The Interview: Jens Halle

We have been meeting Jens Halle, CEO of MERKUR Gaming, on a regular basis at gaming events the world over, and beginning the year, at Totally Gaming ICE 2015 in London. Our meetings have taken place during almost 15 years now, and our chats have almost always been about the progress of the industry and products he represented. Needless to say, it was always refreshing to hear about how the industry might move forward and one always thought that with characters like Jens, the way forward always would be interesting. This time, however, I made a special trip to Bogota´ for MERKUR Gaming’s one-day event at the Wyndham in the Colombian capital, to showcase new offerings for this developing market. Once we got talking, it was incredible to find that we both shared an inextricable affection for legendary South Africa, where both on different gaming ventures but on almost parallel planes, enjoyed the benefits of the beloved “old country” as we know it. Then, in that great young country, which is Colombia, I had the task to try and see how this exemplary professional will move forward in his new posting, at the helm of another great brand. Ricki Chavez-Munoz: I expect that such experience in gaming served you well to go into gaming supplies. How long were you at Novomatic? Jens Halle: I have been working in the industry for 26 years – 16 of which were for Novomatic. During this time I have had the opportunity to get to know present and former industry leaders. My experience in the industry will help Merkur Gaming develop the right product for each market and increase worldwide market shares. A company has to unite creativity and innovative development alongside excellent market knowledge and industry know-how in order to be successful in the gaming industry. RCM:?As we all know, the Gauselmann Group, MERKUR Gaming’s parent company, has been in gaming for a very long time, and was also owner of Atronic, one the most respected brand in the industry. What do you need to do to bring the MERKUR brand up to the levels of Atronic? JH:?As a company we will listen to the requirements of all our customers, act as a partner and offer the best products including outstanding after-sales-service. Experience has shown that in general the different markets are very strongly shaped by local preferences and requirements. Therefore, success depends upon offering a product that is developed around the corresponding player mentality. We ensure this amongst others with our extensive international games portfolio – where the games can be selected according to corresponding market preferences. RCM:?Will there need to be any fundamental changes to either Gauselmann’s or MERKUR Gaming’s work or strategy policies? JH:?It is not our goal to conquer the whole world in the short term. The main focus in the near future will relate to the thorough increase and optimization concerning market cultivation in the international and regulated markets that we are already active in. The core markets here are Latin America and South Africa amongst others. The business activities of Merkur Gaming will be predominantly shaped in the medium term in laying the foundations for establishing market entry into North America. Furthermore, it is our intention to strengthen the casino side of the business in future with additional staff – indeed to be precise with more casino experts from all around the world. RCM:?There is the sense that MERKUR Gaming’s presence in the global gaming markets is not as broad as Atronic’s was. Could you tell us what are your plans to bring MERKUR Gaming up to those levels? JH:?On the one hand, we are already very well positioned in several countries. On the other hand, further markets need to be focused upon more strongly. It is always essential to listen to discover individual market requirements. Company success depends upon whether the products strike a chord with customers, in particular as well with the players of course. That is our thorough focus. RCM:?Broadly speaking, Latin America is the one market with more operations per country where recent regulatory developments point towards greater gaming device sales per operations. As one of the few companies with offices in several countries in the region, MERKUR Gaming seems well prepared to generate good sales in these markets. Do you have any specific plans for these markets? JH:?In future we will focus even further on customer contact and so strengthen this key area. In addition to this, we intend to introduce new sales and distribution models to the markets we are active in. RCM:?MERKUR Gaming developed a range of localized games for Latin America. Do you have plans for further localized products in Latin America? JH:?Naturally we are analysing the markets very carefully. Once the right possibilities appear alongside with the right offers, we will then weigh up the different possibilities. RCM:?The Bogota event at the Wyndham in March was well attended. Did you obtain the results you had anticipated? JH:?This event was outstanding. The decision to host our own customer event at the Wyndham Hotel instead of participating at the show was absolutely correct. The results were even better than expected. RCM:?How do you envisage the future for MERKUR Gaming in the gaming industry map, provided you apply the vast expertise you possess in Gaming for the benefit of this company? JH:?The Merkur Gaming team unites all the preconditions to further consolidate and expand its market position on a global basis. We are learning from each other and will offer the best products and outstanding service for our worldwide customers. Merkur Gaming always has ongoing projects in development – not only this year but also in the future as well. We are introducing more interesting games, more interactive games. We intend to positively surprise the whole casino industry with these as the casino industry is keen to understand and so get to know the excellent games we will be bringing in the future. Our strategy is clearly focused on building our export presence in a controlled manner in well-regulated markets and co-operating with licensed operators. RCM:?Finally, How important is the Latin American region for MERKUR Gaming? Will you be marketing VLT and SBG solutions for these markets? Latin America is one of the most important markets for us. We are very satisfied with our business development here, particularly in Peru, Colombia and Mexico where we have enjoyed great success with our products. Referring to VLT and SBG solutions; Merkur Gaming has already successfully established itself as developer and provider here – mainly in Europe. A trend towards this technology can also be seen in Latin America. We will be prepared for optimal market entry when the time is right. In addition to this, we are continually observing opportunities in new markets, for example in Asia.