Phil Horne talks to Gambling Insider about his first year as CEO of SG Gaming

Phil Horne talks to Gambling Insider about his first year as CEO of SG Gaming

For SG Gaming, the UK division of Scientific Games Corporation, 2016 marked a change in leadership for the company as it looked to turn a page in its illustrious story. In March 2016, Phil Horne, then Managing Director, stepped up to take over the role of CEO. Now entering his second year at the helm, Horne’s new post has provided plenty for him to reflect and build on, as he continues to shape his ambitious vision for SG Gaming.

Having begun his career as a trainee betting shop manager with what was then Gala Coral Group, Horne has built up a wealth of experience across his thirty-year career in the industry, working as Managing Director of The Global Draw before it combined with Barcrest to form SG Gaming in 2012.

“Scientific Games’ merger with Barcrest was pivotal as it provided a significant boost to our in-house content capability – something that we have continued to place importance on,” notes Horne. “Barcrest boasted one of the industry’s top game development teams and it has been a pleasure to nurture and grow this with real success in recent years.”

Horne is confident that this wealth of hands-on-experience will stand him in good stead to oversee SG Gaming’s growing workforce of 550 people and build on long-standing partnerships with some of the UK’s biggest gaming operators.

Horne explains to GI that positioning SG Gaming as a leader in both content innovation and the ongoing development of gaming solutions has been a priority as he aims to drive the business division forward: “Providing our customers with innovative solutions and new gaming concepts is what sets us apart from our competitors.

“The most important goal last year was to ensure that we hit our financial targets, especially given the achievements of previous years. I’m delighted that we accomplished this and hope to continue to build on this going forward. Having strong working relationships with our customers is pivotal to our ongoing success and continued performance; we’re in a great place and we are looking forward to strengthening these ties further in the years to come.”

Reporting to Derik Mooberry, Group Chief Executive of Gaming at Scientific Games’ Las Vegas headquarters, Horne’s commitment to building on a close working relationship with the industry provider’s US team is clear: “Some of the US senior team have been over to the UK since I took over, and it was great to introduce them to many of our key customers and different operating sectors, as well as them being able to get to know the team over here too. Having close links is good for knowledge sharing, exchanging ideas, and learning from the vast experience we all bring.”

In an industry characterised by constantly advancing technology, innovation and the continuous evolution of existing products and infrastructure is a necessity. With a growing need to create a seamless customer journey, Horne recognises that it is vital SG Gaming works closely with the SG Interactive team in the US to develop omni-channel content solutions across the multitude of SG-owned brands. With leading brands including Bally, Barcrest, and WMS amongst others, the in-house content development team in Manchester have been integral in the creation of SG Gaming’s most successful titles.

With increasing demand for an omni-channel offering and bespoke solutions, Horne is keen to ensure that SG continue to lead the way in developing digital content. “It’s imperative that we provide the best one-stop-shop solution for all of our customers that encompasses state-of-the-art hardware, player popular content, advanced server-based technology, and business intelligence tools which help operators manage all aspects of their gaming solution.

“As omni-channel gaming offers players a wider choice of options and multiple touchpoints, it is important we are able to support this with cutting-edge technology solutions at the forefront of gaming innovation. Our talented team at SG Interactive is developing more and more content for an omni-channel user experience, under some of the biggest and most successful titles and franchises.

“As we expand our library of player-popular content, our advanced server-based platform, developed in partnership with Videobet, continues to provide innovative solutions across all gaming sectors, offering our customers a range of sophisticated reporting, promotion, and player-tracking functions.”

While Horne noted that he will look to continue to build and grow partnerships with existing customers, 2017 has also seen SG Gaming expanding its offer within the UK casino market. The business currently has a limited presence in land-based casinos; however, February saw the launch of the new Riviera cabinet and for the first time, B1 content created specifically for the UK casino market with a £10,000 jackpot.

“We have been developing an array of products, including our new state-of-the-art Riviera cabinet which has been rolled out across selected Grosvenor Casino sites as well as Aspers’ flagship casino in Westfield Stratford City. The new cabinet features LED lighting, a high gloss HD screen, and the interactive Vdeck button panel operating on a server-based Gaming platform, integrated into Videobet with a casino platform. This will offer access to our vast content library, all developed specially for B1 category gaming.

