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Top 10 observations from G2E5 October 2015
In addition to more than 500 exhibitors spread across the two-million-square-foot convention center – which is attached to The Venetian Las Vegas and The Palazzo Resort Hotel Casino on the Las Vegas Strip – there were nearly 100 seminar sessions featuring industry experts sitting on panels covering everything from iGaming and tribal gaming to compliance, security and regulation to daily fantasy sports and traditional sports betting.
This was truly one of those times I wished I could be in five places at once, because there was so much going on every day, extending deep into the night. (I know you're shocked to hear there was an array of evening events and activities sprinkled around town where gaming industry folks were able to "network" and, of course, blow off some steam).
While it was impossible to attend every seminar that interested me or stop at all of the booths that intrigued me, I did manage to cover quite a bit of ground during my first foray to G2E and to attend a few of the above mentioned "after-show-hour" events. Below are just 10 of the dozens and dozens of observations I came home with.
10. Still the show to attend
While more than a few show veterans told me the show floor was noticeably smaller than usual and traffic may have been a down a tick, G2E is going strong after 15 years and remains a "must-attend" show for industry suppliers, vendors, pundits, media and more.
"This is a show we simply must have a presence at every year," said Paul Gordon, senior VP of sales for Rymax, a New Jersey-based full-service loyalty supplier to the gaming industry that engages 50 million players annually. "This has been a busy show for us. What we like about it the most is that senior people from companies we typically sell to are here and they come from all over – Alabama, Atlantic City, California, Florida – not just Las Vegas."
G2E is a production of the American Gaming Association and Reed Exhibitions, and if you have any kind of interest in this vast industry, you're guaranteed to find something you like and learn something you didn't already know.
9. Booth enticement
Like any other trade show, exhibitors are in competition with each other to attract traffic to their booths, and it's always fun to see the different forms of enticement. While many exhibitors used the "never-fail" ploy of using attractive females wearing suggestive outfits, others got more creative.
We here at Casino City Press had an authentic Las Vegas showgirl to hand out our materials as well as an outstanding Sean Connery look-alike, complete with "007" accent, who made more than a few people stop and do a double take. The folks at Grandview Products, which rebuilds and distributes pre-owned casino products, had an artist working on a huge canvas, painting a dazzling new logo for the company. Slot manufacturer Aristocrat Gaming had a mammoth area, complete with a lounge and bar and a huge display of all of their games, including new skins like Sons of Anarchy, Ted, The Bing Bang Theory and Game of Thrones.
The most effective "booth incentive" I saw was employed by Inspired Gaming, a virtual sports, mobile games and video lottery provider, which unveiled its partnership with Mike Tyson for its new Rush Boxing game by having "Iron Mike" himself make an appearance.
"We are all about gaming with an edge and Mike Tyson is a true reflection of our brand," Inspired Strategy Assistant Sam Costello said to me as if he were reading off a press release while simultaneously trying – and failing – to contain the crowd swarming Tyson.
The former undisputed heavyweight champ still has tremendous celebrity appeal –despite his legal troubles – as a line of more than 100 people deep stood there for nearly two hours, hoping to shake his hand and get a picture with him. Tyson was friendlier with his female visitors, but was polite and engaging throughout the time we watched him. And he still looks like he could have cleared out the entire convention center in no time if someone pissed him off or said the wrong thing. There were more than a few jeers and complaints when Inspired Gaming had to start turning people away.
8. Casino Entertainment Awards Show
One of the after-show events Casino City attended was the third annual Casino Entertainment Awards at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas.
The event had a perfect host in comedian Tommy Davidson of In Living Color fame and featured a performance by Charo, the feisty Spanish-American actress, comedian and guitarist. While her exact age has been debated, she still has tremendous energy and spunk and was friendly with everyone who approached her. Charo did a fine job stepping in for Wayne Newton, who was scheduled to appear but suffered a non-life-threatening medical emergency hours before the show.
