With 2020 potentially set to prove an even more crucial year for the amusement sector’s public reputation than 2019, we spoke to Debbie Hough Bollard, founder of licensing and HR consultancy Hough and Bollard, about what operators and regulators can do to ensure the future stays bright.
CS: What are the market trends that are catching your attention?
Debbie Hough Bollard: The focus is definitely on creating a unique customer experience to encourage players through the door rather than turning to online gambling. There is some great gaming content available at the moment and that will continue to develop I am sure. Redemption also seems to be a winner and the way forward in the FECs where parents do not have the same concerns about their children winning tickets as opposed to cash. That has opened up a great opportunity to create prize areas with items that are seen as value for money.
CS: What are the key issues the industry needs to address in the coming year?
DHB: The industry must overcome its differences and unite to create a strong message to the regulator and government that it does take customers’ well-being seriously and that it is striving to provide the safest gambling experience that is reasonably possible.
Arcade owners in particular are facing an uphill battle against competition from online gambling sites that have been flooding the media with marketing campaigns, so it’s about encouraging players to walk in through the doors.
CS: If you were asked for three things the government needs to sort out for you now, what would they be?
DHB: One, review and update the Gambling Act so that it is relevant to today’s technology.
Two, provide a credible Ombudsman to deal with complaints and call the Gambling Commission to account when there are problems.
Three, set out some clear guidelines for single site operators on the application of MGD and VAT; there is a sense of frustration at the moment that even HMRC is not sure when and how these should be applied and which has led to some pretty unfair decisions on VAT liability recently.
CS: With the UK’s exit from the EU now determined, how will this affect business processes going forward?
DHB: Fortunately it will not affect the operation of my business directly, but I will be interested to see how it eventually affects arcade owners who rely on EU workers and customers once the negotiations are completed and we actually leave. If there are changes made to employment legislation then that will probably result in clients wanting new employment documents to reflect those changes but I think that will be a long way down the road yet.
CS: What will the highlights be for you at January’s EAG?
DHB: I’m really looking forward to EAG again, I think it’s become a highlight in everyone’s calendar. As usual I will be teaming up with Instance Automatic and be based on their stand, but I also tend to wander around the show for the three days in order to see what is on offer and listen to what everyone has to say.
I use EAG as an opportunity to catch up with existing clients and to discuss any specific licensing requirements that they might have coming up. It’s a chance to reflect with them on what issues last year presented and what I can do to help them particularly with any business changes in the coming year.
As I said in one of my articles last year any changes to ownership of an operator’s business must be approved by the Commission including restructures and transfer of shares to family members. This is often the time of year when operators tend to think about changes like that.
CS: How did trading fair during 2019, and what were Hough and Bollard’s standout moments?
DHB: I have just finished my fourth year of trading and it was the best by far, there are no regrets about starting up my own consultancy. I already had a strong client base including many arcade owners and single site operators who are clearly confident not only in giving me repeat work but also in recommending my services to others. This year saw my client numbers almost double and most of that came from word of mouth which I am delighted with.
CS: What will be your key areas of focus over the coming 12 months?
DHB: I will continue to strive to provide the best consultancy service I possibly can to my clients. I have a reputation for being tenacious and determined in dealing with my clients’ applications for operating and Premises Licences as well as any employment issues and will continue to be so.