In a joint interview with Regal’s MD of operations and products, Matt Bicknell and OKTO’s gaming director, Simon Dorsen, Bicknell told Coinslot that he believes the sky is the limit for the fintech firm and Regal’s parent company, the Merkur Group UK, with Dorsen adding that the partnership puts OKTO well on the way to becoming the industry-standard cashless app.
Coinslot: OKTO is currently available in a select number of your pubs, with more set to take on the solution in the coming months. If all goes well, do you expect to see its cashless solution across every Regal machine in the country? And is it a solution you see as having the potential to break into the Merkur Group’s AGCs and bingo halls?
Matt Bicknell, Managing Director of Operations and Product at Regal: Ultimately the market will decide, but as far as we are concerned, the sky is the limit! Although still early days, uptake so far has been encouraging and we seem to be attracting new players to our machines who haven’t regularly spent money on AWPs before, something which will ultimately be cashbox enhancing.
AGCs and Bingo halls present a slightly different business case being TITO enabled environments, but as a group, Merkur’s vision is to be able to offer a solution which is seamless across all the venues and locations to which we supply gaming machines, and it is our expectation that the OKTO solution will be an integral part of that offering.
CS: Does this deal represent a real breakthrough into the UK’s landbased gaming market for OKTO? Do you expect the dominoes to fall now that you’ve got an industry giant onboard?
Simon Dorsen, gaming director of OKTO: Cashless is a business imperative as it has become ubiquitous across our society and this is further accelerated during the pandemic. The UK leisure and gaming sector want to remain relevant to its customers so there is a lot of focus on the subject at the moment. The pandemic accelerated the consumers’ need for cashless and Regal recognized this growing demand and wanted to be a first mover to offer pubgoers secure, cashless, and mobile payments on gaming machines and wanted a payment company that had high compliance standards, software driven solution and the best customer experience and chose to partner with OKTO. It was also important to Regal that their partner brought experience from other countries, and they appreciated OKTO’s strategic reach in multiple markets across Europe.
The partnership with Regal and OKTO’s larger cooperation with the Merkur Group is a significant statement of intent to the wider industry and a validation of the OKTO cashless solution.
We are excited that the new mantra of our OKTO.WALLET solution “Play your Way, Pay your Way” is already in place in Regal’s network and growing fast, enabling more and more pubgoers to benefit from our secure, universal, seamless, cashless payment method directly on gaming machines.
The partnership will undoubtedly accelerate and bring new collaborations with the major players in the UK AGC, bingo and casino sectors and there are many announcements coming soon and OKTO is on the way to being established as the standard and consumer preferred cashless app across gaming the UK gaming sectors.
CS: There have been several cashless solutions floating around trade shows in recent years. What factors influenced Regal’s decision to opt for OKTO? How important do you feel it is that a player can use their OKTO wallet funds to buy drinks and food in the venue via their Master Card?
MB: As a business Regal was keen to work with a partner who is fully committed to both the sector and has the financial wherewithal to be able to make the investment required to provide a solution for the long term. In addition, we were keen to prioritize a digital first solution since such a solution, not being held back by legacy hardware considerations, can rapidly be deployed at scale thereby accelerating consumer uptake and benefitting the whole industry.
After carefully evaluating all the competing offerings, OKTO was the only provider which ticked all these boxes. As an established company with operations across multiple European jurisdictions, OKTO impressed us not only with their technological solution for cashless play on AWPs’ – something which we firmly believe provides the best player experience of all the alternatives evaluated- but also the fact they can provide a Mastercard linked to the wallet, something which provides a real differentiating factor for our player base. The card solution means that any winnings can be spent within the venue and so provides a boost to the overall economic ecosystem of the pubs in which the machine is located. It also gives the player the ability to spend winnings at any other location where debit card payments are allowed, something which we think will prove very attractive to consumers.
CS: The rise of cashless over the last several years, and its acceleration during the pandemic, has been widely reported in both mainstream and industry media. With OKTO now in selected pubs on Regal machines, do you expect your solution to bring the industry up to speed with rest of the economy?
