The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly From G2E 2016

Steve Ruddock October 3, 2016 1123 Reads

Global Gaming Expo 2016 is officially in the books, and as always, the conference had some good, some bad, and some ugly.

On the positive side, G2E 2016 was exciting and enlightening; a whirlwind of educational seminars, one-on-one meetings, and a sea of products to take in.

Not to be outdone, there was also the typical level of frustration and exasperation that usually accompanies attending G2E., The industry appears to be torn between not evolving at all and evolving too fast and leaving a trail of unfinished business in its wake.

The excitement came in the form of the new games that were on display and the celebrities (ranging from Shaquille O’Neal to the Soup Nazi of Seinfeld fame) who were brought in to help sell them.

For the first time, there were bona fide skill-based games as well as a virtual reality game on display. The latter is simply too cumbersome to be an effective casino product right now, but will certainly be an intriguing product down the road.

The panels and educational seminars provided the enlightenment. They were populated by some of the industry’s best and brightest, and covered a wide range of interesting and pertinent topics.

However, the panels were also quite frustrating. There was a noticeable lack of dedicated online gambling discussion, and the speakers were mostly in complete agreement, creating discussions that were simply too harmonious.

The Good

Industry continues to innovate

This was my third consecutive year at G2E. Other than the first glimpse I ever got of the sprawling showroom floor (picture a five-year-old walking into The Magic Kingdom), 2016 was the first time I was truly impressed by the products I saw in the exhibit hall. I was not just in awe of the size and buzz coming from the showroom floor itself.

Some of the games and technology on display were truly innovative, particularly in the skill-based gaming arena.

I’ve been hearing about skill-based gaming for three years, and seen skill-based gaming products the past two. Overall, I’ve been intrigued by them, but not overly impressed. What I saw this year changed my mind. Viable skill-based slot machines are nearly upon us.

I also saw a virtual reality game; a DFS/keno hybrid; and multiple traditional products that have been revamped.

These innovative products aren’t just coming from the big boys either, smaller startups and lone individuals seem to be attempting to disrupt the industry, in a good way.

The Bad

US online gambling is going to require patience

As much as the American Gaming Association would like to avoid the topic (the AGA sponsors G2E and is heavily involved in the programming), a lot of panel discussions morphed into discussions about online gambling.

Whether it was sports betting or discussions about the best regulatory practices, online gambling was a major part of the debate at this year’s conference, and for good reason. Online is the future, and the casino and gaming industry are fully embracing products, from US online poker and casino, to iLottery, to daily fantasy sports, to esports, to social casinos.

Unfortunately, most of the speakers noted how conservative legislatures tend to be when it comes to gaming. Those of us that follow the industry are all too aware of this when it comes to online gambling legislation.

A common theme at G2E was the same tired and already debunked arguments come up time and time again, and progress is often halted and reset as legislators and policymakers come and go.

Attorney Mark Hichar made the point that it’s hard for policymakers to dive into a new area when the attrition rate is so high. On a panel about iLottery, Hichar said, “the lottery is political and conservative, with lottery directors’ average tenure being 18 months.”

Hichar also noted that an online gambling ban has been unsuccessful from a legislative standpoint; he was of the opinion that Restoration of America’s Wire Act hearings did more harm than good to the bill.

Still, state lawmakers have the perception that online gambling is inherently bad. So instead of touting the benefits of online gaming, lobbyists tend to spend a lot of time debunking claims and quelling fears.

Massachusetts Gaming Commission Chairman Stephen Crosby explained that the public perception that RAWA has helped propagate, no matter how little evidence exists to support it, often drives public policy. “We need to neutralize the impression that gambling preys on the vulnerable,” Crosby told the audience at G2E.

The bottom line: Online gambling of all stripes is currently in a classic hurry-up and wait situation at the state level. That is the case even though regulators don’t fear it; the concerns (cannibalization and access to vulnerable populations) have proven unfounded; and the industry wants it.

As New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement Director David Rebuck said, “As regulators we shouldn’t be fearful of new products. It’s just a new game.”

Now, if we could only get legislatures to understand that.

The Ugly

iGaming Congress lacked iGaming

Unlike other conferences where there is a single or perhaps dual track of sessions, at G2E there can be as many as seven panel discussions running concurrently. With this many options there are usually at least two in each time slot that tickle my fancy, particularly on the first day of the conference.

The showroom floor isn’t open on the first day of G2E as vendors and exhibitors are busy setting up for the main show on Tuesday through Thursday. Day one is therefore dedicated to educational seminars, including a dedicated iGaming Congress track.

The other tracks on Day 1 of G2E were:

  • Compliance, Law and Regulation
  • Security and Surveillance
  • Tribal Gaming
  • Global Gaming Women

Normally when I peruse the G2E session schedule I often find myself having to make a lot of tough decisions.

This really wasn’t the case this year.

Of the five panels in the iGaming Congress track, only two were what I would call iGaming specific, as two (Making the Market Parts 1 and 2) were focused more on affiliate marketing and player habits, and a third, Global Evolution in iGaming Regulation, could have easily been lumped into the Compliance, Law and Regulation track.

So instead of asking myself, “which seminar am I going to attend?” As in, I wish I could go to both of these, I found myself asking “which seminar am I going to attend?” As in, I’m here, so I guess I have to pick one of these to go to.

On this same theme, most of the panels I attended (a total of eight) featured panelists and moderators that were way too like-minded for my taste. I don’t need bombast, but it is nice to hear opposing views.

Even if your point of view is 100 percent correct, it’s important to have your assertions and opinions challenged.

Unfortunately, there weren’t too many contrarian voices at G2E this year, and there were several panels where they were needed. Here are two examples:

  • Considering the recent settlement by Cantor, the sports betting panels could have done with someone opposed to the idea of legalization outside of Nevada.
  • With some casinos trying to find ways to integrate esports, that panel could have used someone who thinks esports and casinos don’t really mix.
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