Each CEO we spoke to has made its own unique journey. Matt Davey tells us in this issue about getting started with a gambling regulator, while MGM Resorts International CEO Bill Hornbuckle talked about being a bus boy in last year's US CEO Special; Kindred Group CEO Henrik Tjärnström won a small lottery as a child and DraftKings CEO Jason Robins participated in over 100 fantasy leagues growing up. However, even when Per Jaldung says "this is how I went from the police to the casino boardroom in short," it is a story that requires a bit of beating on the originality front. The CEO of Casino Cosmopol tells everyone in Sweden through Zoom, with the bustling casino as a virtual backdrop that reminds us of better times.
Starting in Gothenburg, Jaldung first encountered casinos at the age of 17 during his replacement year in Chicago, although his early career saw him follow in his father's footsteps by attending police college. Together with his father, the head of the Gothenburg Police Department, he initially decided that he would never go the same way. However, when he graduated from school, Jaldung did just that, studying a lot in a job he liked and that fulfilled his interesting nature.
After years of beating, Jaldung has moved on to more advanced investigations and intelligence work with the National Police Department of Sweden, which he compares to the Swedish version of the FBI. In fact, it was a law program at Uppsala University that rekindled 17-year-old Jaldung's feelings when he saw the glamorous Chicago casino signs. While studying the new Swedish casino law to be passed in 1999, Jaldung unknowingly made his first significant step towards a career on the board.
"It probably really started my interest in the casino industry as there were no casinos in Sweden before," says Jaldung, now 53, now Gambling Insider . “I wrote an article about it and when I returned to the police the commissioner appointed me as the contact person for the national casino (Casino Cosmopol) and the gaming commission. In 2002 I quit the police force and was appointed head of security and surveillance at one of the casinos in 2001. I held this position for about three years during which we started building the casino, staffed it and opened it. Then I was promoted to the position of CEO of the Gothenburg Casino and also worked there for about three years. In 2008 I was promoted to the position of CEO of Casino Cosmopol. So I have been the president for 12 years. We had four casinos until last year; unfortunately the pandemic has forced us to close one permanently and three we have temporarily closed, which we hope to reopen soon. '
In discussing his early influence, it should be noted that Jaldung's father was not alone. Being married to an American, Jaldung's late father-in-law was a huge fan of the casino. They visited American casinos together every year, and although he himself was never a great player, Jaldung recalls the exciting environment fondly. A few years later, while working in law enforcement, he found further inspiration in the casino path. He especially remembers raids on illegal casinos in Sweden, once even physically operating a "really bad" roulette table, replacing diamonds with improvised screws.
“It's been a long time since organized crime was apparently involved in operations in Las Vegas. There has been a suspicious start to this industry in many casinos, no doubt about it. But today it is a corporate business and is strictly regulated "
"When you open a casino it is especially critical because everyone wants to test you," he notes. “It was the same with us. We had a lot of foreign players and experienced casino people coming to test you. It's an interesting time for the first few weeks, with inexperienced staff. You're still hacking into all your hardware, so you're vulnerable. I remember working 24 hours a day for weeks at the beginning. Of course we had incidents. We had some scams, some scams. But you gain experience in dealing with such threats. We also had great trainers, in our case from Holland Casino, with around 100 people helping us with both security and gaming; so much knowledge we gained from Holland Casino when we founded Casino Cosmopol in Sweden.
“They helped us stay organized so that we wouldn't be too successful in learning the industry. There have never been casinos in Sweden so we had to train all the dealers, all the cash register operators, all of them. There are certainly many risks involved in operating a land-based casino. But if you look back, that was 20 years ago, and what we have now you can't even compare, with all the systems and professionalism we offer today, and of course, with all the security features we have in place. "
The incidents Jaldung described evoke images of a typical Hollywood scenario: thieves or fraudsters visiting a casino with one goal - to cheat the house. Ocean's Eleven and Casino come to mind immediately, and when we bring these classic movies to the conversation, Jaldung raises broader issues regarding the industry. While he's not sure if a movie based on the Swedish casino market would be an exciting hit, he is obviously a fan of the cast of Ocean's Eleven and of the hit casino Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro and Sharon Stone from 1995.
However, Jaldung regrets that despite their age, these films continue to influence the way stakeholders view casinos today. "They think that's the way it is in casinos," explains Jaldung. “It's been a long time since organized crime was apparently involved in operations in Las Vegas. In many casinos it was a shady start in this industry, no doubt about it. But today it is a corporate business and is strictly regulated when it comes to responsible gambling, anti-money laundering and all kinds of fraud. It's a different world. But some people watch these movies and think they are, and that's not true. "
For Jaldung, dispelling these myths is a personal mission - especially as president of the European Casino Association (ECA), which he undertook in 2015. Much of his daily work is to present facts about modern industry. He says, “There is no shortage of risk when it comes to setting up a casino. We were robbed, we had fires, floods. But in the end they were all safe. I think this risk comes from the fact that the casinos are open 24/7 and they attract a lot of people. In the casino, we have to keep people safe. In fact, I'd say actually being in the casino is one of the safest places in town right now. "
Already, Jaldung's career is making a pretty good story - and we haven't even reached his time as CEO of Casino Cosmopol. This happened in 2008, when the four-year period represented the highest level of visits and revenues for the operator. However, at this time, online gambling began to gain popularity, and Jaldung freely admits that Swedish online casinos today are larger than their land-based counterparts. The director says it's just undisputed that online competition has taken over some of the Casino Cosmopol business. Coupled with stricter regulation with which Jaldung agrees from a moral and social standpoint, the operator has seen recurring declines since 2012.
