As the industry prepares to emerge from lockdown Nick Harding has launched Spray Lakes, a knowledge hub that connects personally vetted experts with business owners seeking additional resource, insight and support.
Casino Review: The most obvious starting point is the name – where does Spray Lakes come from and what was your inspiration for the venture?
Nick Harding: The Spray Lakes are in Alberta and are consistently wild and beautiful, winter or summer. A bit like our Consultants! I might add that we are creating a large ‘pool’ of knowledge…a group of seriously bright people with a great deal of experience. I am keen that whilst I may be the prime mover behind this initiative, it is actually about putting together a group of experts in the European Gaming Sector, all working as individual Consultants in their own right but the strength of Spray Lakes will be in our ability to ultimately provide the right person for any project, in any country. The Spray Lakes Consultancy is designed to be a Hub and should be the ‘go to’ place for anyone looking for specialist support.
How does it work – is it a conventional recruitment site or have you put a spin on it?
Nick Harding: This is by no means a conventional recruitment site. Throughout my career I have often been asked if I can recommend experts in almost every field of gaming for many different projects, sometimes as a full-time hire and at other times to help with licensing, operations, compliance and so on. I have always been happy to help, I have never really been one to covet knowledge particularly when it can ultimately be sourced anyway, far better in my view to be helpful and hopefully that help will be reciprocated. Having completed my contract with the Gauselmann Group I was keen to create something that can respond to requests for that sort of resource and advice on a more formal basis. Spray Lakes does that and as we continue to grow our base of Consultants, both for the UK and in the wider European theatre it will put a wide range of expertise on your desk top or phone, speeding up the process of selecting and hiring. In addition, we can help in creating a ‘Tiger Team’ of experts who can go in to a business, analyse it, report to stakeholders on a number of levels and if necessary, pick up the reins and run that business.
The website also has a dedicated section for Service providers to the European Gaming industry where can be found links to Law firms, Accountants, Compliance providers, Security providers, Designers etc. It is all about one stop shopping for relevant expertise.
How much interest have you received and where do you see the demand coming from?
Nick Harding: This is one of the most exciting projects that I have been involved in and I am already taking calls from business owners who are looking for additional resource. We now have Consultants working on several assignments including a Private Equity proposal, Casino compliance advice, a foreign manufacturer seeking advice on entering the UK market and several licensing projects. In these early stages I have been using my own black book to reach out to people who I really rate and who I want to come on board. We already have some of the best talent in the industry signed up and I am keen to emphasise that we will only take on Consultants that I personally endorse and who are used to operating at a senior level. Anyone who is interested can contact us at email@example.com and we will set up a face-to-face or Zoom call to check their ‘bona fides’. If everyone is happy, they will be posted up on the site and they can select whichever areas of expertise they want to be listed under and in which jurisdictions they are able to work.
As far as ongoing demand is concerned I see it coming from businesses that have an immediate need post-pandemic to reassess their model, from private businesses who have a short/medium term requirement for advice and expertise, from larger businesses that want to either bolster up their own skill set to complete a given project (or possibly to commission a third party report on their own strategy) or from institutional investors who have either made an investment or who wish to invest in the sector and want some additional help and advice with those projects.
What are the dangers facing organisations that have reduced headcount as a result of the pandemic?
Nick Harding: Easy answer, when things get tough and revenues are either under pressure (or nonexistent) large and small businesses strip out knowledge and expertise from the tip of the spear. From the coalface where the money is made. So somehow you have got to replace that knowledge without upsetting the headcount and still controlling your costs. That is where the help and advice from a third-party expert, for maybe only two or three days a month, can be so cost effective. A Consultant who has had first-hand experience of operating in the sector can also be very objective and may offer opinions to the Stakeholders that an employee might not feel able to do.
Of the people who have signed-up what’s a typical profile?
Nick Harding: Typically, an industry expert who (for whatever reason) wants to leave full time corporate life behind and to become more ‘portfolio’ in their approach. An innovative thinker who wants the ability to manage their personal time more creatively whilst still working in the industry. I have been involved in another (pro bono) Mentoring service called ‘The Sounding Board’ and have found the opportunity to mentor business owners and managers in a wide range of businesses both fascinating and invigorating. I think many of our Consultants will find the same.
Where and how do you see Spray Lakes developing – what are your ambitions for the venture?
Nick Harding: Realistically this may initially be a slow burn but I hope we can develop a reputation for being the go-to resource in Europe for anyone looking for quality third party help and advice on issues that span all industry sectors and a number of different jurisdictions. I would like to continue to develop the idea professionally and to create a firm base that will serve the industry for years to come.
You’ve been a one industry man and served as National President of Bacta as well as establishing the Gambling Business Group – with that pedigree what do you see as being the big challenges and issues facing the business currently?
Nick Harding: A good friend of mine is fond of telling me that ‘Reputations walk in pushing a wheelbarrow and leave on horseback’. I have been in the UK Betting and Gaming industry now for over forty years and have seen it claw its way into becoming an established member of the wider leisure and hospitality industry respected by players, politicians and regulators. I was part of that effort, from supporting Gamcare (when it operated from a tiny office in Westminster) to seeing John Kelly set up the first Gambling Industry Charitable Trust (which is now called GambleAware). Sadly, over the last few years I have seen that reputation dashed on the rocks by the introduction of some ill-judged products compounded by a lack of robust regulation to address some legitimate concern about those products. We now have a job to do, to get us back to where we were ten years ago. I hope that the Spray Lakes Consultancy can provide some help in achieving that.