The North American gambling industry is trying to thread that needle of staying in operation while keeping customers safe. That’s not easy during the time of COVID-19, and the recent ICE North America Digital took a hard look at how they’re trying to accomplish it. Michael Caselli, Chairman of Clarion Gaming, joined our Becky Liggero after the event to discuss some changes the industry needs to consider, and specifically a push to the online space.
The original design of ICE North America was to be an in-person convention, but that had to change. “Well clearly, ICE North America was not meant to be COVID-focused when we designed it last year, but we were meant to hold it in New Orleans, then we quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen, Caselli said. “And we decided we should do something that had a lot of longevity and didn’t necessarily focus just on COVID, but it turned out to be very COVID related because the COVID related stuff actually has longevity and has consequences that continue on to the future for casinos pretty much from now on forevermore.”
Although casinos have now reopened in many places, they’re continued success isn’t guaranteed at this point. “Casinos are places where you have a lot of people congregating in one small area, so clearly they’re the last things that some states are going to want to open, but they’re also massive economic drivers, huge contributors to the state coffers through the taxes and duties, and beyond that massive employers in the states,” he said. “So states like Nevada are very keen to get their casinos back online, get tourism rolling in and reboot the economy, because you know, you’ve got to balance this whole social health issue with problems in a balanced budget and getting the economy rolling again, because if not you’ll have other social issues.”
But online gambling is the clear opportunity here, and they offer to be a hedge for the land-based operators. “They’re finding that online players are continuing to play online while land-based players are migrating online, sometimes for the first time,” Caselli noted. “This is indicating to me a shift in the way the market is going to be consuming gaming online and consuming gaming just in general. People that would always have gone to the casinos before will probably stop and say, ‘Hey wait a minute, this online gaming experience is easy to get involved with, it’s convenient, it surpasses my expectations to what I thought the game quality would be, and it’s actually really enjoyable and fun to do.’ So I think people that were on the edge, that might not have converted over to online gaming from terrestrial gaming have done that. I think the casinos are now recognizing it from what I’ve heard at ICE North America Digital, and they’re saying, ‘You know what, we need to create a land-based experience that complements the online experience, and vice versa.’”
While Nevada hasn’t seen a need to regulate online gambling yet, New Jersey has jumped into the space with both feet, and Caselli spoke about an important guest to the conference that spoke about the brilliance of this strategy. “Dave Rebuck was our surprise guest on the last day, he was a keynote on the last day, he was great to have on board, and he is a massive, massive fan of the online,” Caselli said. “He laid out a road path, a kind of road map to what New Jersey has done, and he said that, listen, there were naysayers and detractors from online gaming, and we’ve proven all of them to be wrong. We don’t have additional social problems; we find it easier to track people and look after responsible gaming issues. Everything that people said that would be a horrible social ill from online gaming turned out to be the opposite, it turned out to be easier to manage. And he said that, you know New Jersey should be a road map for the rest of the country, and he thinks it certainly will be
Thanks to a couple of decades of work, online gambling is at a place where it can uniquely take advantage of the new dynamic developing from COVID-19, and the nature of the economy in general. “People are starting to work from home, that looks like it’s the trend that’s going to continue, people are consuming more from home they’re getting used to buying everything online and having it delivered,” he said. “Much more activity is happening on your PC, on your laptop, or on your iPad, and I think that the casinos recognize that this is the future. And we’re at an inflection point anyway, we were in a point where we were saying what’s the future of casino, and we’ve been seeing it for years, but we have enough players at that time so that we would just continue to operate things the way we used to and maybe make some small tweaks or some all small innovations year on year. Well now it’s hit us in the face, and the quarantine happening, it’s time to make some major shifts and some major changes, and casinos are responding and doing that, and in sports you’re seeing it as well.”
In his final note, Caselli spoke to the positives that can come from this moment in time, and he suggested that the entire industry, both land-based and online, getting behind better legislation and regulation for the online side will benefit everyone. “The growth generally has come through the industry getting behind legislation,” he noted. “And as countries open up and listen to the operators, and adopt legislation that makes sense not for just for the players, but for the operators and for the government, and for all the stakeholders involved, then you start to see a point where you could actually start to invest in those markets, start to market to the player base, start to invest in your capital and in your people as an operator and really grow the market, and I think that this COVID-19 situation is forcing a lot of jurisdictions to do that. So as things regulate, as more states regulate, as more jurisdictions regulate, I think you’re going to see more investment going into the online side. And once you see that you’re going to see a lot of innovation, you’re going to see the industry growing, growing, growing like we have in the past.”