1on1 with Alan Morgan at the UK Bingo Association
1on1 with Alan Morgan at the UK Bingo Association
Alan Morgan, director of Mecca Bingo, became chairman of the UK Bingo Association in January. TotallyGaming.com caught up with the leisure industry veteran, who discussed the challenges and opportunities currently facing the country’s land-based bingo sector.
Totally Gaming: Could you outline your career in the gaming industry prior to joining the UK Bingo Association?
Alan Morgan: I was appointed as managing director of Mecca Bingo – my first role in the gaming industry – three months before taking over as chairman of the Bingo Association. I have, however, spent many years in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, and I have found significant crossover between all these types of businesses.
The critical drivers are the same in them all, specifically: ensuring we have the highest calibre and well-trained teams; having a relevant customer proposition that is rooted in value and enjoyment; and delivering this in the most efficient way possible to deliver maximum shareholder return.
TG: What are your main responsibilities as chairman of the Bingo Association, and how would you summarise your first six months in office?
AM: My responsibilities as chair are to facilitate meetings of the Executive Council of the Bingo Association in an open and fair manner, ensuring procedures and protocols are followed.
Perhaps even more important than this, is my role in supporting the CEO in his efforts to lead the trade association and, when necessary, provide guidance and advice on key issues.
The first six months in office was largely spent building relationships with the Bingo Association team and the leaders of our industry to fully understand all the issues and opportunities while helping to address them.
TG: How would you assess the current state of the UK’s bingo sector? What are the main challenges, and how is the Bingo Association working to help the industry overcome these hurdles?
AM: The UK bingo sector is increasingly looking to diversify from its traditional model in the face of increased pressure from digital channels, the growth of in-home entertainment, the lingering economic impacts of austerity and subsequent lack of consumer confidence, which have hit our traditional customer base hard.
The main challenges the Bingo Association is dealing with are the renewed focus on social responsibility and attempting to find formats that satisfy the traditional regular core customer, whilst embracing the needs of younger and more infrequent customer visits.
On the former, the Bingo Association assists members by providing a whole range of tools such as self-exclusion and age verification services that keep them on the right side of the Licensing Code and Conditions of Practice (LCCP).
With regard to the latter, where there is industry agreement the association will lobby hard for freedoms that will help the industry evolve.
Currently, payment methods are high on the agenda for the industry. At a time when cash is disappearing on the high street, bingo clubs are not currently permitted to use electronic payments for example on fruit machines.
With the recent replacement of the new £1 coin we are only too aware of the business disruption and costs associated with retaining a cash only capability.
TG: What are your thoughts on the rise of the online bingo sector? Do you feel that all land-based operators should be exploring opportunities in iGaming?
AM: Online gaming has been a threat for many years, so it’s nothing new. Many retail bingo operators have an online presence. The trick is to link them together so they become mutually beneficial.
There are regulatory and fiscal hoops to jump through to make that happen, however it is the direction of travel.
No doubt many retail operators will continue to offer best-in-class traditional bingo clubs that offer an experience that online cannot replicate, but I expect the majority to migrate to a multi–channel offer over time.
TG: What’s top of the Bingo Association's agenda for the remainder of 2017?
AM: We’re focused on several agenda points at present. One is to see the conclusion of the divisive debate over B2 gaming machines. This ongoing saga does nothing to bring the industry together.
Linked to this item is a desire for bingo not to get caught up in any negative consequences from the ‘call for evidence’ or so-called Triennial Review issued by DCMS.
Bingo is largely social and low-stakes gaming. Assuming that bingo emerges from the consultation unscathed, the Bingo Association wishes to drive relaxation of rules around cashless payments, whilst at the same time assisting its members to build on the Bingo Association’s Social Responsibility Code of Conduct and the Gambling Commission’s consumer-first agenda – both of which have been designed to reduce the relatively low numbers of bingo players experiencing harm even further.