Bacta AGM: Extract from John White’s executive speech

Coinslot offers an extract of John White’s chief executive speech at this year’s Bacta AGM.


For the first time in five years I don’t have to mention FOBTs! We achieved the stake cut and that came into effect in April, the culmination of five years of very hard work and a sterling effort by you, your officers, and the whole Bacta team. Job done. Yet. Anyone thinking that the stake cut meant we could put our feet up and watch the return of a golden age for the amusement machine sector will have been disappointed.

We never expected to see some massive uptick in cash box once the stake was reduced. That despite the fact that the introduction of FOBTs in the first place saw the AGC sector halve in size.

What I did expect to see was a period of pause and the whole gambling industry moving on in hand with a supportive commission and happy DCMS, our sponsoring department.

Although the FOBT debate had dominated the agenda, I was certainly looking forward to a more constructive engagement with our regulator. I was looking forward to discussing how the industry could both innovate and, in tandem, develop its social responsibility agenda.

It disappoints me as well as frustrates me that this has not happened. We have good contacts with the commission at a personal and individual level, but the culture of the organisation has in my opinion become one which does not wish to see any development of the industry. It’s as if the commission computer says no.

All conversations revolve around player protection and safer gambling.

Now there is nothing wrong about us being challenged to do more in this space. Of course not. It remains central to every business in this room.

But at the same time we have to have other conversations that allow the industry to innovate. We all know if we stand still we are in fact going backwards. Frankly, I don’t understand it.

As I have said many times the commission and the industry agree on the licensing objectives. We may disagree over how we discharge our respective obligations to deliver them, but they are not in question. We want to work in partnership to iron out those differences and deliver for the customer who may be at risk from harm.

I don’t understand it when Bacta has been at the forefront of so much good work when it comes to player protection.

The past twelve months has seen a sea change in the scale and pace of delivery.

Let me just go through some of the initiatives:

On messaging we now have thanks to the lead of miles at the bingo association, powerful and impactful SR messaging on B3 machines in bingo halls, AGCs and LBOs. We have also now developed two messages on Cat Cs including an age confirmation message.

On limit-setting we will deliver by June next year with a fair wind, the facility to set time and money limits on B3s.

On education and the training of our people, we have augmented all that we have done with a new customer interaction model. Developed with Beacon Counselling and called ‘sometimes its more than a game’, this expands and develops the customer interaction training we have delivered for years. It maps the new LCCP.

We will soon be offering on-line training to members. Our SR Exchange has been really well received. We held another one in Manchester two weeks ago. Our player diaries provide a way for those customers who want to, to keep a track of their expenditure and moderate their budgets.

Our Social Responsibity Charter and code of conduct is a condition of membership and responds to concerns and developments as we see them. This afternoon you will be asked to include a new condition of membership that says no under 16s will be allowed to play on cash payout fruit machines unless accompanied by an adult.

Our self-exclusion scheme has been working well now for over three years and was updated to reflect members’ feedback following our review last year.

Our guidance, which has frequently anticipated LCCP changes by years, continues to help the industry.

So, no, I don’t understand it.

I don’t understand it when one of the first things the commission said to me five and a half years ago was what a relief it was to be able to have a conversation with Bacta. Well let’s converse! We have done what you wanted and we do what you want.

I don’t understand it but I really would like to. I really would because this industry is a unique and valuable part of Britain’s economy, one that is woven into the very fabric of Britain’s popular culture. One which looks after its customers like no other.

Thankfully, when we explain to politicians and other stakeholders what we are really about, they listen.

The past twelve months has seen even more political engagement by Bacta as we launched our siding with the seaside campaign earlier in the year.

Following on from our appearance before Lord Bassom’s select committee on regenerating seaside communities, we published the six steps to seaside success.

  • Prioritise the regeneration of seaside towns.
  • Invest in local transport and connectivity in seaside towns.
  • Address excessive car parking charges with a joined up approach
  • Move to a local-based development program Implement the tourism sector deal
  • Reduce our tax burden

It’s a message we have been taking to the streets relentlessly over the summer. We sent MPs a box of seaside souvenirs – a stick of Bacta rock, a beach ball, a mobile phone deck chair etc. We took the message to the party conferences, holding great events on Bournemouth pier and Brighton pier (thanks for hosting guys). We held one to one’s in mp’s constituencies or in the tea rooms at Westminster or at the fantastic tickets to wishes VIP days held through the summer.

As a result we have had plenty of media coverage. A couple of weeks back, we got a great bit of coverage on BBC radio – all about Southend which is now the staycation capital of the uk, apparently. I think Southend deserves a round of applause. All I remember as a kid was the mud and a tiring walk up the mile-long pier because my dad was too stingy to pay for the train. Anyone who heard the show will also know it is the place I bought, aged 14, a pair of cowboy boots – the result of a win on the horses no less – yes I must confess that I gambled illegally in the 70s. Look at me now.

I digress.

There has also been an increased focus on the problems of the seaside and the need for them to be addressed, by politicians. We have had all the parties making positive statements about the need for investment in the seaside whether directly or as part of wider public policy proposals. The most obvious perhaps being Labour’s plan to get ultra fast broadband installed across the country. Whatever you might think of that the message about investment in infrastructure is at the heart of our six steps and it’s getting through.

We also have explicit support for tourism. The Lib Dems passed a specific motion on the subject at their conference.

And before I get accused of political bias, the conservative government approved the tourism sector deal back in June which amongst other things gives seaside towns the opportunity to bid in for funds under the tourism zones initiative. If you have got a good local council please get them to get busy on this. The danger is that without bids from the coast it will be stately homes and national parks that could hoover up the money.

What the politicians we have spoken to understand is that there is nothing wrong with our industry. It’s all about fun. about creating low cost memories that last a lifetime. And it’s done in premises that are well run and safe.

Who in this room hasn’t been to the seaside with their parents and then done the same with their own kids?

That would have no doubt involved sitting on the beach, building a sandcastle, freezing in the sea, experiencing the crunch of sand in your cheese bap, trying to stop a melting ice cream dripping all over your fingers, fighting seagulls for your fish and chips and yes, spending a few bob in the arcade.

And in a few minutes we are going to find out from the centre for economics and business research, just how much that few bob adds up to and how much our business means to towns up and down the country.

Without going into the numbers here, I can nevertheless say without a shadow of doubt, that without our industry, seaside resorts would suffer badly. You wouldn’t see any of the piers Anya is going to talk about shortly. It is not hyperbole to say that this country depends on us.

So despite my bemusement at our regulator, I, we, will continue to take the truth about our industry out to the people that can make a difference.

We have a good team to do so headed by your new president James Miller, who will close this morning’s session. His vice-chair, Greg Wood, treasurer, Chris Haley and the four division chairman, Trevor Sutton, Peter Davies, Neil Finch and Quentin Stott, have, as always, put helping Bacta, helping you, very much to the front of their working day. Guys my thanks to you all. The same goes for all the regional chairmen, secretaries and treasurers and indeed all our committee members. Thank you.


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