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lub life: Having recently been appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of Shuffle Master, can you tell us how a lawyer from Australia becomes the head of an international gaming company? Gavin isaacs: Being a corporate lawyer is actually great training for anyone working in a gaming environment, and there are actually a lot of parallels I was able to draw upon. I was a partner in the law firm Phillips Fox which had 160 partners at the time and which I must admit was definitely a detraction of the job. I was approached by a head hunter I’d met some years prior who provided me with an opportunity to move into business. The day prior I’d had a fairly bad meeting with the partners of the firm, and so I seized the opportunity. At the time it was sold as a company that was rebuilding itself and that I’d be ideally suited to work with them. The company was Aristocrat and while I didn’t have any experience in gaming at the time nor had I thought about moving into the gaming industry, everything began from there. I initially started out in corporate services, then moved on to legal and compliance, and eventually headed up their global marketing and business development. In 2000, the company was booming and I was promoted to Managing Director of their European subsidiary based in London. However, that didn’t last too long. A year earlier, the company had made an acquisition in the United States and the person brought in to run it didn’t exactly work out, and the U.S division of the business completely died so I was flown over in 2003 and have remained there ever since. When my time ran out at Aristocrat, I moved over to Bally Technologies where I served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for about five years and was responsible for the company’s worldwide game sales and operations business including sales, marketing, product management, product development, manufacturing, and customer support. Then the opportunity came up to join Shuffle
SHUFFLING WITH THE MASTER
InTErVIEW By OLIVIEr BjörkSäTEr-BLEyLOCk
In 1992, Shuffle Master dared to take one man’s dream and turn it into a million-dollar success story. Today the company’s products enjoy world-wide popularity, its commitment to quality and customer satisfaction make it respected among peers and clients alike, and the creativity and forward thinking of its management team and staff ensure its continuing growth and development. Club Life spoke exclusively to Shuffle Master’s newly-appointed CEO Gavin Isaacs to find out more about his vision for both clubs and the company.
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CLUB GOVERNMENT RELATIONS
Master and in some ways it closes the loop for me – that is, more than half of Shuffle Master’s revenues come out of Australia, so in a sense I’ve come home. Cl: So, what’s your mandate for Shuffle Master? then the team developed a fantastic cabinet called the Equinox with a great new platform and backed by a game library featuring an extensive range of high performance titles and progressive links that can be configured as a network of machines or as standalone units; they’re truly kicking the ball out of the park. Quarter on quarter, over the last year the company has achieved a 193% increase in revenue from slots. With these results, Shuffle Master is other parts of the industry all around the world. Those clubs that are performing well are refreshing and investing and the customers are responding, while for those which are not doing so great, I hope they’ll be able to maintain their position so as to be able to reinvest in their gaming facilities to help steer the business back. And the threat of mandatory pre-commitment certainly doesn’t help the situation at all, but hopefully that will be clarified very soon so as to allow the industry the certainty it own needs to move forward.
Gi: A focus on customer service is our number one priority. We’re already customer focussed but there’s always more to be done. Our second priority is execution, so if we say we’re going to do something, we must do it, and deliver on time and Now we have Andrew Wilkie pushing his on quality. The other area personal agenda for mandatory pre-commitment I’m tweaking is to do with Cl: What are your thoughts focus. I don’t want people technology which quite frankly isn’t the answer regarding the deal struck doing half a job here at all and is simply a knee-jerk response. between Prime Minister and half a job there, so julia Gillard and Tasmanian instead of working across Independent Andrew Wilkie to introduce different business groups, our people well positioned to capitalise on this mandatory pre-commitment technology as will be focussed on one business group growth to provide both the popular a means to form a minority government? because when you’re better focussed, game content and the delivery systems you’re able to do a better job. I’ve only that ensure secure, efficient game Gi: I’ve lived outside Australia for the been with the company for a few months performance for the club market. last decade but I grew up going to now but the people are positive, amiable, the races, and enjoyed the occasional and very determined. It’s a great culture Cl: With results like that, it shows flutter on the pokies, but suddenly in which is the key to a good business. that clubs must be investing 1999 as a result of the Productivity in floor refreshments. Commission report there was some Cl: Is the Australian market kind of gigantic paradigm shift and good for Shuffle Master? Gi: It’s something different, the recreational gambling was evil. game play is different, and it’s an To me, the industry didn’t act as Gi: Shuffle Master provides value-add exciting new cabinet that players cohesively as other parts in the world products in four distinct categories: really like. My experience in gaming and I don’t think they realised how Utility products, which include automatic anywhere in the world is simply if impactful the social welfare lobby card shufflers, roulette chip sorters, you don’t invest, it’s the same with groups could be, particularly when and intelligent table system modules; any other business. That is, if you they would take small snippets of data proprietary table games, which includes don’t invest in your research and and convert them into exploding myths live games, side bets, and progressives; development in a gaming company, and suddenly it pushed an industry electronic table systems, which include or your gaming floor in a club, in which Australia led the world into various e-Table game platforms; and, players will go and find a fresher the backwater for a while. now we electronic gaming machines, which product somewhere else. have Andrew Wilkie pushing his own has enabled us to achieve substantial I speak with a lot of