What will the new normal be and what will it mean for the land-based gambling industry? By Andrew Tottenham, Managing Director, Tottenham & Co April 20, 2020 at 5:48 pm The question on everybody’s lips is, when will we come out of lockdown? As I have stated before, this is a difficult question to answer. Due to the lockdown, measured infection and death rates are declining, but the novel coronavirus is still in our communities. We still do not know enough about it or the real rate of infection to say with any accuracy what will happen when we do open our doors again. But one thing is for sure: If we go back to behaving exactly as we did before the pandemic, without a vaccine, the virus will spread and more people will get sick and die. Even when an effective vaccine is developed, scaling up production and vaccinating our population will take time. For example, if in the UK we manage to vaccinate 200,000 people per day, it would take almost a year to vaccinate the whole population. Each year, about 9 million people in the UK receive a flu shot during a three-month window utilising hospitals, doctors’ offices and retail pharmacies to provide the vaccination, so one year does seem like it would be doable. Initially, there will have to be a partial reopening of our economies. How should the land-based gambling industry react to that? Also, given that our fellow human beings are currently considered by us to be health threats to be avoided, what measures need to be put in place to reassure our customers? Social distancing will be one of the measures, but what changes do we need to make to our casino floors? How do we encourage people to sit at a blackjack or roulette table with other people, but to do so safely? How do we protect our employees? What about craps games with dice being handed from person to person? How do we ensure slot machines are not transmitters of viruses? Yes, we can provide antiviral wipes for touch screens and buttons, but what about casino chips? This is but one pandemic; others are undoubtedly waiting around the corner and hopefully we will be better prepared for them. Operators and suppliers should be encouraged to think about the short and longer term for solutions to outbreaks such as this one. Payment and loyalty systems should no longer be reliant on holding and touching things other people have already touched. For example, cash has already all but disappeared. As smartphones have become ubiquitous and are now seen as an extension of our identity (banks use the possession of a registered smartphone as proof of identity), loading and unloading credits onto a slot machine or similar device using your phone would appear to be a simple solution. Automation in our industry will inevitably increase. Hotels are already adopting smartphones as room keys. As we know, the virus circulates in the air. Large investments have been made in air-handling equipment and table-game furniture to remove the harmful material from cigarette and cigar smoke and pump clean air back into the casino area. Could the same technology be redesigned to remove or reduce the viral load? We know this virus and many others do not survive on copper. For the mid-term, research should be carried out on materials that could be built into devices, furniture, casino chips, etc. that will destroy the virus on contact or within a few seconds. Korean researchers have had success with shredding the coronavirus using some wavelengths of UV light. At close range, it also has a negative impact on human life. Luckily, the atmosphere is very effective at screening out this particular wavelength range from our sun’s radiation. It is only a matter of time and further research before this technology could be adapted for sanitising small objects, such as gaming chips, before they are recirculated. We need to think about all the “touch points” in our industry — and not just literally, but figuratively too. Not only what we physically touch, but our interactions with other people can represent threats. Casinos and restaurants will need to have more intimate spaces. No longer will people feel comfortable sitting at a table in a restaurant jammed up against other diners. We should take a leaf out of dining in the Middle East, where restaurants are commonly divided up into private rooms. Research has shown that from a disease-spreading perspective, it is better to have 10 groups with 10 people than one group with 100 people. Large crowded restaurants could become a thing of the past. There has been a global rush to develop tourism, it is one industry that does not “migrate” to the lowest cost of production. Countries have also seen the value of the MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions) tourist; they spend more on their visits and tend to return. It was the whole raison d’etre behind Singapore’s Marina Bay IR bid and now Japan has cottoned on the value of MICE tourism; it is one of the main thrusts of Prime Minister Abe’s integrated-resort policy. But what will the future of the MICE be? In a post COVID-19 world, will we want to be travelling to an international exhibition with an associated conference program, mingling with visitors from all over the globe? As this pandemic progresses, we will have the answer to many of the questions I have posed. We will certainly come out of this with more knowledge — and have cleaner hands too.