We talked to gaming market expert Mr. Andrzej Sikorski, former Vice-President of Gtech Corporation for Eastern Europe, former president of Olympic Casino Poland, consultant to many leading companies, including Novomatic, the British National Lottery CAMELOT and Scientific Games International.
E-PLAY: Six months have passed since you helped prepare for the privatization of the national lottery in Turkey. I hope you have taken up equally serious business challenges. What are you currently working on?
Andrzej Sikorski: First of all, using my many contacts in Central and Eastern Europe, I have started to search and prepare new lottery projects in countries such as Estonia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania and Georgia.
Perhaps the most interesting of these projects is the simultaneous introduction of interactive vending machines selling both traditional paper scratch cards and any other number games using 3D animation and various electronic payment methods. So far, they have been introduced in three countries.
For several months, I was responsible for the preparation and implementation process of my biggest customer’s participation in a big tender in Italy. I also support the development of a Polish software company which built an excellent transaction system for selling lottery tickets in all the possible channels – traditional, online and mobile – from scratch.
E-PLAY: From 2007 to 2010, you were responsible, among other things, for the penetration of Arabian markets in terms the possibility of opening gambling arcades on behalf of Novomatic. What was it like in practice? Why have these plans not been implemented yet?
Andrzej Sikorski: At that time, casinos existed and operated in countries such as Tunisia and Algeria. However, they were only available only to foreigners, mostly tourists. For cultural and religious reasons, no one had considered the possibility of opening gambling businesses to citizens of those countries. The new generation of high government officials, educated in European universities, decided to look for new sources of revenue. They asked representatives of Novomatic to find a solution which would be acceptable to their legal systems. Within several months, our discussions have led to the creation of proposals for enhanced gaming, where players would have to show certain skills and make conscious choices during the game.
Our training ground was to be Tunisia, where the first locations have already been selected. Unfortunately, the so called Arab Spring in North Africa suddenly closed the operation, as the new governments completely lost interest in this unique and culturally risky venture.
E-PLAY: When observing the changes in the Polish gambling laws, we can clearly see that the State Treasury wants to monopolise the slot machine market. Bearing in mind your broad international experience would you be tempted to comment on this?
Andrzej Sikorski: I can only present my personal opinion on implementing such a huge project in Poland. Let’s take a look at Italy. Many years ago, the state decided (very cleverly) to open the market to virtually all types of games of chance rather than to hopelessly fight illegal gambling, which I think was a step in the right direction. The latest IT solutions may allow full control over slot machine operators to become truly effective.
In my opinion, however, the expectation that Totalizator Sportowy (The Polish Sports Pool) will be able to select, install, implement and operate a system consisting of tens of thousands of machines with a wide range of games, seems very risky. I am convinced that the Polish market is of great interest to the largest suppliers of various transactional systems, slot machines designed for different operations and, of course, of the games themselves, which are most important from the players’ point of view. In my opinion, the Polish business model should be based on delegating responsibility for implementation and dispersed investment risk by inviting several experienced suppliers and/or operators who offer and fund the purchase of vital equipment and systems.
E-PLAY: How would you assess the gambling market in Poland? Are we an example of the right approach to the gambling market?
Andrzej Sikorski: Personally, I think that the strategy of eliminating gambling with legal and administrative methods has never proved itself anywhere. Gambling operations must be strictly controlled and there are solutions that make this possible. The state must take care to make sure that gambling companies do not cause massive social problems. But this can be done effectively by imposing responsible operating principles on operators, through restrictions on the product structure, as well as by tracking and eliminating unsafe and inappropriate behavior of players. A total ban on offering games of chance, everywhere and without exception, only leads to rapid development of illegal gambling. In countries such as Russia and Ukraine, this caused the number of illegal slot machines arcades to double. Furthermore, the interests of their owners were protected by corrupt cover systems, or mafias, involving police officers and local politicians.
Another very important element of state policy is the rational taxation of such business. Too many policymakers think that raising the tax or charges will automatically bring additional revenues to the state budget. Our bookmaking market is a great negative example of this process. Polish companies that pay dramatically high turnover tax do not have a chance to offer competitive and attractive shops compared to online companies based in Malta or Gibraltar. It is worth noting that turnover tax is a solution very rarely used in the world. Even if it is used, it’s to a much lesser extent.
E-PLAY: What are your career plans for the near future? Do you intend to represent a large corporation or are you waiting for interesting projects with the national lottery?
Andrzej Sikorski: In general, I am very pleased with the diversity of orders I receive from both the world’s leading providers of technological solutions, as well as from companies licensed to operate gambling and betting games. I am currently starting another potentially huge project in Italy in connection with public tenders planned in 2017, under which new lottery licenses lottery worth several billion euros a year will be renewed.
I also hope that the new gambling law will allow me to once again use my 22 years of experience in this highly specialized industry to Poland’s benefit. I am anxiously looking forward to the consequences of the new gambling laws.