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Sizzling Summer

Sitting in an airport lounge waiting for a delayed flight is probably not that conducive with producing an upbeat blog but I shall rise above the vagaries of flight scheduling and the weather in Jersey and make a few notes on the state of our ‘nation’ in early August.

June was too hot, took our customers by surprise and of course they headed off to the local parks to sunbathe, not surprising really. July, in contrast was hotter but more consistent and we kept our player base happy (we have spent a lot of money over the last twelve months on upgrading air conditioning systems everywhere) and have stepped up the pace in terms of customer care which has clearly had a positive effect. All to the good, and coupled with new games coming in from Blueprint and Barcrest for both B3 machines and also category C (at £100) has given us a nice boost. Having said that, there is no doubt that the UK now comprises of not four nations (or possibly three soon!) but possibly five, London and the Southeast being the fifth with a noticeable increase in year-on-year revenue figures by comparison with the Midlands and Wales. Scotland, interestingly has also shown some strong performance figures and that is either an air of excitement at the prospect of declaring independence or our Scottish operations team picking up the pace. Maybe a combination of the two?

We now have a growing number of venues operating on a TiTo system (Ticket in, Ticket out) and I have to say that it is performing as well as I expected. Nothing new in TiTo of course, the Americans have had it for ages, but it was a significant achievement of the GBG (Gambling Business Group) in broking a deal amongst the UK manufacturing community to produce an industry wide protocol to facilitate the use of TiTo on all B3 and (new rules) category C.

Other hot topics? Firstly, we are very pleased that BACTA now has John White at the helm as CEO. He is a real asset and will have a hugely positive effect on the organisation. I am meeting John tomorrow and look forward to seeing him for the first time in many years. Secondly, we are also delighted that BACTA has now assumed a public position that calls for parity (for AGCs and Bingo Clubs) with the Bookmakers in operating (up to) four B2 gaming machines per venue. This has been met with howls of anguish from the ‘Campaign for Fairer Gambling’ who were (I am led to believe) very rude about me for some reason (I have broad shoulders) but the bottom line is that we have been operating for far too long on a playing field that slopes towards us at 45 degrees. Other pundits, and some media (including a frosty spokesman at the DCMS) also came out against BACTA saying ‘there are no plans to expand the number of premises where B2 machines can be operated’. But, the point is, if the government and the regulator feel that a reduction in stake on B2s from £100 to £50 is acceptable then why can’t we all operate these machines? If on the other hand in calling for them we have touched a nerve and the government actually doesn’t believe that a £50 stake is appropriate then that is an interesting dilemma which it is for them and the Gambling Commission to address. We simply want a level playing field to play the commercial game on…

Lastly, our CHIPs charity campaign is still running and this year looks to have been the best so far. In my view we have the best and most committed staff in the industry and every venue has really pulled out all the stops to hit their fund raising target. I shall confirm the final amount raised later in the autumn but it is fair to assume that another group of disabled youngsters and their families/carers and going to have their lives made easier in the near future thanks to the generosity of our staff and customers.

Nick Harding

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