With its first casino having opened in 2001, casinos remain a relatively new enterprise in Sweden – and are the exclusive domain of the country’s state-owned corporation Svenska Spel. Chris Webster spoke to Yared Gabrentensaye, general manager of Casino Cosmopol in Malmoe, to gauge market characteristics in socially progressive, trendy Northern European kingdom.
[dropcap]C[/dropcap]hris Webster: You have over 25 years’ industry experience – can you tell us how (and where) you began your career, and how it progressed to you joining Casino Cosmopol?
Yared Gabrentensaye: I started in 1988, when I decided to move from Toronto, Ontario, to Edmonton, Alberta, to enroll as a Psychology major at the University of Alberta. It was then my older brother’s friend, a casino dealer, who suggested I get a part time job at the casino. I had never set foot in a casino prior to that, but then it was just going to be for a couple of years… so I began my carrier as a blackjack dealer. By 1992 I had acquired adequate experience in various casino games and supervisory tasks as a pit boss, and it was then I traded land-based casinos for what would turn out to be a most adventurous eight years onboard luxury cruise ships out of Florida, The Caribbean and various European ports. In December 1997 I was assigned to Cunard Line’s M/S Vistafjord to oversee the transfer of onboard casino operation from UK concessioners London Clubs to an in-house operation. On board the vessel, I met the woman I would marry six years later. In late 2000 we decided to settle down in Malmoe, Sweden where coincidently, one of Sweden’s International Casinos was to open just a year later. In July 2001, I started working at Casino Cosmopol in Sundsvall, merely a week after the property opened its doors to the public. After spending the summer in Sundsvall working as a floor manager, I returned to Malmö in September and joined the preparations to open the Malmö casino where I remain to this day. Over the last 15 years, I have served the company in various positions including, duty manager, gaming manager and since June 2014 as general manager of Casino Cosmopol Malmö.
CW: Can you tell us a little bit more about Casino Malmö specifically? What kind of gaming facilities are on site? What food/beverage/entertainment offerings are present?
YG: The casino is housed in a beautiful property dating from the turn of the last century and located in one of the city’s beautiful parks. The property offers 29 table games including 10 poker tables, a high limit area and around 250 slots. Poker tournaments are held each day of the week with a generous variation to suit everyone from beginners to advanced players. Major tournaments are held three times a year. The Malmö Autumn Poker Tournament takes place in November, The Easter Poker Week in March or April and the classic Malmö Open Poker Tournament in August. The food and beverage offering is comprised of two bars, one restaurant, a sports bar and banquet and meeting facilities – which include an open air terrace open during the summer months. Annual themed cultural festivals such as Chinese and Persian new year and our Full Moon Party are very popular. Other appreciated events include the American inspired Sunday Brunch, Salsa Royale, Afternoon Tea, International Comedy Nights as well as Senior Luncheons for our mature public.
CW: What kind of player traffic does Casino Malmö enjoy? Is casino gaming popular in Sweden? What kind of a hold do you think it has in the wider Scandinavia region?
YG: With a 15-year history, the casino industry is relatively new to Sweden. The sector is better established in both Denmark and Finland, where casino operations have been in place since the early 1990’s. The majority of our gambling guests are mass-market visitors. But the most common guest profile is that of the leisure guest, who mostly visits our property to participate in non-gaming activities on weekends and public holidays. Over the last couple of decades, the city of Malmoe has evolved from an industry town to a cultural destination. Consequently, tourism is on the rise but the casino is still mostly frequented by local residents of southern Sweden and the greater Copenhagen regions.
CW: As a rough percentage, what percentage of your player-base is Swedish, and how many are foreign visitors?
YG: Around 70 per cent of our visitors are local or regional and the rest are primarily residents of the Nordic countries, with a small percentage representing the rest of the world. Currently, the highest number of non-resident guests in Malmö are from Denmark, Norway, China, Thailand, Germany, Poland, the US and the UK in ranking order.
CW: A key difference in Casino Cosmopol’s business model (when compared to private casino firms) is that it is state-owned. In brief, how would you say this alters the day-to-day management and operation of Casino Malmo?
YG: Our goal is to provide our customers with a unique gaming experience in a safe and attractive environment and our vision is that gaming should be an enjoyment to all. In the day-to-day operation it means that we are focused on responsible gaming and guest relations. We want our guests to feel how much we care about their wellbeing and as a state owned operation, we are in position to put that theory into practice. All our employees attend an obligatory interactive course on responsible gaming. We hold informative meetings with our younger visitors and inform them of the possible risks associated with excessive gambling. Even though our bars and restaurants offer an assortment of alcoholic beverages, we have relatively low tolerance levels for consumption of alcohol in the casino.
CW: Finally, in what ways do gaming proceeds at Casino Cosmopol benefit Swedish society? Do you think gaming businesses elsewhere in the world could do more to prevent problem gambling?
YG: Casino Cosmopol is a subsidiary of Svenska Spel, a state owned gaming company. The revenue from all of Svenska Spel’s business interests goes to the state. With regards to problem gambling, I believe gaming operators and regulatory bodies can do more to insure that minors and vulnerable members of society are not exposed to gambling. Especially in the fast growing market of online gaming.