From Little Acorns

From Little Acorns

  • Andrew Tottenham — Managing Director, Tottenham & Co
February 7, 2019 7:45 AM
  • Andrew Tottenham — Managing Director, Tottenham & Co

It’s very cold in London (though not as cold as in the midwest of the USA), so it must be time for ICE. From my perspective the show keeps getting bigger and better. Thirty-two years ago, when I had just started my career as a consultant, I went to what was then called the Amusement Trades Exhibition (ATE), held in the old Earls Court venue. In those days ATE was a show that encompassed everything from companies selling AWP-style slot machines to fairground rides, and everything in between. I had no idea, back then, that ATE would begat ICE, and that ICE would end up where it is now.

At ATE, I was on the stand of John Huxley Casino Equipment, then owned by Jeff Lindsay. He had noticed that a few of his clients were regularly in London in late January/early February, and had discovered that they were in town to attend ATE. So he had decided to exhibit at the next exhibition. Jeff asked if I would like to be on his stand and I took him up on his invitation.

The casino industry in those days was not cohesive at all. Operators from one country rarely spoke to operators from other countries; there were very few operators that crossed national borders; and there was no forum for dialogue between operators in different countries. This created a challenge for me to get my name known outside the UK. That first show I attended was invaluable: I met operators from all over the world, started to get my name out there, and even picked up a few assignments.

The next year a few more casino suppliers exhibited. A few years later the casino suppliers were given their own area. That area continued to grow, and then the owners, BACTA, turned that area into a separate show, and ICE was born. Clarion bought ICE from BACTA in 2005 and turned it into the behemoth that it is today.

In 1987, the number of people from the casino industry visiting the show was probably under one hundred, representing no more than ten countries. Last year, ICE attracted over thirty-three thousand visitors from one hundred and fifty-three countries, and this year looks to be more. Pause and let that sink in, considering there are only one hundred and ninety five countries in the world. It is true that the rise of online gambling, since the mid to late 1990’s, has contributed much to this growth. But only about one half of the exhibition area is allotted to the online sector.

A great deal has been written about the need for innovation in our industry, in order to remain relevant and to continue to provide high levels of customer satisfaction. ICE is an opportunity to see new products and where the industry is heading. It’s interesting that since the addition of the online delivery channel, not much has changed; with even online finding it difficult to truly innovate. The online product offering today is dominated by betting and facsimiles of land based casino games and slot machines. Perhaps there are variations that include a few gimmicks but ultimately, they all seem similar.

Operators and suppliers say that regulation stymies originality. To a certain extent that is true. Regulation is, by necessity, always trying to catch up with advances in technology and game design. However, when our industry has tried to develop truly new products, we have failed. The foray into skill gaming is a good example – it certainly has not lived up to its initial hype. Perhaps the challenge is that casinos are trying to attract a new type of gambler, one who doesn’t yet go to the casino or who went and saw no reason to return. How do you reach someone who has not ever been to a casino or may have been and found it uninteresting, to get them to come (again, perhaps) and try new games?

Could it be that gambling rests on a three legged stool (wagering money to win a prize based on a chance event) and we cannot tinker too much with that if we want to continue to attract those who like to gamble? Adding a fourth leg, such as the element of skill, is a turn-off to some, and apparently does not offer enough appeal to those who do not currently enjoy the casino experience.

Regulators are rightly starting to focus on minimising gambling harms, but I believe their approach is wrong in part. There is a danger that regulators will, in their effort to reduce the negative impact of gambling, take all of the fun out of gambling. The vast majority of people enjoy gambling with no apparent harm. Surely, this is where innovation should be used. In fact that it is happening in the tools that operators can use to improve their product, make smart investment decisions, and most importantly identify those who shouldn’t be gambling or those who could be heading on the wrong trajectory. Operators now have new ways to give people the tools to make sure their gambling remains enjoyable and does not become a problem.

By the time this is published the exhibition will be well almost over. ICE VOX, the conference component, will have finished and we will have heard from around one hundred and seventy speakers in more than 50 seminars, imparting pearls of wisdom for subjects as wide-ranging as using artificial intelligence to personalise the customer experience to responsible gambling to fraud detection. It promised to be and was an interesting few days.