As Payment Expert continues to explore the vital role of cash in society, we spoke to John White, Chief Executive of bacta, the UK trade association representing the land-based, low stake gaming industry.
PE: Firstly, how has the acceleration of cashless payments impacted your industry?
John White: It is difficult to make an accurate assessment given all the other factors that have affected business over recent years but what we do know with absolute certainty is that cash is becoming less and less the payment option of choice for the general population.
In pubs, where around 70,000 Category C £100 jackpot fruit machines are making a significant revenue contribution and occupy arguably the most profitable four square feet of a pub floor, nearly three-quarters of transactions are now non-cash. This means consumers don’t have physical cash to play machines and don’t receive any change when paying for drinks or food. In essence consumers now have to plan to have cash in their pocket, wallet or purse if they choose to play machines as part of their entertainment mix. Not being able to offer the breadth of payment methods as found elsewhere on the high street places the industry at a serious disadvantage.
PE: Have you had to make any adjustments or embrace any new technologies to ensure consumers can still engage with transactions?
JW: Bacta members commit significant R&D budgets to deliver value for money, contemporary, low stake gaming entertainment to adult players across a variety of locations throughout the country. The reality with our sector is that if the offer falls below the expectations then games simply won’t get played. Providing safe, value for money entertainment and amusement is a prerequisite.
The most significant change particularly in the pub sector, is the switch from analogue to digital products which deliver a broad and segmented choice of games designed to appeal to different player groups and demographics. Digital enables the delivery of a menu of games which are monitored and changed if income falls below an expected level.
PE: Do you believe more should be done to accommodate consumers that still wish to utilise cash?
JW: Consumers demand choice across all of their transactions and machine players are no different. It’s all about choice and players must be offered the opportunity to pay for what they want delivered in the way that they want. Large sections of the population still use cash and the industry is lobbying to be able to offer the broadest choice of payments which includes cash.
PE: What do you think is the rationale behind the government’s resistance against high street gaming operators being able to offer cashless gaming in its most convenient form?
JW: There isn’t any government resistance. It has been recommended as part of the proposals contained in the Gambling Review White Paper – a development which is very welcome.
PE: What’s the latest state of play for Bacta in its pursuit of cashless gaming machines?
JW: We are now working with the government to put in place measures that will minimise any real or perceived elevation in the risk of gambling-related harm. This largely involves providing a higher degree of friction in the payment process so that players have plenty of opportunity to reflect on their choices.
PE: What message is Bacta giving to policy makers to reassure them that it has the measures in place to manage cashless gaming machine payments in a way that ensures player safety?
JW: We have spent the past two years engaging with officials at DCMS and at the Gambling Commission to ensure that we have appropriate and precautionary measures in place to minimise that risk.
Our sector has a proud track record of working with government and regulators to deliver a safe and secure environment in which adults can enjoy low stake gambling entertainment. All bacta members live the safer gambling philosophy which in part explains the exceptionally low levels of problem gambling as measured by the UK Gambling Commission.