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Casino Operator Boss Says Gaming Resort Only Way to Survive (interview)

Nova Gorica, 03 January (STA) - The head of Slovenian casino operator HIT Drago Podobnik has elaborated for the STA on the company's revived plans for a giant tourism and gaming resort, arguing it is necessary to look into the future and provide new content if one is to avoid gradual death.

Podobnik, who took over the now recovering Nova Gorica-based gaming company in 2009, said that development needed to accompany restructuring and that the question puzzling the management had been what the next step should look like.

"We did not want to repeat the strategic mistake from the period when the company's revenue began to be dispersed across countries in the Balkans and even further...We forgot about investments at home, not only in Nova Gorica, but in Slovenia in general."

Podobnik said that HIT had analysed trends in the industry around the world and the idea for the tourism complex resulted from the realisation that "it is certain that our leisure periods will be shortened to three, four days, although several times a year".

"It is clear to us that gaming alone is no longer attractive for guest, as it is in decline everywhere. It will be necessary to offer something that has local characteristics and will also attract guests from more remote places."

He explained that the company's primary market was saturated with gaming competition and that each new provider merely changed the distribution of existing or even declining revenue.

Speaking about the new centre, which is planned near Nova Gorica by 2019 and comes after a joint venture in a major gaming centre project with US casino operator Harrah's was shelved in 2008, Podobnik stressed that the basic idea was a tourist resort which would also have a lot of non-gaming content "of interest to entire families".

"Gaming will account for less than 3% of the entire surface area and a little more in terms of revenue, but significantly less than what the share is in our existing programmes."

Asked about the financing of the project, which is estimated at EUR 700m-1bn, he said that the approach, compared to similar centres around the world that cost several billions, was very rational.

"It is clear that HIT is not in a position to finance this project alone. It is also unrealistic to expect that we can execute some of the non-gamin content as effectively as those who are specialised in this field...We will look for partners and will need the help of the government as well as the private sector."

He said that potential investors, which are strong global players in the field, had shown a lot of interest in informal talks. While the owners' and government's consent is still needed, "the product is entirely in line with the guidelines of the strategy for gaming in Slovenia".

"It is clear to the present management of HIT that this project is a cornerstone of future existence and development."

As regards the government's help, Podobnik said that in the transitional period and with the existing programme "we expect changes that will to allow us to hold out in the ever tougher competition for at least another five to six years".

In the future, Podobnik also hopes for changes to the gaming act and for the state to show a cooperative attitude in "a project that heralds a long-term development of gaming tourism with additional non-gaming programmes and puts Slovenia on Europe's map when it comes to such content".

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