This year’s Global Gaming Expo (G2E) is now in the books, leaving myself and the thousands of others who descended upon the desert for a week of gambling industry education, events and networking with the task of sorting out what it all meant.
I covered several panels extensively via Twitter, so I won’t rehash that here. Instead, I want to boil down all of the talk – across panels, presentations, lunches, drinks and even quick conversations between two points – into a few key themes relevant to the iGaming space that I heard echoed again and again.
Cue the eye rolls – many, if not most, wrote off federal regulation some time ago.
But this year’s G2E offered perhaps the most forceful, consistent, consensus opinion that the window for federal regulation of online gambling has permanently closed, and that the climate in D.C. is so toxic as to ensure that nothing would be done even if the window were to somehow reopen.
Lurking around the corners of those conversations was Harry Reid’s so-called Wire Act “fix” – a fairly spectacular, albeit purely hypothetical, threat to the regulated online gambling industry. But whether due to denial, issue burnout or a clear-eyed analysis that Reid seems to have little inclination to follow through, G2E participants dismissed that threat out of hand.
Or at least it’s dying.
The rapid rise of mobile – whether tablet or phone – was a major theme of panels and informal conversations alike at G2E. CEO after CEO talked about the resources their companies were pouring into mobile, the high-value nature of the mobile demographic and the relatively low-friction path to customer’s wallets that an Apple (or, perhaps in the future, Google) app store can provide.
But those resources don’t simply manifest out of thin air. And while mobile is growing exponentially, it’s still going to represent a speculative investment upfront for most companies (i.e. they’ll spend quite a bit before recouping their investment).
To me, that sounds like a recipe for iGaming companies paying less and less attention to their desktop platform – meaning the next innovation or breakthrough we see in a game like online poker could quite easily be exclusive to mobile play.
And each of those innovations brings us closer to a world where mobile is the primary consumer platform for online gambling.
The content and talk at G2E mirrored that explosion of interest, with multiple panels each day solely focused on social casino issues, and the topic finding its way into a variety of peripheral panels and presentations.
It also suggested – both metaphorically and literally – that the social casino space appears set to hit a point of oversaturation in the immediate future. And as more and more suppliers rush in, the quality (and integrity) of the games will inevitably decline, increasing the possibility of regulation while depressing the quality of the consumer experience and pushing down margins across the board.
This last takeaway is less a theme I heard directly articulated by presenters & attendees and more a personal synthesis of my experience at G2E.
There are obvious, and powerful, forces that connect the online and land-based gambling industries. The whole “both have gambling right there in the title” is a big one.
But I would argue that G2E also illustrated – in some ways subtle, in others more direct – the cavernous gaps that still exist between the two worlds. I’m talking about issues that run the gamut, from marketing strategy to security to the more fundamental difference of using two very different vocabularies (if not languages) to describe and discuss the act of gambling.
Closing that gap is critical – both for ensuring the best online gambling experience for consumers and for ensuring that the still-tenuous and fragile rollout of regulated online gambling in the U.S. enjoys the full benefits of the unique strengths each world possesses.