In this article Tim Cullimore reassess the current relation between land-based and online operations
Tim Cullimore is the Operations Director for London Gaming, a trusted advisor and consultant to land-based and online gaming operators for over 10 years. He specialises in restructuring, defined term operational management, compliance and procedures, AML and social responsibility coaching, as well as pan-European legislative matters. Tim has over 40 years’ experience of online and land-based gaming, where he has been an associate of the Swiss Gaming Board and the C.E.O. of the Ritz Casino, London.
As we have seen, there has been little support for the land-based during the COVID crisis, meaning that the industry had to look to itself to survive, which means land-based operators had to imagine a future vastly different from the reality we know now. The key element of preparing for a post COVID environment is the reassessment of the relationship between land-based and online, and perhaps the land-based guys need their on-line brethren to show them a way to a more innovative and dynamic business model.
Up until now we have thought that an online presence of a traditional land-based operation was primarily an extension of their core activities, but with the continued lockdown in most countries, including the closure of the majority of land-based casinos, perhaps the focus of online operations could be to perpetuate the identity of the core product. For 20 years we have had a linear flow of commerce from land-based to on-line, but interestingly this wasn’t initially instigated by the land-based industry; it has largely been the initiative of web-based entrepreneurs who have occupied the market, in the way that Elon Musk has taken the E.V. market whilst having no background in the car industry.
Over the past 10 years I have advised many online operators about the practical and emotional elements of a flesh and blood casino operation. So let’s imagine what we would see if we let a bunch of online guys loose in a bricks and mortar casino environment, what would be the dynamics of the operation for the players? Would there be a vastly different game offering, would the ancillary products such as F & B and entertainment be entirely alien, would there be any human interaction at all? Well, disappointingly I cannot give you the answers, because I am one of those guys of the old school who have been griding away for years and years in the same old way. But boy, would I love to see it, because unlike some of my esteemed colleagues I’d really like to shake things up. And what would there be to lose by giving a fresh sheet of paper to the best game designers, programmers and web architects for a day and see what they come up with.
We see this with Kindred group buying the Blankenberge casino on the coast in Belgium. Coincidentally I spent a very enjoyable winter many years ago working at the Blankenberge casino with one of the best teams of dealers and inspectors I’ve ever seen, working hard, and enjoying the down time as only you can when surrounded by Belgians.
Here we have a situation where the norm has been reversed, and where a group whose principal activity is on-line are moving into a land-based environment. It is true of course that the Belgian market is particularly suited to this type of acquisition, as to operate an online casino you have to own or be partnered with an existing physical casino, but this is by no means a unique scenario, with Switzerland having a similar legislative set-up. So it will be very interesting to see if Kindred use this opportunity to be a disrupter in the market, and if others follow suit. Kindred have great brands and have intelligently used them for promotional purposes, especially in sport, so can these brands cross over to a regular casino.
Will this be the first of many casinos being acquired by online operators as live online gaming is also becoming extremely popular? The volume of live play moving through the market leaders such as Playtech and Evolution is remarkable, and I have been privileged to see inside these operations, and not giving anything away, they blew my mind with their professionalism and innovation. I also enjoyed very much visiting the Portomaso casino in Malta where they have online gaming being fed from the live table games on the gaming floor, giving a totally different atmosphere to that which you can find being broadcast from purpose-built studios. If I was a consumer of the product, I think I would feel a sense of trust and security knowing that if I really wanted to, I could walk down to the casino where the games I am playing on-line are being operated. That kind of trust is hard to come by. As we know, playing casino games is an emotional activity above all else, and our clients are not always rational, at least not all the time.
So perhaps to find the key to future success and sustainability of our businesses we should look to re-energise and innovate by adopting the effective aspects of on-line operators within our walls, instead of trying to replicate the traditional gaming experience on-line.
For years, the pendulum has swung between seeing gaming in Casinos as only a part of a wider leisure offering of food and entertainment (remember Vegas being promoted as a family entertainment destination anyone?), then when that doesn’t show the expected success, swinging back to promoting the core product of casino games, until once again a new philosophy arrives of gaming being just like any other leisure activity (which of course we know isn’t the case). I believe we need a third way. One where real innovation is given a chance. So here’s the deal, lock me in a room with a team of young bright on-line gaming developers, programmers and architects, and I will show you some real new and exciting ideas about rejuvenating the land-based industry.
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