G2E will return in 2021, but the gaming industry conference will be reimagined By Howard Stutz, Executive Editor, CDC Gaming Reports July 11, 2020 at 4:00 am The cancellation of the Global Gaming Expo wasn’t a surprise. One could read the signs. Nevada’s cases of COVID-19 surged over the past three weeks, including Friday’s 1,004 new cases that was the second-highest single-day figure since the pandemic began. Las Vegas hotel-casinos are still operating at 50% capacity, have reduced restaurant and dining options, still can’t have more than 50 people at one gathering, while entertainment spaces and showrooms are dark. On Friday night, restricted gaming in Nevada – locations with 15 slot machines or fewer – was greatly reduced when bars and bar top areas inside restaurants, taverns, and casinos were closed through a governor’s directive. Also, international travel to Las Vegas – a key component of any G2E – is non-existent. Meanwhile, the balance sheets for gaming equipment manufacturers and providers were decimated after the nation’s casino industry closed for the better part of three months in an effort to slow the coronavirus spread. Several companies furloughed staff and added millions of dollars in debt to their books in order to boost liquidity while battling COVID-19. Quietly, the major slot manufacturers wanted G2E to go on hiatus for a year. They didn’t see the need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a tradeshow booth and bring employees to Las Vegas during a pandemic that shows no signs of slowing. “2020 is done,” one gaming company CEO told me. “We need to focus on 2021.” That’s exactly what the American Gaming Association and Reed Exhibitions are doing. The producers of annual tradeshow and conference were hoping to draw some 30,000 attendees to the Sands Expo and Convention Center in October. Instead, G2E will be reimagined. “I’m excited because now we can start building the show from the ground up, instead of just making tweaks around the edges,” said AGA CEO Bill Miller. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman discusses sports betting with CNBC’s Contessa Brewer at the 2019 G2E/ Photo via CDC Gaming Reports After every G2E, the producers look to make improvements, but wholesale changes are often scrapped due to time constraints. “Even before COVID, the traditional tradeshow proposition needed some tweaking.,” Miller said. “Post-COVID provides us the opportunity to focus not just on holding a successful in-person event, but to bring G2E to life 365 days a year.” While that means implementing some of the gaming industry health, safety, hygiene, and cleaning protocols that may remain beyond COVID-19, G2E will see a virtual element. Miller said he’s been fascinated by the success other gaming conferences shuttered by coronavirus have had in producing virtual meetings and online panel discussions. Organizers are now planning a series of virtual G2E events throughout the rest of 2020 to provide economic, education, and networking opportunities for the global gaming industry. What can’t be replicated, however, is the one-on-one interaction that comes from the G2E tradeshow floor, where manufacturers unveil new games and products to casino operators with the hopes of millions of dollars in sales orders being committed to by the end of the three-day event. “There is no question the industry needs G2E, and there is no question we will bring it back in 2021,” Miller said. “What G2E looks like when we come back will be very different.” AGA CEO Bill Miller at the 2019 G2E/ Photo via CDC Gaming Reports COVID-19 has heightened the gaming industry’s interest in new technology, including cashless or digital payment products that remove the element of cash. Last month, the AGA cited a study that found a majority of casino customers want the option to use cashless or digital technology for gaming. The trade organization headed an 18-month collaborative industry-wide effort to come up with a structure that covers eight principles for modernizing casino payments nationwide. Miller has been talking about digital payments for gaming since he became AGA CEO in January 2019 and made the topic a focal point of his address at G2E last year. Modernization of the gaming industry is clearly at the forefront as the organizers plan next year’s G2E, which will return to Las Vegas. “It was a difficult decision, and it was a long and involved process,” Miller said about the final outcome in canceling G2E for the first time in 20 years. “At the end of the day, we feel good about it because it was the right thing to do and it gives us an opportunity to create an important inflection point for our industry.” Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.