SD: The UK is a strong cashless economy and cash use was rapidly declining even before the pandemic. We are seeing a global shift away from banknotes and coins, towards electronic payments for a quite long time now and COVID-19 has undoubtedly accelerated this. The move away from paper money, in favour of digital wallets, presents many advantages and is driven by consumers behaviour. Specifically, in UK pubs I have seen recent figures that show 80 percent to 90 percent of F&B sales are cashless, and this shows that pubgoers clearly prefer cashless payments and it is now the right time to give players the same cashless option on Regal gaming machines.
Now that Regal machines have OKTO as a cashless option alongside cash, the player has the choice, and this is the most important thing. Based on the trends in consumer payment preferences, Regal and OKTO expect that over time OKTO will increase its share of transactions until one day the cashless proportion is similar to F&B transactions. The great thing with the OKTO app is that this is a connected loop as players can player cashless on a machine, then use their OKTO balance to buy F&B with their OKTO Prepaid Mastercard that is linked with the user’s OKTO account or if the pub chooses to become an OKTO merchant, OKTO users can pay directly with the app. After all, a consumer’s payment choice is one of the most essential ways to maximize merchants’ revenue potential.
We aim through our cashless solution to make transactions in a quicker, easier, and more secure way. While implementing the solution, our operator partners observe the halo effect, which is showing the decrease in cash and the increase of cashless. This simply motivates an increase in customer satisfaction, which is very important in highly competitive retail markets like the land-based gaming landscape, especially in the UK. Alongside there are numerous advantages in place such as eliminating cash handling costs, reducing errors, reducing the risk of theft, fraud, and money laundering. The benefits for the businesses are obvious and consequently, consumer behaviour was also influenced by these actions. Customers started to gain more trust in cashless payment methods, which resulted in the satisfaction of the overall experience.
It’s the power of the freedom that we give them through the open-loop nature of the app. But also, we designed the app to protect the players, providing them with all the essential responsible gaming tools including age verification, gaming limits, time-out periods, P&L calculator, and problem gambling helplines.
CS: How desperately do pub gaming machines need an uplift following months of pub closures and a tentative reopening process? Do you think a cashless solution in the OKTO.WALLET can provide it?
MB: The last 18 months have been some of the most challenging in the UK business environment in my working lifetime, but despite all the restrictions pubs have faced our cashboxes have held up far better than many expected, something which reinforces my view that cash will not disappear from the economy any time soon. Notwithstanding this however, it is absolutely the case that the pandemic has accelerated and reinforced existing trends within the hospitality sector and the wider economy, most notably supercharging the use of cashless payment solutions. Consumers expect and demand to be able to use multiple payment options, cashless as well as cash, and as an industry we need to be able to offer robust cashless solutions to stay relevant. The OKTO.WALLET solution, which enables machine players to use a cashless option just as they are allowed to in any other aspect of the leisure economy, is absolutely vital in underpinning machine earnings in the pub sector as the trends unleashed by the pandemic continue to play out in the months and years ahead.
CS: Implementing cashless solutions such as OKTO.WALLET on gaming machines in pubs is the first step to ending the cashless crisis that is facing the industry. What is the next step, and how do OKTO plan to help operators through the process of onboarding customers into this new payment method?
SD: Behind our solutions lies a proprietary back-end platform that not only manages all issued OKTO wallets and allows real-time transactions between OKTO wallets and gaming operators’ touchpoints, but also – as it is integrated into the operators’ core systems – the OKTO settlements follow their standard settlement process. This allows a seamless transition and operation for the pub. Alongside, as the system is browser-based and accessible from any device with no hardware required, it secures ultra-fast onboarding and time to market whether it is a single site or part of a big group, always following global regulatory standards of API technology.
If the pub also wants to accept OKTO as a payment method across the bar this can be easily enabled through the OKTO online fast and user-friendly onboarding process, and the pub will be able to accept OKTO payments across the bar in no time. At OKTO what we always have in mind is to deliver best-of-breed services to both our merchants’ partners and consumers.