Paul Willcock, President and COO of Genting UK, gives GI an insight into the casino operator’s philosophy and plans for growth
How does the Asian-facing nature of the Genting group affect UK and European strategy?
In terms of reconciliation, it’s not that difficult and great credit for that goes to our owners, Genting Malaysia. At their core they have a
central philosophy which is to respect local management views. What they don’t do is try to implement a blanket business model in
other territories around the globe.
We are however positively influenced by them in that they have huge expertise in terms of design, operational expertise and knowledge of an ethnic customer base which translates very nicely into some of our operations in the UK. It’s really beneficial as they don’t force anything on us unnecessarily but when we want to use the might of the group or its particular skill set then they are more than happy to help us.
As a side point to that, when we rebranded the old business into Genting UK we did so because there was little equity in our existing
Stanley Casinos brand. One of the nice consequences of the rebrand was that our existing UK customers got to understand its heritage and appreciated the mystique of the quasi-Asian branding.
Our international customers that joined us in our Mayfair casinos or indeed some of our Chinese customers who were aware of Genting around the world became aware of the UK-facing side of the brand. It’s been a ‘win win’ and has been a very positive experience for us.
What impact will the sale of Maxims Casino Club have on UK operations? What was the driver behind this decision?
In terms of impact, let’s hope it’s a relatively modest one, Maxims is a great high-end casino in London and we have enjoyed owning it for a number of years. However, it doesn’t fit strategically within the rest of our high-end business which is focussed and concentrated within Mayfair.
With this in mind we thought that it would be best for the business to divest of our interests in Maxims and then to use these proceeds for future investments that we may have in the UK and around Europe.
You have 41 casinos in the UK and one in Egypt; does the company plan to expand its Egyptian operations?
We’ve managed to gain significant market share in Egypt in the twelve months that we have been operating there which we are very pleased with and we continue to look for opportunities to expand. In terms of autonomy, Genting Malaysia have given us permission to make investment decisions and where we identify a territory that fits with our strategic intent then we’ve certainly got the capital and the wherewithal to continue to grow.
It gives us freedom but that freedom does come with responsibilities. One of the things that our parent has done since I joined the business seven years ago is to invest significantly: They want to have a business that they are proud of in every single territory that they operate in and we are clearly one of those.
What expansion plans do you have for the UK? Will there be a programme of refurbishment or new properties?
There will certainly be a refurbishment programme. We spent multi-millions from 2012 onwards improving our casino estate and I think everyone’s aware of that. That capital investment programme has been very successful for us and we are very proud of it and actually our properties still look and feel great so there’s not the same drive needed as there was five years ago.
Any expansion now will be very strategic, to reinvest in the core estates to ensure we maintain the excellent standards that we’ve achieved. We will also look to increase and improve product where appropriate. We have sensible and significant capital plans for the business in the next five years to make sure that we maintain the product and amenities within our estate.
Does Genting UK have a strategy to link its online and bricks and mortar play and how is this implemented?
As a Genting customer you want to feel that the experience is consistent in which ever channel you choose to use. An important thing for us is that we now try and align our bricks and mortar slots offering with our online slots offering. I think aligning that content across these channels is extremely important and cross-promotion in those two environments is very helpful for us.
Our online/bricks and mortar strategy is crucial to us, forming a central part of our broader group strategy. Our ambition is to synchronise the two channels in a way that is meaningful and important to our customers. This clearly includes payment, loyalty and customer services to name but a few. In essence, we are looking to deliver a smooth and seamless multi-channel experience.
We have 41 land-based casinos, but what online exposure gives us is a broader audience which allows us to build our brand presence and extend our brand reach.
You have launched live casino in partnership with Evolution gaming, what benefits does this bring to Genting?
It allows us to shape our online offering in a way that is consistent with our bricks and mortar offering. We are pleased with our relationship with Evolution and we think their product is best-in-class.
Beyond that there are exclusive products that we’ve launched, like the dual play product that we have recently launched into our Genting casino at Resorts World Birmingham, where you can play simultaneously in the casino and online at the same table.
A lot of land-based operators have shifted the direction of their existing loyalty programmes from attracting new players to retaining existing customers, is this something that Genting UK has undertaken and if not does it plan to do so in the future?
