The Bingo Association gathered some directors and managers from around the sector to talk to Coinslot about the return of bingo to our high streets.With National Bingo Day just around the corner of June 27, Francis Gillard of Majestic Bingo Limited, Gordon Barr from Buzz Bingo Coatbridge, Mike Watret Managing Director of Carlton Clubs, Natalie Holland, Regional Operations Manager, Mecca Bingo, Dave Cooksley, General Manager BJ’s and Steve Pidgeon, Operations Director, Club 3000 Bingo shared their views.
Coinslot:You’re now back up and running; what has the response been from both players and staff?
Bingo Association: There has been an sense of relief that after all this time clubs are back up and running. Some Bingo Clubs might not have lasted much longer and the future for all of us is far from certain.
However all our regular players have been delighted to return although there is still an element of caution.
Francis Gillard, General Manager, Majestic Bingo Limited: It’s great to be back in my Club, and lovely to see customers coming back through the doors after such a long time away – they’ve missed the place as much as we’ve missed them. Once they’re back inside they seem really comfortable and it feels like we’re almost back to normal. The Team have been great too, and are just as pleased to be back as our customers are.’
Coinslot: How has the daily work routine and business functions changed due to Covid-19 and lockdown?
Bingo Association: Bingo clubs are focussed on managing social distance protocols and guidelines. Our customers are our biggest assets but also our biggest critics. And you never know when an EHO visit may occur so all club teams need to be on their toes to ensure customer confidence.
Gordon Barr, General Manager at Buzz Bingo Coatbridge: The biggest change seen in club is the health and safety processes we’ve put in place to ensure everyone is social distancing and enjoying the return to bingo safely.
These measures include Perspex screens at our receptions, floor markers to enable social distancing, new maximum capacity and sanitising stations around the club amongst others.
Our team are well versed on this now so it’s become a new routine for us all. Outside of that, customers can expect the same games of bingo as before, knowing that when they do return, they can do so feeling safe.
Coinslot: Social distancing and capacity numbers are two key areas that will need adjustment. How has this impacted on your business in the opening weeks of reopening and what measures are you taking to adapt?
Bingo Association: Due to Social Distancing Bingo Clubs have been running on reduced capacity for some time whenever open. This ranges from 25-30 percent of capacity depending on which of the GB administrations you come under as all have slightly different rules and nuances.
In addition there have been differing rules around table service, entertainment and alcohol sales that have changed frequently since March 2020. Clubs have all had to adapt in different ways and at different times
Mike Watret Managing Director of Carlton Clubs: Restricted numbers have been helpful at the outset to generate confidence in safety for both employees and customers. Clubs are managing the best they can on reduced numbers for now but we are finding it difficult to find promotions for players which will not create operational issues due to increased numbers.
Coinslot: Community sits at the heart of the bingo club philosophy. How does this manifest itself at a club like yours and what will you be looking at to expand it in the new normal?
Bingo Association: Open or closed Bingo Clubs have continued to be a lifeline to the customers and communities they serve.
Natalie Holland, Regional Operations Manager, Mecca Bingo: During lockdown we continued to keep in regular contact with our customers, checking in with people by phone.
Whether open or closed, we play a privileged role in our communities – Mecca has always been known as a friendly face. In addition, many of our kitchens were used to cook hot meals for local charities, supporting the homeless and those in need.
We provided over 100,000 meals during lockdown as well as creating 3,800 Christmas hampers worth £185,000, which supported 56 charities over the festive period.
We’re already busy working on initiatives that will span the year to support local causes as well as our chosen charity Carers Trust. And because it’s our 60th year we have lots of exciting plans to do that. Our clubs are incredibly dedicated to coming up with ideas and campaigns regionally, and we also have an ongoing national effort to support our communities.
Coinslot: The figures are going to be crucial in the coming months to determine the sustainability of the business. What product innovations in machines and general play are you hoping the industry will explore?
Bingo Association: Most operators have taken the opportunity to tweak and adapt their product offering.
Dave Cooksley, General Manager BJ’s: We’ve taken the opportunity to rationalise and simplify our book structure and electronic packages to make it easier for players to understand and make it safer for our teams to deliver. One of the biggest things that is holding us back as an industry is our reliance on cash transactions for machine play. Without the ability to take card payments on machines we risk being left behind after a pandemic that has changed everything.
Coinslot: We have National Bingo Day coming up on June 27. What events and promotions are you planning for the landmark occasion? And what messages are you hoping to carry through for the rest of the year?
Bingo Association: National Bingo Day is an industry event where the whole sector (both retail and online) will come together around two big events.
One is a value based event on Wednesday 23rd June in the week leading up to National Bingo Day where the National Bingo Game will be sold at half price.
The big one will be the Sunday which is more about creating winners small and large. £50,000 will be guaranteed to be won on Sunday Afternoon and Sunday Evening!
Clubs will work their own magic around these key messages.
Steve Pidgeon, Operations Director ,Club 3000 Bingo: We are fully committed to National Bingo Day and seeing the whole of the industry coming together, having fun and also an opportunity to raising money for the BA’s charity of choice Variety – the Children’s Charity.