The Casino Esport Conference (CEC) returns to Las Vegas for its seventh year on Feb. 28 and this year’s event has a new twist: a CEC University the day before the conference begins.
The conference returns to the Alexis Park Resort across from Virgin Hotels Las Vegas on Harmon Avenue.
Founded by brothers Ari and Ben Fox, the CEC connects the esports, video-gaming, casino, cinema, and collegiate worlds directly to esports players, marketers, developers, products, services, event providers, lawyers, and educators. It provides insight on how to monetize the video-gaming and esports industries.
The conference kicks off with a session on esports and video-gaming culture and why it matters to the gambling industry.
“This year, we’re getting into a lot more detail on how to do this, whereas in past years, it was more about what esports is,” Ben Fox said. “It’s now about implementing it and the people we have can help them facilitate that. We’re moving the needle forward. It’s very important for everybody. They need to understand this, because it’s going to be part of what they’re doing.”
There are sessions on payment systems, the metaverse, AR and VR technology in igaming and brick-and-mortar spaces, and how state regulators are dealing with advances in technology. On the second day, sessions tackle artificial intelligence and blockchain, marketing to a younger demographic, video games to adopt for peer-to-peer wagering, influencers and streaming on social media, how to stay ahead of technology trends, and why responsible gaming measures will make it more successful for a younger audience. Wagering on esports will be featured as Nevada adopts new regulations to make it the betting capital of the U.S.
“The one word I would use to describe the CEC is transformational, as we move the industry forward,” Ari Fox said. “Most conferences have a standard rollout — panel talks, socially focused, educational. I got an email from a conference that has the exact same speakers as last year. The question is, where are the new ideas? They need to come from outside the industry.”
The CEC is bringing in speakers like Jeff Lund, general manager of Meow Wolf, an arts and entertainment company based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, that creates immersive and interactive experiences that transport audiences into the realms of story and exploration. Another speaker is Louis Alfieri, principal with Raven Sun Creative.
“We’re bringing in people from various industries and working collaboratively, informing the gambling industry that it can use us to develop new things for a younger generation,” Ari Fox said. “The casino industry likes to say, ‘We’re good. We’re making money and don’t need to worry about anything. The CEC isn’t trying to rock the boat, but what we’re trying to say is the gambling industry needs to evolve and grow. That differentiates us from other conferences out there.”
Ben Fox said that while it’s been slow, the industry is moving forward. If executives can recognize the reason why CEC exists, they will understand the need to be part of it.
Another speaker is Vlastimil Vencik, founder and CEO of Oddin.gg, who will give the keynote to kick off the conference.
“We have a unique offering, which is why a lot of other event companies keep scratching their heads when it comes to us,” Ben Fox said. “We’re not funded by a major corporation. We’re grassroots more than any event out there. People realize we have a lot of heart and soul and that’s what we are trying to get across. We keep coming up with new ways to try to foster this business for them and their understanding of it.”
Ari Fox said one important session is on how artificial intelligence is becoming mainstream and can help the gambling industry evolve at every level of interaction on the casino and hospitality side.
“Using AI can be scary at first. But younger people tend to accept, use, and embrace it,” Ari Fox said. “For example, an AI hologram books your room or an AI robot brings food to your room.”
Ari Fox said if a casino wants to adopt a skill-based game, AI can serve as the go-between and be programmed to adopt and learn against someone else playing solo. It provides the opportunity they can win at that level, but not win a lot.
“AI can be an amazing tool to allow the casino to attract a gamer over and over again,” Ari Fox said. “It’s this ability to reel them in with AI.”
Some of the other speakers include Jan Jones Blackhurst, executive director of the UNLV Black Fire leadership initiative and board member of Caesars Entertainment; Robert Ripee, executive director of the Black Fire Innovation Hub; Seth Schorr, chief executive of Fifth Street Gaming; Mike Darley, CEO of Next Gaming; casino industry consultant Oliver Lovat; George Chanos, former attorney general of Nevada; former NFL player Ahman Green, a collegiate esports coach; Christopher LaPorte, founder of RESET; Christian Bishop, director of Twitch Properties; Ernie Stevens, chairman of the Indian Gaming Association and part of the Indian Gaming Esports Association; Bo Grey, co-founder of Wager Score; Brian Lessman, a client services executives with GLI; Paris Smith, CEO of Pinnacle Sports; and Michael Morton, counsel for the Nevada Gaming Board.
The CEC University is a classroom setting on February 27. This is the first year of the CEC U. and involves a field trip to the Illuminarium Las Vegas, where there will be a mixer with food and beverage, plus a tour of Meow Wolf and Omega Mart at the adjacent Area15.
“We created a classroom environment so that people coming in will understand the jargon and what it even is, as opposed to the panel discussions the next two days,” Ben Fox said. “It’s a more immersive interactive experience.”