMA Americas Virtual:
The SiGMA Americas Virtual show will run from the 13th to the 14th of September, 2021. Features include a fully interactive expo floor, networking chat rooms, and a high-profile lineup of panelists. Beautifully designed booths come equipped with state-o-the-art product displays and chatbox features, while attendees can visit the virtual stage, where a series of panels and keynotes will discuss key topics during the live 2-day conference.
Explore the agenda or check out who's on the floor plan.