David Snook interviews Annette Kok on her role as Euromat president. Twelve months after taking over the presidency of Euromat, Annette Kok has found the biggest issue on her own doorstep. Simultaneously chairman of the VAN, the Dutch association, Kok and her Dutch colleagues have been struggling to overcome a pernicious 29 per cent tax on the cashbox of machines in Dutch pubs and arcades.
It is perhaps symptomatic of the ‘fire fighting’ that goes with the job of overseeing the European coin machine industry, through 20 trade associations, all members of Euromat.
This year the organisation, which has its headquarters in Brussels, has four new member associations, from Greece, Slovakia, Croatia and Serbia. Their criteria must be the establishment of good connections with their governments. Seventeen countries in all belong to Euromat, seeing it as a federation of European trade associations (some countries have more than one association).
The blank spaces on the map of Europe, says Kok, are mainly in eastern Europe, where some countries do not have associations, or their associations fail to meet the standards necessary to join.
"I have been fortunate," said Kok, "to have an excellent secretariat in Brussels, or the job of president would not be sustainable." It is made doubly more difficult, it seems, by the necessity to meet the new EC presidency staff in Brussels every half-year. One of the main tasks for Euromat is to keep a kind of watching brief on anything, which might appear on the European Parliament’s agenda which could impact the gaming industry. Euromat therefore meets the staff of the incoming EC President to identify itself and to establish communications.
"We have been speaking to the Swedish delegation recently," said Kok, "because the new EC President is a Swede, but as the presidency changes every six months, it is a repetitious job. In the past year we had meeting with the French delegation, then the Czech delegation and now it is the Swedes."
The task of ‘educating’ civil servants of differing nationalities about the gaming industry is just a part of the job, if tedious; but it remains vital. "Gambling is always on the political agenda," said Kok, "so we have to be very alert. The EC has on one occasion given high profile to the possibility of harmonising gaming legislation. On that occasion it was decided to leave the issue with the individual governments, but it could arise again."
She added: "Every new presidency in Brussels puts the issue of gambling back on the agenda. We have to go there, meet them, and explain again who we are and what we do and why it is not a good idea to raise gambling as an issue."
Kok is aware of the fact that most of the member countries in Euromat are against any alteration in the status quo. While most countries envy something about a neighbour’s regulations, they generally fear that any harmonised gambling laws could see their own market suffer.
Euromat’s job is not all EC politics. The organisation helps individual associations fight against unreasonable laws or taxes, or takes the initiative in other issues, of which its upcoming Responsible Gambling brochure is typical. "We have put together this statement of principles as a Euromat-wide code of conduct. This is actually a remarkable compact between the member associations, to put their name to a set of professional standards by which their own members should abide.
"The political impact of responsible gambling is very high-profile, as we all know. For the authorities in every country to note that we have taken the initiative on this is very good for the authorities’ perception of Euromat, its member associations and the industry in general."
To generate an ongoing discussion on the topic within the EC would benefit Euromat, argues Kok, because having taken the initiative, the organisation can also lead on the subject.
The new code of conduct is one of the fruits of Annette Kok’s policy of forming ‘commissions’ on separate subjects within Euromat. This one was led by the last president of Euromat, Eduardo Antoja of Spain.
"Every country is currently in some form of turmoil in some way. Within Euromat we have industry leaders who are highly experienced and we are able to use that knowledge to help overcome some of those issues."
Kok, elected in May 2008, for a two-year term, is very satisfied with the progress of Euromat under her leadership. "I am pleased to see so much more co-operation between the countries to help one-another when the pressure is on. Membership of Euromat means that every trade association is aware of the European trends, within the rest of the market and within the EC corridors of power.
"Too many governments are trying to get hold of the industry, to use the tax instrument for their own purposes. There is a common aim to use reasoned argument to defeat these initiatives.
"That comes from a strong Euromat and Euromat is strong because of the degree of commitment by so much of Europe’s gaming industry. Meetings are very efficient and effective, because every association attends. They set common goals to overcome common problems and then assist each other with individual threats to neighbour’s businesses."
What Kok hopes to achieve in the remainder of her Presidency is to damp down as many of the fire fighting exercises that currently face the business, ready for her successor. "There has been too much emphasis on defence over the past few years - understandable, considering the number of problems which have faced us. I want to see us go over to the offensive on some of the issues, which continue to face us.
"Technology must form an important part of that. Euromat remains a forum for the exchange of news and views from around Europe; a watchdog against EC regulation and a lobbying facility for areas of concern."
Heading Euromat, chairing the Dutch VAN and combining both with the responsibilities of chief legal officer for major Netherlands supplier JVH Gaming, is a tall order for Annette Kok, but certainly not uneventful.