In Europe, it’s sometimes good to be “Switzerland.”
That’s what happened when Heliodoro Giner was appointed as secretary general of the Spanish Casino Association.
“The SCA was looking for an independent professional to serve the needs of the industry,” he explains. “Independence and neutrality were major issues. That’s why they were searching for somebody with no experience in the gambling industry.”
As an attorney, however, Giner had a good grasp of the intricacies of Spanish law and how it applies in the gaming business. In addition, the emergence of online gaming only complicated a situation that was already murky at the start.
Giner cites the flagging economy as a concern of the industry in his country, but says as a whole, the European industry has major challenges.
“It is clear that, at least in Europe, there is a social and technological crisis as well,” he says. “People are changing the way they behave and the way the spend their leisure time and money. Gambling in general, and casinos in particular, have a difficult mission to try to be part of the future. The big problem that we face as an industry is that it is very complicated to adapt to all these changes with the level of regulation and taxation that we have to face.”
Giner says saturation across all gaming spaces impacts the casino industry.
“There are hundreds of bingo halls, thousands of gambling halls, and around 220,000 AWP (amusements with prizes) in bars all around the country,” he says. “And when you add online gambling, sports betting terminals, more aggressive lotteries… It’s a serious challenge to our business.
“We are trying to mitigate all these threads and work toward the future looking for alternatives and new business models. Clearly, regulation and taxation are on the top of the list of the changes that we need, but regulators and lawmakers do not always understand the business and its evolution.”
One positive piece of news in Spain is the possible entry of integrated resorts. Las Vegas Sands has proposed an integrated resort in Madrid, and Melco Crown is involved with something similar in Barcelona.
“This will be very good news for the Spanish and European casino industry,” he says. “Both LVS and Melco will force a number of major changes in casino and gambling regulation in order to bring their investments to Spain. It’s clear for me that achieving all these changes without the projects that you refer will cost much more time and energy, if it ever happens.”
The arrival of online gaming in Spain has also been a challenge for the casino industry.
“Most of the casino companies understand that part of the future of casino gambling is related to technology,” Giner explains. “Internet, mobile and tablets are new means of distribution for casino games. The merging of land-based and online gambling products will be an interesting development in the future. But I don’t see many land-based companies competing with the big online operators. It’s a much different business.”
Giner is also an officer in the European Casino Association, pointing out that the fate of casinos in Spain is inexorably linked to the industry on the entire continent. He says that the red tape that constantly engulfs casino projects in Europe is very difficult.
“The problem is that projects in Europe take such a long time that many people fail to realize of the importance of influencing European institutions for the good of casinos,” he says.
But some success has been noted.
“We had in the future important challenges like anti-money laundering directives, and in other fields, and will have much more progress in the future, I am sure,” says Giner.
Always the Switzerland.