iGaming North America opened its doors today at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas, with likely the largest turnout we’ve seen since its inception four years ago. The founding partners have welcomed iGaming Business as a new partner this year and from what we’ve seen so far, the parties involved have done an bang up job putting together an excellent event.
Attendance on the first day hovered around three to four hundred attendees with a mixture of senior representatives from land based and online gambling companies, mobile companies, lawyers, politicians, Senators, media, regulators, suppliers, tribes and the list goes on.
As per usual, the finer touches of the event are evident and appreciated, from little things like Skyping-in speakers who are unable to make the trip to Vegas and appear on a panel in person, to including inserts in the delegate guide that clearly mark all the last minute changes to the schedule.
The meat of iGaming North America is in the sessions, although the networking opportunities are also top notch, with chunks of time built into the schedule for networking purposes and a large room dedicated to the booths and refreshments alongside the rooms that house the sessions.
One of the most anticipated sessions of the first day- and the whole conference in general- was the “Visionaries’ Perspective- Is iGaming the problem or solution” debate between Mitch Garber of Caesars Interactive and Andy Abboud of Las Vegas Sands. As we’re all well aware, Sheldon Adelson of Sands is dead set against online gambling in America, so hearing what his representative had to say to one of the online gambling pioneers (Garber) and a room full of online gambling industry professionals was something all of us were looking forward to witnessing.
The debate itself went down in a calm, respectful manner with Steve Lipscomb serving as the perfect moderator. In general, regardless of the obviously biased audience, Garber’s points and his presentation of those points were spot on and while Abboudwas very professional and articulate, his points didn’t entirely make sense. Abboud flip-flopped between his concern of bad actors entering the market to the cannibalization of land based casinos by online, two arguments that Garber tackled with ease.
Some points made by Abboud:
*We don’t want bad actors in the market, Pokerstars has now gone to California to make sure they don’t get carved out of the legislation.
*I’m not worried about Caesars and companies like Caesars, but there is no consistent position at this time- some states want poker-only, some want all forms of gambling.
*Poker-only is not sustainable, so the online gambling industry will grow into all forms of gambling.
*European model is not a good comparison, it’s a different market than America, they don’t have land based properties like Planet Hollywood and the Venetian (that could be cannibalized by online).
*People call Sands’ position “prohibition”, but its not prohibition because Sands is not suggesting to remove gambling from the country- it will still available at the land based casinos.
*Sands does make money on the internet, when the site went down Sands lost revenue from people booking rooms and other entertainment online, Sands just thinks that having the ability to actually gamble online is too much.
*Its never going to be a market for the tribes and Sands feels bad for them, there will only be a handful of companies that make money on the Internet.
*There is no reason to worry about what Garber is doing because his intentions are good (and so are Adelson’s) but we need to worry about the other bad actors.
*It’s a fair fight. It’s a democracy. We’ll see what the state legislatures will do.
Some points made by Garber during the debate:
*Its about the money, not the facts.
*Technology in online is much more sophisticated than land based. You can track everything online, you have all the hand histories online- you cannot do this in the land based world, so to argue that the iGaming industry doesn’t have control is ridiculous.
*You don’t know exactly where the money is coming from in the big Macau casinos.
*Sheldon Adelson said, if we’re going to allow online gambling on the internet, why don’t we just make cocaine legal to sell on the internet…but its not legal to sell cocaine off the internet and gambling is legal, so there’s no logical comparison.
*Sands the only business that doesn’t want its own business to be online.
*Illegal online gambling can be shut down (and Garber hopes it will be).
*Internet created the poker world as it is today, it’s a great business not just a good business- Party Poker was enormously successful as a poker-only company.
*History shows that during the boom of Internet gaming, land based casino business went up. That’s a fact. Cannibalization is not even an issue.
*Caesars is catering to the next generation of customers by going online and attracting a more global audience, this has proven to be successful.
All biases aside, Garber’s reiterating simple industry truths and rebuttals respectfully destroyed Abboud’s use of tired scare tactics. After sitting through this session, it really doesn’t seem as if Adelson and his anti-online gambling campaign will have any real impact on how things are going from an online gambling regulatory perspective in America.
In addition the “great debate”, today’s “US Policy Roundup” session was solid with representation from California, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. What was interesting is that unlike before, all panelists agree state-by-state legislation is the way to go and they would actually rather not have the Federal government get involved. Good this is the case, especially seeing as Federal regulation is pretty much never going to happen.
As discussed in the panel, California remains the “golden child” with Senator Correa pointing out that out of the one million California residents, a good percent are interested in online poker.He also mentioned that with the 60 tribal casinos, 88 casinos and four horse tracks already in existence, gambling is already a big industry in the state so the next natural step is bringing this business online.
Mobile gaming was another issue covered today, on the conference floor and during the sessions. John Connelly of Bally Technologies shared that land based operators should get acquainted with mobile devices now as once online gambling becomes regulated in their state, the consumer will want mobile games.
Connelly suggested operators should get the ball rolling by creating apps for booking rooms at their property and apps for interacting with the services of the casino. Another tip Connelly shared is that Android use is on the rise and that operators should start creating games that are built for Android specifically as opposed to focusing on iOS devices, the former device of choice for gamblers.