ECM turns 40

Starting out in 1983, ECM celebrated its 40th year supplying the Retail Bingo industry by launching market leading new showpiece products at the EAG and ICE exhibitions. Founded by the late Paul Whitbread, ECM has been part of the Playtech stable since 2016, and saw industry stalwart Kevin Hamilton join as Chief Executive Officer in 2021.

Bingo Connect caught up with Kevin, who reflects on the past eighteen months since joining the business and shares rare insights into the internal workings of ECM and plans for the year ahead.

What aspects of ECM have stood out the most since joining as CEO in 2021?
ECM wasn’t a complete stranger to me as I have worked in the bingo industry since the age of 20. I had used ECM’s products through my career and had contact with the company over the years. Though, never in my wildest dreams did I expect to be leading it one day!

When I joined, I was immediately impressed with the quality, dedication, and diverse skillset of the team. Long, continuous service is a common trait at ECM – between them our 62 staff have chalked up over 1,000 years with the company. This vast accumulation of experience in the bingo industry, transfers into the quality of our products, resulting in their strong pedigree, incredible reliability, and customisable feature rich options. Additionally, having the full backing, support and resource of Playtech, a large and high-profile international group gaming company, is a valuable asset.

What have you already managed to achieve since taking up this role and what are your key moments so far?
Bouncing back into pre-covid profitability was very important for the company as our trading performance was greatly reduced during the Covid period. To support the industry, ECM remained open and provided payment holidays for customers with contractual obligations, whilst they were closed. This significantly reduced income over a two-year period and being a retail business, ECM experienced the same impact as the rest of the industry. I was pleased to report that in 2022, ECM delivered similar like-for-like income and greater profitability than 2019, our pre-covid comparison year. We continue to be a strong entrepreneurial company but know that we must diversify to maintain our growth.

We completed the purchase of our premises in January 2023. We have been operating from Ellifoot Lane in Burstwick since the 1980s, it’s a beautiful 10 acre landscaped location, in rural East Yorkshire with plenty of room for future expansion.

We also made significant progress with our future roadmap, in the creation of two new and exciting products.

Can you tell us about the new products that were launched at the gaming shows this year?
Sure, the team and I have been talking about these non-stop since their launch. Fusion and Nucleus were unveiled to the industry at the gaming shows this year. They have attracted considerable interest across the industry.

Fusion is a digital signage and audio solution that can power every single display in a bingo hall if required. It picks up all the gaming information in real time and will display any message, on any screen, at any time. It has a very powerful scheduling manager so once the system is set-up, it will dynamically change and automatically respond to events happening during the session. We want to help put the theatre back into Bingo, without the necessity of a large budget.

Nucleus will replace the gaming controllers that have been the beating heart of the clubs’ bingo system for over 25 years. Nucleus is PC based, built to make future upgrades easier and will be backward compatible, to connect with Mechanised Cash Bingo rigs for example. One of the key requirements is for our standalone system to be resilient so that we can maintain our signature reliability. It is a complex development project, so we will be working during 2023 to make a robust, more flexible, next generation bingo system to serve the bingo industry of the future.

Since Nucleus is a single gaming engine, it will run many different types of games, Mainstage Bingo, MCB, Fixed odds games and combined retail and online games too. It will also be modular, so a customer can choose to build a system with only the components that are required for their particular operation. This helps keep the cost and complexity down, whilst allowing for flexibility and customisation. Nucleus will be suitable for many different operators in many different markets.

Why do you think they have generated such a huge level of interest within the bingo industry?
I think operators can see the potential of Nucleus and Fusion to revolutionise their proposition. These two systems can operate independently or together for greater impact. They offer flexibility and cost savings, bringing a personalised presentation to any bingo premises. We have also introduced much more automation. This helps lighten the load (and cost) of operation, especially during quieter periods. You can program the system in advance, and it will run through the games with minimal intervention. If you add this to the flexibility of calling in any area, it provides more variations on how you want to run your session. The Nucleus system is being built in stages, but 23/24 will see the next generation of products from ECM.

Which retail operators are Fusion and Nucleus targeted at?
We have a long standing and loyal customer base within the UK, these products will replace and enhance the systems they are currently using. It’s important to continue to support our customer operations to give them the products and services they need to be successful. Nucleus and Fusion will also be suitable for a wide variety of operators, such as AGCs, LBOs, Social Clubs and even Cruise ships. Nucleus is ideally suited for any operator whether they are large or small. International markets are also an area of interest too. Playtech already provide gaming products across many jurisdictions in emerging and established markets. These products will open up a wide range of future opportunities for ECM to consider.

How much will they cost?
Nucleus is modular and it has allow entry cost for the basic system. Operators are free to add in the modules they need to suit their proposition, such as EBTs, Link games, Fusion Displays, more diverse gaming options and cash reconciliation/auditing modules. Fusion is similar, it can be part of a smaller system, maybe where Bingo is not a core part of the operation, such as in an AGC. Therefore, the system will be priced based on these factors. There will be a range of flexible commercial options which don’t necessarily include a large initial capital outlay.

There are products on the market from other suppliers, so why should an operator choose ECM?
Many customers choose ECM because they are confident that the products they invest in will be revenue generating, well developed, and supported for a long duration. The company has a great pedigree with an unrivalled in-house support team who have direct access to the software developers and a team of field support engineers. This allows us to resolve problems very quickly in the event of a breakdown and get the system back up and running extremely quickly. ECM also provide a suite of integrated products which when combined, offer a powerful and complete end to end gaming system that is customised according to the operators’ requirements. We really do provide a ‘One-Stop Shop’ for operators in the gaming industry.

The ‘one stop shop’ philosophy sounds interesting, can you expand on this for us?
Sure, we understand that operators don’t always have the time to work with many different suppliers, so we can, if required, provide a complete service. This starts with specifying and procurement of any necessary hardware, through to the installation of a fully integrated gaming system. Since you have one company owning the responsibility for the whole gaming system, the support model is very efficient and simple. In the event of a problem, it’s just one phone call to our customer support department and the problem is immediately owned, through to it being swiftly rectified. The operator doesn’t have to work out who to call or have to try and convince a support engineer that the problem is with their part of the system.

Through the experience I have gained in my previous roles, I know just how frustrating that can be. Its literally the last thing you need when your system is malfunctioning.

What else is happening at ECM in the coming year?
More options for EBT hardware will be available, despite the challenges the whole IT sector have faced with ongoing chip shortages. We have been working hard with technology suppliers to provide more options for our customers to replace their old units and provide options for new installations too. We are also working on a number of customer specific product developments too. I’m afraid I can’t reveal the details of these, until they are in the public domain so you will just have to watch this space.

So, the year ahead is busy for ECM; Bingo Bee ‘3.2c’ software deployment with great new features such as a new customer friendly buying journey, flexible prompt to buy extra ticket option, plus MCB and F&B promotions for all independent customers. We continue with our customer training sessions, new installations, and new bespoke developments for our larger customers. We are also trialling ‘POS lite’ to help upsell bingo books and F&B and free trials are available for our customers. Add that to our two new products and we’re guaranteed to be in great shape for 2023 and beyond.