“Alongside our new proposition, we are also taking over the management and maintenance of Bally and Shuffle Master cabinets and terminal systems in all land-based casino outlets across the UK. Our existing team of skilled engineers have been undergoing training ahead of the changeover, meaning that we can now provide unrivalled support to our entire customer base in our core sectors. It’s an exciting time for us, and we are looking forward to the start of a prosperous new venture in this area.”

In a career spanning three decades, Horne has witnessed significant changes in the gaming industry, including a greater focus on responsible gambling and player support. “This is an area which I’ve always been close to, working alongside key industry bodies to help work on an overall solution.  At SG Gaming we’ve taken the lead in putting responsible gambling measures in place, and we have the capability to include these measures in our machines across all sectors, not just LBO – this is obviously an area we will continue to develop and lead on.

“If all of the right people are working together, we can get to a point where we are all doing exactly what we should be and something useful can arise that works for everyone. As an industry on the whole, it would be advantageous if all of the big manufacturers, developers, and retailers took a joined up approach to create a unified movement to help tackle some of the bigger issues affecting the industry – whether it be taxation, regulation, or responsible gambling. This way we can ensure that learnings, experience, and insight is shared and that collectively we can really make a difference when it comes to shaping policy and key issues affecting our industry going forward.”

In terms of the level of innovation currently taking place across gaming, Horne expresses optimism at the widespread uptake of new technology solutions and the pace at which these are maturing.

“This can already be seen with the rise of online and land-based ‘shared’ wallet solutions as well as the increasing proportion of games and promotions that are being delivered into venues, online, and mobile simultaneously. This is likely to become even more prevalent, and product offerings will evolve to make this process seamless for the operator and the player. It is likely that the industry will continue to use technology to personalise the player experience; this can already be seen with targeted promotion and behavioural tracking across all channels.

“Newer technologies such as Ultra HD, biometric identification, and artificial intelligence are all becoming mainstream and will inevitably be incorporated into the gaming industry to improve the quality of the player experience and deliver product differentiation. Mobile phone integrations are also likely to play a large part in how players bridge the gap between retail and digital channels in the future. The very best suppliers will be those that find a way to blend this new technology with their product in a way which adds value to the players’ experience whilst keeping their journey as simple as possible.”

An experienced hand, Horne aims to strike the balance of an approachable mentor but also one who inspires and motivates to get the best out of all those he works alongside.  A lifelong Liverpool fan, Horne is a big admirer of the management style of current reds manager Jürgen Klopp, of whom there is a framed picture hanging in his office. “He’s obviously a great leader, but more importantly, look at what he’s done to the morale and work ethic of the team – everybody now plays with a smile on their face and enjoys their football, which is (generally!) reflected in their results and current league position. I think he’s a great role model and I would love to bring some of his ethos and dynamism to my role here.

“Having been with the business long before it became SG Gaming, my roles have historically been quite hands on and operational, which allows me to have a good appreciation of all aspects of what we do, but also those areas where we might need to spend a little more effort and focus. This insight to the business and the industry will be invaluable as we look to fulfilling an ambitious long-term strategy for UK gaming, including growing our successful partnerships with existing partners and hopefully establishing new ones as we progress.

“Key to this is having a good team of people who will be able to help us deliver our plans. The executive team and I understand the importance of having great staff, and we are privileged to have a pool of highly talented people here so we are currently rolling out new initiatives across the whole business to support, nurture, and develop our employees’ skill sets.”

And while the business division continues to progress under Horne’s leadership, his weekends and spare time are spent watching the reds, along with the ongoing challenge of improving his golf handicap. “I’ve always been a big sports fan, both as a player and spectator, and I’ve been lucky enough to attend some major events all over the world. If I wasn’t leading SG Gaming, I think I’d like to have become a sports journalist or similar – I think it’s probably one of those dream jobs where you get paid to watch, write about, and constantly immerse yourself in something you genuinely love.”

Having just reached his full-year anniversary this April, it’s clear that the last 12 months have been both challenging and eventful, but Horne has relished and enjoyed the step up. “I’m lucky that I do a job I love and am surrounded by great people, which has ultimately made for a smoother transition than I probably expected. I’m still learning new things each day, but I’m looking forward to the next 12 months and beyond.”