club people, personal agenda for mandatory pregrowth in the Australian market since and you’d be surprised where I run commitment technology which quite taking over Stargames, so the Australian into them. Frankly speaking, clubs frankly isn’t the answer at all and market is very good for Shuffle Master. are an example where if you don’t is simply a knee-jerk response. Whilst we have our other product invest in your facilities your What I find interesting is that I can categories, Australia isn’t a huge membership will start to drop off, go to the football on the weekend and market for casinos, however there your facilities become outdated, over the loudspeakers they’re spruiking are electronic table systems in both and your community support and bets across various parts of the game the United States and Australia, and relevance is compromised. From with the odds changing all the time. which was one of the attractions of everything I’ve seen and heard, there So, all of a sudden you have a situation Stargames because they dominated are some clubs performing really well where something good for one isn’t the local market. The slot business and others that are really struggling. good for the other, and so the gaming was a fledging little business, but Unfortunately, it’s like that across
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CLUB GOVERNMENT RELATIONS
machine sector of the industry appears to be the ugly step-child copping all the issues yet everything else continues. It doesn’t make any sense at all. The shame about the industry locally is about painting the personal stories, and there are some fantastic people working in the industry in Australia and it’s a shame they’re not recognised appropriately. Even with our industry legends such as Len Ainsworth where elsewhere they’re recognised, it’s lacklustre here. It’s a pity you can’t celebrate the personalities behind it because that’s un-Australian. Cl: It’s more so that clubs are copping all the issues when one looks back over the last 10 years of struggle the industry has faced. Gi: It’s a case of why let the facts get in the way of a good story. The club industry is a fantastic industry with a very unique structure that allows the industry to do so much for the community. When I explain to people in the United States and Europe about the registered club model in Australia, they’re simply astounded and think it’s an amazing concept in which community recreational gambling is invested back into the local communities in which they serve. Cl: With issues such as this, is Australia a challenging market to operate in? Gi: It’s not hard to perform in Australia if your product is good because people are recognising and investing. There’s a strong culture of people who still enjoy recreational gambling but what I find interesting is that when I tell people about what I do in the United States, they’re very receptive and positive, however if I tell people in Australia what I do, and the response is almost at the other end of the spectrum which is completely ridiculous. Cl: They must also think a government attempting to control and monitor you while playing a poker machine is also ridiculous? Gi: As a gaming manufacturer, we developed over the years. The members create an entertainment device which want what the venues have grown brings a great deal of pleasure to a into and you can’t argue with that. lot of people and helps deliver a lot I sincerely hope the club industry is of critical community funding for a restored as well as be appropriately wide range of good causes through acknowledged by governments clubs year after year. I’m not trying because the industry really does so to suggest that gaming machines are much. As I mentioned earlier, when I good for you; they’re an entertainment tell people back in the United States device and people enjoy themselves or Europe about the club industry by relaxing and enjoying play on a model, they don’t really understand machine. It’s an absolute joke for any it because they operate machines government to tell people what they and don’t make any money off it. can and can’t do Times are tough and when it comes to I sincerely hope the club clubs’ livelihoods are gambling when there grossly under threat, industry is restored as are many worse which will not only well as be appropriately things out there make it increasingly acknowledged by that people could difficult to serve the be doing. Even with community, but also governments because gaming, it’s not a increasingly difficult the industry really government’s role to continue trading does so much. to dictate to people for the long term. what they can and Everyone suffers can’t do. Australia has a very good by clubs being put under this cloud regulatory regime in place to ensure of mandatory pre-commitment. the machines are fair, and it’s very important for governments to do that, Cl: Finally, with upcoming but as for telling people what they Australasian Gaming Expo taking should and shouldn’t be doing, that’s place later this month, what can completely wrong. What they should we expect from Shuffle Master? be doing instead is focussing on those people that do require assistance and Gi: We believe we’ve got the most helping them instead of punishing diverse product portfolio in the industry everyone else. no government should and we’re confident that this event be telling people who don’t have a will only solidify that point with our problem what they can and can’t do. customers. The Australasian Gaming They don’t even do that in russia. Expo provides an excellent opportunity to demonstrate how our unique suite Cl: What are your hopes of products can significantly elevate the for the club industry? gaming experience for players. We’ll be showcasing an impressive selection of Gi: I grew up very close to Bondi slot machine titles that feature stunning junction in Sydney and I remember graphics, enticing progressive jackpots, we’d go up to the leagues club there and rewarding free game features, and on a Wednesday night for dinner and all housed in the new, stylish Equinox where the kids got to meet all their cabinet which we will be launching at football legends and have photos with the event. There will also be evolution their favourite players, and that was and progress in the Rapid Roulette only ever possible because of the clubs. range and the Vegas Star range of And look at how they’ve evolved as electronic games, so you’ll see things the country’s grown, providing the like multi games as well. It’s really community infrastructure that they going to be an exciting environment do along with the ever-increasing and we’re looking forward to community support, as well as the welcoming clubs to explore our great facilities and services they’ve entire range on offer this year.
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