BACTA Convention 2010

25/11/2010

The 35th BACTA Convention held at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster was fortunate not to have been held the day before when the student protests had forced the centre to lock its delegates in for their own safety.

Although the atmosphere was not quite as tense as that, there were still some tough moments. Simon Thomas, Chairman of United Leisure Gaming Limited gave an excellent speech masquerading as a question (which gained the biggest applause of the day) on the disparity between the legislative freedom awarded to the LBO sector compared to the beleaguered AGC sharing the same high street. “This is not a conference,” he waved round the half-filled room. “It is a wake!”

Certainly there were fewer faces at this year’s BACTA Convention. Some members had left, quite a few had gone out of business, some had even sadly died since last year. There were also many who probably felt they would hear nothing new and decided to stay home and concentrate on their businesses.

The stalwarts were there however and they got up to ask their questions, Michael Green, Derek Horwood, Tim Batstone – to mention but a few. And those who did turn up heard some interesting talks. Neil Chinn bowed out as Chairman and must be praised for the work of the last few years, particularly in salvaging the SWP sector.

Matthew Hill from the Gambling Commission was a highlight in that he confirmed the concessions coming the industry’s way (B3 consultation and review of Category C technical standards) but he also threw out some extra advice to the industry. He said BACTA should keep in mind that the Government would call on the Commission to give advice if any further deregulation should take place. It is therefore not advisable for BACTA to dismiss or undermine the Commission’s position in dealings with the DCMS.

But most interestingly of all – he said that if the industry wanted some of the freedoms awarded to other gambling sectors, it would be wise to look at adopting some of the same player controls. He said we should look at player tracking, loyalty card systems etc. and that this could ultimately do away with the need to impose statutory stakes and prizes in the form of a triennial review.

Paul Bolt from the DCMS gave off the air of a friendly professor and is very likeable. He gave delegates an update as to the changes that have been going on following the change of government. He talked at length about the personality of John Penrose, and painted a picture of an insightful and dedicated minister who would deliver valuable changes to the industry and not just a salve or patch. Apart from that, he did not give many hints or announcements of future plans. He advised BACTA members to keep their lobbying requests clear – not ask for too much and to join forces with other lobbyists in different industries in order to ensure better success.

Other speakers included Jenny Cowles from HM Revenue & Customs who claimed to have learned a lot about the industry during her work with BACTA on the SWP issue. She claimed that there could be a better way of taxing gambling, rather than the 7 tier system currently in place. One sensed delegates minds had wandered to her racy red boots as the subject of tax proved too taxing…

Geoffrey Godbold OBE had the dreaded spot before lunch to deliver his talk on the GREaT Foundation (the voluntary fund for Research, Education and Treatment of problem gambling). He is one of those few people who has such charm that even though he was nagging for more donations, he still managed a to raise a laugh.

Over a drink afterwards, it was generally agreed that Hill’s comments into concessions being granted to the industry – if player controls were put into place – were the most interesting.

“But it is chicken and egg,” said one industry professional. “Without more concessions we don’t stand a chance of being able to afford the investment to develop those kind of player systems.”

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