In October 2020 MERKUR UK General Manager, Sascha Blodau, used the pages of Coinslot to announce the launch of the company’s 360 Program and with it a pledge to take a proactive stance in setting new Social Responsibility standards in the domestic low stake high street gambling entertainment sector. In addition to placing safer gambling at the very heart of the business, MERKUR UK’s 360 Program has also extended into the community, supporting those groups and individuals who make a real difference to quality of life as well as being a good environmental citizen working in partnership with the National Trust to plant 1,500 trees for future generations to enjoy. As the 360 Program celebrates its first birthday, Coinslot takes a retrospective look at what it has achieved and what’s on the agenda for 2022.
Following consultation with bacta, the Gambling Business Group and YGAM, MERKUR UK launches its 360 Program with a commitment to set new social responsibility standards in low stake, low prize high street gambling entertainment.
General Manager Sascha Blodau sets out his vision for 360 to be “..the most comprehensive safer gambling programme in the UK industry.
Pieter Remmers, one of the world’s leading responsible gambling experts joins the 360 Advisory Board. Mr Remmers, founder of the internationally recognised Global Gambling Guidance Group (G4), has worked on the development of safer gambling policies for many of the industry’s most recognised brands, and has gained experience in a cross-section of jurisdictions including the Netherlands, South Africa, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, Malta and Sweden.
He confirmed: “I have been impressed by the commitment and the enthusiasm shown by the MERKUR UK senior team both for the culture and the practicalities of delivering safer gambling. I look forward to being a part of this progressive initiative which I am confident will set new standards in UK low stake gambling entertainment.”
TiTO used to promote safer gambling
MERKUR Slots includes safer gambling messaging on the 150,000 TiTO tickets dispensed to players at its venues every week. The messages include advice on affordability, limit setting and knowing when to stop and are consistent with those displayed on all the digital Category C and B3 machines found in the company’s high street gambling entertainment venues.
Tony Boulton, Director of Public and Political Relations said: “Our core objective is to make the gambling entertainment experience safe and responsible for all of our customers throughout all of our venues. The use of TiTO extends the reach and represents a tangible example of messaging as players use TiTO to cash out and/or move from machine to machine.”
First meeting of Advisory Board
The inaugural meeting of the 360 Advisory Board, the body created to shape and drive MERKUR UK’s commitment to safer gambling takes place. The meeting features MERKUR UK’s Sascha Blodau, Stefan Bruns, and Tony Boulton,David Purvis, Managing Director of Blueprint Operations, and G4’s Pieter Remmers.
YGAM founder Lee Willows, joins the meeting in a guest capacity. Agenda items included content for the Group Training programme, developing the safer gambling culture with non-consumer facing staff and the recruitment of a Customer Experience Manager.
Bacta support for 360
The 360 Program is on the radar of industry thought leaders. Bacta CEO John White said: “MERKUR UK has established clear and defined Social Responsibility targets and the seniority of the team involved in delivering them provides a standard which I am sure it will meet. I am also sure that the focus the 360 initiative provides will uncover lessons for the whole industry which I know MERKUR UK is keen to share and I for one will be keen to hear.”
Merkur UK appoint first Customer Experience Manager
MERKUR UK confirmed the appointment of experienced hospitality professional Lola Wood to the newly created post of Customer Experience Manager.
Mark Schertle, Chief Operating Officer at MERKUR UK, said: “As professional retailers we always want to be on the front foot and the Customer Experience role will enable us to pre-empt any issues and ensure that we are delivering on our social responsibility undertakings deployed via the 360 safe gambling programme.”
Explaining the difference between Customer Experience and Customer Service Lola Wood said: “Customer Experience is about a philosophy which should be at the heart of how a brand behaves whereas Customer Service is more of a function. Customer Experience is all encompassing and involves contributions made by every component part of the business.”
National Trust Woodland Appeal
MERKUR selected World Environment Day to officially launch a new ground-breaking link-up with the National Trust. The association saw MERKUR support the National Trust’s Woodland Appeal to help tackle the pressing issue of climate change.
Mady Henderson of the National Trust said: “MERKUR’s support of our Woodland Appeal will enable the planting of 1,500 trees: trees which will provide sanctuary for wildlife, clean our air and bring balance to fragile landscapes. These trees will do so much; improve valuable habitats, increase biodiversity and make an impact on carbon emissions that contribute to climate change.”
