Marcel Tobler of Swiss Casinos: Turning iGaming “Water” into “Wine”

After a quarter of a century in, and around, gambling; working for forensic accountants PwC, in Vegas, in Switzerland; sitting on the board of the Gamanza Group; building a top-level career that also embraces a decade at the Grand Casino Baden group in Switzerland, Marcel Tobler has earned an enviable reputation for expertise, vision and reliability, writes André Dubronski.

Now ensconced as the new CEO of Swiss Casinos in his native Switzerland, one of the most highly-regulated gambling territories in the world, Marcel has become a master of turning “water into wine”.

An MBA alumnus of the world-famous University of Chicago, he believes: “A company needs to be able to use limitations as an advantage.”

So any chat with this gambling leader has got to be a fascinating conversation, running a gamut of topics: from the advantages of an Omnichannel, the pros and cons of Regulation, combating the illicit market and, that key task, building customer loyalty.

We spoke to Marcel as he prepares to take his seat on the prestigious Opening Day Panel at the iGX Conference in Geneva next month, which will focus on the future of the Swiss market and explore how to turn regulatory challenges into business opportunities.

With so many events happening throughout the industry calendar, why is attending the IGX conference in Geneva important to you? And what are you hoping to gain from it?

“There are so many events now in this industry. It’s crazy.

“But two things: First, it’s in Switzerland, and it’s nice to finally have an iGaming event in Switzerland. As a market leader, we definitely cannot miss it. Second, and more importantly, is the event’s content. What I particularly like is that the event’s set-up is very specific. The event isn’t about iGaming; it’s about the customer journey in the iGaming world. Why is that important? It helps to make the event relevant for our people.

“Normally, you have an event, and you say, ah, okay, those are two interesting topics for our retention marketing guys. Oh, those two topics would be nice for our product guy. But there are only two presentations, so the product guy only attends/gains from those two presentations.

“With iGX, it’s very focused, so you know which people should attend; rather than only having two presentations, they get two very relevant entire days. That’s something new and unique. I hope to see more events in the future that are very focused on specific topics.”

At iGX, you’ll participate in the all-star opening panel on Day One. What will you discuss, and what can visitors learn from your session?

“We are discussing how to achieve an engaging customer experience, differentiate from other operators, and attract new customer segments. While we zeroed-in on the digital tools available to achieve this, it became apparent during the pre-discussions that it’s not just about the tech.

“The tech is available and can be used to achieve something, but more importantly, operators need to have a vision of what they want to achieve and the customer experience they want to deliver when someone visits their site. You cannot just say which is the best technology, get it, implement it, and bingo; you have an outstanding customer experience. It’s about the vision. And that’s just the first part. Then, you need to measure what’s happening.

“Decisions, wrong decisions, are fine (I always say 50 percent of most decisions are wrong), as long as you identify which ones are wrong. Building excellent customer service takes time. It’s not a one-time task but a process that needs optimising and testing. To achieve this, you need data to understand what your customers are doing, and you need to be able to analyse the data.

“Many things come together to create the customer experience, not just technology, but much more. Technology plays a significant part, but even then, it comes with challenges – a lot of systems are legacy systems, and it’s not always very easy to add the newest technology in a very integrated way to your existing tech stack.”

Switzerland is noted for its stringent IGA regulatory framework. How does this impact your ability to interact with and engage players? Has it been a limitation or encouraged you to find more innovative solutions?

“In a highly regulated industry, I think a company needs to be able to use limitations as an advantage.

“Of course, high regulation creates a limitation. For example, when I launched the first online casino in July 2019, we started with 50 online games, only 50 because those were the only games approved by the regulator. Of course, it is limiting, but you need to turn whatever challenge into an advantage as a company.

“There are a couple of areas where you turn strict regulation to advantage. We know the rules very well and understand how the regulator sees or views that regulation. That’s better than really big companies servicing other markets. By having that detailed understanding of our regulated market, we can create solutions that larger companies cannot make for highly regulated markets because their opportunity cost to focus on it is too high.

“I believe this is always a chance for innovation, and potentially that innovation can also be used in other markets, not just in Switzerland.”

What does the future hold for the Swiss IGA market? What do you think will be the key drivers for this market going forward?

“A critical topic in every highly regulated market is the fight against the illicit market. We have to work on this together with the regulator. We have to ensure that those operating in Switzerland follow the regulations and that operators can thrive and grow. We need to find ways to ensure that the illegal market shrinks effectively.

“We also have the challenge of having very tough Responsible Gambling regulation. Those requirements result in thousands of players being banned by operators yearly. It’s not the case that all these players have issues. Sometimes, the player doesn’t provide the required information, so we have to ban them anyway.

“These players tend to move to the illegal market, and then they play in an online casino where nothing, or very little is done to protect the player. This is an issue for us and a social problem that we must work on with the Swiss regulator.

“As an operator, we also have to make sure we’re offering the right product. For example, we’ve had crash games for just under a year and a half, and there are many other areas we still need to work on and manage, in line with regulation, to offer the best product to the player.

“For us, as a land-based and online operator, one of our big objectives is creating a great Omnichannel experience. We believe online casinos are a perfect way for new players to try out the game and learn the games before they go into a real casino.

“But we also know that once an online player has been in a real casino and enjoyed the physical, not just virtual, experience, those players are loyal in the future, not only to land-based establishments but also online.

“We have to make sure that we do everything so that the players can experience the Omnichannel in a good way, choosing to be able to play online and also go to a real casino to have an experience that you cannot just replicate online.”

Editor’s Note:

In an ever-tightening regulatory environment, gaining insight from seasoned leaders like Marcel is invaluable.

Tech is good. Tech is essential. But vision trumps all, believes Marcel.

So too, excellent customer service remains paramount. While innovation and data are key, it’s also possible to do more with less, if one’s strategy and resources, even limited by regulation, are well deployed.

And fascinatingly Marcel believes that, if anything, online gaming can have the positive customer effect of drawing these self same iGamers into real land-based casinos.

If you’d like to garner more of Marcel’s expertise and gaming wisdom then make sure to attend or tune into his presentation on the Opening Day Panel at iGX Geneva in the Hotel President Wilson between April 18-19.

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