Ice 2017: onto a winner with virtual Grand National

Rob Mabbett: betting shop manager of the year

PICTURE: RP GRAPHICS Onto a winner with virtual Grand National By Rob Mabbett 4:47PM 8 FEB 2017

Betting Shop Manager of The Year Rob Mabbett with the second of his daily diaries from the Ice exhibition at the ExCeL in London.

WEDNESDAY proved another fascinating day, which started early with some presentations upstairs in the Icevox conference suite.

The theme was about the digital world and how we need to embrace it in our business. To quote host Sabinije von Gaffke: "Everybody likes progress, nobody likes change."

A tremendously inspiring talk followed from Mark Josephson, CEO of Bitly. He described the boom in hand-held devices, social media and accessible choice for consumers as giving customers tremendous power. But it has also allowed businesses, through the sharing of data, the opportunity to tailor their service, to personalise their hospitality and better anticipate the desires of people.

In a world that is evolving so quickly the importance of meeting and, if possible, exceeding the expectations of our customers is paramount. The basic purpose of the betting industry hasn't changed since the days of chalk boards and audio commentary. Delivery, however, is advancing in leaps and bounds! These sentiments were echoed by the next speaker, Kristof Fahy, chief customer officer of Ladbrokes Coral, who spoke about knowing your customer.

Kristof was passionate about listening to the customer as well as gathering digital data. He was also passionate about the opportunities for innovation that already lie within a team.

At 10am it was time to go back down into the main hall for my second helping of the exhibition.The exhibition has grown 84 per cent since 2012 with an increased attendance of 34 per cent in the same timescale.

Virtual Grand National

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After a coffee at the Racing Post Cafe, it was Inspired's stand next. On Tuesday I had admired their huge video wall displaying the latest in virtual sports products. Jim O'Halleran of Inspired greeted me while Stephen Blyth showed me the various virtual sports on offer: greyhounds, lotto, boxing, basketball, cricket, golf and an incredibly realistic darts match were being shown as well as a virtual Grand National over the famous Aintree course for the full two laps for 12 minutes. The attention to detail in this product is truly staggering.

Inspired will be staging two virtual Grand Nationals, the first a race of champions where great champions of the past compete against each other. Who is your money on? Red Rum, or an outsider like Foinavon?

There will also be a predictor race for the 2017 National where all 40 horses for the big race will line up for a virtual ‘dress rehearsal. Racing experts and jockeys have been consulted to ensure the event is as authentic as possible. I was so impressed that I shall be backing the winner of the predictor race in the real thing!

Responsible gambling

Working for Betfred I am very familiar with Inspired FOBTs and was particularly interested in the new back office model which was on display. What impressed me most about the new features were the amount of thought given to player protection and responsible gambling.

Simple functions allow staff to flag potential issues or signs of harmful play and it allows us to anonymously monitor sessions and build a history of a player's activity. This means that staff are well informed and in a better position to assist.

This could also be linked to any monitoring that has taken place over the counter. Responsible gambling is key to running a successful betting shop and it's pleasing to see what tools will be at our disposal in the near future.

SG Gaming was on the agenda next and I met with Rick Mountney, director of content development. I now have a shop that also uses the SG Clarity FOBT machines and Rick demonstrated some of the new content. I have been impressed with the presentation of the games, both the graphics and the sound. New games come along at a much faster rate than they used to and it's impressive that the machines can handle so many games(over 140 available), offering great choice to the player with no loss in running speed or performance.

New features in development include the opportunity to be able to customise the layout so popular games and new content can be put in the most prominent positions on a machine-by-machine basis. SG are also implementing similar player protection as Inspired.

Fun and games

Back at the Racing Post stand there was a fun questionnaire with the paper's industry editor Bill Barber. With very little time to prepare my answers I surprised myself with what I came out with! All I can say is it involved circus strong men and Harry Potter.

Late on Tuesday, I got a result when managing to arrive before the masses and was able to chat to Hayley Turner about life after the saddle and her new role as a brand ambassador for GBI Racing. This promotes British and Irish racing overseas, nearly 12,000 races a year in over 40 territories. She was very bubbly and interested in betting shop life. It was a pleasure to meet her and I wish her all the best in her new role.

I then met a couple of familiar faces to those of us who work in betting shops – 49's presenters Harriet and Kirstie. They both reminded me that I have yet to tweet them for a shout out on the show but I'll make sure I rectify that on Thursday!

I also caught up with Jason and Debbie Hardman at AbetA's stand, who demonstrated their BetBuilder concept. A customer can choose selections on their phone, build their bet and with the use of a simple QR code reader at the till, their bet is captured and printed off. No need for marksense slips or writing a bet out.

Jason went on to demonstrate the BetBuilder potential by demonstrating its uses showcasing their Megafan Manager fantasy football game as a way to enter the football pools. It will be interesting to see how this technology develops.

Thursday is the final day, it runs 10am to 4pm . . . I can't wait.

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