Comment

Raising the Rampart

Is there a more reliable person to count on in the industry when it comes to security and compliance than a former Met head honcho?

Paul Sculpher meets Extrayard Security Managing Director Roy Ramm to find out

There’s a new provider offering compliance and security consultancy services to gaming operators. The man behind the firm, Extrayard, is Roy Ramm, a familiar name to many in the industry and a man aiming to address the very real concerns apparent at present. Anyone who knows Ramm will have heard one of the colourful stories from his past, which are always incredibly entertaining and insightful in equal measure, as they shine a light on a vast array of professional experiences from a varied, glittering career.

Ramm was previously a senior Metropolitan Police Detective, leading some of Scotland Yard’s most iconic and demanding departments. By the end of his career in London’s Metropolitan Police he had commanded the Serious and Organised Crimes Branch, The Fraud Squad, the Undercover Policing Unit, the world famous Flying Squad, led hostage rescue operations in six countries and run serious crime investigations in London.

 Roy Ramm. Photo taken from the original published Gambling Insider article written by  Paul Sculpher

Roy Ramm. Photo taken from the original published Gambling Insider article written by Paul Sculpher

Next came decades with casinos operator London Clubs (later Caesars Entertainment UK) as governance and public affairs director, looking after security, compliance and regulatory relations for the group’s casino operations in the UK, Africa and the Middle East. Now, with Extrayard, Ramm is aiming to lean on that experience to deliver a unique support package to the wider gambling sector. Extrayard’s mission is to help operators in any sector and of any size proactively formulate policies and procedures to protect their businesses, to give them continuing confidence that they are safe and compliant, and to help minimising harm when things do go wrong. “It’s about starting it right, keeping it right and putting it right,” Ramm explains.

The operational imperative is to build a successful business, offering customers great experiences. However, sometimes businesses can become so absorbed in commercial challenges that other issues like regulatory compliance and asset protection suffer. From a regulatory and compliance perspective, Ramm believes there are only two things that really matter to regulators right now: money laundering and social responsibility. Recent events with Paddy Power, Rank and other operators would tend to underline that this is where the regulatory focus lies. “Operators who don’t acknowledge the measures necessary to be compliant from both an AML and from a responsible gambling perspective are putting their licences and their businesses in jeopardy. You only have to look at the public statements the UK regulator has demanded from UK licensed operators to see the regulator’s direction of travel. There is an increasingly strict AML requirement to know who we are doing business with and where their funds come from. This will be extended by the 4th EU Directive”.  Ramm is also aware of the responsible gambling onus operators are under. “However customers fund their gambling, operators are now expected to monitor how customers are behaving to minimise the risks associated with gambling excessively. This puts enormous pressure on operators, large and small, both in the real world and online,” he explains.

Adapting to this modern age of new compliance is where Ramm believesExtrayard has a role in the industry. For smaller operators who can’t support in-house service, Extrayard offers bespoke compliance plans and support. For larger companies with in-house compliance functions, Extrayard offers probing and exacting audits that challenge the procedures mirroring the way a regulator might investigate such a business.

According to Ramm, there’s a real risk in larger operations, with their own in-house teams, that familiarity can lead to some softening of the rigour required to ensure compliance, and the commercial imperative can challenge any department’s commitment to focus on non-revenue earning matters. An independent third party engaged in a one-off or ongoing audit process can “reset” the mindset of organisations in this context. The other speciality where an outside agency can help operators is in revenue protection, because as gambling operations become more complicated, there are more and more ways for dishonest individuals to prosper. Ramm leans on his time in the police force when facing these issues. “Loyalty schemes, on a big enough scale, become opportunities for theft of significant amounts of value. The take-up of the scheme in one operation we investigated seemed almost too good to be true, and it was.” An enquiry revealed that a trusted and respected member of staff was discovered by management to have loaded a player’s reward account with points unjustified by the level of play. At the time the discrepancy was accepted as an “honest mistake”, and that might have been the end of it, except that years of policing experience and a detailed knowledge of the industry led Ramm and his team to look deeper, revealing that a systemic failure had been exploited by a corrupt network involving trusted staff and several friends and family members posing as customers,  all of whom were benefitting from the criminal misappropriation of valuable points. The enquiry led to criminal convictions, asset recovery and revised procedures. It is clear that an in-house team may not always be enough to protect operators from the serious challenges presented by theft, responsible gambling matters and, latterly,  the new AML regulations.

