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Magnus Lindkvist: Looking to the future

By - 1 November 2022

Following his keynote presentation at the European Casino Industry Forum in Austria, Futurologist Magnus Lindkvist spoke to G3 about the lessons to be learned by the land-based gaming industry as regards future-gazing and about his own special brand of public speaking.

The one deliverable I have been able to make profitable is keynote speaking. I came out of management consulting, which is a very process driven, as opposed to the world of futurology, which is ideas driven. I prefer the purity of ideas as opposed to helping VPs process and accept certain ideas. I started doing this as a hobby in 2003, writing books, giving talks.

It’s similar to the music industry. I was a failed wannabe rock star, where you’re in the doldrums forever until you have a hit. While I never got to that point as a musician, I knew that if I soldiered on in my speaking engagements, something good could happen. It took me about 5-6 years before I made a living. Both futurology and keynote speaking are quite silly job titles, and so I have always worn them with self-deprecation.

During the pandemic I tried to retrain as a policeman. I spent time at the police academy in Sweden, where I realised that my only real love is future thinking. Every industry is unique and though this is going to sound insincere, I’ll say it anyway, the casino industry is one of the most unique industries I have met. It is a blend of optimism and pessimism.

They have unique legal challenges, but they are doing well in spite of them. My perception coming into the ECA Forum is that I’m a very light slots player – I’m not a gambler – though I am a huge computer gamer. I play slots for the annual sum of €100 . I have been to Las Vegas several times and seen European casinos from the outside. I knew this was going to be a European twist on that, and I still have that perception.

In German, the word for debt and guilt is the same. The European way is often about guilt, whereby you must not give way to your inner most urges. If you compare European desserts to American, ours tend to be lower on the sugar, more refined and smaller. Whereas in America if you want it sprinkled with cannabis and marshmallows – why not? I think even though Europe and Las Vegas each offer gambling, it’s a bad comparison to make. I’d be more interested in using European examples.

For a long time Apple was the darling brand if you think about innovation, but it’s actually not the most relevant brand in terms of innovation. The same is the case with Las Vegas, as America and Europe are very different. Americans are world champions in conceptual thinking – “let’s put a man on the moon.” Europeans are world champions in process refinement.

Doing the same things over and over and making it a little better each time. If you look at Europe, the most famous, well known brands, be they Italian fashion or German engineering, French luxury goods, they have been doing the same things for generations and refining that process all the while.

I would love to see that model applied to the strange blend of hospitality, gambling and socialisation that is casinos. It is a strange creature. In France you see countryside out-of- town locations, compared to Sweden, which is confined by the state monopoly, but in prime real-estate locations. Each is confined by location and regulation, but the ‘MacGuffin,’ if I can use that crime fiction word, is that everyone keeps talking about online gambling and I don’t see it as the same market.

Online gambling is a frictionless market. You can do it at home naked in bed, or at the bus shelter – clothed or not. On the other hand, why do you want to travel to an ECA member’s casino? There must be a reason to get dressed, get into my car and go to this building tonight – not tomorrow. If the answer to this question is only gambling then you have failed; you have already been beaten by someone offering a frictionless alternative.

We have seen this change before. Record stores thought that they were only about selling packaged music. The ones that survive are now special community shops selling vinyl, in-store concerts by indie bands, whereas the mass industry of CDs and cassettes just went away. Why buy one CD why you can stream the whole world’s music?

The big challenge for this industry, from where I’m sitting in the nosebleed seats, is that you can’t run hospitality with a risk management mindset. If you were to open a steak restaurant with that attitude you couldn’t give anyone steak knives. The patrons ‘could’ stab each other! Food relies on risk – we wouldn’t have oysters otherwise. The reason people enjoy it is that it’s this slightly scary refined thing that requires a leap of faith.

In a casino, you must have a risk management mindset to please the law makers, I appreciate that, but where this industry has lost out is in the ‘generational gain.’ Things that were once considered sinful are now tolerated. Sexuality and life-style choices, for example, about which we are a less conservative continent now than a few decades ago.

However, you wouldn’t know that from entering most casinos. I have never seen a Pride-themed event in a casino. My son is into Magic The Gathering, the playing cards game. He and his friends are confined to a basement in the middle of Stockholm that hosts a niche community of players – why doesn’t that happen at the casino?

