GiGse Conference Review

This article was originally published on Pokerfuse.

Comedy Kick-off

Last week I was in San Francisco attending the Global iGaming Summit & Expo (GiGse), one of the key iGaming conferences in the United States.

The conference kicked off with a debate between Edward Rendell, former governor of Pennsylvania, and Willie Brown, former mayor of San Francisco, on legalization of igaming. If I had to describe the debate in a word it would be comedy.

Mr. Rendell was on the pro side while Mr. Brown—with the backing of Sheldon Adelson—was against legalization. Now I will admit Brown was fighting an uphill battle coming to an igaming conference where almost 100% of the audience was on the pro side. I am not sure how, with all the money Adelson has, all his hired guns come off uneducated on the subject, but Brown was no different—it seemed that all of his points made no sense and he used terrible examples.

At one point he claimed that igaming could not be safely regulated as players identities could not be verified accurately. As we all know, KYC checks are in-place on all regulated sites and are working correctly. He also stated that igaming would cut into land-based casinos, and used New Jersey as an example, while it is clear that the opposite is true.

Rendell was the opposite. He came well prepared and made educated, pragmatic arguments well supported with facts. Rendell stated that legalized igaming has to occur for one primary reason—it is currently going on in an unregulated environment. He continued to state that, while we can’t be 100% perfect, we will be much better than the unregulated sites.

On the subject of Federal versus state legislation, Rendell said “States should have the rights.” At the end it was my opinion and I think most of the audience’s that the good guys won the debate.

Harmony

The next talk I attended was a regulatory strategy talk on creating “harmonization”—the process of standardization across regulatory boundaries. The fear in the United States is you don’t want to end up with patchwork of regulations across different states: This increases the cost and complexity to the operator and in the end limits growth.

Brian Mattingley, CEO of 888, made the point that they have 4 different versions of their software in the EU and three in the United States, all due to regulatory issues. Tobin Prior, CEO of Ultimate Gaming, stated that the United States has a much more rigorous process than Europe. There are certain areas that are well suited to harmonization and standardization. Two that were provided as examples were KYC checks and banking.

Vision

The last talk I attended of significance was the visionary panel. This panel included:

  • Norbert Teufelberger, CEO Bwin.Party
  • Thomas Winter, VP Online Gaming Golden Nugget
  • George Rover, Deputy Director NJ DGE
  • John Connelly, VP Bally Technologies

The panel covered a wide range of topics and held some interesting discussions.

In regards to performance, Connelly mentioned the hardship of funding gaming sites in New Jersey. While it has improved, it is still limiting growth. Winter complained about the fact that off-shore sites are still taking bets from New Jersey customers and they are not having deposit issues.

Rover from the DGE stated he was pleased with the current relationship with operators. He feels good about KYC, geolocation, and responsible gaming and views it as a complete success.

Land-based branding was discussed and viewed as important given that consumer trust is critical. The success of bwin.party/Borgata was given as an example: This branding with B&M casinos is more important in the United States. Norbert stated that casinos in Europe are boring and nobody wants to go to them—the opposite of the United States.

Mobile was pointed to be a key component. As more mobile games are developed and marketed the panel sees revenue going up dramatically. In terms of the demographic of igaming customers compared to land-based, Winter said that the Golden Nugget’s igaming customers where on average 17 years younger than their B&M.

The panel ended with a long and measured statement from George on the DGE’s view on the Amaya acquisition of PokerStars and the probability of licensing in NJ. He was very careful with his words—but I got the impression it was not if Amaya would get licensed, but when.

Exhibition Highlights

I did attend a few more talks, but nothing worth noting. I spent much of my time networking and visiting with friends and colleagues.

I did find two exhibitors in the start-up zone with some interesting products: The first was Neo Poker Bot, which is actually a pretty impressive training tool. The AI is very impressive with multiple levels and learns how you play. Neo was a top place finisher at both the 2012 and 2013 Annual Computer Poker Competitions. By analyzing your results you can find leaks in your game, all without playing for real money. I guess the judges found it impressive too because it also won the award for best new product.

The other product I found cool was RiftSino. This is a Virtual Reality Casino designed for the Oculus Rift. They only had blackjack and a slots game to show, but you can see the potential. I was told that they are working on poker. Obviously this is something you need to see in person to truly appreciate.

Overall it was a good show and I am looking forward to next year’s conference.