Casino Review spoke to Simon Thomas, CEO and chairman of the Hippodrome in London about his take on the British government’s latest review of UK gambling regulation.
International Casino Review: What is your response to the conclusions in the DCMS’ consultation on proposals for changes to Gaming Machines and Social Responsibility Measures?
Simon Thomas: Overall very disappointed. The concerns over FOBTs have overshadowed everything else and the casino industry’s proposals for modernisation and harmonisation have been delayed as a result.
We understand why the regulator and Government would like greater information on player habits which tracked play would provide; it is something that would be of interest to the industry also.
It presents some challenges over implementation and the relationship we have with our customers, which we will need to investigate.
Nonetheless, the industry will consider carefully how it can respond positively to the proposal, working closely with the Commission and others.
We will come forward in due course with proposals as part of our broader response to the Government’s consultation.
ICR: What is your view on the government’s decision not to introduce contactless payments on gaming machines – surely having contactless would make it easier to implement measures to address social responsibility concerns?
ST: I understand concerns about allowing customers to deposit funds directly from a debit card into a machine without apparent restrictions.
However, payment technologies have changed out of all recognition in the last ten years and it is now commonplace in all walks of life for transactions to be made through contactless cards.
We are moving towards a cashless society and I believe that casinos cannot exist in isolation from the trends in modern banking.
We need to keep in step with the world around us and respond to the expectations of our customers.
Casinos have materially better levels of control and player supervision. Customers see them as a destination and they are accepted as the correct place for harder gambling, and contactless payment should be acceptable in this environment.
The National Casino Forum recommended allowing customers to stake a maximum of £100 per day on B1 machines via a contactless card on condition they use a loyalty card.
This would allow operators to track play to ensure multiple payment cards are not being used, alleviating concerns over gambling-related harm.
ICR: The limit on machine numbers also remains in place, what is your perspective on this?
ST: We are very disappointed and surprised that the National Casino Forum’s proposals to introduce standardised 3:1 machine to table ratios for 1968 Act converted casinos and 2005 Act small casinos, while allowing large 2005 Act casinos a 5:1 ratio were not accepted.
We feel these are modest, sensible proposals which would level the playing field between casinos, encouraging investment and innovation.
They would remove some of the unintended consequences of the 2005 Act – it can’t be right that one casino has 20 machines while another casino a few miles down the road, which is the same size and owned by the same operator, has 80 machines. Customers simply don’t understand that.
It has been 10 years since the 2005 Act was implemented, so we have 10 years of evidence showing that in casinos where more machines have been introduced there has been no increase in instances of gambling-related harm.
But we will work constructively with the DCMS to show them that socially responsible gambling is at the core of our business.
We take our responsibilities seriously and will work with the Gambling Commission on measures to enhance protection of players on machines, as the DCMS has requested.
ICR: What are your thoughts on the fact that casinos are not allowed to give customers direct access to their online gaming sites?
ST: At present, a customer in a casino can use their smartphone to play for unlimited stakes and prizes on online sites without any intervention from a casino operator. No supervision is possible.
It seems illogical to prevent a casino customer accessing a casino’s online products via dedicated tablets in areas where a casino’s slot hosts and managers can exercise a degree of supervision.
If casinos can offer customers online access in this way they can record, track and monitor play in real time. Players would be registered and would have passed all the required checks. This seems a socially responsible approach as opposed to allowing a free-for-all.
The casino sector cannot ignore the wider trends in the industry and in society, more generally. More than a third of all gaming is now online and, if casino operators cannot facilitate an online offering, it will be increasingly difficult for them to remain competitive.