IGA Tradeshow wraps up in Anaheim with 7400 attendees, packed sessions

April 11, 2024 8:50 PM
Photo: CDC Gaming Reports
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
April 11, 2024 8:50 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports

The Indian Gaming Association Tradeshow & Convention closed Thursday by surpassing the attendance at its Anaheim show in 2022, but falling short of the record set last year in San Diego.

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The preliminary estimate of 7,400 attendees at this year’s event in Anaheim beat the 6,500 who attended two years ago, when the show returned to its spring schedule coming out of the pandemic; 7,000 attended in Las Vegas in July 2021. Upwards of 9,000 people attended in San Diego in 2023, where the show will return next year and dominate the schedule through 2030, along with some years in Las Vegas.

“It was very successful,” said Conference Chairman Victor Rocha. “The educational sessions on Monday and Tuesday were packed. The AI sessions on Monday were incredibly well attended. It’s wonderful when a plan comes together and we’re excited to get back to San Diego next year, then Vegas in 2026.”

The tradeshow selected Anaheim after schedules were altered due to the pandemic and facilities weren’t available on those dates, Rocha said.

The conference changed up its approach this year, with more educational sessions on the tradeshow floor than in the past. The event also marked the inaugural Digital Play Summit dealing with sports betting and igaming.

“With this setup, we could look at products on the tradeshow floor and educate ourselves too,” Rocha said. “It feels like we’re maturing and we’ve definitely improved.”

Sports betting, igaming, and artificial intelligence were the main focuses, Rocha said.

“The tribes are getting smarter every year and it’s exciting to watch the next generation of tribal leaders. I’m looking at all of these young people coming into our industry with bright eyes and big brains.”

Brendan Bussmann, managing partner of B Global who participated in the show as a moderator of several sessions, said the conference continues to grow and it shows how much tribal gaming continues to be a difference maker for tribes.

“Tribal leadership continues to look at new technology and new opportunities along the way and how to continue to evolve the industry as part of that,” Bussmann said. “It’s important to bring everybody together and make sure it happens in a cohesive way.”

Gene Johnson, executive vice president at Victor Strategies, said a big takeaway from the show is how the political environment in California has changed a lot since 2022 when the tribes were locked in a battle with sports betting operators DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGM on competing ballot measures about the control of sports betting in the state. Both initiatives were easily defeated, but it left hard feelings with the tribes over out-of-state interests encroaching on tribal sovereignty.

“It will be a very different referendum in 2026, more tribal friendly than what was going on in 2022,” Johnson said. “I don’t think you’ll have business-to-customer operations getting between the tribes and their customers in the casino business.”

Johnson said the issue wasn’t about sports betting, but about igaming. Those lessons may not be learned for decades because four times as much money is made in igaming than sports betting. Legislation will be framed in the future that the commercial operators will be technology providers and business-to-business services, rather than an end run to go directly to California consumers, Johnson said.

“If in 2022, the sports-betting proposition of the commercial alliance had passed, DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, and Caesars Sportsbook would have been the brands that people were using to bet,” Johnson said. “If igaming passes 20 years from now, they’ll still be the brands that are happening in states like New Jersey.”

There was a lot of interest in the Department of Interior’s new rules for tribal compacts with their state that drew overflow crowds. The rules put tribes on an equal footing with commercial online operators, essentially endorsing what’s happening in Florida with the Seminole Tribe and the state: the tribe getting a monopoly on online sports betting off the reservation.

“If you can negotiate a compact with the state for a hub-and-spoke system for online, the National Indian Gaming Association will bless it,” Johnson said. “That clears up a lot of things.”

Johnson said he’s seen a lot more technology companies that had a booth at the show for the first time. The tradeshow had more than 400 booths.