Genting doesn’t see those two areas as mutually exclusive. The beauty of having an estate that’s quite eclectic is that there are certain businesses where a retention strategy is more appropriate and there are certain places, like Resorts World Birmingham, where bringing in new customers is essential to the lifeblood of that business.
From a retention perspective, we just need to make sure we deliver the best and most compelling experience that we can to people on different products and at different times, making sure that each instance is tailored to the needs of that individual customer.
From an attraction strategy the scale of our business allows us to reach a broader demographic of individuals. We would use the customers of those existing businesses and the staff that work within them as our biggest advocate. If we treat our customers and staff properly we would expect word of mouth to percolate around the industry and drive more customers through the door.
Genting has been very active in the area of responsible gambling. Do you believe that a responsible gambling culture should be the cornerstone of any land-based casino offering?
I do, it won’t surprise you to hear me say that. That’s absolutely crucial, clearly the mood music in the last two years from the UKGC and the government has emphasised the need for responsible gambling in business to reduce gambling-related harm and I support that approach wholeheartedly. I applaud the regulator and the government for reinforcing that position because ultimately the job of all gambling operators is to make sure that we deliver a safe experience, and hopefully one that’s fun.
Ultimately we are charged with protecting vulnerable people and if we identify them, which we do from time to time, then I think those interventions are crucial. Certainly that’s something I insist on and my executive team are crystal clear on that, but actually there is a will for it in the wider industry exemplified by the recent Responsible Gambling Week.
A lot of the activity that happened, from the reception desk all the way through to the teams at club level, reinforced that for me and I was very proud of how the team acted, they did a stunning job.
That’s just the way we do business and we’ve never had a public statement issued against us. I’m charged with the responsibility of protecting the Genting brand in the EMEA region, but the Genting brand is obviously worldwide. If I’m speaking to our ‘parent’ one of the things that is constantly discussed is the way that we operate safely and compassionately because that is crucial to the Genting Group.
It’s the top of my agenda as an executive and the thing that we talk about most, it doesn’t feel imposed on us - it’s just the way we like to do business.
How integral is the support of the surrounding communities to what Genting does in its UK operations? How does the company ensure that it keeps local communities on-side?
It’s a crucial part of the company’s activities, mainly because local communities are full of local customers! I think we just have to be good bedfellows. In many of our casinos, we act as social hubs for the local communities, be they ethnic or indigenous communities. We think we do play a responsible role in the community, we support lots of local community initiatives and contribute significantly to local charities.
I think whether you’re a casino operator or any other retailer, you have to live in the environment that you are in and embrace it.
There is nuance in the way that we deal with things, we have a different relationship with customers in the north east of England than we would in the golden mile in Mayfair but I believe the central point is that we’d like to be thought upon as good solid citizens in the community.
What would be your ideal outcome from the Triennial Review?
In terms of what I have already said about responsible gambling, there is a need to be responsible citizens and deliver gambling responsibly. I would support the tone of the government’s consultation and I think my colleagues at the National Casino Forum are
also of the same view.
That being said, in an ideal world would we have wanted more slot products? Yes of course we would have wanted more slots,
different staking levels and wider area networks on slots - but we didn’t get that and we understand why.
Now what we’ve got to do as an industry is retrench and understand the ways in which we can improve our reputation, deliver the things that the gambling commission are driving for and ensure that we work and behave in a consistently responsible manner. Not just do the bare minimum but wake up in the morning and challenge ourselves to find new and better ways to make gambling safe. Until we have risen to this challenge, it is unlikely that we will receive the changes in legislation that we are striving for.
In your opinion what sort of impact will Britain’s impending exit from the EU have on this country’s casino industry?
It’s a difficult question to answer and if you speak to a lot of people in different industries they are all still a little unsure because I don’t think the information is crystal clear at this stage. Fundamentally the obvious implication will be around our employees, a good proportion of which come from outside the UK and we would have to understand the grandfathering position
on that and the movement of labour.
That’s the most critical thing that we need to understand and cope with, beyond that it’s everything to do with the kind of trade deals that come our way from the EU and being aware of the implications there with any of our supply arrangements. Then it’s a matter of the non-gaming parts of EU legislation like data protection, data privacy, employment law. What if any are the changes that are going to happen in those areas where previously we were driven by EU law? These are the things that we don’t know, ultimately we are a retail business and our success or failure lies with the people that work in our clubs. Understanding that we can protect a people pipeline and ensuring that the people that work hard for us are protected are the most critical things.