“User Conferences” in the slot industry are nothing new. IGT may have done the first of these in the late ‘90s to gather customers to discuss common issues, preview products and hear feedback.
Some of these get togethers were specifically focused on “slot system” issues with lots of training classes and an equal amount of what were affectionately known as “bitch sessions.” Bally may have been the first to try and liven up their system “User Groups” by also hosting sports or entertainment celebrities. Basketball’s Magic Johnson and baseball’s Cal Ripken were just a few who delivered highlighted those events.
But in 2016, AGS became a bit of a disrupter in the space when they premiered their first “customer summit” known as GameON. This year’s gathering in Reno marked their 6th Annual event (with a couple of years off for COVID). This is their first trip to Northern Nevada, as previous venues included casino properties from Florida to Washington D.C. to Oklahoma.
It’s hard to describe why these events are so popular with attendees, and why they are different. That’s almost as difficult as describing the company’s CEO, David Lopez who says, “this isn’t a user conference. In other words, I’m not here using you. We’re here giving it back to you. And that’s a (censored) big difference.”
The actual concept of a smaller gathering, with minimal product pitches and lots of non-gaming educational content was first proposed by AGS’s Chief Marketing Officer Julia Boguslawski. But she credits Lopez with anchoring the culture that makes this show work so well. “It’s just who he is, I mean, he can’t be disingenuous. I’ve worked with people before who believe it is about the façade, and it’s about looking or sounding a certain way. It doesn’t work like that with David. He is always saying to me, ‘don’t ask me to lie on stage.’ He just can’t be fake.”
There is an exception to that. If you Google images of Lopez, you’ll probably find a shot or two of him in a coat and tie. That is definitely fake. Here’s two more shots of the real David Lopez:
Only the fishing vest photo to promote the Reno event is a bit out of character. The other shots are of Lopez’s formal wear. His daily work outfit is jeans and a tee-shirt (or dressing up in a track suit).
“I’m wearing what everybody else wants to wear. Yeah, I like clothes. But I think that it’s more about what’s important. And is it more important that I’m wearing a $2,500 suit? Or is it more important how we treat people? So, I could wear my Metallic or my Motley Crue shirt t shirt up there. I’m not trying to be cool. It’s just what I wear. Hey, we’re just trying to be honest.”
While many call him unconventional, both he and Boguslawski prefer the term “authentic.” That’s a characteristic they also try to bring to GameON. The events have always been smaller than others. There were 180 on hand in Reno, but that included the small group of invited operators, speakers and the AGS support staff. Lopez said, “At some of these tradeshows, they were so big you had no idea who was even there. We want folks to engage, share and network. That works best in smaller groups.”
There were just a few presentations on AGS topics, and the product demos were optional and held in an open bar cocktail area. But the highlights, and what sets GameON apart, are the wide variety of non-AGS, but educational and interesting topics.
This year the first keynote was by Tom Dimitroff, former NFL GM and now head of a group using AI to make drafts, coaching and football better. That was followed later by Jennifer Golbeck who is the director of the Social Intelligence Lab at the University of Maryland. She got everyone’s attention when she explained that even your Roomba vacuum may be spying and recording your conversations (not to mention your social apps, phone, car, and Alexa).
Two different presentations touched on new concepts evolving from good artificial intelligence and data analytics in the casino world. And the dark side of technology was covered with a presentation on cyber warfare by Jerry Perullo former information security chief at the New York Stock Exchange.
A planned AGS “welcome pool party” on the opening day was cancelled by a thunder shower, but it turned out even better with a quick venue switch to a bowling alley bar to watch Las Vegas’ Golden Knights win the Stanley Cup (turns out that there are a surprising number of hockey fans in the casino world).
Boguslawski says that at GameON that authenticity pays off, “our attendees get a sense for our people, and how they see how David and the whole AGS team connects with one another. Because customers watch all of that. Does that match up with how you’re treating your employees? How are you guys all getting along? We get comments every year from operators who say, ‘I’d really like to work for AGS.’ It’s the biggest compliment.”
Realistically, a great company image is only helpful if it is backed by solid products. At the moment, AGS seems to have both. Their Spectra UR43 “portrait upright” cabinet ranked number one, ahead of all the major vendors, in the January 2023 Eilers & Krejcik Game Performance survey. It has held that spot for the last six months. Likewise, two of their themes, “Shamrock Fortunes” and “Long Bao Bao” made the Top Ten list in the same surveys. As Lopez would say, “You can’t fake this stuff.”