Sascha Blodau, General Manager, responsible for the MERKUR brand in the UK said the association will work on a number of important and quite different levels. “Modern, progressive businesses such as MERKUR believe fundamentally that they have a duty and an obligation to support the environment and do what they can to tackle climate change. Supporting the work of the National Trust’s Woodland Appeal and the planting of 1,500 trees for future generations to enjoy is part of our broader Social Responsibility programme which operates under the MERKUR Initiative umbrella.”
Customer Experience Groups shine a light on player perspectives on safer gambling
MERKUR UK completed the first of its Customer Experience Groups, part of the company’s groundbreaking 360 Program of safer gambling initiatives. Organised and moderated by independent consumer research consultancy Storecheckers, the sessions featured an independently pre-selected sample of customers representative of the MERKUR Slots player-base in terms of age, gender and frequency of visitation.
Customer Experience Manager Lola Wood explained: “We are approaching the Customer Experience Groups from the perspective of identifying and acting on those areas of the journey that we can improve on. It’s not about box ticking but more about listening to what players are telling us and doing our best to understand their outlook and motivations.”
Tony Boulton, Director of Public and Political Relations added: “Knowing about the personal techniques players use to manage spend, how venue staff complement and support those methods and the factors that impact the way they play are all important insights that help reinforce our commitment to delivering a safer gambling experience across all of our venues.”
MERKUR Initiative, which has been created by the high street gaming entertainment operator to recognise the smaller community-based charities and good causes that frequently get overlooked, will help upwards of 50 good causes every year.
Sascha Blodau, General Manager, MERKUR UK confirmed: “Our high street gaming centres employ local people, attract customers from the community and support local supply chains – it is therefore right that we support those charities, good causes and community events that are on our doorstep. Our venues, whether they are gaming centres on the high street or bingo clubs, fulfil an important community role. They are the places where people meet with their friends, where the staff know them by their first name, where they feel comfortable and where they can enjoy safe and responsible gambling entertainment.
“We are supporting the ‘not for profit’ organisations that are active in our communities and which make such an important contribution to the quality of people’s lives.”
200 venue managers drawn from both MERKUR Slots and MERKUR Bingo completed the City & Guilds Assured programme delivered through a partnership between leading charities, YGAM and Betknowmore.
The bespoke safer gambling training comprised ten one day online facilitated workshops with each workshop attended by circa 20 MERKUR Venue Managers. Ian Shanahan, Head of Partnerships at YGAM stated: “There can be no doubt that MERKUR UK is fully committed to delivering a safe gambling experience to all of its customers and providing its 200 venue managers with a City & Guilds Assured certificate that they can take on their career path is a significant and important investment on behalf of the brand.”
Tony Boulton, Director of Public and Political Relations at MERKUR UK added: “It’s highly encouraging that within a year we will have delivered City & Guilds Assured safer gambling training to all of our regional and our venue managers across both MERKUR Slots and MERKUR Bingo. It’s clear that the consumer facing team play a key role in delivering safer gambling and that detailed training delivered by expert organisations such as YGAM and Betknowmore is fundamental to achieving that core objective.”
MERKUR Initiative supports local hospice
The Raise the Roof appeal at Birmingham St Mary’s Hospice became one of the first recipients of the MERKUR Initiative programme which has been created to enable venue teams to nominate charities and good causes that undertake invaluable work in their local communities.
Raise The Roof, one of a projected 50 good causes that will be supported by MERKUR UK over the next 12-months, urgently needs funds to replace the roof on its Inpatient Unit. Deputy Matron, Rachel Shuttleworth said: “We’ve been told the old roof on our Inpatient Unit has badly deteriorated over the last year, becoming so bad that it won’t last another winter. There’s not a nurse or staff member here that doesn’t understand the impact of donations and I thank you on behalf of all of them.”
Other good causes to receive support include an animal sanctuary, an organisation that provides entertainment for children while they are in hospital, a charity that provides support for people suffering from severe mental illness, a homelessness organisation that provides emergency temporary accommodation, and a member of the MERKUR UK team who completed a 26-mile sponsored walk in aid of Macmillan.
Strategy and vision agreed for 2022
The sixth meeting of the Advisory Board reviews the activities undertaken and sets out the 360 strategy and vision for 2022. The agenda seeks to build on the solid foundations that have been established, reinforce the positive partnerships forged with industry groups, continue to support local good causes the length and breadth of the country and to ensure that the safer gambling culture remains part of the MERKUR UK DNA.