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Gaming industry insiders relish return of in-person G2E

The fewer number of booths and attendees and far more space to walk would have seemed unusual for the world’s largest gaming industry trade show in past years.

But after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the convention to go digital in 2020, the 2021 iteration of the Global Gaming Expo was a chance for the gaming industry to get together and collectively exhale, even it was on a smaller scale.

“I think we’ve really all been waiting to get together here,” said Phil O’Shaughnessy, vice president global communications, trade shows and corporate social responsibility for gaming manufacturer IGT.

“This is one part trade show, one part industry reunion. It’s just an absolutely fantastic industry, and it’s so close knit. And we’re all so glad to see each other,” O’Shaughnessy said. “Yes, we’re competitors. But we’re also all in this great business together, and we’re seeing a lot of our old friends. And there’s nothing better than getting together with a customer, replicating a casino floor, and being able to walk them through a genuine experience.”

This year’s show attracted more than 13,000 gaming professionals to The Venetian Expo from Monday through Thursday, according to the American Gaming Association, operators of G2E. It was noticeably fewer people than the 27,000 attendees the trade show typically attracts but expected given the challenges associated with international travel during the pandemic.

“After the hardest year in our history, G2E provided a robust marketplace to drive the global gaming industry’s recovery forward,” AGA Chairman and Aristocrat CEO and Managing Director Trevor Croker said in a statement. “Nothing beats an in-person show — and we’re thrilled with the audience and enthusiasm surrounding G2E 2021.”

‘Much better than I expected’

Those smaller numbers didn’t dampen enthusiasm on the show floor this week.

“The whole show was pretty good. It was a big success with a lot of existing customers to meet again, but also new customers that we were able to gain,” said Dennys Patir, of Patir Casino Seating, who has been coming to the convention since 2005. “It was much better than I expected because everyone was really concerned beforehand. All the people that were here at the show were serious about getting something out of the show.”

G2E wasn’t the first in-person trade show for the industry this year — NIGA’s annual Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Convention was held in Las Vegas in July — but it offered the opportunity for gaming company executives to get their hands physically on a host of brand new unveilings from companies for the first time since the pandemic began.

‘A welcome sign’

The sheer number of innovations was impressive, given how hard the industry had been hit by the pandemic shutdowns, said Marcus Prater, executive director of the Las Vegas-based Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers.

“The pandemic was not kind to the supplier sector. Business dried up to virtually nothing. People were laid off. It was bleak,” Prater said. “To see the innovation continue behind the scenes, and here the innovation is on display, was a welcome sign considering where the supplier group was just a year ago. Life is not back to full time wine and roses, but we’re certainly heading in a good direction.”

Coming up with those innovations is one thing. Being able to actually show them off can be just as important.

“G2E is critical for us because in the casino world in North America there’s right around 1,000 brick-and-mortar casinos and the decision-makers for those casinos all come to G2E. We get the opportunity to spend time with all our existing customers as well as all our prospective customers, so G2E is a big deal,” said Justin Sprague, senior vice president of marketing for GlobalPayments, Las Vegas, a financial technology company.

Sprague said G2E gives the company a chance to do over 750 product presentations in a single show.

“It influences millions and millions of (dollars worth of) deals that we’re currently working on, so it’s the place for us to be,” Sprague added.

‘Huge step in the right direction’

The convention also served as another marker of Southern Nevada’s economic recovery after it had been devastated by pandemic-forced closures and a slower bounceback that comes with a tourism-heavy market.

Leisure travel has rebounded significantly faster than most expected, as evidenced by key economic markers like gaming revenue and weekend visitation and hotel occupancy rates nearing or even exceeding pre-pandemic levels.

What has continued to lag behind, though, is the midweek numbers which are typically driven by conventions.

“It is a critical piece of the overall makeup of what is the gaming and hospitality industry in Las Vegas,” said Josh Swissman, founding partner of The Strategy Organization, a Las Vegas gaming and hospitality consulting firm. “To see these big shows happen, even if it’s with smaller numbers, is a huge step in the right direction.”

For Lindsay Slader, managing director of gaming for the Vancouver-based GeoComply, this year’s convention marked Slader’s 10th G2E. The extra breathing room at this year’s convention was noticeable, she said, but it still provided plenty of opportunity to reconnect those important business relationships.

Still, a return to the usual buzz in the future would be quite welcome.

“I’m still looking forward to more hustle and bustle, (and) shoulder-to-shoulder (turnout) would be really fun, but it’s just good that we’re all here,” she said.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Dr. Miriam Adelson, the majority shareholder of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which operates The Venetian Expo.

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter. Contact Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow @RickVelotta on Twitter.

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