Since his debut as a dealer for Holland
Casino 33 years ago, Ron Goudsmit has seen it all in the European casino industry. His experience on the operational, legal and developmental sides of the industry has prepared him well for one of the most important roles of his career, chairman of the European Casino Association. The transition from oversight by national governments to the European Union has been difficult and bumpy. The ECA was born in 2005 to represent the industry during these trying times, making the regulations and operations work for its members. Goudsmit spoke with Global Gaming Business European Editor Rich Geller at the International Gaming Exposition in London in January. To hear a podcast of this interview, go to www.ggbmagazine.com and click on the GGB Podcast button.
GGB:What is the European Casino Association?
Goudsmit: Basically, it’s a trade association, and our main focus is on the lobby to Brussels. In Europe, the E.U., a lot of rules and regulations and new legislation come out of Brussels, and it’s very important to inform the commission about the work of our industry, to have one voice represent the casino industry in Brussels. That’s a very important part. The other part is also bringing the different member countries-there are 23-to learn from each other, exchange information, because we do an enormous amount of exchange of information on our internal website, just the member website. We organize events.
How do you deal with the more than 1,000 individual casinos you represent?
What we try and do is we have different member countries, and usually here there’s a casino association in a country. So the different casino operators are already members of each country association. The association is the member of the ECA. We usually communicate through the national associations of the countries.
Do you also have members that are outside the E.U.?
Yes, we have Switzerland, for instance. We have Serbia. We do have outside countries, but most of them are E.U. It’s not fixed to E.U.; it’s Europe.
With the wide variety of legislations and regulations for casinos, how do you find common ground, common issues?
We do. Sometimes that’s not easy, but I think at the end of the day, the bottom line is the same for
everybody. Although you have different legislations maybe, where you want to get is the same thing. The approach might be a little different in different countries, but what you’re trying to say is the same message.
What are the main issues that you’re working on these days to lobby?
Obviously, online has gotten huge attention. I’m sure you’re aware of the different court cases before the European Court of Justice. We just had the the big Santa Casa case in Portugal. Online has gotten a lot of interest for two reasons. First of all, because of our members, but also everybody else, looking for clarity on where we’re going, and that’s not just Europe, that’s worldwide. We’re focused on the E.U.. The other thing is that our members, which are land-based operators, more and more, step by step, are getting involved in the online business.
At the International Casino Conference, it seemed like the same old animosities were still there, expressed by some of the online operators and some of the government representatives.
I wouldn’t call it animosity. As I explained at the show, there’s absolutely no animosity. I think it’s only fair-we as land-based operators have our licenses, we’re heavily taxed with regulations and everything, so what we’re looking for is a more level playing field, that’s all. We don’t mind competition at all, but there’s got to be a more level playing field. That’s not animosity, that’s just getting things right, making sure we get the proper regulation into place, then we’re very willing to compete with all of them once there’s a more level playing field.
Do you think that governments in general are a little bit behind the curve, are a little too slow in reacting to the changing situation?
Yes, it’s taken a long time. Everybody would like to see a little more speed there, because online is developing rapidly. We’re sort of lagging behind, and that means once you do come online, you have a disadvantage. On the other hand, as I said before, it is a very difficult issue. Since countries are responsible for their own gaming regulations and legislation, it’s a difficult issue. So yes, we would like to see a higher speed, but politics is always difficult and slow.
There have been several mega-projects announced in Europe, and they seem to all have large names attached to them as well. Are we going to actually see any of these develop?
Well, two things there. First of all, at the moment, economic times don’t really call for such huge investments. It would be very hard to find the money. Also, as (architect) Paul Steelman said at the conference, the “time of the casino barns,” as he called it, is over. Especially in Europe, with the huge mega-resorts, it would be a question if there is a market for that. But there is a market for bigger projects. I’m sure once the economy improves, we’ll see some bigger projects, but not of the size that they had initially anticipated. That’s why a lot of these deals break off, because the investors, usually big American companies, don’t get the tax level that they have in the U.S., for instance, or in Macau. The reason why they can survive there is because the personnel cost is so low. The personnel cost in Europe is pretty high. That makes it very, very difficult to get these sorts of projects off the ground.