If you want to find pockets of growth, find these communities of interest and give them a platform. Whether they gamble on your machines is probably the least important aspect. Just get them into the building, which as we’ve seen in other industries, has enabled growth and relevance to the brands you’ve created.

In general, we like to preserve our city centres with museum-like dedication, which returns us to the European idea of refining processes. Bo Bernhard says that we don’t destroy the cathedrals of gaming in Europe, as they do in Las Vegas, but there are examples of this. The church in many countries has been extremely good at bringing new groups into its buildings.

They were relevant in the European refugee crisis, they made themselves relevant in current debates on sexuality and family – they don’t always hold the popular opinion, but they have become places of debate. Someone like Jordan Peterson talks to people about popular questions like a priest and we’ve seen what the popular yearning is for that.

Our love for socialisation and intrinsic need for excitement and gambling are timeless. In 10,000 years they’ll still be here, but it might not be the casino that is best at being able to cater for all of them at the same time. I think you have to choose what you are – and if you’re competing against frictionless gambling, then it’s probably good to add friction to your own offer.

When your industry is doing well, diversity becomes an exotic spice. Inclusion in this environment becomes a human rights thing for fairness sake. It is one discussion to have, but a less bitter version of that is to ask, what does a multiplicity of skills, backgrounds, capabilities, ideation mean?

A lot of people talk about deep diversity as opposed to superficial diversity, which is the human rights side. If we believe that women and people of colour have been disenfranchised then we must do everything in our power to change that, including for me – as a 40+ year old white guy – to step aside. And I’m okay with that.

The other long-term thought, in which we create multidisciplinary ways of doing this, especially in an insular industry such as gaming, is when we go to the same suppliers, same procurement procedures and have a very clear idea of what they do, and wonder why they are not doing better? If you expect different results by doing the same thing – that’s the definition of madness.

A lot of companies are ‘doing’ diversity by saying they have too many of one and not enough of the other. We need to ask instead, what capabilities do we need? If you’ve ever seen a tech-developer, they tend to be a non- binary person with pink hair and tattooed everything, whose job hours are not the same and their way of thinking is certainly not aligned to yours, because they are coders and systems architects. How do we ensure that we get those people into the industry?

Joe and the Juice, the Danish juice company, decided only to hire hot looking young men in their bars. They knew this would attract young women, and they would bring the young men. If you want there to be more young or old – then you need to hire ambassadors. This industry, in terms of diversity, has not even got to square one. To catch up to square one quick, be relevant and interesting. That’s my advice.

The best advice ever given, however, was from Steven Spielberg to George Clooney, who at the time was a TV actor. Spielberg told Clooney: stop moving your head so much when you talk. He has since become the suave leading man. That is a good advisor.

The expectations of Futurology, for the past few years, has been – show us umpteenth cool new gadgets. Here is the metaverse, here is a self- driving car etc. It became a mono-cultural diet of information. Some of my books are about the art and questionable science of future thinking in which we talk about the visual appearance of the future – as opposed to its smell – how does it feel?

Historically, inventions in things that we see, such as architecture or industry, were preceded by inventions in new ways of thinking. If you think about the limited liability stock company – an invisible thing, but the idea that you could take more risks than you would be liable for, preceded the corporatisation of the 18th century; or consider that the enlightenment gave away to the scientific revolution, which was in turn how we came to invent ‘things’ like electro-magnetism, medicine, etc.

I struggle with this concept as a keynote speaker because if you are too much on the wild side you become an exotic philosopher, which isn’t that useful for an industry forum. On the other hand, if you go in and say: hello casino members, here are the 10 most important topics for the future of your industry; you become a recycler of last month’s periodical, plus it is bound to be all about digitalisation.

So you have to swerve in- between. Where I get my energy from – is where and how does the future happen and what is the missing link between seeing things and doing. Thinking anew so you can do anew.

Such ideas keep evolving as we failed to anticipate the pandemic. I held a speech for hotel industry owners in London in February 2020, and the half-life of that talk was three weeks. The general of the Swedish army, two weeks before the invasion of Ukraine said, “I doubt the Russians will invade.” It is part of a pattern of being constantly surprised by the future. So there is obviously something wrong with our mental software – and hope to be able to fix that bug.

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