Gaming equipment manufacturers worldwide have been waiting all year for this week.
To companies such as major manufacturers IGT, Scientific Games Corp. and Aristocrat Technologies Inc., as well as upstarts Gamblit Gaming, Gaming Arts LLC and Next Gaming, this is Super Bowl week.
They’ll all gather at the Sands Expo and Convention Center starting Monday for the Global Gaming Expo, four days of product demonstrations, events honoring gaming’s biggest contributors and debates on casino industry issues.
Nearly 30,000 gaming industry professionals, 13.5 percent of them from Europe, Asia and other continents, are expected to attend this year’s G2E, the 19th edition of the event since the American Gaming Association and Reed Exhibitions opened the first one in Las Vegas in 2001.
Products on display
Allie Barth, the association’s vice president of industry relations, said it’s crucial for operators, suppliers and other stakeholders to come together at G2E to discuss the opportunities and issues the gaming industry faces.
This allows “for robust networking and business opportunities as the industry continues to expand at an unprecedented pace,” Barth said.
Nearly 400 gaming exhibitors, including 90 showing products for the first time, will attend. Thousands of products will be on display beginning Tuesday when the trade-show floor opens. Starting Monday, industry leaders and regulators will talk about the rush of sports wagering, player development and marketing, the expanded use of information technology, casino security, food and beverage trends and regulatory compliance.
Big names in the industry and celebrities will show up to give their views and attract attention to products.
Attendees will see 4D slot machines, sleek bartop games and facial-recognition technology.
“It has a huge impact on potential sales,” said Mike Darley, CEO of skill-based game manufacturer Next Gaming. “I’ve been in the industry for 35 years. It’d be unusual to think of gaming without G2E.”
Darley said the show lets those in the industry meet with customers, show off their latest developments and keep tabs on innovations from their competitors.
“G2E is all about what’s coming next,” he said. “That’s always a conversation with casinos, especially in slots.”
Outside the show floor, educational sessions will focus on a variety of topics, from sports betting to the #MeToo movement.
Tuesday will kick off with Bill Miller, president and CEO of the AGA, a trade group representing the $261 billion U.S. casino industry, delivering the annual state of the gaming industry address.
Christie to speak
Miller will be followed Tuesday by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a vocal advocate for legalizing sports wagering who led the charge to overturn a federal ban on betting on sports.
Christie, who as governor stood up for New Jersey’s right to challenge Nevada’s status as the only state allowed to take legal sports bets, took on professional sports leagues and the NCAA in court. Appeals ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed in May 2018 that the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was unconstitutional and struck it down.
That led dozens of states to enact legislation to legalize sports betting. Today, casinos and racetracks in 13 states are taking wagers.
More than a dozen panels at G2E 2019 are scheduled on various aspects of sports betting, exploring technology, policy and regulation.
On Wednesday, Gary Bettman, commissioner of the National Hockey League, will share his views about sports betting opportunities and the value of business partnerships. The panel will also include Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill U.S.; Greg Carlin, CEO of Rush Street Gaming; and Matt King, CEO of the fantasy sports company Fanduel.
The final keynote Thursday will feature former professional NASCAR driver Danica Patrick discussing what people can achieve in life.
Other panels on women in the industry are scheduled with the #MeToo movement taking center stage.
The educational sessions “continue to grow,” said Darley, who’s been going to G2E for more than 10 years.
They give us “a strong understanding of what’s going on (in the industry),” Darley said. “When we run a business, we don’t have a chance to do that.”
But the flashing lights, gorgeous graphics and iconic sounds of slot machines are the biggest draw of G2E, and the trade-show floor is expected to be mobbed when it opens Tuesday.
Last week was the calm before the storm as manufacturers transported their devices to the show floor. But up to a month in advance of the show, manufacturers had “pre-G2E” audiences visiting their own campuses.
