Since his first contact with the gaming industry in 1971, Michael Boettcher can boast a 42 years experience in the field of gambling, during which time he managed to develop a true Empire in respect of entertainment. Storm International Group, the company created and led by Michael, is one of the most important in the world of gambling, having gaming facilities in countries such as Venezuela, Poland, Armenia, Belarus, Mexico, Germany and Romania. Michael Boettcher was one of the most important players of the Russian gambling market, with no less than five casinos and 25 gaming rooms in Moscow. As a result of new legislative provisions from Russia, Storm International Group was forced to withdraw operations in respect of gambling in this country in 2009, remaining in Russia with the culinary operations of chain restaurants Balagnoff and Radio City Bar & Kitchen. Now at more than 1 year from penetrating the Romanian market with brand Shalimar Slot Café, I have had the pleasure to talk with Mr. Michael Boettcher in this interview that we urge you to read.
In 1992 you have founded the Storm International Group, how did you come up with this business idea?
I trained as a croupier in London in 1971 and worked in the casino industry until today. I started Storm International after I came to Russia in 1991 and after I opened my first casino in Moscow: “Casino Elite”.
Storm International has gaming facilities in the whole world, what is the secret of your success and development?
There is no secret. All successful businesses depend on a number of factors. Probably the most important is the team you build around you as you grow as a company. Other factors include timing, experience in the business that you operate of course and then there is always the need for some luck although oftentimes you make your own luck. I also never begin a sentence or a thought process with the words ‘I wish’, ‘If only’ or ‘I should have’ but rather with the words ‘Tomorrow I will…..’. In other words, always be positive and think positive thoughts. That way you will develop by osmosis.
In 2009 the Russian gambling market closed, the country in which your company have no less than five casinos and 25 gaming rooms. Can one say that the prohibition of gambling in Russia was a blow for your company? How did you managed to overcome those unpleasant moments?
Of course it was a blow but we had two and a half years warning of the closure of the existing casino industry in Russia which gave us time to prepare for what we would do after our existing business was then forced to close. Consequently we opened in Yerevan and Germany and later in Minsk and Mexico. So when Moscow closed we still had business although it was of course much less than we had in Russia. The fact is you overcome all adversity by being positive about the future and having no regrets about the past but rather learning from your experiences and being the better for that experience.
Please tell us why have you chosen to expand your businesses in Romania too and to do so during a pretty difficult economical period?
I sent a team around the world to investigate possible new business opportunities for Storm and they recommended we open in Romania. Yes, it was a difficult time to come here and we are only now just breaking even but we believe in ourselves and our ability to provide a better product for our customers, thereby both taking existing customers away from our competitors while building our own base of new players. The long term view is that we will then grow from our first location and build our market brand into the best there are in our chosen field, in this case slot halls.
After only 1 year since you opened the first Shalimar Slots location in Bucharest, you will open the second Shalimar location in the capital. Have your expectations been fulfilled in terms of the Romanian gaming market?
There were indications of growth and as a result our Managing Director in Romania suggested we look for a better location in an area where he thought we could do better than our first location. He found the new location for Shalimar II and here we are. Our expectations are,
so far, a long way from being fulfilled but we have a belief that the market here will grow and we now look forward to working our way towards fulfilling our expectations, building more and better locations and hiring and training and promoting more and more local people to help us to develop and grow our business here.
How would you describe the Shalimar team from Romania?
The simple and truthful answer is that we have a great team, ably led and constantly looking to improve themselves, the product and the company while focussing on our main strength – customer service and customer satisfaction.
Which of the countries where Storm International has subsidiaries do you register the best profits?
All business tries to make a profit. If you don’t make a profit you have to close your business and people will lose their jobs and the opportunities they had. With businesses now in 8 different countries it is really not possible to say where the ‘best’ profits are as those numbers change. However, it is the fully fledged casinos that post the best figures but they also require the biggest investment, have the most staff and consequently the biggest overhead.
In your opinion, which are the countries with the most increased potential in terms of gambling?
There are many countries with potential including Japan, SE Asia, some countries in the former Soviet Union, Brazil, India and China. But so far these countries do not have legalised casinos although some are close to it. If ever Russia once again legalises casinos then Moscow will once again be the most successful of all, although Mumbai, Bangkok, Rio and Tokyo would certainly be formidable rivals to being the recipient of that crown.
What do you think about the spread of online gambling? Could it affect your land-based businesses? Have you considered expanding your business in the online environment?
This is an interesting question, online gambling is very different from ‘live’ gaming and, in my opinion, cannot really be compared except in terms of revenue. And no, I do not believe it will have an affect on our existing land-based businesses, except to increase our revenues as those people who first play online will then eventually want to play in a live location. My problem with online is that it is not controlled or regulated and we already have several examples of the public being cheated by some of these sites. Of course the majority are
honest but the second problem is that without any control it is easy for children to play by using thier parents’ credit card and that can clearly have serious consequences that we may never hear about.
Also, online gambling has no atmosphere, no characters, no contact, little realism and no soul so I am happy to just keep doing what we are doing, while feeding off the online frenzy.
What role does the Responsible Gaming play in your communication strategy with the players?
I have always strongly discouraged disadvantaged people, those under 21 and those with a gambling addiction to play and where we forbid under age and disadvantaged people to play, we also counsel those with any kind of cumpulsion to gamble or refer them to those people qualified to deal with problem gambling.
What are the future plans of Storm International with regard to Romania? What about worldwide?
I have already answered the question regarding Romania which is to continue to be better and to look at expanding where we feel there are opportunities and sufficiently viable locations to do so.
As far as the rest of the world is concerned you will see from our website that we are already in several countries in different parts of the world and are always prepared to look at new places for Storm to plant another flag. In that regard we are looking at several prospective new locations as well as expanding existing ones (as we are doing in Romania) and when they hopefully open, you will find them added to what I hope will be our regularly updated Storm website www.storminternational.com.
When you do not think of business, how do you spend your free time?
I have a wonderful family, seven children, a very busy social schedule and travel constantly for both business and pleasure, so if I ever do have some free time, you will be the first to know what I will do with it, although I rather hope that I just continue doing what I am doing as it has been an amazing journey; one that I would rather not stop and in fact continue to the end.