Frank Floor Talk: IGA 2023 – Small random notes

April 25, 2023 8:00 AM
  • Buddy Frank, CDC Gaming Reports
April 25, 2023 8:00 AM
  • Buddy Frank, CDC Gaming Reports

CDC Gaming Reports’ “From The Floor” and their “Focus” series did a great job of covering the recent Indian Gaming Association’s Tradeshow and Convention held early this month in San Diego. But with 380 exhibitors and thousands of attendees, it was hard to notice everything…especially some of the smaller items. So, here’s my take on some minor points:

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Not An Indian? You Should Still Attend – It’s always been a mystery to me why more commercial (non-Native) operators don’t attend this show. It comes six months after G2E, generally meaning that the early-release products shown there have either hit big or flopped. While there are some new game releases at IGA, most of the products shown are generally solid and available to buy. Likewise, fewer of the Wall Street folks attend so there is far less “vaporware” aimed at boosting stock prices. The seminars are just as good as ICE or G2E, as long as you skip any with the words “Sovereignty,” “Compact,” or “Class II.” Most importantly, the atmosphere is relaxed, and you can spend quality time with your colleagues far better than at G2E. It’s worth making a trip to Anaheim next year (it’s a shame you missed San Diego – see below).

A Little History: Is IGA the Oldest Show? – Press release information from the IGA said their tradeshow is “the oldest in the industry” dating to 1986 (that’s a 37-year run). That can’t be right since IGA is only two years old. For the first 35 years it was called the National Indian Gaming Association Tradeshow & Convention. Cancel culture deleted the “N” in 2022.

But, think about Indian gaming in 1986. That show then had to be more of a Bingo Expo, with few slots (unless they were “gray market”). Did you know that it was a bingo lawsuit (California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians) that prompted Congress to adopt the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) nationwide in 1988 that set the stage for the future of tribal gaming? But Washington didn’t do it to help tribes; rather they were horrified that the Supreme Court decision meant that Native American casinos could open without the government getting involved and (most importantly) getting any taxes.

Another obscure fact for those living outside the Golden State was that the Cabazon’s Bingo hall wasn’t in Cabazon, CA at the Morongo casino. It was actually several miles away at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, CA. Everyone should give them “Thanks” and a pat on the back for winning that historic lawsuit (except for the part about having to pay taxes).

What about G2E? They are relative newcomers launching their first show and the acronym for the “Global Gaming Exposition” in 2001. Before that, the convention for years was called the World Gaming Congress & Expo. G2E, run by the American Gaming Association (AGA), bought out WGCE’s name in 2002.

A Class II Roulette From Incredible Technologies – This one make no sense at all, but it seems to work. The very definition of Class II says it must be based on bingo, not roulette. After a few years of court battles, Class II slot machines that use a bingo-based RNG were deemed legal. Once bingo determines the winners and losers, the outcome is displayed to the player on traditional analog or video reels. Everyone knows it is just a way to avoid taxes and skirt regulations, but it works, and works well. The same thinking has now brought “historical horse racing” (HHR) to states where slots are illegal by using an RNG based on past track results.


But Incredible Technologies (IT) seems to be using an electronic dealer spinning an analog wheel to determine the outcome. That’s not Class II. Or is it? According to the confusing explanations I received, the only thing the wheel does is to select a bingo card from many, but those cards only have one number on them (which number happens to correspond to the winning number on the roulette wheel, including 0 and 00). I’m confused too, but supposedly a one-ball bingo game is really played in the background and that is what determines a winner?? Bingo determination = Class II!

This could be great for those with a Compact limit on their C3 games or you could trade in your existing C3 roulette game for one that is a tax-free C2 product. Is it bending the rules of bingo? Of course it is! But so are all the other Class II machines.

Renewed Interest in Server-Based Technology? – Like the last few shows, Cashless Technology seemed to be a dominant topic, along with Mobile Gaming. There was also some unexpected and renewed enthusiasm around Class II gaming. That had slowed measurablely in the last few years, but it seems the interest is coming from two sources: Tribes hitting Class III game restrictions, and those looking at the unique ability of Class II games to deliver a different kind of math with respect to presenting bonuses and jackpots. IGA did a nice job on Monday with a multipart seminar on the single topic of Class II.

All three of the product categories above rely on server connectivity. Could the once-dead subject of Class III Server-Based Gaming be headed for a comeback? Would IGT still be a major force in this effort? It will be interesting to follow this thread.

Speaking of IGT and Typos – People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. But I can’t help tossing just this one. Writers hate typos. I am excellent at spotting my own, but only just after I’ve hit “Send” on my texts, emails or stories.

I was delighted to learn that IGT, the folks who virtually invented the category of video poker decades ago, also made a public typo on their latest poker paytable (check out the 4th time they tried to spell “deuce”).

