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JOA Acquires and Grows

Laurent Lassiaz, CEO of Groupe JOA, discusses the acquisition of Casino de Besançon and JOA’s developments with Damien Connelly

We are accelerating the development of Groupe JOA by making acquisitions of other casinos. On November 1, we completed the acquisition of Casino de Besançon from Groupe Lucien Barrière. We made this acquisition because it allows JOA to better serve the market in the newly created grande région Bourgogne Franche-Comté, which has a population of almost 3 million and whose major cities are Dijon and Besançon. Our acquisition of Casino de Besançon may also see JOA acquire some new Swiss customers, as the border with Switzerland is quite close.

“The ambition of JOA is to be the brand that changes people’s minds about casinos. Within this, our objective is to develop Groupe JOA. We are developing Groupe JOA by both building new venues that allow us to have new conversations with consumers—such as you can see at Lac du Der—and through acquisitions. We have screened the market, and our acquisition of Casino de Besançon is our first acquisition.

“Casino de Besançon is exactly the type of casino of interest to JOA as Besançon is a medium-sized casino that currently has 130 slots, 3 traditional tables and 3 poker tables. This acquisition also supports our neighbouring casinos in Luxeuil, Gerardmer, Lac du Der and Santenay. Besançon, Luxeuil, Gerardmer, Lac du Der and Santenay are

“all close enough to complement and support each other, without being so close that they compete against each other.

“This acquisition will result in more jobs being created in the ‘new’ Casino JOA de Besançon. We will remodel this venue to transform it into our JOA style, which will include the casino having a greater focus on our JOA live tables experience, as well as using the slot innovations we have learned throughout our 21 other casinos—and of course integrating Casino JOA de Besançon with our online products and loyalty club. We will introduce to Casino JOA de Besançon a greater focus on light and colour, as we find these tactics help change the ambience inside casinos that then helps us change people’s perceptions of casinos.”

Gaming Developments

“France is the only European market which has a strong imbalance in revenues between tables and slots—typically, slots account for over 90% of French casino gaming revenues. We are seeking to find a better balance by using more live tables and more electronic table games.

“Electronic tables allow us to show our customers—to educate our customers—how to play table games without the pressure of playing on a live table, which can make customers feel uncomfortable as they’re not confident they know how to play, say, blackjack or roulette. Electronic table games have proven to be an excellent way for us to introduce the likes of roulette to our customers at a low denomination. In fact, electronic roulette is now our number one table game by revenue, whereas it used to be traditional blackjack.

“It’s a new acceleration of JOA’s strategy to invest in traditional games, invest in more electronic table games, and in being more dynamic by testing new types of games. The Organic electronic roulette tables from Interblock have been very successful for us. By the end of this year, all of our casinos will be equipped with them, making us the only French casino group to have such product consistency. Our largest single installation of these Interblock machines is a 26-seat unit in Montrond-les-Bains—and in that casino, some of those 26 positions are outside in the smoking area.

“On our slot product, which is important to keep focused on as slots account for so much of our gaming revenues, Aristocrat has been one of the slot manufacturers we’ve worked closely with. Their machine performance is consistently very high, probably because they have such engaging games.

“For example, JOA casinos were the first in Europe to introduce Aristocrat’s Batman Classic TV Series slot this summer. Our JOA team were very confident this was a strongly themed game that would allow us to generate real player excitement around its exclusive placing on our casino floors. We’ve been trying out some other manufacturers recently as JOA is committed to innovating. Manufacturers such as Aristocrat and Scientific Games often help the group propose new products that helps JOA seduce our clients.

“While slots are still our main revenue source, we are focusing more and more on our tables product. We are using a different style of decor in our live tables area to create a different ambience. This decoration uses black and white posters, and is consistent across all of our traditional table games areas.

“You can see from our tables ‘charter’ that we use humour to communicate with our customers. We want our customers to have fun visiting JOA casinos; again we use the same black and white imagery on our ‘charter’ as you see throughout our live tables area to maintain the same theme, the same feel, and the same ambience. For instance, ‘Misez tout sur le chic’ means ‘Bet everything on the chic,’ which is a way for JOA to politely and informally ask our customers to dress reasonably and not wear things like baseball caps and sunglasses that they may see a lot on TV poker…it might look cool on TV, but it doesn’t look so cool in a casino and is not appreciated by all of our customers.

