iGaming North America Takeaways: Millennials, Malaise, And A Big Mix Of Products

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly From iGNA 2016

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From April 5 – April 7 I was in Las Vegas for the iGaming North America conference, known in the industry as iGNA.

Because of its clearly defined agenda (online gambling in North America) iGNA is a smallish conference, with a head count numbering a couple hundred per day.

Even though it’s sparsely attended, this narrow focus has a number of benefits. Everyone in attendance is on the same page, and topic discussions carry over throughout the conference and certain themes emerge.

Here are my top line takeaways from iGNA 2016.

The good

There are a lot of talented people in the gaming industry

Whenever I attend a gaming conference, I’m always blown away by the amount of smart, insightful, and experienced people working in this industry, even if not everyone is on the same page.

So much in this industry is open to interpretation and needs to be debated in great detail, but even with stark differences of opinion, it becomes readily apparent that the people discussing these issues aren’t talking heads spouting rhetoric; these are people immersed in the industry who have powerful arguments and ideas.

If you’ve never been, I highly suggest you attend one of these conferences. Quite frankly, you’ll learn more about what is going on in the industry in three days from the panel discussions and face-to-face talks than you ever will studying it from afar for three months.

So, even though the rest of this column is likely going to cause you some agita, the good news is that the group of people trying to advance the cause know what they’re doing and are quite capable. They’ve been through the battles and have the scars to prove it. So keep that in mind as we delve into the bad and the ugly.

The bad

Gaming trips over itself trying to stay a step ahead

The gaming industry tends to remind me of the handyman who is constantly starting but never finishing projects around his home.

Since 2013, the industry has jumped from one topic to another as it searches for its next big thing. In three years I’ve seen the focus go from online gambling to social gaming to DFS to skill-based games to eSports, and now to virtual reality.

The problem as I see it is the industry never finishes its earlier forays (with perhaps the exception of social casinos), leaving itself with a half-dozen unfinished initiatives, as the industry jumps from product to product in an effort to attract the elusive millennial to their properties.

And on that front…

The gaming industry is obsessed with the word millennial

Millennial has turned into a drinking game word at these conferences, and making matters worse, the term is no longer simply applied to its longstanding, clearly defined age demographic. Instead, the word millennial is now being used to describe a mindset.

Essentially, it seems like gaming now thinks of millennials as anyone who uses a smartphone or has an Instagram account – one panelist said you can be 50 year old millennial, which has turned what was already a generality into a ubiquitous term.

The way the industry speaks about so-called millennials is almost comical to some extent. For some, this demographic is akin to Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, a mythical being that eludes detection and capture.

Yet, millennials are everywhere in Las Vegas; they’re just not big gamblers.

Roger Gros, who moderated a panel on millennials, made the point that data shows 90 percent of millennials plan to go to a casino this year, but as a whole they rank gambling low on their list of priorities. Gros asked the panelists why they thought millennials wouldn’t follow the lead of previous generations (none of which were big gamblers in their 20’s) and age into casino gambling.

In response, the panelists tried to explain what the casino industry is doing to move these visitors from the clubs and pools and onto the casino floor now. This elicited an audible groan from a few pockets of the crowd as some in attendance see this as a futile endeavor.

From my discussions with people at iGNA, there is a fundamental split in the industry when it comes to millennials, with some feeling the casinos need to preemptively solve this problem, while others (including myself) feel they should focus on the products millennials want now – bottle service, iGaming options, and so on.

To be clear, no one is against creating innovative new products designed to capture younger customers. But quite frankly, if the industry put as much effort into advancing online gambling as they do to solving the perceived “millennials don’t gamble on the casino floor” problem, we’d be in much better shape both on the online gambling front and on the millennial front.

The ugly

The online gaming industry is growing frustrated

Three consecutive years with close to zero progress will test anyone’s patience, but for an industry that evolves at warp speed, the current stasis in the online gaming world has many people growing frustrated and stakeholders becoming increasingly alarmed.

We haven’t reached the lashing out point (yet), but there was a noticeable cloud of anxiety and malaise hanging over the entire conference. The best analogy I could make is if you looked out your window and saw three cop cars and an ambulance at your neighbors house, and minutes later the entire neighborhood was milling around talking amongst themselves, but nobody knew what was going on.

That’s basically where online gaming in the U.S. is at right now.

For example, heading into the conference, everyone thought New York was a real contender to pass an online poker bill. Then Assemblyman Gary Pretlow spoke via Skype and told the assembled crowd that while DFS was about 50/50, online poker was 1-in-100 to even get to the floor for a vote – Pretlow later downgraded the odds to 1-in-1,000.

Basically, we don’t know what we think we know.

Gambling Compliance’s Kevin Cochran may have said it best when he was asked by moderator Mark Balestra, “Which state will be the next to pass an online gaming bill?”

Cochran’s answer was, “You’re from Missouri Mark, so how about Missouri. I don’t know.”

My general feeling is if something doesn’t change soon (in the next year or so), the lashing out point will be reached.

Image credit: Kobby Dagan / Shutterstock.com

- Steve covers nearly every angle of online poker in his job as a full-time freelance poker writer. His primary focus for OPR is the developing legal and legislative picture for regulated US online poker and gambling.
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