A fresh pair of eyes with a vast amount of experience could give operators some comfort that their in-house teams will not drop their guard in an environment where inattention can lead to action by the regulator and material loss of assets.
 

Comment

GGV Leeds casino recruitment drive

Staffing a Casino from Scratch - Paul Sculpher

It was back in February 2013 that GGV – Tony Wollenberg, Andrew Herd and I – submitted our second and final bid for the 2005 Gaming Act Large Casino License in Leeds. That seems an age ago, and at the time the prospect of actually opening the site seemed preposterously far away. However, now, as I type, our fitout contractors are on site carrying out preliminary works, and the opening is flying towards us at dizzying speed.

Among the vast array of tasks that need to be carried out before we open the doors in mid-November, the most pressing at the moment is recruiting the senior team, eventually followed by up to 200 staff members. As a new operator in the business, we’re aware that we look like something of an unknown quantity, but we all have individual track records and the casino is already a pretty big story in the area so word’s getting out there.

Job number one is to find the perfect General Manager. We are very aware that the nature of the Leeds operation is going to be pretty different to the majority of British casinos – it’s a very large city centre site with all the opportunities and challenges that brings. We’re looking for a GM with a wide range of experience, and we’re very conscious that as an independent operator, there’s no manual for a lot of the decisions that will need to be made. With a flat structure, there is no “they” to make decisions -there’ll be only three people senior to the GM in the company, so open mindedness and independent thinking is required.

We’re looking for a best of breed casino GM to take the business forward – we haven’t ruled out someone from outside the industry, but there’s a pretty steep learning curve to ascend, and with the scale of business we are developing, it would take a very special person to attack both tasks simultaneously. We’ll be using a recruitment agency for the majority of the senior positions – with plenty of other workstreams to crack on with, it makes sense to bring in a specialist.

 Copy of the original published article in Gambling Insider, written by:  Paul Sculpher

Copy of the original published article in Gambling Insider, written by: Paul Sculpher

Once the GM is hired, we’ll have them help with the senior team – the Head of Gaming, Chief Marketing Officer, Head of F&B and other roles, as well as the critically important shift managers. Having recently had a dip back into operations myself, it’s easy to forget just how critical the right set of shifties is – the moment interaction with customers goes beyond the routine, it’s the shift managers who determine whether the interaction ends on a positive note, whether or not it started that way.

The staff recruitment will be even more of a challenge. We are in the lucky position that our casino launch is part of the launch of a very large retail and leisure development, Victoria Gate.  This includes a huge John Lewis, and 20-odd retail units as well as half a dozen F&B outlets. With a scheme of this scope, it’s already big news in Leeds and that can only help us gather momentum towards the big day. Critically, Leeds council have already been enormously helpful in getting us and other operators set for the recruitment drive – over 1,000 staff are required in all for the whole complex – and their resources and total knowledge of the area will be vital.

We’ve already had discussions with the council about recruitment roadshows – getting out there in the community and giving the potential team members a face to associate with the project, and someone to talk to.  There are obviously some preconceptions involved in working in a casino, and the last thing we want is to miss out on promising candidates because they’re not sure what the job is all about.

The collaborative approach with the council is a key part of our recruitment strategy, however the element they’re less likely to be able to help with is experienced gaming staff. Getting the right team together can be the making of a casino operation – for all the fact that we’re running a multi-faceted, integrated leisure destination we’re not confused as to where we will make the money we need to thrive – and finding a team big enough to operate what we have in mind won’t be easy. We won’t be wanting to go too close to 50% of our gaming team being trainees, although as we will be using the Blackpool Academy we can have confidence that they will, with our management team’s input along the way, by pretty much oven ready, or as ready as trainees can be when they first meet the public. It can be pretty intimidating trying to demonstrate your new found skills in a pressure situation, and we’ll be with them along the way to make it as easy as possible.

Finding those experienced staff will be the biggest recruitment challenge we face. No doubt every member of the management team will bring a handful with them, some will appear as if out of nowhere in Leeds, and we will, like any other casino, be ready and willing to employ staff from the rest of Europe, assuming they have the right skill level and correct licence (a “Personal Functional Licence” for gaming staff).  It’s likely, too, that some staff from the other casinos in Leeds and the surrounding areas will apply for roles. As long as we are selective in the ones we bring on board then we’ve a chance of getting the mix right. From experience of dropping into the local casinos, though, there are some fantastic team members who we will be delighted to welcome into the fold if they approach us to be involved in what has to be the most exciting new casino project in the North of England for many a long year.

