Throwing leisure and hospitality to the wolves

Mark Jepp Majestic Bingo
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In a two-part series, Coinslot speaks to a range of stakeholders in the industry and asks them to share their views on what has been a roller-coaster of a ride. What started out as a year of huge promise turned suddenly after the emergence of Covid, lockdown, Brexit, economic recession and a gambling review – 2020 has changed the entire industry landscape. There’s optimism, anger, criticism, frustration, good news, bad news – an interesting Christmas read for all, with one notable exception. The folk devil of 2020 will be clear to all of you pretty early on, although the heroes of the year are drawn more widely from across the community.



How will you look back on 2020?

Frustration, frustration, and even more frustration! What started as our best Q1 for a couple of years went down the toilet thanks to COVID-19. However, I have seen enough in spite of the various lockdowns, tiers and restrictions to believe customers still want to play retail bingo and I keep myself sane by believing there will be pent-up demand for people wanting to get out and meet their friends and family, drink good drink, eat nice food and have a great night out in a bingo club packed with atmosphere and fantastic service.

I will also reflect and not forget the way the UK Government threw hospitality and leisure to the wolves – I believe I will be on the right side of history and they will be on the wrong side of the vote at the next election: I don’t blame the Conservatives I blame Boris Johnson. During my time in bingo I have survived The National Lottery, the Smoking Ban, the removal of S21 machines and the credit crunch – but 2020 has been worse than all of those combined.

What, if any, were your highlights of the year?

The way bingo collaborated as a sector to help each other in getting through this – a big shout out to Chris Matthews (CEO) and Peter Brigden (CRO) of Buzz for leading the way. Also, I would have to pay tribute to the robustness of our customer base who came in spite of all the negative messaging and ‘project fear’ as well as the way my central and club teams tackled the new world of creating Covid Safe environments

How have the events of 2020 changed your view on how you run your organisation, how we run our industry and how the various authorities run our country?

As an operator we have learned you don’t have to over gild the Lilly to attract players into the clubs – sensible pricing combined with great customer service invariably wins the day. I have also learned that we need bingo to be loud and proud and promote retail when the time is right and if we get the message correct customers will respond, we have also shown you can operate online bingo that truly benefits retail. In terms of the country, I lay the blame of how poorly this has all been managed at the feet of Boris Johnson – he may have been right for Brexit but he was the wrong man for dealing with Covid. In the main our constituency MPs have been very understanding and sympathetic.

Covid, Brexit, The Gambling Review: what do you think will happen in 2021?

It’s important that the vaccine is rolled out as soon as possible and we return to normal as soon as possible. In terms of Brexit, although I voted to remain, we should ‘get it done’ and start doing what’s best for Great Britain. As for the Gambling Review it’s a big question with many hurdles and things to consider – but I think if positioned correctly bingo shouldn’t have a lot to fear.

If you had to pick a Hero(ine) of 2020 who would it be and who would be your folk devil?

The heroes would be our staff, the customers that came in despite the messaging, the rebel MP’s who voted against the Government, my bank (Shawbrook) who have supported us thus far and Julia Hartley-Brewer for being someone in the media that talks sense …and Luke Johnson of course!

The Folk Devils are Boris and his cabinet cronies as well as the Woke left wing media who have been disgraceful through all of this – in my opinion.

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