ISA-CASINOS, Editor of Chief, Reinhold Schmitt: Jens Halle, you are a well-known personality in the gaming industry world-wide and you seem to be happy in Austria and with your job for the world market leader Novomatic and Austrian Gaming Industries. But your career in the industry that has taken you to this top position of AGI started well before that.
Jens Halle: It all began in May 1988 at Bergmann in Rellingen, which I do not need to describe in detail here. After that I spent eight years with Bally until I finally went on to Austrian Gaming Industries and Novomatic Group. In 16 years in an industry which has often been called one big family I was lucky to win some of the people with the most profound knowledge of the varied areas of international gaming as friends and to get to know and cherish a number of people that have had a deep impact on the industry shaping it with their esprit, visions and creative energy.
ISA-CASINOS: What do you think are the most significant strengths of Novomatic Group and AGI in particular?
Halle: A core strength of Novomatic is certainly the personality of its founder and main shareholder Johann F. Graf who in recognition of his achievements was awarded the title of „Professor“ by the Austrian President last year, a particular distinction in Austria. Mr. Graf is considered one of the great pioneers of the international gaming industry far beyond Austria and has earned total respect from competitors around the world. Another strength of Novomatic lies certainly in its continued commitment to research and development and in its capacity to develop ever new product innovations.
ISA-CASINOS: What is the investment, financially and in terms of labour, that is behind the sensational product developments which year after year continue to create a big stir in the industry?
Halle: An annual investment of approximately 10 % of turnover into research and development is not only exemplary in size far beyond the gaming industry but also bears visible fruits. Co-operations with international research institutions like the University of Technical Engineering in Cracow are the foundation of the innovative power which has long become a synonym for Novomatic. And there is the commitment to finding new approaches and solutions in areas that others have not even recognised yet as opportunities.
ISA-CASINOS: Novomatic’s Gaminator is one of the most recent revolutionary developments. What is unique about it?
Halle: The Gaminator is much more than a successfully designed combination of two plasma screens for a perfect implementation of advanced gaming ideas based on Coolfire platform technology – it is a vision materialised of advanced slot technology and it caters to the interests and the needs of the players in the same way as it fulfils the requirements of tomorrow’s modern casino operations.
ISA-CASINOS: Are AGI‘s innovations purely Austrian developments or does AGI also rely on Novomatic’s international network?
Halle: The duality of being a leading developer of advanced casino technology and an operator of casinos and slot arcades world-wide provides the advantage of always having a finger on the pulse of the action. The experience thus gained is utilized directly by highly skilled engineers, technicians and designers working in research and development and in the production process together with the results of the academic research I have mentioned before. In today’s globalised world and communication society spatial borders are no longer an issue – Novomatic has always been aware of this and since its establishment has thought international.
ISA-CASINOS: AGI has the most comprehensive product range in the industry – how comprehensive is comprehensive?
Halle: I would like to invite everybody interested to take a look at the world of Novomatic and AGI‘s product lines at www.novomatic.com. We offer a range of products encompassing interactive live games, multi-player systems, video reels and video Poker devices, classic reel slots and Roulette and Bingo games, confined only by today’s limits of what is technically feasible at a reasonable price.
ISA-CASINOS: Do you have a personal favourite among this broad selection of games and machines?
Halle: It would always be the most recent development because it is tremendously exciting to see how a new gaming idea is accepted by players and how it fares in the market place.
ISA-CASINOS: Do you have a preferred market place?
Halle: Every market has its particularities, its unique character and its specific players. I love the market place and the people that make it and I do not think in spatial terms. Having said this, I do think of Europe as a focus market.
ISA-CASINOS: How do you see the development of the gaming market in general and AGI‘s opportunities?
Halle: The trend that began to emerge in the mid 90ies away from the live games towards electronic gaming – taking a variety of forms – requires continuous creativity and innovation. In an environment where keeping pace is difficult enough, AGI‘s strength is to always be a step ahead. This is why I believe that our market opportunities are very good and that overall, the entertainment industry will continue to grow, although it is true that growth has somewhat slowed down at the moment.
ISA-CASINOS: What are the emerging game and technology trends in the industry world-wide?
Halle: There is a clear trend towards more feature-rich games offering added entertainment. However, the technology must always be in the service of and subordinate to the players.
ISA-CASINOS: Even though you do not have a preferred market, has Germany not become a little nearer to your heart after your recent appointment to the Supervisory Board of NSM-Löwen Entertainment?
Halle: I am a German national and I am proud of it. Of course NSM-Löwen Entertainment as one of the most renowned companies in Germany is very dear to me. However, this is not for purely patriotic reasons, but because I regard the merger of the two companies a fascinating challenge and opportunity for the future, not only with respect to Löwen but with regard to the German market in general, generating new dynamics irrespective of the discussions about the gaming legislation.
ISA-CASINOS: How do you see the future opportunities of NSM / AGI in the German market?
Halle: When the international experience and the innovative power of the world market leader AGI and the profound knowledge of the German market, the reliability and the reputation of Löwen, one of the most renowned companies in Germany, blend into one organic unity, this will create a potential that will no doubt seize opportunities that present themselves. This will require making some efforts but carried by a common will and belief in a sustainable future of Löwen it will move a lot.
ISA-CASINOS: The high casino density in Europe is a frequent issue. Do you believe that all casinos in Switzerland will be economically sustainable despite the poor start of some of them?
Halle: Over the next few months it will become clear whether the tight corset of what is no doubt an exemplary legislation in Switzerland will leave the casinos enough air to breathe, in particular in the B License area. Switzerland has one of the world’s highest densities in casinos which, seen against the background of stagnating tourism, does not help to make the situation easier.
ISA-CASINOS: Does Novomatic hold business interests in casino operations and if yes, where are these?
Halle: The operative engagements of Novomatic Group, its sister company Admiral Casino & Entertainment and its owner Prof. Johann F. Graf comprise business interests in varied shapes including casino operations in Mendrisio, Locarno, Davos and Bad Ragaz, Switzerland and Frankfurt Airport, Berlin /Potsdamer Platz, Kassel, Bad Wildungen, Heringsdorf and Stralsund in Germany.
ISA-CASINOS: Do you plan to extend your casino interests or open your own operations?
Halle: Novomatic-Group is already one of the largest integrated gaming groups world-wide and it is a clear aim to continue the existing growth in a sustainable and consistent manner.
ISA-CASINOS: How do you see your opportunities in gaming on the Net?
Halle: First and foremost we need to see clear legislation both on a European and an international level as the legal basis for major gaming companies. Any future business activities on the Internet will depend on these legal guidelines, with priority given to physical gaming.
ISA-CASINOS: Do you see ways of how to improve the attractiveness of gaming operations and how legislation could help?
Halle: What we need is a clear gaming policy as an orientation for the industry. In the ongoing discussion the chances and risks must be considered, taking into account the issue of thousands of jobs and significant state and municipal revenues. The industry has made its point clear.
ISA-CASINOS: Slot machines follow trends. Do you think it is essential to continuously adapt gaming devices to the respective newest generation or should player habits be taken more into account?
Halle: The gaming industry is forever changing and this is where its growth potential lies, especially for manufacturers. But obviously you must leave some room for player habits, after all, gaming is a service industry.
ISA-CASINOS: Jens Halle, a final, personal question: You have lived in Austria for a couple of years now. Has Austria become a new home to you?
Halle: My wife and I have been received very well in Austria, where we are guests. Of course there are differences in mentality but with a certain level of tolerance one can get on well with Austrians….. Well, seriously now, home is for me where I have found friends in this world and where my workplace is.
ISA-CASINOS: Thank you for the interview.