A crowd approaching 10,000 people is expected to set a new attendance record in San Diego next week at the Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention.
Conference Chairman Victor Rocha hosted an online panel discussion Wednesday with Jason Giles, executive director of the Indian Gaming Association, and Brian Sullivan, vice president of Clarion Events, to promote the show that runs Monday through Thursday at the San Diego Convention Center.
The conference will easily top the 6,500 who attended in Anaheim a year ago, with the expectation it will surpass the more than 8,500 attendees in Las Vegas in July 2021. The trade-show floor is expected to be the largest in history as well.
The show hasn’t been held in San Diego since 2019. The 2020 show was canceled just as the pandemic hit hard.
“We’re happy to be back and judging by attendee registration, a lot of people are looking forward to going to San Diego,” Giles said. “It’s been a brutal winter for folks up north.”
The conference, which includes a deep dive on Class II gaming on Monday, will present most of its educational sessions on Tuesday; they’ll deal with tribal gaming, sports betting, igaming, responsible gaming, cybersecurity, and diversity. Discussions will also cover tribal sovereignty, potential gaming expansion in states, and Supreme Court decisions that could impact tribes.
The trade-show portion kicks off Wednesday and wraps up the conference on Thursday. A handful of educational sessions will be held on the showroom floor both days.
“It’s great to be back in San Diego,” Sullivan said. “Indian gaming is growing in the United States, so it’s reflective. We’re starting to see Europeans come in and a lot of interest is reflected on the show floor and throughout the city. Some folks were having a hard time getting a hotel room and we had to push further into the city, because so many more people are coming.”
Rocha said the conference has evolved over the last six to seven years as a place to do business, meeting potential partners and making deals. And the tribes are in the mindset to do business.
“I’m really proud of that, because we worked really hard to turn this into a gaming conference,” Rocha said. “It’s a whole different mindset now than it was 25 years ago.”
Giles said the July 2021 show rescheduled for Las Vegas and the 2022 show in Anaheim were “lifesavers” for IGA, but San Diego has become its base. The show returns to Anaheim in 2024 before going back to San Diego in 2025 in 2026. The show could return to Las Vegas in 2027 and back to San Diego in 2028.
“That trade-show floor is our lifeline and we’re going to try and get it to the next level,” Giles said. “We’ll be well poised after this year to take it there. Our show should be moving up to the top tier of shows. Once you get over that 10,000-attendee limit, you’re in rare air. It’s not as many shows as you think. That’s where we want to be, and I think we’re going to get there.”
Giles said they want to make the event “leaner, meaner, and everything about everything on the trade show floor.” IGA has trimmed the number of educational sessions over the last five years.
Sullivan said the show floor is packed almost to the walls, with only a few spaces still available.
Among the featured products are slot machines, table games, sports-betting technology, payment processing, marketing, hospitality and facilities services, and security and surveillance.
As for educational sessions, Rocha said the conference will touch on tribes facing increased competition from commercial gaming and how they will respond.
“It’s put some pressure on tribes, depending on where you are, but it’s important that we prepare for the expansion,” Rocha said. “We need to understand and not overbuild, but build for the market.”
Giles said tribes need to start focusing on holding onto their market share. More and more states are looking at a new way to do business. States have been earning revenue through compacts with tribes, but some, like Oklahoma, want to make changes and start over, he added.
“Tribes are going to hold their own and we’re going to stand our ground on sovereignty,” Giles said. “Nothing is stopping a state from saying all gambling is legal in this state, and then tribes are competitors with whatever entities the state lets in. Tribes have proven they’re ready for this. Even with remote locations, they still have something to offer the gambling population.”