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The Comparative absence of a ‘Home’ market is not a big problem for Johnnes Weissengruber, who heads up Apex gaming technology. A major slots manufacturing company and a group of operating companies in different countries.
“I believe that a successful manufacturing business in our industry needs two elements: an operating company, as there is no better way to learn about the machines which are needed or to test your equipment; and a good home market base.” But in the case of Austria the only ‘home’ market permitted to Apex is a slice of the small AWP business, because the casino market is tied up with the sole operating license permitted in the country.
Instead, Weissengruber, has bases just across neighboring borders in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia. “Austria is the administrative center of the company,” he said, “but by far our best market is in the Czech Republic where we have an office in Ceske Budejovice. We run two sales companies and also operating companies from here. Of the 135 real casinos in the Czech Republic (real in the sense that they have live tables), Apex has a 65 per cent market share in the supply of slots.
Founded in 1992, Apex is now a total of 18 companies, principally operating companies in surrounding countries, but significant numbers of its slots are exported to Russia, the UK, Hungry, Croatia and Slovenia, in addition to its Austrian, Czech and Slovakian business. They are 90 per cent video-based machines with a small but important number of reel-based games which go into the Eastern European market.
“They are all 100 per cent random games,” said Weissengruber, “and there are 25 different models available from our development department. Indeed, the most successful currently is the Apex Multi Magic, a 10-selection multigame machine which is fully reprogram able with new games in a simple 30-second operation.” The company also produces a multiplayer game, Pro-Bet Roulette, utilizing imported software.
In the case of Russia, however, the company will soon open its own office, either in St Petersburg or Moscow, with in-house technicians, sales staff and full service back-up. “Russian buyers have problems with the language and import red-tape,” said Weissengruber, “so we will make it easy for them by offering localized services is to manufacture in Russia.”
Otherwise all of the work on Apex slots, from the game design to the cabinet construction, is undertaken by the company itself from its assembly plants in Kefermarkt, Austria, where it is based, and from its Czech location. Weissengruber sees the rapid expansion for the industry coming from the Russian. Ukraine and Baltic States casino markets, with interesting quantities likely to come from the expansion of the UK casino industry too. “We are already into major operators like Stanley, who have 80 of our machines in their casinos; and they are performing very well.”
Like most of its compatriot companies in Austria, Arland technologies is compelled to seek most of its business – 96 per cent in fact outside its own country. The upside of that, however, is a much more rapidly expanding business and in Arlands case it means that it has customers in 23 countries.
The company, based in Graz, Austria’s hotbed of technological innovation, is a software specialist providing sports betting programs to bookmakers and to betting terminals. The company has its roots back in 1997, but in 2001 its disparate parts came together as what the company is today.
Highly qualified technicians at Arland compete to take sports betting and gaming solutions to a new level. But chief consultant Hartmut Weber identifies the company mostly with small to medium-sized operators.
“We can supply anyone, no matter how big or small they are, but it seems to us that the smaller operator is not catered for to the degree to which he should be. We have therefore found a rich vein of business within that particular grouping, perhaps with as few as 10 shops or up to 150 slots.
“We believe that we have the best products – our customers tell us so; in fact, they tell us that we have the newest technology that they can find.” The company, which is Microsoft certified, deals in three continents, Europe, Asia and Central America. It is taking its Bookmaker5 software to the international marker and had its first outing at the London show in January – even though it has those customers in 23 different countries already.
Available as sports betting in classical chain shops, on the internet and through betting terminals, Arland has positioned itself to go still further in technology, offering its products through GSM, JAVA-UMTS and ITV. “We are ready for any future solutions which may hit the market,” said Weber.
A key element in all of this is Arland’s independence. The fact that it is creating software for the broader industry sector, rather than on behalf of one supplier, is critical. Weber’s director of sales, Helge Wolfsgruber, said: ‘The advantage is the most obvious thing in the world – we cannot compete with our own customers.”
An ISO9001 certificate is on the way for Arland this year as another major milestone in its development, which they said would see the business reinvest incomes with the target of doubling Arland’s size by the end of ’06. It has 18 employees right now, which will grow to 30 by the end of December. “Most of them are software engineers and support staff for customers.”
Their reputation has attracted the attention of major players. One of the biggest bookmaking companies in Europe has already looked at Arlands Bookmaker5 core product, which enables the successful operation of betting business through virtually any environment. “They decided that our software is superior to anything else which serves the sector currently. We are now in negotiation with them.” In addition to its independence, Arland works strictly on fixed fees – rather than taking a percentage of operation incomes. “Our philosophy is simple.” Said Weber, “we just make software solutions for the market for everyone who wants to have it. There is no exclusivity.”
The company does deal through some distributors, notably Bet-Solutions, and can supply its software by itself or complete with cabinets which it buys in for the purpose. More distributors in more countries are another target for this year. “We want distributors to talk directly to the bookmaking fraternity in their own countries,” said Wolfsgruber.
The growth of the sports betting business – and Austria appears to be a major center for this development – will not impact the casino market or the business of operating limited payout machines in street locations. Weber said: “We have no doubt that the players of sports betting machines are completely different animals from those who play AWPs or who visit casinos to gamble. For arcades, a sports betting terminal is an additional activity an add-on. We have seen them operate side by side with AWPs in arcades and they don’t affect one-another’s income, which proves the point.
“We believe that we are widening the horizon of gaming through sports betting. Everyone loves sport; harnessing that attraction to gambling is to bring together two of the great loves of mankind.”
The company’s focus currently is on the German market, which has proved to be a great market for sports betting terminals. But Arland sees potential in many other countries, such as France. “in the future there will be one European law for gambling, even with individual variations from country to country. But essentially, it will be an accepted principal throughout the EC that gambling is permissible, and in many of those barriers will be torn down. Then companies such as ours, pioneers who are first in the field, will be ideally placed to grow.”