“We’ve been hosting customers in here for weeks from around the country,” said Nick Khin, chief commercial officer for gaming for London-based IGT, which has a massive presence throughout Nevada.
IGT, which annually has the largest booth on the trade-show floor at G2E, will show off a new version of its popular Hexbreaker game and will debut a new “Jeopardy!”-themed slot machine.
And who better to hype the new “Jeopardy!” machine than Las Vegas celebrity James Holzhauer, a recent show contestant who won $2.46 million during his run but fell $58,484 short of matching Ken Jennings’ all-time regular-game total of $2.52 million in 2004?
Holzhauer will appear at the IGT booth at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Khin said slot machine themes based on television game shows are popular because players associate them with winning. “Jeopardy!” will join “The Price Is Right,” “$25,000 Pyramid” and the king of game-show slot machine spinoffs, “Wheel of Fortune,” which is enjoying a 23-year run on casino floors.
The newest “Wheel” twist is a 4D version that enables players to reach out and spin a wheel that appears to emerge from the screen.
Some of IGT’s other legacy brands — Hexbreaker, Cleopatra, Rich Girl and Wolf Run — will have upgrades on display. Khin said the new versions and new games are expected to sell well because of an exhaustive test program IGT has initiated.
Casino test banks
Khin explained that halfway through a game’s development cycle, players are invited to a focus group testing room where they can be observed playing the game, enabling technicians to make tweaks before it is put into a regulatory field test.
Once approved for play by regulators, the games are placed in 60 North American test banks on casino floors, about 12 of them in Southern Nevada, where real gamblers with real money can play them for 90 days.
Analysts pay particular attention to days 61 through 90, knowing that it can take a couple of months for players to become familiar with a game.
IGT receives the data on how the game is performing. If it performs well, it’s put on the market. If it doesn’t, the company must determine whether certain adjustments would make a game’s performance acceptable or if the game should be abandoned.
“When we first started this program a number of years ago, I thought that we would probably get fairly disparate results between regions, but actually, I can tell you — and this surprised me — that the results have been quite consistent,” Khin said. “If the game has worked, it’s worked everywhere. If the game hasn’t worked, it hasn’t worked anywhere. I thought we may get conflicting results.”
Khin said IGT’s rigorous test bank program gives customers “a lot of confidence in the products that they’re buying.”
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson, who also owns the Sands Expo and Convention Center.
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On the G2E floor
Manufacturers view G2E as an opportunity to sell their products to the casino market. Here’s a sampling of what some companies will be showing:
— Australia-based Aristocrat Technologies Inc. will try to cut into IGT’s dominance of the bartop cabinet market with a new Winner’s World Multi-Game bartop unit that offers a 23.5-inch full-HD resolution screen. Its being played in California and Louisiana and is now in 10 Nevada locations. Nathan Drane, vice president of commercial strategy, outright games for Aristocrat, said the company’s popular Buffalo, Buffalo Gold and Wild Lepre’coins with a keno game will be shown at G2E.
— Scientific Games, which owns the licensing for James Bond, will capitalize on the newest film in the franchise, “Die Another Day,” scheduled for release next year. The company will be launching Open Gaming, a new suite of iGaming content that will feature Mega Drop Quest. The company’s SG Game Service allows players to enjoy proven slots, keno, poker, electronic table games and sports wagering on a single device.
— Konami Gaming Inc. will demonstrate its Synkros Synk Vision facial recognition technology at the show. The cardless system will enable players to receive targeted offers, rewards and communications without the need for a traditional player loyalty card. Konami also is debuting a new anti-money laundering system that will allow administrators to electronically gather, track, review and complete all anti-money laundering requirements.
— AGS will display this expansive product portfolio in Booth No. 1253, highlighting 70 games and more than 30 new games titles, 15 table games and products, and AGS’ robust lineup of online real-money and social games and platforms. The company will debut its Starwall LED video display terminal on its Orion Portrait cabinet and will show its Orion Rise tower platform and Orion 49C curved display.