“People are people and we will be there to serve, entertain and provide a great place to play and play. Without a doubt, there will always be a place for this "
The coronavirus pandemic, which Jaldung discusses in detail later in our conversation, significantly accelerated this decline throughout 2020. However, for the CEO, the demise of land-based casinos in Sweden started before the pandemic, in parallel with wider society, as people began making more purchases online, banks removed offices, and gambling began to follow similar trends. Jaldung maintains that there will always be a place for live entertainment and that modern casinos are more than mere gaming rooms. Restaurants, bars, music, shows, exhibitions, meetings, conferences and games can build a good future in his eyes. However, it sees the need to adapt to new trends, given the competition from other types of entertainment.
Even in the United States, where Gambling Insider Points out that some managers believe that online experience will never match what happens on land, Jaldung believes online growth is underrated, which is a fire for which the current pandemic has provided an extra spark. As president of the ECA, he can of course speak not only on behalf of Casino Cosmopol, but as a whole of European land-based casinos. He joined the organization in 2006 and has been present at every general assembly since then (the pandemic has ensured that there are doubts that this year's assembly could be held in person). The association began as a forum with the modest goal of bringing together five to six countries to discuss the industry's challenges and opportunities. The seat of the ECA currently covers 30 member countries, including Switzerland, Monaco and Serbia outside the European Union.
In 2018, Jaldung was re-elected after his first three-year cycle as president: “This is a bit like UN casinos. We're very diverse, but we still have a lot to talk about every time we meet. When I took the reins, we started out with the strategy and what we wanted to achieve. From time to time, an organization like the ECA has to pause and think about what has been and what we will continue to do, change or start doing. In 2015, we started to focus more on the challenges that we share. One of them was the fight against illegal gambling in Europe. Back then, there was a lot, and still is, both online and offline. We really had a lot of problems with the online offers, without all the security and attention to money laundering, and that really changes the competition. ”
In this case, Jaldung believes that the Court has succeeded in raising awareness among stakeholders and politicians. However, as he notes, in 2020 it was an insurmountable task hampered by the global pandemic. "The COVID-19 pandemic hit us very quickly," recalls Jaldung. “We were surprised at the speed with which it affected us. Some countries lingered longer than others, but almost all casinos in Europe were closed by the end of March. Before we closed, we put in place many measures to keep customers safe. We implemented distance, we had screens, of course all hygiene measures, hand gel and so on, but even with all these measures some governments felt that casinos and associations should be closed. They have come to varying degrees of closures in different countries to keep the pressure on the emergency room. ”
Jaldung tells us that casinos in Europe were closed for an average of 123 days in 2020, which had a huge impact on employment and income. Casinos require a large number of employees and many fixed costs, which inevitably forces many of them to permanently shut down in a pandemic. According to Jaldung, most European casinos should remain closed in February, while some open with a limited number of seats and restaurants are also limited. As many owners have learned from experience, another quick closure can occur almost immediately after reopening.
Jaldung has no doubt that the pandemic was the biggest challenge of his career: “My guess is that some casinos may open in the second quarter of this year. The spread of the virus appears to be greater in the cold spells. If it's because people meet inside more often and spread more easily, or doesn't like warm weather, then I don't know. But in the summer we certainly saw a big drop in the number of the virus: hopefully we can get it open sooner.
“In 2002, I left the police and was appointed head of security and surveillance at one of the casinos in 2001. I held this position for about three years during which we started building the casino, staffed it and opened it "
“We'll have to adapt our casinos and floor layouts to make it easier for people to stay safe. Maybe after summer we'll come back more with a pandemic-impact vaccine, and we can expect fall when we can get back to normal. We hope; nobody knows, but we hope. Nobody thought we'd be locked up now if you asked them to do so in February. "
While it's virtually impossible to look beyond COVID-19 at the moment, Jaldung shares the opinion of the other CEOs he has spoken with Gambling Insider when it comes to the long-term future of gaming. Jaldung believes that it has been a topic of great debate in gambling for several years now, and land-based casinos will diversify more into a hub of entertainment and meeting place, rather than being seen as a gambling venue. Food and drink will be important, but new types of games will be important as well, and Jaldung is eager to refer to Netflix's blockbuster The Queen's Gambit as a kind of trigger that can reignite past-rich entertainment (in this case, chess).
"We used to have an exhibition where we had game equipment from several thousand years ago," says Jaldung. “People have always had a natural need to spend time together with other people. We can meet this demand in various ways. But we always have to be up to date with trends, and sometimes stay ahead of trends, invite people to try things that were popular in new forms a long time ago. New kinds of card games, new dice games, maybe some new equipment. I think there is a lot to explore in this area. "
According to Jaldung, if these adaptations are made, land-based casinos will survive both the pandemic and digitalisation. He concludes: “People are people and we will be there to serve, have fun and provide a great place to have fun and play. There will always be a place for that, I have no doubts about that. "