Maybe Global Gaming Expo (G2E) unites us

Sep 24, 2013 3:09 AM

Gaming’s big thinkers will be peering toward the future this week using platforms provided by the annual Global Gaming Expo to chart their industry’s velocity across a galaxy of shifting opportunities and challenges.

They’re anxious to stamp opportunities with their presence and to plant corporate flags atop those opportunities and in lands where they have never been before.

It’s all pretty heady stuff, but getting there – wherever there may be – requires large doses of quality thinking about everything from those pesky Internet-related issues to the changing social dynamics and sharp-edged issues that spring from the politics of gaming.

And there is a lot of politics in gaming these days.

Yes, we’ll see the industry’s best and brightest walking the G2E aisles selling everything from viewpoints to new technology, all of it designed to make their business more efficient and, of course, profitable.

A G2E press release written by someone striving to offer a sense of the big picture refers to the industry as “competitive” and “fast-paced.”

Talk about under-statements.

The fact is this year’s Expo attendees find themselves wrestling with issues that might have been dismissed as so much science fiction a couple decades ago.

I wonder what the late Benny Binion might have said about efforts to stuff crap games and social media references into the same sentence?

We’ll probably be reminded that getting the industry’s top people to speak with a singular voice, to agree, is a bit like herding cats – frustrating. New American Gaming Association CEO Geoff Freeman has already noted that the level of competiveness among leading industry figures is “eye-opening.”

Caesars’ Gary Loveman and MGM’s Jim Murren have spoken at length about the expected benefits of Internet gaming. Sands CEO Sheldon Adelson sees it as a sort of social cancer. Steve Wynn has previously sounded uncertain but is now sending signals that suggest he may get involved in Atlantic City’s Internet program.

It’s a wonder Freeman can get everyone in a room for board meetings. His predecessor Frank Fahrenkopf faced some of the same issues and is probably congratulating himself on the increased opportunities he now has for working on his golf game.

But the increased competitiveness is easy enough to understand. Back in the old days when everything of consequence was happening in either Las Vegas or Atlantic City there was room for everyone with an idea and a bankroll. Just buy some property and start building.

Not any more. Gaming’s “field of dreams,” such as it is, now involves much of the world from New England to Asia, but companies (many of them AGA members) are competing for a very limited number of licenses.

There are no more casino licenses being issued for the moment in either Macau or Singapore. Massachusetts will license three resorts and Florida, if lawmakers get around to getting serious about casinos next year, will probably limit licenses to just a few super resorts. There are similar limitations just about everywhere.

And of course the difficult economic times of the last several years complicated efforts to find winning strategies as it also seemed to put fresh emphasis on the importance of non-gaming options.

Gambling by itself is no longer enough unless you’re talking about one of the virgin locales where a “box of slots” is enough to send the locals into a frenzy.

Loveman made that point as he recently discussed the Linq, that complex of fun and games running off the Las Vegas Strip opposite Caesars Palace where the 550-foot tall “observation wheel” known as the High Roller stands head and shoulders over much of the Strip. The various Linq elements will begin opening late this year.

The myriad examples of new slot and casino game technology always gets a lot of attention on the G2E exhibition floor, but probably nothing will get any more attention from attendees this week than Internet gaming possibilities and, for those who want to look down the road, the possibility doors will eventually be opened to more sport wagering.

The optimists among gaming industry observers have made much of the fact that the Third Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent rejection of New Jersey’s challenge to federal prohibitions came on a 2-1 vote. Most such decisions are usually unanimous. New Jersey now has to decide whether it will ask for a hearing from the full court.

In the meantime, Nevada’s first two Internet poker operators, Ultimate Gaming and the Caesars Interactive division, are sharpening the marketing strategies that will probably also generate some intense G2E conversation.

The future is a great place to be if they can only get there without stumbling over a bad idea.

Phil Hevener has been writing about the Nevada gaming business for more than 30 years. He can be reached at [email protected].

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