Last week’s Global Gaming Expo (G2E) at the Las Vegas Convention Center received a good deal of local media coverage with the admonition, “Not open to the public”.
Though the four-day event targeted an audience of “gaming professionals”, I was welcomed as a writer. I am also a local casino-goer and sometime slot player, so I am a member of the gaming “public”. As a result, I was wide-eyed throughout my visit.
One of the obvious differences between G2E and other conventions was the presence of so many Native Americans, quite a handsome lot, I must say. Ernest Petago is a legislative council member of the Hickory Apache Nation in Dulce, New Mexico. He and a colleague are regular G2E and Indian Gaming tradeshow attendees “to see what’s new and learn how to enhance the marketing of our operations”. The gaming industry has been depressed, but Petago said his nation’s casino income has been “stable”.
The tradeshow portion of G2E featured a variety of products associated with gaming: floor coverings under which machine cables can be laid, cash handling machines, chairs to induce longer play, casino-friendly foods and lots of new slot machines. Most of the machines were operational with no money required; whoopee, buttons could be pushed with NO consequences.
A bank of new machines with spectacular graphics was displayed by the South Korean Hydako Co. The new machines were still being tested, but I found just watching the beautiful screens fascinating. The company’s more traditional machines, representative Jae Bae explained, average in price $14,000 each.
One of the trends we heard about from several sources is “community gaming”. Aristocrat Technologies introduced a Kentucky Derby machine where several players watch the same digital race, with individual screens giving them the ability to bet daily doubles, trifectas, etc. I also saw an automated roulette machine, again where a number of players joined in the same game.
I stopped in at the Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO) booth to make an inquiry. Last year, I did a story on YESCO, the folks who have built and maintain many of the large casino signs in Las Vegas. YESCO had been thrilled that they had gotten the largest commission in their history, a massive artpiece for the front of the new Fontainbleu Las Vegas. And? A booth representative noted somewhat ruefully that the artpiece had been started….and, like the Fontainbleu itself, is now on hold….with hopes that “someone” will continue the Fontainbleu project…..and pay to finish the artpiece.
And finally, I attended a conference session called, “Demystifying Gaming Machines: Can a Slot Machine Cause Addiction?” Among the speakers was Connie Jones, Director of Responsible Gaming with Nevada-based International Game Technology (IGT). IGT is the world’s largest manufacturer of gaming machines. Wheel of Fortune, Monopoly and the just introduced “Sex and the City” machines are IGT products. No empirical evidence exists, said Jones, that any particular aspect of machine design “causes” gambling addiction.
Jones also noted gaming designers are not, as some think, psychologists; they are simply designers who let the customers decide what works. Nonetheless, electronic gaming machines have been called, by some, “the crack cocaine of gambling”.
Jones noted that a number of countries have introduced restrictions on electronic gambling devices. Those restrictions include slowing the speed of play, limits on bets and prizes and removal of all sounds. Norway has outlawed spinning wheels on machines (and revenues have dropped 90%); Sweden’s lottery tracks individual play and might even contact a player if the level of play appears “risky”. In Nova Scotia a new program allows a player to self-exclude play based on length of play, the dollar amount of play or even certain dates. “Don’t let me play during the Christmas holidays,” might be a sample exclusion. All of Canada reminds players what “responsible gaming” is via pop-up messages on machines.
Jones quoted a friend by noting, “Gambling addiction doesn’t come in machines any more than alcoholism comes in bottles.” She then added, “Having said that, the industry isn’t excused from not being pro-active on the issue of gambling addiction. We aren’t expected to solve the issue, but we are expected to try.”