The U.S. gaming industry will make its in-person return next week when the National Indian Gaming Association brings its 35th conference and trade show to the Las Vegas Strip.
After more than a year of virtual conferences and trade shows within the gaming industry, NIGA will take centerstage Monday through Thursday at the new Caesars Forum Convention Center.
More than 5,000 attendees are expected. NIGA’s April 2020 conference in San Diego was canceled by the pandemic.
“Everybody is excited to get out and the fact that we’re the first ones out of the gate is incredible,” said Victor Rocha, conference chairman. “Also, it’s at a time Indian gaming is doing phenomenally.”
Sports betting and COVID-19 recovery of tribal casinos will dominate the conference.
During the past year, momentum for Indian sports betting has been rapidly accelerating. “We leaned heavily into sports betting, because that’s what’s happening in Indian Country,” Rocha said. “For us, it’s important to understand the market and players. Tribes have been playing their cards close to the vest and this will be the time they’re out in public and you’re able to hear what the major players are saying. A lot of decision makers and people behind the expansion of gaming and sports betting will be there.”
Tribal governments are operating sports wagering in more than a half-dozen states (Colorado, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania) and it’s set to launch in Arizona and Washington. Mobile sports betting is coming to New York while the Seminole Tribe of Florida has signed a compact that, if approved by the federal government, will put the tribe in charge of sports wagering across the state. Connecticut and Wisconsin are poised for tribal sports betting as well. California will have a referendum on the 2022 ballot to approve sports betting at tribal casinos and horse tracks. Oklahoma may have legislation next year, Rocha said.
The conference jumps into sports betting Monday with an all-day session called “A Deep Dive into Tribal Sports Betting.” It runs from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. The panels will take an in-depth look at Arizona, Washington, and California.
The Tuesday sessions also deal with sports betting, but will touch on casino operations in a post-pandemic: the future of amenities; the evolution of women in tribal gaming; design and construction; emerging cybersecurity threats; legislative policy updates; the future of gambling; cannabis and tribal nations; gaming-floor-mix lessons from the pandemic; cashless gaming; smoking in casinos; and marketing.
“There will be important discussions on COVID recovery and how it affects gaming, hospitality, and employment,” Rocha said. “Pandemic recovery is a big part of the DNA of the show. When we started, there were more sessions on post-pandemic, but as the industry started opening up, how do you talk about restaurants when they’re now open? Things like entertainment are still opening up and we’ll talk about that.”
There will be educational sessions Wednesday and Thursday on the floor of the trade show that kicks off Wednesday with displays of new products, technology, and services.
Vaccination isn’t required for attendance at NIGA, but masks are required for those who aren’t vaccinated. Masks are encouraged for everyone as a safety precaution.
“Indian Country has a higher rate of vaccination than the rest of the general public,” Rocha said. “We made big pushes within our tribes.”
The Las Vegas conference will add a new wrinkle as it comes when the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development holds its Reservation Economic Summit nearby at Paris Las Vegas. The two groups will hold a welcoming event on Monday.
“Between the both of us, we created a must-attend event for Las Vegas,” Rocha said. “By bringing enough Native Americans and decision makers, we thought the vendors would respond. When we started this in January and February, the vendors weren’t sure. Now it’s doing well and I’m happy with the way it’s going.”
For more information on the Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Convention, go to www.indiangamingtradeshow.com.