OPTIMA CEO Jacob Lopez has echoed a call from GVC for the government to afford UK bookmakers a reasonable transition period to adapt their retail business models.
Lopez was consulted by SBC on yesterday’s announcement, which saw the government reject advice from the Gambling Commission by cutting stakes on B2 Gaming Machines (FOBTs) from £100 to £2.
To cover the expected negative impact on public finances, and to protect funding for vital public services, this change will be linked to an increase in Remote Gaming Duty, paid by online gaming operators at the relevant Budget.
“The decision from the UK government regarding FOBTs is on one hand understandable due to political pressure and the magnification of the existing problem gambling in the UK,” said Lopez. “However, as the UK Gambling Commission study highlighted, it is not clear that there is justification for a cut in the stakes to the maximum of £2.
“This is a measure that will certainly impact those retail bookmakers that haven’t got the budget or the means to make plans to innovate and find ways to become less reliant on revenue generated by the FOBTs in a short period of 12 to 18 months.
“It is sad because it could cost thousands of UK industry jobs in the short term; those who will lose their main source of income also have families and responsibilities will find difficult times moving forward.
“Probably there were solutions available that were not discussed or evaluated in enough detail to protect the unprotected without causing a huge collateral damage in the industry.
“It is well known and there are constant evidences showing that the UK bookmakers have a firm and serious commitment to resolve the problem gambling.”
He added: “We hope a reasonable transitional period will exist for the bookmakers to adapt their retail business models. We will need to wait to see the real impact in the next twelve to eighteen months in terms of how the map of the retail industry, already shrinking for the last few years, will end up.”
Curciel admitted that the growth of OPTIMA in the last four years has mostly been in markets external to the UK, but maintained that nobody would be happy with a situation where shops are closing, which will no doubt arrive as a result of shops moving quickly into red figures.
He explained: “The impact for our company in terms of product will be limited as we have zero participation in the FOBT value chain, and we certainly expect the bookmakers to turn to innovative and efficient solutions like those provided by OPTIMA, and new ones that we will develop with the industry to mitigate the loss of revenue from the FOBTs.
“OPTIMA has been always working to reduce the operational costs to the UK bookmakers by introducing efficiencies in the licensing models, releasing products like OPTIMA Serverless EPOS and bringing new innovative retail revenue streams like retail in play betting with the use of our iSHOP solution.”
GVC has said it expects to withstand these “structural and regulatory headwinds” by retaining a profitable and highly cash generative UK retail estate. However, the company has acknowledged the negative impact on Group EBITDA, anticipated to be in the region of £160 million for the first full year.
September’s Betting on Sports conference will be looking at the situation in the Betting on Retail track at a session entitled ‘New Reality – Adapting to the post-FOBT landscape‘. It will ask: With the FOBT stake level being drastically reduced, what options are there for UK LBOs to replace that income? Will B3 profile games take the strain? What is in the pipeline? For more information, click HERE.