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Gaming Equipment: India Operations

STATE OF INDEPENDENCE

Nick Hardy travels to Scarborough to find out if a mix of Opera and entrepreneurial spirit can make your dreams come true

Independent casino ownership must be a dream that most of us have enjoyed at one time or another.  And like all our favorite dreams, if we work hard enough we can make it come true…

Late last year, I had the pleasure of attending the opening of a new casino.  The unexpected aspect of this event was that I enjoyed it more than any casino opening that I have ever attended.  Having driven for three hours to reach the traditional UK resort town of Scarborough, on the cold North Yorkshire coast, I honesty wasn’t expecting much.  As much.  As a rule, these opening tend to have a lot in common.  The entertainment and hospitality are generally excellent, the showgirls are always gorgeous and the free gaming tables are packed with local dignitaries who are in the casino for what will probably be their last time.  It is the differences between such evening that are really more difficult to define.

The exciting thing about the Opera House Casino in Scarborough is that it is literally a dream; and it’s dream that most of us have probably had at one time or another.  The Opera House was purchased as a derelict building.  Beginning with demolition, every detail that led to this opening day has been planned and supervised by its ambitious owners.  But, and this is the beautiful part, these owners are not a major national operator.  Nikolas and Rebecca Shaw are locals of Scarborough ad this is their dream.  Believe Merkur, it’s fantastic.

Originally opened as the Prince of Wales Circus in 1878, the site itself has many owners and mixed history.  After a period when it was known as The Hippodrome, it became The Opera House in 1910 and operated as such for over half a century.  As recently as 1976, the original building was fully refurbished.  But as live entertainment audiences declined through the 1980s and ‘90s, business became impossible to sustain and the Opera House brought its curtain down  for the final time in 1995.

Inadequately protected against the weather, and poorly secured, the building was a victim of flooding and arson attacks during the seven years that followed.  Despite its historical status, when Nik and Becky Shaw purchased the celebrated site in 2002, complete demolition was the only safe option open to them.  The work itself took three years to complete at a cost of just over £ 7 million, the largest leisure investment in the town in 30 years.  Becky Shaw actually gave me the exact figure, underlining both their hands-on approach and their absolute attention to detail.

The moment I walked into the Opera House, I was struck by how ‘non-corporate’ the place is.  For me, tis was a positive sign.  I personally have no desire to live in a world where multi-national gaming conglomerates churn out stereotypical ‘branded’ casinos using a business model that is similar to that of McDonalds.  Casinos are not the same as roadside restaurants, fact that large operators should never lose sight of.

The impact of this unique venue made me think about online poker casino design and specifically how the independent entrepreneur who might be new to the industry should go about realizing such a dream…

Joining me at the Opera House opening was TCSJohnHuxley’s National Account Director (UK), Angus Noble.  His company had been involved with Nik and Becky Shaw from the very start.  Apart from the 20 Admiral and IGT slot machines on site, all of which are provided by Leisure Link, this has been a 20- month ‘turnkey’ project for TCSJohnHuxley.  Few companies in the world are better positioned to work on such projects.  With a unique combination of traditional live gaming expertise and technical product excellence, TCSJohnHuxley is a true ‘one-stop-shop’ for casino operators.  Years of experience coupled with state-of-the-art new manufacturing facilities add further weight to this argument.  However, the true value of such a close partnership between operator and supplier can come long after the initial product sales are concluded.

“The desire to shop around in the hope of identifying the cheapest products is understandable,” stated Angus Noble, “and a natural instinct for all business people.  All we would advise casino operators to consider is the longer-term implications that can be associated with this short-term approach.  Credible suppliers provide ongoing and first-class after sales service.  If operators want to place product prices to some, then they should think about factoring in the potential cost of downtime due to poor after sales support.  This ‘full service’ package is what we believe sets us apart from our competitors.”

to some, then they should think about factoring in the potential cost of downtime due to poor after sales support.  This ‘full service’ package is what we believe sets us apart from our competitors.”