Before presenting the iconic Jerry Lewis with a Lifetime Achievement Award, Charo, wearing a low-cut pink frilly dress, gyrated and bellowed her notorious "coochie-coochie" cry, prompting Lewis to say, "Be careful, you're going to break that."
Lewis arrived on a scooter and was helped onto the stage by his handlers and with a cane. He quickly exited stage left immediately after his award acceptance, which came toward the later part of the night.
Penn & Teller were named Casino Entertainers of the Year and gave a heartfelt acceptance speech that was both compelling and funny. Other awards included Little River Band (Casino Musical Artist of the Year); Ron White (Casino Comedian of the Year); H.C. Rowe, executive director of the Colosseum at Caesars Palace (Casino Entertainment Legend Award); The Showroom at Turning Stone Resort Casino in New York (Casino Showroom of the Year); and AVA Amphitheater at Casino del Sol in Tucson (Casino Amphitheater of the Year).
7. Illegal gambling in the crosshairs
Back at the Sands Expo Center, American Gaming Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman was omnipresent throughout the week. In his keynote address he painted a bright picture, saying the gaming industry is a $240 billion "mainstream industry" that is "succeeding by nearly every measure." But during his speech and in other speaking appearances, Freeman hammered home points about illegal, unregulated gambling whenever he had the chance, saying it's "easy to ignore, but an enormous issue we must address."
Later in the day at a press conference, he brought it up unprompted once again, saying it "affects the credibility of our industry" and "we need to do a better job explaining how regulated gaming can be a positive influence on a community."
To help tackle the issue, the AGA has enlisted an advisory board dedicated to "creating solutions and enacting change." Members include former Deputy Director of the FBI Tim Murphy, former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis and former Executive Associate Director at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations James Dinkins.
6. Sports betting regulation
A good portion of Freeman's railing against illegal gambling centered on sports betting, noting that $80 billion was bet illegally on sports in the U.S. in the past year. "It speaks to the utter failure of the law we have in place," Freeman said, referencing PASPA.
Later in the week in a CEO Roundtable, Caesars Entertainment's Mark Frissora, who took over for Gary Loveman in July, expressed that Congress must pass laws to stop the "dangerous" unregulated sports betting industry. A few weeks ago, legendary bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro made an impassioned plea regarding legalizing and regulating sports betting across the U.S. He mentioned that sports betting in Las Vegas is as popular as ever – and I saw that first-hand on Sunday morning, when the line was 70 people deep at the Wynn Race & Sportsbook 10 minutes before NFL kickoff, and I'm pretty sure they weren't there to bet a superfecta at Belmont Park.
When industry giants like Vaccaro, Frissora and Freeman are openly imploring for regulation to happen, it further convinces me that it's only a matter of time. All eyes right now are on the prolonged fight for legalized sports betting in New Jersey, as a win there could lead to it opening in other states.
Advancements are being made all over the gaming industry, including with bingo, which has long passed the days of simply attracting an older demographic in smoky casino halls. Ortiz Gaming, a multinational bingo gaming provider that has 25,000 games on six continents, had one of the most impressive booth areas at G2E. Ortiz is moving into the U.S. market with 130 casinos under contract, and what sets it apart from other bingo games is its "extra ball" technology.
"Operators love it and the players love it, so it's a win-win," explained Robert Reyes, vice president of sales. "It increases the average bet substantially and it's where the bulk of the wagering takes place."
Also on display at the Ortiz area were the new OrtiZone chairs and accessories. The new server-based gaming solution allows operators to design their own designated area for bingo or add the game to an already established space, with iPads or ultra-comfortable, white lounge chairs.
"It delivers the same experience to players, but allows them to put their feet up, relax and have a drink while they are playing," Reyes said.
4. New slot-machine games
There were countless new slot games to sample on the G2E floor, and International Game Technology, which recently merged with GTECH in a $6.4 billion transaction, made the biggest splash, releasing four new games scheduled to be on casino floors sometime in 2016.
