GameON Rocks Boston

The seventh edition of the unique AGS GameON Customer Summit offers compelling sessions, networking in an intimate setting, and the amenities of Encore Boston Harbor.

GameON Rocks Boston

Many suppliers have staged customer conferences and user summits over the years, but in the slot sector, no such conference is quite like the GameON User Summit staged by gaming supplier AGS.

For one thing, selling product is not the goal. While there are summaries of the latest developments in the company’s three divisions—slots, table games and interactive—and a small showroom display, the conference sessions and keynotes offer a unique mix of discussions on issues vital to the casino industry and presentations by experts in various fields showing how anyone in any business can perform more effectively.

The educational program is mixed with tours, social events and party events that allow AGS executives to interact with their customers, and develop relationships that would not be possible in a seller-buyer atmosphere. The attendance is kept to a relatively small group of invitees, to maintain the intimacy of the gathering—allowing supplier and customer to get to know each other beyond what can be gathered from a sales pitch.

GameON 2024, the seventh edition of the user summit, was held last week at the Encore Boston Harbor resort. All three AGS divisions presented business updates, but the main stage was dominated by a series of compelling presentations on our reactions to political issues, the neuroscience behind what makes us respond to social media, and a definitive look at how the emerging Gen Z generation differs from previous demographic groups.

Panel discussions included subjects ranging from the future of sports betting to the evolution of casino content, the emergence of cashless systems, and developing agility in executive leadership.

Social activities included a self-guided sightseeing tour of Historic Boston, a “Party Trolley” trip to Fenway Park for a Boston Red Sox game, and cocktail events including a “Downtown Boston Rooftop Social Hour” at Sam Adams Taproom and a welcome reception with a wealth of local cuisine on the South Lawn at Encore Boston Harbor.

“GameON is about education, enrichment, and getting to know people,” AGS President and CEO David Lopez told customers in remarks kicking off the summit. “We don’t often get a chance to just sit down and talk to people. The culture is important, and you’re part of our culture.”

The conference began with product summaries from each of the three AGS divisions. Mark DeDeaux, general manager and senior vice president, slots, summarized the latest in the Spectra group of products, led by the Jumbo Slant 75 and Spectra Slant 49 Premium cabinets, both featuring new games in the Rakin’ Bacon series. He also updated customers on the rollout of Revel, the company’s first stepper cabinet.

John Hemberger, senior vice president of table products, reviewed the company’s growing Bonus Spin Xtreme floorwide table progressive wheel, and how the system is being used for games including craps, roulette and poker. He also introduced the newest product in the company’s line of shufflers, the Max 8 multi-deck shuffler, to be featured at the Global Gaming Expo and in casinos by the second half of 2025.

Zoe Ebling, vice president of interactive, offered an update on the evolution of that division, including an in-house studio in which top designers are now producing interactive-first content, and which recently launched the first AGS table game online.

The remainder of the program included a now-familiar parade of thought-provoking sessions on non-gaming topics mixed with panels examining industry issues.

Two presentations in the former style were on Day One, when Jim VandeHei, co-founder and CEO of Axios and co-founder and former CEO of Politico, gave a keynote presentation relating his decades working to build those two news services and as a political reporter for the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, covering the presidency and Congress, to what is happening today. He offered his views on both the current presidential candidates, and how his dealings with both over the years have revealed positive as well as negative attributes of both.

The Q&A session after VandeHei’s presentation was one of the highlights of the conference, as attendees sought his opinion on a wide range of issues affecting the U.S. today.

In other first-day presentations, Apply Digital’s Chief Product Officer Scott Michaels drew parallels between sports and the gaming industry, and how the advent of sports betting has combined the two industries into a single new ecosystem.

Dr. Sahar Yousef, a cognitive neuroscientist from the University of California, Berkeley, offered a fascinating look at how science was used to cause cognitive responses in consumers’ brains to keep people on their mobile devices longer.

She said that notifications built into cellphones are “carefully crafted to foster an addiction that will keep you on your device longer.” Citing the examples of the “swoosh” sound when sending an email and the frequency of the vibrations in alert sounds, she called notifications the “secret sauce” of behavior modification techniques.

“The mere presence of a smartphone reduces brain power, even if it’s turned over and even if it’s off,” Yousef said.

Yousef also advised turning the cellphone from color to monochrome (she demonstrated how to do it) to increase productivity, and said productivity at work is greatly enhanced when a person’s cellphone is out of sight, preferably in another room. Finally, Yousef described the three types of chronotypes identifying different Circadian rhythms that dictate when a person is at their most productive, the results of a Nobel Prize-winning study.

A second-day presentation by Dr. Robert Rippee, executive director of the Black Fire Innovation group at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, presented the latest research on how different generations decide what’s important, and how the changes in what’s important to each group can affect the ability to communicate with them. Rippee concentrated on the emerging Gen Z group, currently in their mid- to late-20s, and the differences from the millennials, or from the oldest group examined, the baby boomers.

Highlights of the conference roundtable discussions included a Day One panel on cashless payment technology moderated by AGS Game Development VP Steve Walther, and featuring Marker Trax President Charlie Skinner, TransAct Chief Revenue Officer Tracey Winslow and Table Trac CEO Chad Hoehne.

The discussion outlined the present and future of cashless payment systems, as now being offered through the Marker Trax cashless slot marker system and sister company Koin’s cashless payment system; TransAct’s ticket-in/ticket-out system offering promotional coupons, and Table Trac’s digital wallet system.

A highlight of Day Two was a panel covering the growth and future of sports betting in the U.S. It was moderated by Geoff Freeman, the current president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association who, during his tenure as president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, led the ultimately successful campaign to repeal the Professional and Amateur Sport Protection Act, which led to the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision that created today’s growing legal sports betting business.

The panel included executives of the largest sports betting operators in the U.S.—DraftKings Chief Revenue Officer Greg Karamitis, FanDuel Senior Vice President of Business Development Jonathan Edson, and Chris Rogers, chief strategy officer of Penn Entertainment, which has doubled down on its commitment to sports betting with its ESPN BET platform. The panel provided a snapshot of the sports betting sector. Karamitis commented that the size of the sports betting business, thanks to a parlay-heavy, player-focused strategy, is far larger than anticipated back in 2018. Edson estimated the market is double what they thought it would be at the outset.

Another of the conference’s best Q&A sessions followed this panel discussion, with topics ranging from the pitfalls of national regulation to taxes set by legislators that make profit difficult.

Day Two also featured a panel on the changing status and future of internet gaming moderated by AGS interactive vice president Ebling, and including Joey Levy, founder and CEO of Betr; Edo Haitin, CEO of Playtech Live, and Rick Eckert, managing director of Eilers & Krejcik Gaming. The panel examined the evolution of online content, including games for all different types of players.

The conference wrapped up with a session featuring executive coach Tim Furlong and Jenny Holaday, president of Encore Boston Harbor, who discussed what is essential to leadership in a large operation such as Encore.

The answer, they said, is the “Three C’s”—connecting with employees, conveying a message of the operation’s goals, and a call to action to achieve the goals. One key, Furlong said, is to tell someone something positive about yourself at the start of any meeting. “That shifts your energy,” he said. Holaday described how her management style has adapted to employees with different personalities and needs to achieve the same positive outcome.

Julia Boguslawski, the AGS chief marketing officer who created GameON, closed the event by noting that her team will immediately begin planning for GameON 2025. Location to be determined.

Articles by Author: Frank Legato

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the humor book How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and a coffee table book on Atlantic City, Atlantic City: In Living Color.