The project has been in the works for four years or more, and now with the late 2016 launch rapidly approaching, there’s a huge amount of hard work ahead.  Securing the right team can only make that a little easier, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.

Staffing your company well is just about the most important thing you need in order to be successful...

Recruitment Agencies in the Betting and Gaming Sector

Staffing your company well is just about the most important thing you need in order to be successful.

The classic question asked of us when we present ourselves as a recruitment agency is …. “Why?”  Pretty much everyone at a senior level has done their share of recruitment, from placing some sort of advertising through interviewing, another round of interviewing, and finally offer, negotiation and hopefully acceptance.  Easy!

Well, as you’ll all know, it’s never quite as simple as that.  It’s vastly time consuming to simply set up all of the above and while delegation is all very well, sometimes it takes longer to talk through how to get the job done than it does to do it yourself, especially for smaller companies. It can save an awful lot of time and hassle to use a specialist recruitment company – and we believe that the best way to do that is to turn to a specialist recruitment company that is focused purely on one market sector.

 Copy of the original published article header in Gambling Insider, written by:  Steven Jackson

Copy of the original published article header in Gambling Insider, written by: Steven Jackson

At GRS that’s exclusively what we do – help betting, gaming and casino companies source talent for management positions. The key is really all about experience in the field - you wouldn’t hire someone who’s never worked in casino gaming to be a surveillance manager for example, and similarly our experience in the betting and gaming sector, and recruitment within that sector, is unparalleled.  I’ve been recruiting for this sector for the last 13 years, and my partner has worked in operations for 20 years in various areas of the field – so between us whatever job you’re trying to fill, we’ve either recruited for it or actually carried out the role before, sometimes both.

The process is designed to keep things as simple as possible from your end.  Firstly we’ll review your job spec, to get an idea of what the role entails – there aren’t many that are new to us, but of course different employers want slightly different things from an employee, and the job spec is just the start of our trying to understand exactly what it is that the employer is really trying to achieve. It will sometimes take a series of meetings, calls and / or questions to get full understanding of the best approach to take to fill the gap.

Once we have a firm grip of what the client wants, we’ll go out to market to find candidates. This is where industry knowledge and experience comes in – there’s pretty much no one who works in the gaming industry that isn’t either known to us directly, or within one degree of separation (we know someone who knows them).  Hunting through the market to find the perfect fit can be a lot of hard work, or it can be a question of knowing who’s looking to move on, and might be up for any given role. 

From here we’ll generally present a shortlist, and have the client determine who they’d like to interview, whether it be in person or over Skype or similar to begin with. Once we have some workable dates for the client, we take care of everything, letting the candidates know the time and place and ensuring they’re ready for the big day.

That’s not the end of the story, mind, as after the first interview we’ll take care of organizing the next round and letting unsuccessful candidates know that they won’t be progressed, ideally with feedback from the client to help them in future.  From there on we will also deal with the successful candidate in terms of package, with of course the client’s interests, first and foremost, at heart.

The key element in all of this for us as an agency is making sure the client is happy and well informed throughout the process – recruitment is a repeat business for us, and a one shot commission doesn’t go very far in an industry like gaming. We’re delighted with our feedback so far, with repeat business from most of our clients who need multiple positions filled – for example we’ve just placed our 7th person within one of the UK’s major casino operators, and that’s just in the last 18 months.  We’re also taking on the recruitment of the senior team for the new GGV Large casino in Leeds too, a really exciting project, about which you can read more elsewhere in this issue.

Simply put, anyone can have a stab at recruitment for their own company, and pretty much anyone can take a shot at running a recruitment company in some form.  We are proud of our track record and would point to an ever growing client list to back up our claim that going to an experienced, laser-focused industry specialist is the way to get the best possible result.

 

Steven can be reached at steven@grs-recruit.com

Finding the Magic Formula

Side bets and proprietary games

In the UK casino market, historically there wasn’t much interest in alternatives to the basic casino table games for a long while, with the options strictly limited by law to the basic games of Roulette, Blackjack, forms of Baccarat, Dice and not much else. The regulations were particularly prescriptive – even the order of the numbers on the roulette wheel was laid down in secondary legislation (although, bizarrely, not the need to actually spin the ball).

