Looking for an Identity at G2E

G2E is getting ready to open its doors on its 2013 edition, the gaming/casino industry’s annual trade show.  For three days, twenty thousand or so people from around the world will gather in Las Vegas to listen to discussions on the industry and to view the products that constitute the “games” of the gaming.  On the top of everyone’s list of new products will be the slot machines – hundreds of new or new looking slot machines will be on display for the first time.   Wall Street analysts, slot directors, casino managers, investors and the media will all want to know what games will be driving casino revenues in the near future.  This year those slot machines, those games will have an even larger importance as the industry dances closer and closer to an online future, which is certain to include slot machines eventually.

As an industry, we have always been a bit conflicted about our identity.  We have never known what to call ourselves.  The most obvious of term, gambling, was never popular with us.  It has been tainted for much of the industry’s modern history, so we have opted for some euphemistic term that skirts the underlying truth of our industry’s activities.  The terms commonly used to describe the industry are often used interchangeably, the casino industry, the gaming industry, the resort industry and even the entertainment industry.  Each applies some of the time, but does not encompass all of the aspects of the industry or indeed its fundamental activity.  The most accurate term may be the one Bill Eadington coined, the “commercial gaming industry.”  Bill used it to name his fledgling institute 40 years ago; Bill’s term is popular with academics, but it did not catch on with the practitioners of our art.

Like many people, I have not settled on one term and am constantly moving back and forth between casino industry and gaming industry.  However, on the eve of G2E, it occurred to me that the word “casino” when used to describe an entire industry was a seriously dated.  The activity of wagering, betting,  gambling or gaming exists in significantly outside of the world of casinos.  For example, nationally, lotteries generated $56 billion in revenue in 2012; Powerball and Mega Millions have become national phenomenon.  In September, the Powerball jackpot hit $400 million; it was the seventh jackpot over $300 million since the game changed its rules in January 2012. Mega Millions is releasing its re-engineered game soon, hoping to duplicate the success of Powerball.

And, after years of declining revenues and attendance, horse racing is making a comeback and deserves to be put on our industry chart also.   Racing horses by itself has not become more popular, but buoyed by revenue from slot machines, the business of racing horses is becoming more and more profitable.  In fact, the most profitable slot machines in the country are located at Aqueduct Racetrack, in the borough of Queens in New York City; 5000 slot machines at Genting Resorts, the Aqueduct casino, generated $70 million in revenue in August.

The growing importance of lotteries and racing is eliminating the use of casino industry as a meaningful term.  Calling our industry the gaming industry is suspect for other reasons – first of course is the ambiguity over the meaning of gaming, just what does it mean to game and what is a gamer?  But the most important conflict built into the term gaming is the modern video game.  Slot machines are very often in a video format and could be and often are called video games.  But with the advent of all of the other video games from Nintendo to Super Mario to Grand Theft Auto and to latest generation of games, a video game is almost always something other than a slot machine.  Those other video games sell hundreds of thousands of units and have millions of loyal players around the world.  Grand Theft Auto just released its latest game, that version took in $800 million in sales in the first 24 hours.

So, how about calling our industry the gambling industry or possibly the wagering industry?  Does it matter what we call, after all we know what we mean, don’t we?  I think it does, or will soon, matter a great deal.  As we enter G2E 2013, we are standing on the precipice of a major paradigm shift.  Real money wagering online is coming down the road at us at nearly the speed of light.  There are those who think online gambling can be contained and kept to poker.  I don’t agree, horse racing is already online, lotteries are beginning to sell tickets online and some states, Pennsylvania included, anticipate putting video lottery terminals, slot machines online.  And lest we forget, all those people who are buying Grand Theft Auto and hundreds of other video games are eager to make friendly wagers between themselves; just as fantasy sports enthusiasts are doing now.  So, I am opting for calling our industry the wagering industry.  Sure we entertain and we have resorts.  We may do many other things, but at the heart and soul of our industry is the wager.

As I said, the wagering industry will be convening its largest annual trade show to discuss online wagering, new jurisdictions, competition and emerging technologies. Its practitioners will be eagerly looking at all of the new products that the vendors will be eagerly displaying.  And more than one practitioner and vendor will be thinking about how to use those products to take a wager online.  And maybe next year, Grand Theft Auto, Powerball and representatives from the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes will be there helping us expand our definition of who we are, what art we practice and its various forms.


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