John Bollom: ‘It’s totally appropriate that we begin our 50th celebrations at EAG. We shouldn’t forget that ‘the show’ in all of its various guises, pre-dates bacta by nearly four-decades and has supported the development of the association into what it is today.’

As bacta gears-up to celebrate its 50th year of representing and promoting the UK amusements and low-stake gaming industry National President John Bollom reflects on the relationship between the trade association and EAG, the benefits that it brings to members and the significance of having a professional shop window to present to politicians and policy makers

How important is it that bacta owns EAG?

It’s very important for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it guarantees that the premier trade show for the amusements and low-stake gaming sectors reflects the industry and meets the needs of bacta members. As everyone knows bacta is the lead body in the industry’s discussions with government – a role that has come into sharp focus following the publication of the White Paper – and it’s vital that the key topics impacting the industry are reflected at EAG both through the seminar programme and courtesy of features such as the bacta Safer Gambling Hub. It also means that EAG delivers what our members want which is a meeting space where they can share ideas and are able to ‘talk shop’ in a professional and friendly environment surrounded by the very latest products and innovations.

How does that relationship benefit the industry?

Although EAG generates income which bacta uses to help fund its external activities we do not treat the show as a profit centre – it’s much more than that. For example, the first edition of EAG post-COVID was significantly subsidised by bacta in order to help our members recover from lockdown and get back to trading. Both the supply chain and our operators needed support and EAG was there to help them on their road to recovery. It was a very difficult time for everyone and I can’t envisage a privately owned company standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the industry in such a way.

Bacta will begin the celebrations to mark its 50th year at EAG – what do you have planned, who’s invited and how appropriate is it to mark this landmark at EAG?

First of all, I think it’s totally appropriate to begin our 50th celebrations at EAG. We shouldn’t forget that ‘the show’ in all of its various guises, pre-dates bacta by nearly four-decades and has supported the development of the association into what it is today. When we reflect on the history of bacta at the celebrations which will take place in the bacta lounge at 6pm on Tuesday the 16thJanuary we should do so with great pride. When bacta was formed in 1974 it served to bring together a somewhat disparate industry under a single umbrella. Having a broad church speaking with a single unified voice is a powerful combination especially when we are engaging with government and with our regulator. The vision which has driven the restructure is to grow the association, to make it more agile, more responsive, more effective and to provide a home for organisations of all sizes from multi-national businesses to the small operator with one or two arcades. I would like to stress that every bacta member is invited to the celebration and I look forward to meeting with members, reflecting on the past half century of representing the industry and also of course looking to the future. I consider myself so fortunate to have lived through this period and to have met so many wonderful characters. 

The bacta Safer Gambling Hub continues to go from strength-to-strength; how important is this at show feature?

I’m delighted that Paul Bellringer OBE has agreed to open the bacta Safer Gambling Hub at EAG. Paul was a pioneer of safer gambling and founded GamCare in 1997. Bacta was the first industry organisation to recognise the importance of the safer gambling philosophy and former National Presidents Nick Harding and Simon Thomas alongside Phil Silver did so much of the early work in terms of forming a progressive and productive relationship with GamCare. EAG will have 10 organisations on the Hub with the space gifted by bacta. Safer Gambling is in the DNA of our members and the bacta Hub alongside of course our SR Exchange is evidence of our commitment.

You are hosting and presenting at the bacta Awards at EAG – can you cast some light on why they are important and what they say about the industry?

The bacta vision is to raise professional standards, recognise best practice, reflect the industry contributions made at local, regional and national levels and to highlight those individuals and organisations which go above and beyond. The bacta Awards are a great way of realising that vision and I look forward to the presentations taking place alongside bacta’s 50th celebrations on Tuesday 16th January in the bacta lounge.

How pleased are you that Lord McNicol has agreed to open EAG ’24 and what does it say about the high regard in which the industry is seen by politicians?

We should all be really proud and delighted that we will have such a distinguished politician opening EAG particularly as the country prepares for a General Election which will most likely take place in the second half of the year. It provides bacta with an opportunity to explain the nuances of the industry, the contributions it makes on so many different levels, the challenges we face and the importance of having a regulatory framework which enables our members to be competitive and to continue to invest in high street and seaside communities. Lord McNicol’s participation in EAG follows the key note delivered by the Minister for Gambling at November’s Convention and I do believe that our evidence-based arguments are having traction with politicians and policy makers. I’ve always believed that it’s far better to build bridges rather than dig trenches and the progressive way in which we engage with politicians is key.

Bacta has its own lounge at EAG – how would you like the membership to use it and will it be open house?

The Lounge is open house for all bacta members. It’s a place where members can meet, have a coffee, take a break from the show and link-up with colleagues. I look forward to meeting with members and hopefully persuading more people to join the new bacta! We’ve produced some introduction forms which people can complete if they want an informal follow-up chat about joining the association and having their voice heard.

How many editions of ATEI/EAG have you attended and how do you explain its enduring appeal?

I’m pleased to say that my father took me out of school in order that I could go to the show when it was held at Ally Pally! From being a young boy, I think I’ve only missed one show – so that’s more than 50! I can’t think of many other exhibitions which have the same intergenerational appeal: from my perspective it is the consistency of ownership, the ability to see the very best products from the most creative innovators and the chance to meet with friends and colleagues that makes EAG so compelling and such an important date in the diary.

EAG’s strapline is ‘The Year Starts Here’ what do you want and anticipate for bacta from 2024?

That’s very straightforward: we need to get the major recommendations from the White Paper – namely our proposals for the revision to the 80/20 rule and the introduction of modern payment methods enacted. In addition, bacta will continue to push strongly for our proposals in relation to maximum permitted stake and prize levels and the reintroduction of the Triennial Review which served the industry so well. We are the only industry which cannot pass-on increased costs to our customers and that unique feature of the business has to be addressed with a regular review of stake and prize levels.

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