More recently, however, all of a sudden the UK has become a hotbed of trials and innovations, with almost imperceptible amounts of regulation – these days, there’s just a theoretical list of games that cannot be offered, meaning that for those companies with games to trial (as well as individuals with new games they’d like to put in front on the public) the UK is one of the least restricted territories in the world.

The forerunner of the current legislation was the introduction of a few new games in the 90s, with Three Card Poker, Casino Stud Poker and the ill-fated Sic Bo among them. Varying degrees of success were seen – Three Card Poker is of course a global phenomenon, while the only side bet allowed under this tranche of law, the over / under 11 side bet on Blackjack, more or less sank without trace.

There is a fortune to be made out of these games however, and companies like Galaxy Gaming have stepped into the space to become a leading supplier. When the right offer meets the right environment, table game revenues can skyrocket, although it’s not quite a “one size fits all” situation. Dean Barnett, of Galaxy, told us “we try to tailor our solutions to the casino, market and legal jurisdiction we’re dealing with.  Our library of games is wide enough to contribute something in most areas”.

 Copy of the original published article in Gambling Insider, written by:  Paul Sculpher

Copy of the original published article in Gambling Insider, written by: Paul Sculpher

As far as the UK is concerned, it can be confusing to determine what’s the best option, and there’s a balance to be struck. While it can seem a straightforward proposition to simply whack as many side bets as possible on, for example, a Blackjack table (and Galaxy, for one, are working on a deal where their entire library is available for fixed fee so there’s no incremental cost implication) it’s not quite so straightforward.

The maths, in terms of expected win, clearly favour pushing as much stake money as possible onto side bets with edges of 3-11%, or better still, progressive side bets with an edge of up to 30% - clearly that’s a better result than having money on the base bet with an edge of 0.5% upwards depending on player skill. However, there are two linked negatives to having sidebets plastered across the layout. Firstly, in terms of pure game speed, side bets can slow the game down by as much as 50%, diluting the advantage of having higher effective edge. It’s not just the time taken to place and settle bets, a significant part of the issue is making change for side bet stakes every hand or two.

The other impact of too many sidebets, beyond the simple slowing down of the game, is the impact this slowdown has on the player, particularly the regular Blackjack player. The UK is relatively unusual in that a very high proportion of the table play is from extremely regular players - when you have 140+ casinos in a relatively small country and no “resort” casinos as such, it’s inevitable that the casino becomes more of a socialising spot for regular players, rather than a destination night out in itself. Such “3 times per week” players, who love the base Blackjack game and have worked through the side bets long enough to recognize the bankroll drain they represent, don’t particularly want the slower hand rates and general messing about caused by too many side bets in play. Anything that upsets these players – who are the core of the business in the UK – is unlikely to be worth doing just to squeeze a few more pounds out of transient weekend players.

The solution is of course keeping the minimums right on the side bets. To take it to extremes, as a number of sites do, keeping the minimums the same as the base bets minimums will keep the number of side bets low, while keeping the total stake respectable (assuming players accept this). Obviously the local competitive situation will be a factor, but certainly having a £5 table, for example, with a £1 side bet is likely to be counterproductive.

As always in these types of situation, analysis is key. While in years gone by there was a fair amount of estimation and occasionally laborious CCTV analysis used to determine sidebet participation, these days things are much more sophisticated.  Any progressive sidebet by its nature will be trackable, but now standard side bets can be tracked with simple sensors, leading to a much more comprehensive dataset which can be used to adjust what sidebets are most profitable on which tables. This is something that Galaxy have developed for their clients, and Barnett told us “we are finding that clients really value the ability to track each individual sidebet on each table. This is helping them mix and match bets to the gaming areas in which they’ll be most effective”.

Completely new games are, however, a different matter altogether. We are all familiar with the very limited number of huge success stories in the industry – Three Card Poker is the rock star in this regard, although nothing else has had quite the impact. Blackjack Switch, Crazy Four Poker and newcomer High Card Flush are notable growers, but the ratio of success stories to failures is extraordinarily low.

Anyone who’s been in the industry a while has been approached by a colleague with “the best game idea for a century” and frankly in my experience they tend to be a bit underwhelming. Any successful game has, in my opinion, to have a combination of three things:

1)      The casual player has to be able to understand at least one of the bets within 1 minute – and as casino people, that translates to 20 seconds in our cases (with more experience and focus on learning).