“With our developments and innovations in our live and electronic tables areas, we are attracting a more even mix of players than before. On slots, we are 50/50 male/female. With table games, we were hugely biased to males; something like 90% of our table customers were male. Electronic tables have allowed us to introduce more females to table games. Because of this, we’ve seen more women start to play live tables because they’ve been introduced to the game by playing on our electronic tables.”

Developments Bring Balance

“Having a better balance in our products and amenities allows us to attract new customers to JOA. These ‘new customers’ use our properties in a more balanced way. They are not visiting our properties just to gamble. They are using all of our products: our buffet, our bars, our arcades, our bowling alleys, our nightclubs. They dance, they eat, they play, and they party. And that is perfect for us because at the same time, we can move people around within each property so there’s no empty space with no energy.

“What’s interesting is the way our ‘new generation’ customers use our casino properties. They enjoy the place by visiting with friends, which is very important for us. If you visit a casino and lose and you are on your own, you leave without winning. But, if you visit with a group of friends, some will lose and some will win. When the group of friends leaves, they can see positives and be positively reinforced that the casino is an entertainment destination.”

Non-gaming Growth

“We use our non-gaming activities as the engine to attract new types of customers. We want to change people’s perceptions of casinos. We want to offer consumers a casino product that is different to what they have in their mind. 100% of our new space at Uriage is dedicated to non-gaming, 50% of our building space at Lac du Der is non-gaming, and about 65% of our building space at La Seyne-sur-Mer will be non-gaming when this casino opens in December 2015. We will extend Les Pins during 2016 and, again, 100% of this new space will be non-gaming. And, of course, we will refurbish our latest venue, Casino JOA de Besançon. I believe we are the only operator in France to put so much emphasis on developing non-gaming amenities.

“14% of French adults have visited a casino. In certain places where JOA has a casino, we have grown this to 20%, and some people only visit our casinos to use our meeting spaces, or for our Le Comptoir JOA F&B offering.”

F&B Brand Growth

“We have branded all our restaurants Le Comptoir JOA. Le Comptoir is a brand we use to propose product that is relevant to each market depending on the location of the venue; whether it’s in the mountains, in a regional town, or at the seaside. All menu items offered are sourced from local produce, and we have about 50% of each menu designed by the local chef, and the other 50% of the offer is a centralised menu and centralised recipe to help us develop our chefs while offering a consistency for our customers.

“We organise once each year a competition for all our chefs in JOA to make sure we maintain a high focus on F&B as a group; it’s our annual version of the Bocuse d’Or, as JOA has worked with Paul Bocuse for many years. Everyone in JOA understands that the quality of our food is very, very important to make sure our customers are happy with our non-gaming product. We use F&B to attract new customers as well as to retain our existing, loyal customers.

“We have developed a standalone Le Comptoir JOA bistro moderne that is not part of a casino. It is an extension that allows the JOA brand more ‘consumer touch points’ and is in line with our earlier brand extension of creating JOA-branded beers that are on sale both in our casinos and in neighbouring retail outlets. Such brand extensions allow us to keep feeding the brand. The more exposure consumers have to our JOA brand, the higher our awareness.”

Digital Acquisitions

“We are also broadening our ‘consumer touch points’ by using a variety of digital tools to allow our younger customers to better connect with our JOA brand. These digital tools allow us to provide a more integrated and consistent experience when our customers are in our casinos, and when they are away from our venues. We are using digital screens in our venues, Apps and other technology products so our connected customers can keep in touch with JOA wherever and whenever they want to.

“We use our online offering to drive customers to our land based, brick and mortar casinos. As we continue to grow our database nationally, and as we show our customers they can take their loyalty points earned online and use them in our brick and mortar casinos—and vice versa—we are developing a really dynamic offering that allows JOA to interact and communicate with our customers at a level each customer is happy with. Our objective is for JOA to be a click and mortar provider of gaming entertainment to our customers in the future.”

From my visits to various JOA casinos recently, I can assure you customers are happy. What an operator!