In IGT’s defense, “deuce” is a terrible way to spell this word that represents a two. Since it is pronounced “due-suh,” it should be spelled “duece.” But, alas, it’s not. Like many things, we can blame the French for this as the word comes from their number 2 (deux). C’est la vie! And welcome to my world of embarrassing typos.

Another New Edition – In my semi-monthly review of books last June, I highly recommended “The Math That Gaming Made – Again.” It was an excellent compilation of dozens of articles from Dr. Ralph Thomas and Andrew Cardno that had been previously published in earlier casino or math journals. That 138-page book was released mid-November of 2021. About a year later, they published a Third Edition that expanded to 202 pages in a larger format. Guess what?? At IGA, the ink was hardly dry on another new one published just last month. It has now grown to 335 pages, with plenty of new content. It also marks the return of co-author Dr. A.K. Singh, who was featured in the very first 2011 edition.

As I said last June, this is still not a “you-can’t-put-it-down” page turner. You’ll need to take some time to consider the ideas and concepts presented in each story within the chapters. But it is great stuff, and each topic can help you become a better operator (Note: Don’t be put off by the title, the math is easy-to-understand in this one).

Each article of one to five pages stands alone, but they are grouped under similar concepts. At home, it should be on your desk when you have some down time, and certainly a copy in the break room at work will pay rewards.

Jim Bates is Back – (He’s actually been “back” for about six months, but this was his first IGA appearance). It’s rare that anyone would miss a slot machine salesperson, since there seems to be an inexhaustible supply of them at tradeshows. But Bates is different. He’s been in the business for two decades, but unlike some of his veteran peers, he still acts like a kid experiencing the County Fair for the first time (every day). He is incredibly loyal to his employer but is quick to steer you away if they happened to release a bad product. And he has been known to praise the works of competitors (perhaps he watched “Miracle on 34th Street” way too often).

Where’s he back from? Bates left his last position in September 2020 to become a stay-at-home Dad to his new son. However, he did maintain ties to the industry via his wife Lauren, who’s also an excellent VP-level sales executive (Jim is now at Aristocrat, and Lauren is across town at Konami).

But what I, and dozens and dozens of others, missed when Jim was gone was his enthusiasm. It is infectious and spreads like a contagious virus when you are around him. Thankfully, there is no vaccine, and masks will do nothing to protect you from Jim Bates.

Smaller Booths – This year’s Light & Wonder booth at IGA would have fit in just 1/8th of their “regular” booth at G2E. It actually felt good. While the crowds at IGA are admittedly smaller, they are still healthy. The more compact booths felt perfect. L&W wasn’t alone. Almost every large vendor, except for newer competitors, had smaller booths than they did in Las Vegas. It made things interesting and a lot more welcoming. Even more refreshing was that no one was screening visitors from entering. No “papers please” inquiries and no blood tests required to see the products. Nice job, vendors!

SoCal – More Machines and No Smoking – While most of the country reduced their slot counts post-pandemic, two of the already-largest casinos went in the opposite direction. Yaamavá (aka San Manuel) and Pechanga, both near Los Angeles, now feature 7,225 and 5,500 machines respectively. Even more noteworthy, both casinos re-opened as non-smoking after the COVID closures. As the IGA show ended, Yaamavá premiered a new “smoking patio” with 94 machines. It is partially outdoors, but semi-enclosed with positive ventilation to move the smoke out. New Jersey lawmakers should consider these two operations as they ponder new non-smoking legislation. I don’t think any casino in the Garden State comes close to the high occupancy levels and gaming revenues I saw at both Pechanga or Yaamavá on this visit since they eliminated smoke.

Native American Crafts – The craft show of Native American arts at IGA is one of the best anywhere. It traditionally opens a day ahead, and an hour earlier, than the main gaming show. This year it was again excellent. My only suggestion would be to open this part of the show to the general public as it is rare, even at Pow Wows, to find so many Native vendors in one spot. And San Diego tourists visiting from around the world love anything Native American.

San Diego Should Be IGA’s Permanent Homebase – What’s not to like about IGA in San Diego (other than the room rates)? The weather is generally superb (forget the few scattered showers this year). The food and beverage options in the nearby Gas Lamp Quarter are world-class, and there are almost a dozen Native American casinos within a 90-minute drive. Next year the show goes back to Anaheim, CA where it was held in 2022. They do OK with the weather too, but with Disneyland nearby, forget cheap rooms. The closest casinos are card rooms which despise Native American operators.

In summary, Anaheim is sort of San Diego without a gorgeous waterfront, Balboa Park, the USS Midway, the Maritime Museum, the Zoo, surfing, sailing, beaches, Coronado and security provided by the U.S. Navy and Marines. ‘Nuff said.


2024 Indian Gaming Association Tradeshow and Convention (IGA)
April 15-18, 2024
Anaheim, CA
(but back in San Diego for ’25 and ’26!!)