2)      Beyond that, the game has to have some intrigue and depth, to keep a player interested after half an hour of playing.

3)      Ideally the game needs more than one “reveal”.  Three Card Poker has two – seeing your own hand and that of the dealer.  Blackjack has multiple – initial deal and every card thereafter. Even Roulette has the fun of watching the ball bounce around.

The truth is for all the games that are invented by passionate entrepreneurs from inside andd outside the gaming industry, while nobody wants to cede control of their baby to a distributor, the costs of protecting the game and convincing someone to trial it in a friendly legal environment mean many games die before they ever make it to the public. Passing it along to a specialist and giving up a good percentage of the future earnings is often the only way to have a realistic chance to have the game see the light of day.

Having said that, find me a game that ticks all of those three criteria, with a snappy name (and please, please not “it’s a cross between x and y” – I’ve heard that a million times) and you’ve a chance to make it work.

 

Comment

US clobbers UK with kindness

Customer service levels in British casinos pale in comparison with the “have a nice day” dealers over the pond, argues Paul Sculpher

A common cliché states that the standard of customer service in Vegas is streets ahead of what you’ll experience in the average UK casino. Perhaps truism is a better word than cliché. Having just returned from Sin City, along with hundreds of other European casino people visiting the G2E casino exhibition, I’ve seen nothing that would change my view on this subject – they’re generally excellent.

The question is, of course, why? There are a number of reasons. It’s definitely fair to say that service levels all over the US in all sectors of the leisure industry tend to be better, but that certainly doesn’t explain the discrepancy in the casino experience between the UK and the US.

The central difference is simply the raw material. It is becoming harder and harder for UK operators to recruit the right type of staff. This is not the place to discuss macro-economic factors such as the overall unemployment rate and immigration, but there’s no doubt that advertising for trainee dealers doesn’t usually lead to a bunch of keen, polite, suitable youngsters popping up on the appointed day to learn how to deal.

Rewards are certainly part of it, and the tipping culture in the US makes a job as a dealer potentially the beginning of a financially workable career. Dealer salaries in the UK tend to hover fairly close to minimum wage, plus in most cases a pretty token supplement from tips, so there can be limited appeal.

 Copy of the original published article in Gambling Insider, written by:  Paul Sculpher

Copy of the original published article in Gambling Insider, written by: Paul Sculpher

There are other hurdles that prevent youngsters in the UK joining us in the casino sector. Few people willingly launch themselves into a night shift based job that appears to severely curtail their social life – although the reality is that one of the best parts of the casino lifestyle is the social life, where your social circle tends to be pinned to the people with the same days off that you have, and many a midweek happy hour suddenly becomes accessible with no work the following morning.

It could be argued that progression is difficult within casinos – not a view I can sympathise too much with, having progressed from dealer to GM myself – but it is certainly true that there is a bottleneck between supervisor and shift manager, and with many companies looking to bring people in from outside the industry to work as senior managers, this is not simply a perception issue. I’m sure many of us have worked with talented people who simply leave to progress in other roles or sectors, tired of waiting for opportunities, in an environment where promotion is limited by budgeted wage bills, and only when a spot in the level above becomes open can someone move on up.

Obviously one solution, which has been very successful for the major operators in particular, has been to run training schools in less prosperous countries, so that the salary package looks a lot more attractive. As long as these staff can adapt to the culture and identify with the customers, this would appear to be one of the better options for operators. From a service perspective it’s also worth noting that the nature of UK casinos is completely different to a Vegas operation – in the UK we are all about developing relationships with players. A relentless “have a nice day” style service isn’t always what a twice-aweek player wants – recognition and remembering their name probably goes a lot further in fostering loyalty.

In summary, for all the value placed on customer service training and maintaining a consistent brand, both between casinos within a multi-site operation and within a single site, it’s only ever as good as the people hired by a casino operation. It’s certainly not getting any easier to find keen and courteous employees, and since the Gambling Act 2005 missed the opportunity to genuinely bring casinos into the mainstream and help with the employee perception challenge, there hasn’t been much help from a legislative perspective. Operators are fighting, from a rewards and opportunities standpoint, some pretty low level employers and only through hard work and excellent local management – along with compelling corporate communication – will we be able to aim at a better standard in the future.

Comment