Smashing Success: ICE London Back in Full Swing for 2023

ICE London returned in a big way for 2023, setting new exhibitor and attendance records following a two-year Covid-related downturn. Representatives from around gathered to showcase the latest and greatest that gaming has to offer, but now the question on everyone’s mind is, where to next?

Smashing Success: ICE London Back in Full Swing for 2023

Last week, ICE London 2023 became the most recent international event to finally break through the multi-year Covid ceiling, as it welcomed a record 35,000-plus attendees from a total of 68 jurisdictions to showcase the latest innovations from around the global gaming industry.

For the first time ever, all 41 halls of the ExCel London exhibition center were booked out with representatives from every sector, including land-based operators, manufacturers, bookmakers and everything in between.

The total space occupied by the exhibits came in at 51,466 square meters, a sharp increase from 2020’s record of 49,690.

Stuart Hunter, managing director for event host Clarion Gaming, said in a statement that this year’s show was “arguably the most historic edition” to date, and added that “nothing compares with the return of a full-scale edition of the show.”

In addition to the flagship conference, the ICE Vox and iGB Affiliate London events also enjoyed great success, having compiled  some of the most high-profile figures in gaming to discuss the most pressing issues and most promising opportunities that lie ahead.

Now that the sun has set on this year’s edition, however, all eyes will be on Clarion for the rest of 2023 as it navigates the process of selecting the event site for the five-year period from 2025 through 2029.

The finalists for consideration have been whittled to four: London, Barcelona, Madrid and Paris. Each city will prepare a formal bid to host the international event, and the winner will be announced sometime in the third quarter of this year.

Renowned consulting firm Equimore has been brought in to assist in the selection process.

Clarion’s Group Managing Direction Alex Pratt said in a statement that the process will be “robust” and “consumer-centric.” The biggest factors to be considered will include accommodations, facilities, transportation and projected future growth.

“By pursuing all due diligence we will identify the city that’s best equipped to not only host an event which continues to play such a central role in helping to create opportunity and prosperity for gaming businesses of all sizes, across every vertical and in every global jurisdiction, but also demonstrate its leadership in the sector,” Pratt added.

Key Conversations

Unprecedented Tribal Growth

In December 2021, the San Manuel Gaming and Hospitality Authority (SMGHA) announced that it had acquired the Palms Las Vegas—in April 2022, just five months later, it reopened the long-dormant property just off the Las Vegas Strip, becoming the first tribal entity to own and operate a casino in the gaming capital of the U.S.

On Monday, Palms General Manager Cynthia Kiser Murphy and SMGHA CEO Laurens Vosloo talked about the challenges of facilitating that miraculous turnaround, and also about the impact the tribe has already had on the local community, having donated over $1 million to southern Nevada organizations through its recently founded Palms Cares foundation.

According to Murphy, the property was one of the first in the area to adopt Konami’s casino management system, but other than that, most other offerings were not changed, including its William Hill sports book and famous Ghostbar club.

Vosloo explained that because San Manuel was the first tribal operator to break into the Las Vegas market, the licensing process was difficult but worthwhile.

“As the first to own and operate, we wanted to do it the right way,” he said. “That’s been key for us as we operate in Las Vegas.”

The Elephant in the Room

For years, everyone has known that the illegal market is the biggest issue in the industry, but not much progress has been made to tackle it or even understand it fully.

Ismail Vali, founder and CEO of Yield Sec, an innovative new platform aimed at harvesting real data on the black market, explained that operators need to start thinking of industry more as an iceberg than a mountain—there’s more beneath the surface than meets the eye.

According to Vali, the mission for Yield Sec consists of four parts: “you need to see everything, know about it, understand the value, and take action.”

Using data graphs, he illustrated how the entire gaming industry for a given jurisdiction is completely filled, meaning that any gaps that are created by a regulated market are then filled by illegal operators who can hide their content where no one would expect to find it.

He gave a grave example of a children’s cancer website wrought with illegal bookmaking content.

Feeling the Squeeze

While the masks and shutdowns may be long past, operators everywhere are still feeling the effects of Covid-induced labor shortages.

Monday’s panel brought together the following representatives to discuss their experiences in getting back to full force:

  • Petra De Ruiter, CEO, Holland Casino
  • Kirstie Loveridge, EVP of people and culture, AEG Europe
  • Stowe Shoemaker, Dean, UNLV Harrah School of Hospitality

Ruiter posited that from her perspective, the issue will persist for multiple years, unless there is a significant marketing push to change people’s perception of the industry to become more welcoming and developmental.

Loveridge reported that AEG expects to be back to pre-Covid rates by the summertime, and noted that base pays were raised 30 percent to help combat retention issues.

Shoemaker explained that UNLV is exploring changes to its curriculum to accommodate for past experiences in order to make it easier for those who already work in the industry to get degrees and advance professionally.

He also said that as gaming expands rapidly across the U.S., “a lot of schools are calling and asking us, ‘How do we teach gaming and hospitality?’”

Land-Based Growth via iGaming

For years, land-based operators struggled to find ways to drive online growth, but the tide has turned—now, the question has largely evolved to how casinos can utilize online offerings to drive retail growth.

A bevy of high-profile figures with experience in both sectors came together to round out Monday’s sessions and discuss this latest development:

  • Georg Wawer, managing director, iGaming, Win2Play
  • Wolfgang Bliem, CEO, Casino Luzern
  • Anika Howard, CEO, Wondr Nation
  • Corey Padveen, partner, T2 Marketing
  • Nick Hill, executive director, nChain
  • Timo Kiiskinen, managing director, Fennica Gaming Ltd.

Wawer, Bliem and Kiiskinen all noted how the advent of iGaming significantly bolstered gross gaming revenues for all three jurisdictions, those being Austria, Switzerland and Finland, respectively.

Howard noted that in her local market in Connecticut, all iGaming operators went live at the same time, which made it important to get the user experience right from the start.

Her company, Wondr Nation, is tethered to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, owners of Foxwoods Resort Casino. The location is remote, which has put pressure on Wondr Nation to drive new retail business through various promotional activities and offerings.

Padveen stressed the importance of understanding your customer and why they interact with your brand, so that you can effectively replicate that experience both online and offline.

When asked about how and where companies will prioritize growth moving forward, all noted the importance of getting the right message to the right audience, but Wawer was quick to note that “it’s no question that the growth is online first.”