A TMZ-themed slot drew near-Mike-Tyson crowds when Harvey Levin, the founder of the wildly popular celebrity news site that draws more than 7 million monthly viewers, showed up to demonstrate the new game.
Additional new games at the IGT area had themes of other ratings-bonanza TV shows, such as Orange is the New Black, Breaking Bad and House of Cards. IGT also introduced 14 Wheel of Fortune titles, including new 3-D technology.
3. Skill-based gaming
While slot machine technology continues to flourish, the evolution of "skill-based gaming" was another trendy topic at G2E. Nevada recently approved legislation to offer skill-based games at casinos and the new products are similar to arcade games (think Space Invaders, Guitar Hero or Candy Crush), containing a "morphing algorithm" that combines skill and chance.
"It's a fundamental migration to the industry," said Gamblit Gaming CEO Eric Meyerhofer. "We know that people 45 and under are not playing the current casino games nearly to the degree that older people are, and they aren't likely to take them up. So it's going to be necessary to put products in front of them that they are already familiar with."
According to Jeffrey Zuniga, director of gaming sales for Impact Display Solutions, many of the new skill-game machines will feature his company's new 42-inch, multi-touch, curved monitors that "engage and involve the player" significantly more than a typical screen.
The makers of these skill-based games aren't the only ones looking forward to the machines hitting casino floors by late 2016 or early 2017. Melissa Price, Caesars Entertainment's senior VP of enterprise gaming, said that with "so many things compet(ing) for millennials' attention and money, skill-based gaming is the future."
Which brings us to . . .
2. Marketing to millennials
You can't read or listen to anyone trying to market anything these days without hearing the "M" word, and G2E was no different.
Mike Dabadie, president of Heart+Mind Strategies, explained that while millennials do not reject gambling, they tend to put their money and time to "better use elsewhere," such as at the club or other entertainment venues.
Frissora said he is "shocked" by the industry's "lack of innovation" in attracting Generation Y and detailed a plan by Caesars to convert a space at each of its Las Vegas Strip properties into a "casino within a casino," with rotating walls, interactive games and other amenities, with the primary focus on getting this lucrative and growing population of potential customers into the resort.
Greg Carlin, CEO of Rush Street Gaming, added that "strong Wi-Fi coverage" is also crucial in this plan to appeal to millennials, and that he hopes to find a way to allow casino guests to use cellphones at the gaming tables.
1. Daily fantasy sports
There was no hiding from it. The daily fantasy sports debate – i.e., whether or not it should be considered gambling – was the hot-button topic at G2E and dominated the conversation at times. That's what happens when you spend $80 million on TV ads promoting your product, as DraftKings and FanDuel did just weeks before the show.
The arguments for both sides were forceful and sometimes testy, but from this vantage point it seems the overwhelming majority of people in the industry feel DFS is, without a doubt, gambling and, in turn, should be regulated.
The most entertaining and informing session I witnessed all week was titled "Regulation of Sports Betting and Daily Fantasy Sports in the United States: Questions Abound." The star of the show was William Hill CEO Joe Asher, who attacked Star Fantasy Leagues COO Seth Young, asking incredulously, "Why is regulation such a bad thing? The airlines are regulated. I'm glad they are because I don't want them crashing into each other in the sky. (The sports-betting industry) is regulated. A fire code exists so (we) don't have too many people in a room. That's a good thing. So why are you so afraid of it?"
Later in the day, a calm and cool DraftKings CEO Jason Robins steadfastly defended DFS as a "skill game" and not gambling, comparing it to chess and pointing out that, while traditional sports gambling is based on a single outcome and pits the player against the house, DFS is "player versus player" and is decided on "billions of possible outcomes."
Robins was joined on the panel by Jeff Burge, CFO of CG Technology, and Chris Sheffield, managing director of Penn National Gaming. I'm guessing both vehemently disagreed with Robins, much like Asher, but for some reason didn't press him. Here's hoping the next time Robins speaks at a seminar, Asher will be there to contest his arguments.
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