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Geoff Freeman and Isabelle Andres count on cross-sector progress

Geoff Freeman, the newly-installed chief executive of the American Gaming Association, spelled out the AGA’s vision of being a “champion and a zealot of the gaming sector” in his keynote speech to the audience of the European iGaming Expo in Barcelona this week, but added that the industry also had to address some key questions in order to move forward, while Isabelle Andres, chief executive of Betclic Everest Group, said it was possible to be successful in a highly regulated environment.

Freeman, on the opening day of the show, said the US gaming sector, whether online or land-based, had to engage with regulators and consumers in a progressive manner if it wanted to have a progressive and viable future.

He said historically the “perception of the gambling industry, be it Las Vegas or organised crime, has meant that people didn’t want anything to do with it. Perception is our springboard to growth and we must address it; and we can do this by changing our story.”

Adding that the AGA welcomed competition from inside or outside the US but “would fight anyone who doesn’t play by the rules”, Freeman explained that the sector should address some key questions.

“How good are we at telling our story? We must stress our role as an economic engine and value add. What does a progressive agenda look like? How can we modernise regulation?

“At the moment there are three views of our sector: evil, in states like Utah or Hawaii. Economic engine: in states such as Nevada, New Jersey and Mississippi and necessary evil; in states like Pennsylvania, where taxes are very high and prevent innovation and efficient business processes.

“We have to come out of the shadows to tackle these issues head on and move the agenda forward,” Freeman said.
   
Freeman added that the AGA was disappointed that regulation of the US online gaming sector was likely to happen on a state-by-state basis but that the AGA would continue to engage with regulators in a positive mindset.

“We have to look at future growth: who are the next customers? 34% of US citizens visited casinos in 2012 and we have to ask ourselves, ‘who are the remaining 66% who don’t go to casinos?’ We have to make the product more attractive to the next generation of players. In Las Vegas, two thirds of revenues are generated by the club scene and non-gambling products, that is a big indictment of our industry,” concluded Freeman.

Isabelle Andres for her part emphasised in her speech the need to innovate in order to anticipate customer needs and stressed her company’s achievements in managing to work in the heavily-taxed French market and still be profitable.

“Regulation forces you to be better,” she said. “You can live with taxes, Betclic Everest Group is taxed at 50% plus of our revenues and we’re still profitable. Of course we’re not calling for more taxes, but it is possible (to work and be profitable in such an environment).”       

Explaining how the French regulatory environment had forced BEG to be “smarter, more efficient and think about every euro we invest”, Andres explained how the group had adapted and innovated, “but not for the sake of innovation on its own but for our customers and the regulated market we have to work in”.

With over 50% of BEG’s business being done via mobile phones, Andres said a new generation of players was being attracted to online betting through the mobile platform alone. The technological developments and the fact that Betclic owns its technology mean that it is well positioned to anticipate its future moves.

Although she cautioned: “Everyone wants to be first, but you have to build on solid ground and stay close to your customers’  needs.”

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