Nothing beats in-person contact, even if it’s mask-to-mask instead of face-to-face, lawyer Tamara Malvin said on the first day of the Global Gaming Expo.
“It’s a piece that we were really missing,” she said. “Having webinars and online opportunities during the pandemic was really important and can’t be understated. But figuring out a way for all of us to be in the room together now and in a way that feels safe, … there’s nothing better than meeting people in person.”
Several other G2E participants echoed that feeling as the country’s largest gaming show got underway after a two-year COVID-induced absence. The number of attendees and vendors is not expected to reach the pre-pandemic totals of 2019, partially because of international travel restrictions. Each person at the expo must show proof of vaccination, and masks are required at all times.
Jason Giles, executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association, called this year’s G2E an important step for the industry to prove “we can gather together safely.”
“This is one of the biggest fall shows that has remained open. In a sense, G2E is setting the stage for early spring next year to see how we’re going to handle this,” he said, alluding to the annual London ICE tradeshow and NIGA’s Indian Gaming and Tradeshow. “I think the future of large, 10,000-people-plus shows is mandatory vaccination.”
July’s Indian Gaming and Tradeshow Convention was the industry’s first mass gathering in more than a year. It had no vaccine requirement, and Nevada did not reinstitute a mask mandate for indoor gatherings until the show’s last day. Giles said he expects next year’s NIGA show, in Anaheim, Calif., to require vaccinations and masks.
Unlike several other attendees interviewed by CDC Gaming Reports, Giles said NIGA did not reduce the number of representatives it sent to the show.
Tamara Hansen, director of sales for NRT Technology, a financial technology company based in Canada, said the pandemic has caused divisions in society, making events such as G2E even more important. This is her first G2E.
“We’re stronger when we work together,” said Hansen, who is attending her first G2E. “Collaborating conversations and idea sharing are very powerful. More than ever, people are interested in having conversations to figure out what people are doing to get through this tumultuous time.”
Hansen said that in the wake of pandemic related revenue losses, some companies are being “more strategic” this year, and many of those participating in G2E have targeted agendas, especially those involving technology and innovation.
“There were a lot of people eager to get out here,” Hansen said. “It’s good for morale and good for learning, and you’re seeing a solid presence. Noting that her former job at MGM Resorts revolved around meetings and conventions, she said that “nothing surpasses that human-to-human connection.”
Expo veteran Adam Wexler, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based PrizePicks, described G2E as a great method to bring people back together. He said his company has a strong G2E presence, with six representatives on site. The big differences so far for this year’s G2E is a “lot more masks” and a smaller than usual crowd, Wexler said.
Wexler said G2E and ICE trade shows are a good way for PrizePicks to get “out of their niche” as a fantasy sports betting company.
Bea Carlson, chairwoman of the Choctaw Nation Gaming Commission in Mississippi, said G2E’s education sessions and networking opportunities provide a look into the future.
“We are very much mindful of the pandemic and its effects on the tribe,” she said. “At the same time, we don’t lose sight of our businesses. G2E is a vehicle to maintain looking forward to what our business could be.”
Maulin Gandhi, president of Tangam Systems, has attended every G2E since 2004 and said he’s not likely to skip any soon.
“We met our first investors at G2E,” said Gandhi, whose gaming software company is based in Ontario, Canada. “We’re very excited about having a show in person again.”
This year, Tangam is introducing its Slot Optimization and Data Analysis (SODA) system, which helps determine the best placements for a casino’s slot inventory.
Because of international travel restrictions, some potential clients from Asia are unable to attend this year’s expo.
“I’m excited about seeing the folks we haven’t seen since everything started,” Gandhi said. “I think the biggest thing is having more social get-togethers than anything else, because we definitely missed those.”
Andrew Patterson of SG Digital said he’d heard speculation that this year’s attendance will be half or less of the 30,000 who attended the 2019 event, which came amid a record-setting year for commercial gaming revenue.
“Without having the European group, for the most part, you just don’t have the same numbers. But we’re still making the most of the customers and potential business prospects out here. So, we’re looking forward to a good show,” he said.
Greg Natale of America Checked, a consumer reporting agency based in Tulsa, Okla., said the company increased its representation this year, to five people instead of the four who attended the 2019 show.
“I think that whatever happens (with any health fallout) in the two or three weeks after the conference, it remains to be seen how often people will be meeting more face to face,” he said.
Adi Markus of Optimove, which provides a consumer data platform for several gaming companies, said staffers at the New York headquarters got COVID vaccinations without a mandate.
“It’s not even coming from management, it’s more from everyone in the office,” she said.
She said large trade shows such as G2E will be around for a long time, especially with an emphasis on safety measures for attendees.
“These types of conferences have a huge impact, especially for vendors,” she said. “I don’t think this can be replicated virtually. It’s a big deal, and I think (the proof-of-vaccination requirement) was a big part of why people felt comfortable coming to G2E.”