James Miller steps into the presidential role at Bacta, bringing a touch of Showmanship to the trade body’s top post. In his first keynote interview as National President, he talks to Coinslot about the challenges he expects to face over the coming two years. Player tracking, social responsibility programmes, a cashless society – a President’s work is never done.
Coinslot: You assume your Presidency with Bacta membership at a record high, in recent times at least: would you say the association is in good shape generally?
James Miller: Yes, both the industry and the association are in good shape; now the B2 issue has been resolved we can move forward on a level playing field. I have always been impressed with the people who work within Bacta, especially those members who give their time to serve on the various committees and divisions. Their contribution and experience are what makes Bacta such a great organisation. I also have to give a special mention to my predecessors Gabino Stergides and Jason Frost, who worked tirelessly on the B2 issue.
CS: Can you outline the key aims and objectives that you have for Bacta and what do you want to achieve during your term in office?
James Miller: Personally I have always been impressed with the amount of effort, hard work, diversity and investment that people put into their business these days and I feel this is something we should make more people aware of, especially politicians, and this is something I waste no opportunity in doing every chance I get. The contribution to the national and local economies should be recognised. Customers are becoming more and more discerning, so business can’t afford to stand still, you only have to visit a modern AGC to see the investment in digital equipment and the difference that makes.
Also seaside operators are constantly re-investing year after year to offer a greater experience for the British holidaymaker. Not just in the seaside arcades but other ancillary businesses they run alongside their FECs, from amusement rides, bowling alleys, restaurants and bars, ice cream parlours and coffee shops. The list is endless, but it’s this continued investment and the employment it creates that is a key contributor to the coastal economy.
Whenever I speak to politicians or decision makers I always reiterate this and relay a quote from the British Tourism alliance who publicly stated:“That if the UK’s Victorian piers are the jewels in our coastline, then the amusement arcade is the commercial engine keeping them from falling into the sea”.
CS: How would you sell the value of Bacta membership to an organisation that should be a member but isn’t. What’s the sales pitch?
James Miller: I would say we’re all in this together and any trade association has to act in the interests of its members, if you’re in this industry and you have any questions or need any help or advice there is an extensive list of resources available to Bacta members, whether you have a question or a licensing or GC enquiry there is a full team at Bacta from John White to the regional compliance officers who are there to support you and your business.
Also, as more and more importance is focused on social responsibility Bacta is constantly looking to provide better solutions for its members going forward. For instance we are about to upgrade our self-exclusion system to offer a comprehensive solution to cover all aspects of the business.
CS: You have played an important role in helping to build profile for the industry through progressive initiatives such as Tickets2Wishes; how important is the work of the Bacta Charitable Trust both in terms of raising awareness of the industry and of course fundraising for good causes?
James Miller:The Bacta Charitable Trust is a very important organisation that has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for good causes over the years and is something all members are really keen to support whatever the fundraising opportunity, it reiterates that we are a ‘people business’ we are not run by an algorithm in the cloud, it’s the people that make the difference and that’s what Bacta members do!
Tickets2Wishes is another important part of the BCT and something I have been very proud to be a part of. We are all family businesses, even some of the bigger ones, and the majority of our customers are families, who enjoy the fun we offer. We also know that as families sometimes life doesn’t always go to plan and there can be unexpected challenges along the way. This is where Tickets2Wishes can make a difference if just for a brief moment, we can with our customers help other families smile too! This is something Bacta members recognise and support has been steadily growing. But I would encourage more members to join in, you only have to look at the pictures from the recent T2W VIP day that David Cain and his family hosted, along with Sir Roger Gale MP in Herne Bay recently to see how well this works.
CS: Is the introduction of tracked play inevitable? What can Bacta do to convince the Commission otherwise?
JM:The key point here is reducing gambling related harm, it is everyone’s interest to do so. We as business want our customers to stay customers and not become problem gamblers, otherwise they cease to be customers anymore and without customers you don’t have a business. I fail to see how tracked play can reduce gambling related harm as by its nature it would only be reactive, not to mention the devastating effect and impossible cost it would have on the industry.
Instead, I feel a much better option is to develop an effective, more proactive and broader approach to SR, protecting our customers and reduce gambling related harm. We can do this with improved on screen messaging along with time and limit setting options on digital machines. In addition another positive development Bacta will be introducing is that of online training modules in line with LCCP that all members and staff can benefit from. If we put our people first, let’s give them the support to do so.
CS: As large parts of the hospitality sector are moving inexorably to a cashless economy what can be done about gaming machines, in particular those in pubs?
JM: The cashless economy is an increasingly important part of modern social lifestyles. The key to compete in current markets is to be able to offer your customer a choice of payment method, be that cash or electronic means, it should be for the customer to decide. Ironically, we as businesses pay all our expenses like payroll, rent, electricity and rates plus many others by electronic means, yet as an industry we are restricted to offer the same facility to our customers. For FEC’s and AGC’s there are some options with card systems and Tito enabled ATM’s etc. But as you say the real area of challenge is the pub market. To which Bacta set up a cashless working group some time ago and although it’s been a very difficult and complicated process, light is at the end of the tunnel. There have been a couple of app based products appear in recent months, but they don’t seem to have gained much traction. Operators and retailers from various sectors continually ask for a truly independent, robust Bacta solution that is cost effective and secure to use and that’s what we’ve been looking to deliver and Bacta will be making a further announcement on that shortly.
CS: What part of your Showmen’s heritage will you bring to the role of President – how does it influence or shape your approach/thinking?
JM: That’s a simple answer, all of it! I have been in this industry all my life and I am proud of my background and what it has given me. It instils a passion and work ethic that is unrivalled elsewhere. Showmen have a compulsion to succeed and constantly improve, given that it’s no surprise that some of this sector’s greatest achievers come from Showmen’s stock.
In addition I have to say I have also learnt an incredible amount from being involved with Bacta over the years, there are some great people involved that I respect immensely and I know there is always guidance or advice available. But as I said previously Bacta is about the people within it and I am very lucky to work with a great team. I would encourage anyone within this industry to get involved with Bacta, have your say, but more importantly to listen to others. It’s not until you can listen to and appreciate someone else’s problem, that you help find a solution or a way forward.
CS: What are the industry issues that keep you awake at night? What concerns you most?
JM: None, I sleep very well thanks, but I probably snore a little too loud.
CS: Should the industry welcome or fear the UK’s possible exit from the EU?
JM: Brexit is a difficult one, who knows what it will bring or how long it will take. I feel the main issue is twofold, firstly, a concern for most would be the access of staff, a lot of seasonal workers come from the EU and enjoy working within the leisure industry, they have a great work ethic and we need them. Secondly, more and more people are rediscovering the UK as a holiday destination and why wouldn’t they it’s a great place to visit and long may it continue.