For newcomers such as Nik and Becky Shaw, this commitment to partnership with customers was clearly a factor that drew them towards TCSJohnHuxley.  “They walked onto our stand at ICE 2004,” remembers Mr. Noble.  “It was a totally unsolicited enquiry, and they were at the show purely to make contacts and gather information.  As far as equipping the casino was concerned, discussions began in earnest at ICEI 2005 and since then, we have worked hand-in-hand.  The Opera House Casino project has meant so much to them and they have been extremely thorough and very tough at times, but absolutely fair from beginning to end; fantastic to work with.”

TCSJohnHuxley worked with the Shaws on the precise specifications for 11 gaming table, a suite of 21 Novo Multi-Roulette terminals, a complete security system and a stunning collection of furnishings, accessories and consumables.  The tables (American roulette, blackjack, casino stud poker and 3-card poker) have all been specifically designed and the black lacquered construction with dark purple layouts work perfectly.  “Nik and Becky had veryclear ideas about their proposed interior design,” explained Mr. Noble, “and they were just as clear that the equipment we provided had to complement these ideas.”

The interior of the 23,000sq.ft.  Opera House can only be described as gorgeous.  It is this distinctive aspect that has ‘independent’ written all over it, the personal touch that makes all the difference.  The elegant plasterwork pays suitable homage to the building’s rich history, evoking a theatrical image with its circular main arena and sweeping balcony.  The principle colours on the gaming floor are shades of purple and red and the styling is very much 1960s ‘retro’, in the manner of James Bond, in the days when he was cool.  The balcony ‘Upper Circle Restaurant’, which opens for lunch as well as dinner from 7pm until 3 am, is a relaxed contrast in that it blends cream leather with light wood and the entire ambience is stylishly relaxed.

Opinions are frequently personal and subjective, and business success should always be measured using quantitative methods.  Fortunately, the Opera House can stand uip and be counted in this area too.  Before it had even opened, more than 5,000 people had become members of the casino, a UK firm record for pre-registration.  Becky Shaw is in no doubt that it is the personal commitment that her husband and herself have invested that has made the difference.  “We are local people, and one of only eight private companies operating casinos in the UK.  From the very start we have done everything we can to create something special in a venue the town can be proud of.  We think this is why the people of Scarborough have taken it to their hearts the way they have.”

If more evidence were required, it has been reported that despite being open for business for a brief time, Nik and Becky have already received huge offers from major operators wanting to acquire their business.  Figures approaching £ 20m have been discussed.  “We have received a couple of offers,” said Mr. Shaw, “but we have no intention of selling.’  As local people, who have designed and built a superb casino for the people of their home town, what price could they possibly put on a dream come true?”

SO HOW IS IT DONE..?

Imagine the scenario, you are a local entrepreneur and you are living the dream of creating your own casino.  where to you start?  Well, it is not really our place to discuss property purchasing or renovation, so let us assume that  we are talking about gaming equipment only.  Once gaming floor space has been defined, equipment selection is the initial priority for most start-up projects.  In the modern casino, this no longer only means live table games and slot machine products, but also a range of networked terminal formats for gaming floors, bars and lounge areas.

The majority of gaming equipment, including traditional tables, now requires a power and data supply sufficient to support its needs.  This can only be determined by a detailed site survey to identify cabling requirements and aspiring operators should involve potential technology suppliers in project meetings well in advance of installation.  This is particularly important in cases where there will be interfacing of different technologies.  Key systems providers must work together on a joint development path, and this can involve months of collaboration and testing.

According to Anton Churchill, Managing Director of UK based gaming terminal provider CTL, believes that detailed and centralized project management is the responsibility of the operator, and makes the difference between a smooth and successful launch and a disaster.  “With more and more reliance on technology, the required skill set for effective project management is moving away from traditional gaming experience and more towards IT and electronics solutions.  As a key supplier, CTL will always advise operators on the importance of detailed and focused communications meetings, particularly when dealing with competing suppliers on a common project.”

Russian suppler Unicum goes as far as to provide a specific set of free services to inexperienced operators, new to casino business.  “Usually such a customer comes to us,” Unicum’s Anastassia Kojemiakina explained, when he has already selected a location for the casino and needs advice on establishing the business.  It is at this extremely early stage when the entrepreneur teams up with our Sales Manager and visit the venue.”

Unicum study not only the site itself, but also the locality and population in the area, so as to establish the type of customer to whom the proposed new casino will appeal.  A casino designer will then propose a floor plan, with the sales team recommending a product mix.  All of these services are provided free-of-charge.

