Richard Monk, the driving force behind Aztec Coin, has written to the Gambling Commission to convey the fears that he and hundreds of other small businesses in the industry have over the future. He believes the Commission has a positive role to play in helping to save the sector and move it forward.
Hi Darren, Firstly I hope you are well and safe, protecting the family is priority at this dangerous time. Obviously the lockdown and virus pandemic is devastating to our industry and most of us operators are in a position of having no income stream at all. We are both operators and distributors and both sides of the business are flatlined indefinitely. This is of grave concern to me and my family and industry colleagues.
At present I believe in paying suppliers (and I suspect we are one of the few) and this may mean we ask for additional funding from banks and may need to defer our vat payments etc which again is far from ideal. We believe we need to support each other and suppliers are vital to us as a business. On the other hand I have some trade customers refusing to pay me and I wonder what your suggestions are on this? There are operators that have simply run out of cash already after just 3 weeks.
Many stakeholders worry that pubs and clubs and so forth will be the very last to open. How social distancing can be controlled in an environment that often have little space to play with and of course provide alcohol is almost impossible and I don’t see any future in the trade unless a vaccine is found which may be 1-2 years away (if they find one at all).
The very fabric of going out to the local is that of socialising, kissing, hugging and meeting & greeting friends and family whilst no doubt enjoying sustenance in close quarters. This goes against everything the government is trying to avoid so how can there possible by a reopening of these premises whilst social distancing is enforced or even recommended.
Without these locations being allowed to open fully and even if they are (with very strict control on spacing, numbers, opening hours and hygiene) the use of fruit machines, children’s rides, arcade games, juke boxes and pool tables will be an issue and certainly (by our government) will be considered non-essential. Even if they are available for play with the inevitable diminished numbers the income stream will simply not be anywhere near what it was. We know machine income has a direct correlation mostly to footfall and the health of the economy. Leisure spend will be at rock bottom.
Machines may need to be relocated to poor or hidden positions to avoid bottlenecks as footfall moves through premises that require social distance control measures. This again will have a significant impact.
Machines could also be deemed a source of transmission as they are plastic and glass and many hands and fingers touch the machine in the course of a working week. Does this mean the machine has to be cleaned after each use and if so how will this be done? The money has to be counted and cash is dirty and has been suggested as a source of transmission on the transport in London for example. These additional issues also could be a problem in the logistics of machine operations.
To this end I wanted to ask the commission how they intend to tackle this and what they suggest to a business like ours that depends on operations and trade sales. I have worked 25 years to build this up to provide for my family’s future, my pension and to sell when I retire – This dream is now in tatters!
The Commission perhaps could be in negotiation with the government looking at these measures (I value your comments on these).
• A refund of our gambling licence fee and/or abolishment for 12-24 months.
• Abolish MGD for at least 12-24 months. • Reduce vat on non-gaming income to 5% or abolish as with MGD.
• We should be eligible for further grants if other businesses are open but we remain shut. These should be in line with turnover rather than the straight 10k the LA issued based on rateable values.
• Reduction of corporation tax
• Allow immediate use of cashless systems on ALL machine not just non-gaming to reduce transmission issues
• Allow relaxation on the use of gaming machines in other types of premises and abolish the red tape of local authority gaming permits and restrictions on numbers.
• Increase with immediate effect the stake and prizes available to pub and club operators allowing some parity with inline traders that are in effect benefiting from the lockdown situation.
Worst case scenario – We cannot continue to operate : no vaccine / machines / cash causing reinfections / mass pub closures · An optional compulsory buy out of all operators businesses by government if we are not allowed to restart with operations if a vaccine is not found – This should be at a sensible trade pricing with goodwill accounted for + compensating addition percentage payments on top.
These are just a small number of ideas on how we can move forward and get through the pandemic. We need more help and we should not be forgotten. We cannot and should not be last on the list however our industry fully understand the complexion of the virus and the severe threat it poses to our normal way of life. There surely has to be changes and these changes can only be negative for our industry certainly for the foreseeable future. Industry stakeholders work very hard for their money and none of this was a situation we could do anything to slow, stop or prevent. We hold China accountable!
We must come out the other side of this with clarity from the government on how we can continue where we left off and its important the financial impact is reduced by every measure the government and regulator can possibly do to help us all at such a critical time in our future. We are all concerned ,worried and have no clarity on the industry we all love.
I look forward to your thoughts, comments and reply.
Aztec Coin Equipment Ltd