We Will Miss the Large Presence of Jens Halle

The gaming supplier community is small and Jens Halle was large. Large in physical stature, standing 6-foot-2 (or 188 centimeters in his native Germany). Large in influence, forcing competitors to change the way they do business and altering the global trade-show landscape with a single decision. Large in personality, sometimes a bully, more often one of the most engaging people you’ll ever meet. And large in success, helping to build Novomatic into a gaming powerhouse few companies could challenge.

Jens Halle was large and now he’s gone, dead at 57, a frantic effort to save his failing heart on May 20 unsuccessful at a Florida hospital. The gaming supplier community is small and we will miss him. Many of you had a chance to interact with Jens over the years, but for those who did not, I will do my best to paint a picture of the man based on my experience knowing him for more than 16 years.

My time with Jens goes back to early 1999, when I started as the new marketing guy for Bally in Las Vegas while he was Bally’s top salesperson in Europe. He left for Novomatic within months, and so I ultimately came to know him more as a competitor and years later as a supporter and, ultimately, as a friend.

During those days when he was a competitor at Novomatic, he became an almost mythical figure as he made life miserable for anyone unfortunate enough to have to compete against him. I can recall many management meetings at Bally where the revolving door of European sales types would lament that, “Jens is selling his machines for half as much as we are and his machines are winning twice as much per day.” And yet management would chastise the Bally salesperson over his or her inability to compete on those terms. Who could compete with those dynamics at play? Who could compete against Jens?

I much preferred the Jens I came to know after leaving Bally in late 2007. First of all, because I was no longer a competitor, he was much friendlier, and I got to experience his animated and energetic happiness. Second, when I became executive director of the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM), one of my initial goals was to broaden the company membership by reaching out to suppliers located outside of the U.S. The first person I approached was Jens.

After showing initial skepticism and insisting that the “A” in AGEM stood for American, Jens ultimately agreed with my pitch—I had sold the ultimate salesman!—and Novomatic joined AGEM at the Gold level. Over the ensuing years, Jens truly recognized AGEM’s value for Novomatic (and then Merkur), and he became a trusted confidant about AGEM issues. I remember sitting with him in the lobby of the Hilton Buenos Aires and listening to him explain his many views of the gaming industry. When I traveled to Vienna for holiday, Jens was nice enough to meet me and my travel companion for dinner at the Novomatic-owned casino at, ironically, the Prater amusement park.

Last November, as he departed Novomatic, he issued the following statement: “Fifteen years ago I was honored by the invitation of President and majority shareholder Professor Johann F. Graf to join the iconic Novomatic Group as Head of Sales. Later, I was appointed Managing Director of Austrian Gaming Industries GmbH and, assisted by a loyal team of true gaming professionals, was able to see Novomatic achieve notable success not just in Europe but around the world. However, although I now feel the need for new challenges and new directions, I will always be grateful for the experience of working together with colleagues and friends and for the satisfaction that I gained from being within one of the gaming industry’s true leaders.”

What Jens did for Novomatic can’t be overstated. Because Novomatic is privately held by Graf, the company’s revenues and overall operating performance are not easy to pin down, but when you combine the machine division with the casino operations, you have a gaming powerhouse that, when compared to the supplier group, only IGT at its peak could rival. The rapid growth from 2000 until the present—including the acquisition of more than a dozen smaller companies, the expansion of its casino operations and a move into the online space and other emerging technologies—was led by Jens as he circled the globe, first from the company’s headquarters in Austria and later from Florida where he moved to lead Novomatic’s efforts to attack the U.S. market.

When he decided to leave Novomatic, I sent him an email asking if he would be staying in gaming: His reply: “Thanks and no worries: I will stay in gaming. Don’t know how to sell cars or washing machines.” Soon, he signed on as CEO of Gauselmann Group’s Merkur Gaming subsidiary, meaning we would continue to see Jens at various global trade shows, and he would continue to exert his influence over the supplier sector.

All of that ended May 20 in a most unexpected and shocking way. A celebration of his life took place on May 30 in Hollywood, Fla., attended by more than 120 friends of Jens. In a true display of his large global presence, they came from six different continents to pay tribute.

The gaming supplier community is small, and now sadly smaller still without Jens Halle.

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