Most of the time, and as a recommendation, several quotations are sourced from a variety of suppliers.  Matsui Gaming’s Steven Williams commented: “Obviously, from a Matsui point of view, turnkey operations are ideal.  It can help the customer to have only one supplier to deal with, and some considerable savings can be made.  What I find is that the casino will usually order all gaming table products from one particular company with fixed pricing for everything, as was the case when we completed the Gala Casino on the Isle of Man.”  Located at the Hilton Hotel, Gala approached Matsui for a new range of tables, seating and winning number displays.  In dealing with one supplier, they saved the time spent multi-sourcing and were able to co-ordinate all their requirements perfectly.  “At Matsui, we are known for being a leading chip and playing card specialist and we offer customer high quality products without ‘breaking the bank’ so to speak,” said Mr. Williams.  “Many new builds have come to Matsui with the wish to supply only chips and cards, but have ended up buying more as they learn about the full range of products available.  Eastern Europe, for example, is an area where the customer might wish to purchase tables locally, but will look farther a field for more technical products.”  In recent times, Matsui has increased its participation in new build contracts throughout Russia and the Eastern European region.

INITIAL SERVICE AND APPROPRIATE PRODUCTS

“We first meet with a casino representative to determine overall floor composition of the new property (i.e. number of tables planned for the pit, types of table games to be offered),” explained Shuffle Master Gaming’s Kirsten Clark,of Las Vegas based company’s approach to an independent new-build.   “Once this information is provided, we recommend the shuffle Master utility products to best enhance productivity, security and profitability of each table type.  For example, blackjack table: we  would recommend that the casino integrate a King or One2six multideck continuous shuffler to eliminate card counting and shuffle tracking as well as increase game speed.”  For poker tables, Shuffle Master recommends its Deck Mate single deck poker shufflers be installed on each poker table to increase game speed, provide a random a shuffle and for tables utilizing a standard card dealing shoe, the MD2 shuffler with optical card recognition  be used to enable one batch of cards to be shuffled and verified while the second batch is being dealt from the shoe.  “Once the casino has determined which Shuffle Master products they want to incorporate into their pit, our sales department would provide them with a customized quote that includes sales and leasing options,” said Ms.Clark.  “Additionally, we would educate them about the service contract options for all purchased products as well as the included service features of all leased products.”

brings greater responsibility for efficiency if revenue is to be maximized.  Blank screens do not encourage confidence with players who are expected to place a wager on what is already a risky proposition!” Anton Churchill, Managing Director

      This inevitable questions about budgetary constraints can also be answered by Unicum’s approach.  In addition to a range of products at different price points, and a selection of outright purchase options, leasing and rental alternatives should also be examined and discussed with potential suppliers.  At the point when it is time to actually start putting all of the many jigsaw pieces together, there are some obvious necessities that should be planned and observed.  For example, accurate positional drawings  for gaming products are essential.  Who wants to drill an access hole for cabling into an expensive carpet or floor covering only to later find out that it is in the wrong place?  In the same way, ordered timescales and deliverables must be identified and agreed throughout the process.
      With electronic products, connection to central system hardware is the final piece of the jigsaw.  Once equipment is installed, testing and training is required and any credible supplier will make provision for this in their initial scheduling plans.  With variable operating shifts for casino staff, this may take several days to complete.  As Anton Churchill explains, attention to such detail and the appointment of credible suppliers with proven after sales resources is a ‘must’ for all operators, not least because technology has made everybody’s job even more important than before. 
      “Increased technology brings greater responsibility for efficiency if revenue is to be maximized.  Blank screens do not encourage confidence with poker players who are expected to place a wager on what is already a risky proposition..!”

      To assume that all the work that is required to build your dream and see it operating successfully will be completed to plan and on time is obviously naïve.  When multiple contractors are working side-by-side, it is unrealistic to believe that everything can run smoothly.  An inevitable time drag has to be factored in from the outset and for a proposition where missing the final deadline is most definitely not an option, the best advice is to allow more time from the beginning.  It is worth remembering that as superb as Opera House in Scarborough might appear, it took more than two years and over £ 7 million to achieve.  It’s a big deal, but it’s certainly worth it.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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