Big picture trends facing the gaming industry

On August 10 2016, TGS gathered gaming industry specialists, leading economists and representatives from numerous venues to a ‘Big Picture Breakfast’ event in Sydney, exploring the wider trends impacting our industry now and over the next few years.

Here’s a recap of the key themes that emerged.

Precarious politics

The election was a surprise to some pundits (less so to others). Either way it’s a touchstone event for the gaming industry. The delicate balance of the new cross-bench means the nation is effectively one by-election away from a hung parliament, with a gaggle of new voices yet to make their position on gaming industry issues known.

“It’s a noisy parliament – but noise is different to action,” says Daniel Mitchell, Senior Policy Officer, Gambling, for ClubsNSW. “We need to pay close attention, as it’s unclear whether the inevitable spike in conversation around gambling will translate into reform.”

Clubs NSW identifies the following as the most likely areas to be targeted for reform over the next few years:

  • Ban on in-play betting
  • Crackdown on illegal offshore operators
  • New restrictions on advertising
  • Inquiry into gambling reform

Though major change may be unlikely, in this new political world anything is possible, so it’s wise to invest back-up plans to help your venue weather any upheavals.

“This tenuous legislative environment means an uphill battle and uncertain times” cautions Mitchell. “Be active and aware of challenges.”

The stakes are high

Australian financial analyst and journalist Ross Greenwood (proud member of several local clubs) told venue operators that life is starting to resemble Game of Thrones these days.

“Ego has always been a part of politics, but the level of division, of personality over policy we’re now facing is unprecedented. Leadership can be a bit like the ring in Lord of the Rings,” he adds, invoking another famous fantasy series. “Power can change who you are and make you feel invulnerable. So it’s game on!”

When change is constant, having a clear sense of who you are, what you stand for and how your venue makes it mark are essential.

“Get out early and push yourself hard,” says Greenwood.  “It’s a fight or flee choice. As venues you have constituents everywhere – your members, the tax office, Fair Work Australia, politicians. You’ve got more than most businesses to deal with, so you can’t afford to not understand the implications if the numbers don’t fall your way.”

The fallout from the NSW greyhound racing ban has sensitivities running high. While the direct financial impact on venues is expected to be minimal, the effect on the national mood is one to watch.

“The slightest whiff of a scandal can tip the balance of opinion and power,” warns Greenwood. “It’s always good to do the right thing, but it’s more essential to healthy business than ever.”

Clubs NSW’s Daniel Mitchell agrees, and believes venues need to adopt a 100% good governance approach as a lesson from the greyhound ban.

“We work hard as an industry to act responsibly and minimise harm,” he says. “We can’t let that change. If we don’t put our members and communities first, we risk that hard work.”

New rules, new challengers

Wages growth in Australia is at a record low and we’re feeling the pinch. The cost of housing, health and utilities are likely to start biting once more, threatening consumers’ discretionary spend.

As government commits to spending less, venues become more reliant on consumer confidence and capacity. This means trendsetting isn’t optional if you want to stay in the game.

Would you consider your local shopping centre a competitor? Ross Greenwood says you need to. As people in the outer ring of suburbs feel they want the same amenities as the city, turning to their brand new local Stockland shopping centre is appealing.

“The rules of what a venue has to be are being rewritten,” says Greenwood, challenging Australia’s pubs and clubs to think outside the square.

“Think like a shopping centre instead. Why not host a gym? A beauty salon? Don’t allow boundaries to your thinking. Disruption is a part of the gaming industry, so don’t let yourselves become complacent about business as usual.”

Learn from each other

The most important theme to emerge from The Big Picture Breakfast event was the way venues connect with each other.

“You are the best people to help each other out,” says Ross Greenwood. “Together you’re far stronger. Don’t see yourself as competitors. Your competitors are coming from other, newer avenues. Share failures, share what’s working, lift each other up.”

Ultimately, lasting the long haul is about renewal. Greenwood says venues need to ask themselves “what would happen if you weren’t there? How would the community suffer if your venue didn’t exist?” How can you keep current members engaged, while building relevance for new generations?

There’s no room to be humble and no room to hide. Venues that answer that question and get great at sharing the answer are well placed to go the distance. As TGS General Manager Paul Carew says, “let’s have a conversation, and go from there.”

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