A chance visit to a printer of bingo tickets... and Gareth Phillips, now international MD of The Global Draw, was hooked on the gaming industry
How did you first get involved with the amusements industry?
My first introduction to the gaming industry was when I spent time in Leeds at the Gala bingo ticket-printing press, developing a high-speed inkjet printer that could print the sequence numbers into the book of tickets in real time. I was fascinated by the concept of random numbers and how the bingo ticket sequences were printed. Within about 12 months of that work I was offered a position at Barcrest, which was my first real entry into the world of gaming machines.
Why? What attracted you to this sector?
Well, obviously at that time Barcrest was owned by Bass, and what true Welsh rugby player could possibly resist the offer of working for a brewery! Beer aside, I was instantly attracted to the idea of stepper motors, random numbers, and microprocessor control. Having a background in engineering, I saw the AWP as a world of real possibilities that I just had to get involved in.
Do you think it has changed much since then?
When I joined the UK industry it was manufacturing around 60,000 machines a year, with the major brewers injecting large amounts of cash on an annual basis. It was a fast, competitive market and the rewards were there for real innovation.
Having returned to the UK market, I was surprised to see the drop in manufacturing numbers and the lack of investment. I suppose this was to be expected as a direct result of the withdrawal of the brewers and the introduction of the fixed-odds betting terminal. The UK is now a much harder place to run a successful machine manufacturing business.
What are the biggest positive factors for the sector right now – the drivers of growth and development?
The day of the individual gaming machine is now passing in favour of the networked product. We live in a connected world and it is now time for gaming to join that revolution. There has been much debate as to whether this heralds the fall of the stepper product, but networks do not necessarily dictate that it’s video-only – that really is an issue for the designers to sort out.
Great video content that attracts the player will fit perfectly in a connected world, but an innovative stepper product that supports remote game changes and so on would also fit the bill. The challenge is there for the designers.
And what are the negative ones – the obstacles to growth?
There is no doubt that capital has recently become one of the obstacles to growing the industry worldwide, as it has two “sea anchor” effects. The first is simply the lack of investment in new machines and the attendant drop in manufacturing activity, the second is that it forces the true innovators to become more cautious, and as a result, we see less revolutionary and more evolutionary innovation.
Looking at your whole career, what do you reckon was your smartest move (large or small)?
Moving down to join Aristocrat in Australia. As well as introducing myself and my family to the whole Down Under lifestyle, it introduced me to the worldwide casino industry. The high-kicking style of the show girls at the Tropicana was mixed with the need to develop casino-management technologies for the slot floor – an enticing combination.
And your dumbest one?
I was involved in setting up a gaming machine operation in Japan. At an informal dinner meeting, I threw our Japanese partner a curve ball to see how he would bat it. He got up, bowed and left. Ten minutes later, I had an invitation to join his chairman, who was dining in a restaurant not far from ours.
When I got there, the chairman very calmly explained to me that in his culture, asking his employees a question that they were not authorised to answer was a career-limiting move – for both me and the manager I had been dining with. Lesson learned: always respect cultures, and never play the smartarse.
Where do you hope you’ll be, professionally, in ten years’ time?
The Global Draw is part of Scientific Games Corporation. The worldwide opportunity for networked gaming solutions is huge, and it is our intention to be a significant player in that business.
I aim to be part of the team that steers the company to success in those markets and I hope in five years’ time to be able to look back with some satisfaction to see The Global Draw operating a number of successful, major gaming routes across the world.
And finally – if you’d never embarked on this career, what other line(s) of work would you have liked to pursue?
The last couple of years I have taken to falling off mountains with my younger brother. I would have liked to have learned how to stick to them a lot more effectively than I do at the moment. Maybe it’s not so much a career, more a wish.
Born: 1956, Wales
1973-82 BSc in physics and MSc in computing, University of Wales
1989-91 MBA, University of Exeter
1977-86 AIM: technology consultancy working on a number of new products including DIY electronic tools and an electronic guitar synthesiser.
1986-92 R&D manager, Domino Amjet: developer of non-contact inkjet systems for production and printing lines. Responsible for engineering resources.
1992-98 engineering director, Barcrest: manufacturer of gaming machines for the European market. Responsible for all R&D activity.
1998-2010 chief technology officer, Aristocrat: manufacturer of gaming machines for the international casino market. Responsible for R&D and technology strategy.
since 2010 managing director – international, The Global Draw: operator of video lottery terminal (VLT) networks across the world. Responsible for identifying, deploying, and operating international VLT networks.
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