Despite specific periods in which venues were allowed to return to normalcy, 2021 was for the European casino industry yet another year marked by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Against the ever-changing backdrop imposed by restrictions, land-based operators were forced to show resilience and reinvent their offerings to cater to their public in new, inventive ways, while also maintaining finances and operations afloat.
Hermann Pamminger, Secretary General of the European Casino Association (ECA), which represents licensed land-based casinos in Europe, reflects in an interview with Yogonet on the issues faced by operators throughout the year, amid the industry’s road to recovery. Moreover, Pamminger discusses new opportunities in cashless and online gaming, and challenges to tackle in 2022, including the fight against illegal gaming, staffing crisis in Europe, and the need to build a more inclusive industry.
What would be your year-end assessment of the European casino industry’s gradual recovery in 2021?
Each member of the European Casino Association faced a set of unique circumstances in 2021 depending upon the specific national rules and regulations governing their sector. However, as a whole, our industry showed a commendable degree of determination and resilience throughout yet another year blighted by the pandemic.
Despite the intermittent lockdowns we have remained optimistic for the future of land-based casinos, as the periods in which we have been allowed to conduct our business as normal has seen huge support from our customer base.
Where will ECA’s focus be in 2022? Which priorities, goals and plans for next year could you anticipate?
The difficulties presented by the pandemic have galvanized the industry to address the changing player experience; whether that’s through digitalization of the casino offer, cashless gaming, or self-registration. We have the opportunity to engage with our customers in new environments, keeping contact with them both on-site and via the Internet and their mobile devices where regulations allow.
We are excited to transfer and develop our world-class service levels in new and engaging ways with our players. The pandemic taught us that we need to adapt and become more resilient, and in 2022 these initiatives will shape our interaction with customers.
Based on the feedback you receive from your members, what are your outlooks, expectations for 2022, and what do you think will be the new challenges for the European gambling industry in general? What will be the main issues driving the agenda?
One of the biggest challenges that all members of the ECA will continue to face in 2022 concerns the exposure of illegal gambling practices and the impact this has upon the legal, regulated sector. Governments must understand the negative consequences not only regarding the loss of tax revenues but also the loss of reputation for the industry as a whole and the wider consequences for land-based casinos. The loss of reputation of the gambling sector leads to more political pressure to introduce new regulations, which in turn only affects the nationally licensed providers, while the illegally operating industry does not care.
The hospitality sector is currently facing a staffing crisis in Europe, as businesses forced to reduce staff numbers during the lockdowns are now unable to fill vacant roles. Possible recruits worry about the reputation of the industry, while long-term employees are concerned about the stability of the sector. We need to ensure that staff recruitment and engagement is a priority in 2022 and to achieve this we need greater support from governments to protect the integrity of our business and the security of our employees.
Another focus of the ECA in 2022 is diversity and inclusion. We are acutely aware that the land-based casino sector currently lags behind adjacent sectors, but we are taking steps to open up leadership positions to support diversity and inclusion throughout the business; not just talking about these issues, but acting upon them too. There are historic reasons behind our current position, and change will not happen overnight. However, we are committed to the path and this will be a major focus for the ECA in 2022.