Indian Gaming Association conference kicks off Monday in Anaheim

April 3, 2024 8:41 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports
April 3, 2024 8:41 PM
  • Buck Wargo, CDC Gaming Reports

This year’s Indian Gaming Association Tradeshow & Convention takes place April 8-11 at the Anaheim Convention Center with a special section devoted to igaming and sports betting and a focus on artificial intelligence.

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Called the DigitalPlay Summit (DPS), it will be held over the final two days on the exhibit floor. DPS will leverage a collection of industry experts and thought leaders from the seminar program. This year’s conference is placing more emphasis on tribes working with operators from Europe, in addition to the U.S.

The gathering of tribal leaders and commercial gaming executives is expected to boast more than 400 exhibitors and organizers hope to surpass the record attendance of 9,000 at the 2023 show in San Diego.

The conference kicks off Monday afternoon with a deep dive into artificial intelligence and gaming with four sessions: overview, legal and regulatory, data security and privacy, and casino operations and management.

“Some smart people are taking a look at artificial intelligence to see how it will affect the industry,” said Victor Rocha, conference chair of the Indian Gaming Association. “The tribes need to understand the fundamental change. AI elevates the smaller tribes and helps them play catch up. If used properly, it’s a great equalizer.”

The four sessions deal with everything from casino games to staffing and how AI impacts them, said Jason Giles, executive director of the IGA.

“Even at travel plazas and smaller venues with 20 machines, all of those things will be impacted by AI,” Giles said. “It’s not hard to see casinos going completely cashless at some point and have less worries about money laundering. AI is central to all that and even with security. You can have AI watching every casino game as opposed to security people staring at cameras falling asleep.”

Tuesday is the traditional start day, with multiple educational sessions starting at 9 a.m.

“This is one of the best shows we’ve ever produced,” Rocha said. “We’re excited about the education conferences. I’ve had the best submissions since I’ve been doing this job.”

This year’s conference program is focused on the business dynamics of tribal gaming. Sessions will include information on efficiencies in operations, new revenue generators, smart expansion, and the adoption of new technologies. Beyond the digital summit, conference tracks are centered on casino and gaming operations, interactive wagering, regulatory and compliance, marketing and player development, technology and innovation, emerging trends, economic impact and development, legal and tribal sovereignty, security and surveillance.

“It’s a good overview of the industry,” Rocha said. “A lot of our attendees are Native Americans and people looking to be in the industry. We have a very pro-business, pro-worker and pro-education agenda.”

Rocha highlighted the session that kicks off the conference Tuesday called “Innovate or Stagnate: Pioneering Next-Gen Casino Experiences.” It features CEOs from the gaming industry.

There’s also a session on the future of sports betting in California, as well as a joint interview Tuesday with FanDuel CEO Amy Howe and James Siva, chairman of the California Indian Gaming Association. FanDuel proposed a failed initiative in 2022 to get commercial operators involved in sports betting in the state.

“It will be a very honest conversation about where the tribes fit in the future of sports betting,” Rocha said.

Giles said the IGA will engage with FanDuel and DraftKings despite what happened in California.

Rocha mentioned hard feelings over the FanDuel and DraftKings initiative, but it’s their job to look at the industry and what partnerships are available. Tribes want to learn more about sports betting.

“Before the last two years, we used to talk about sports betting and online gaming and we got grief from some tribes that couldn’t do it, ” Rocha said. “This is one of the first years where sports betting, online gaming, and esports are front and center. The tribes and anyone who attends will be surprised by the content we created. It would be malpractice if we didn’t show the tribes the future of gaming and how the industry is changing.”

For more information on the sessions and to register, go to

As part of the DigitalPlay Summit, there will be a roundtable discussion with Marcus Yoder, Playtech chief commercial officer, and Joe Asher, president of sports betting at IGT. They will talk about the progress of sports betting expansion and prospects of igaming in a panel moderated by AGEM President Daron Dorsey.

Sam Basile, vice president of business development North America at GeoComply, will follow this session with a deep dive into the protection of digital wallets and apps. He’ll be joined by Jennifer Carleton, chief legal officer at Sightline Payments.

Highlights on the second day include Jonathan Edson, senior vice president of business development at FanDuel, who will be part of a panel discussion on sports and tribal partnerships. Patrick Tarnay, senior business development manager from BetMGM, will discuss a range of topics, from gateways to igaming and sportsbook integration.

“The high-profile names and the brands they represent in our seminar sessions reflect the commitment to the wider event that we’re excited to unveil in Anaheim this year,” said Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernie Stevens. “Our sector is evolving daily and with that comes the need for insight into best practices, solutions, and innovation that tribal gaming is a true hotbed for.”

Ed Gallo, director of sales and attendee programs at Clarion Events, said that the 2024 show is bigger than San Diego a year ago, with the DigitalPlay Summit and increase in exhibitors. He said DPS is forming a new tribal community for sports betting, igaming, and esports. “We know sports betting is the hottest thing out there and everyone wants to know what’s going on in tribal country.”

IGA is focusing on the West Coast for its future shows, from where it attracts the most attendees. It previously hosted conferences at tribal casinos but the show has grown beyond it.

“The show has grown exponentially year after year,” Rocha said. “For a while, we were trying to be everything to everyone in Arizona and New Mexico and making the tribes happy, but we grew so big, we can only fit in a couple of places around the country.”

Rocha said when holding IGA conventions, it’s looking at the city rather than a venue to accommodate the tribes.
Going forward, the conferences will be held in either Las Vegas or San Diego. “You get attached to a city and people love Southern California.”

Giles said San Diego will be the main home. It has perfect weather and great golf and a top convention center. “We were never supposed to be this big and successful. There are only five or six cities in America now that we can legitimately look at and if we’re going to keep it closer to Indian country, that cuts it down even more to two or three. If you don’t have space or hotel rooms, we’re out.”