Thoughts from ICE 2018 By Andrew Tottenham, Managing Director, Tottenham & Co February 8, 2018 at 3:30 pm That is ICE, now the largest gaming show in the world, over for another year. It is funny to think that this all started in 1987 when Jeff Lindsay, the founder of John Huxley Casino Equipment, decided to exhibit at the Amusement Trades Exhibition, the only casino supplier amongst “Whack-A-Mole” games, fairground rides and pub machines. A few years later, the casino supply sector had its own area within the exhibition; now it is a separate show, occupying some forty thousand square metres of ExCel, with more than 580 companies exhibiting. Also this year, for the first time, there was ICEVOX, a series of well attended panel discussions and seminars. So what were my takeaways from ICE? Sarah Harrison, the outgoing Chief Executive of the GB Gambling Commission, took a number of pops at the gambling industry. First, in widely trailed remarks picked up by the mainstream media, she took the industry to task for the objectification of women on display at ICE and the lack of diversity in gambling companies, two points I happen to agree with. The gambling industry is still very male dominated, and women are distinctly under-represented in senior management and on company boards. There is a lot of research out there that shows that more diverse thinking leads to better decision-making. Things are improving, but not quickly enough. It never ceases to amaze me how 50 percent of the population treat the other 50 percent as objects, ornaments to make a stand or product stand out. Are men really so stupid that they will make a buying decision based on how the women on a stand are dressed – or not dressed, as the case may be? (Well, now that I think about it… ) Sarah also touched upon the UK industry’s lamentable record when it comes to funding social responsibility causes, and how the annual amount donated to GambleAware was not meeting its target. This is a point she has made before, but here she is sloppy in her language; many companies do give at or above the proposed rate, and some go even further with donations of money or resources to other social responsibility causes, something she failed to acknowledge. Unfortunately, it’s true that some gambling companies do not do enough, but instead of singling them out, Ms Harrison tars the whole industry with the same brush. Her final swipe was to castigate certain sectors of the industry over the FOBT issue, saying that during the whole debate – if you can call it that – their behaviour was unworthy of a children’s playground. The maelstrom over FOBTs was brewed up by the Campaign for Fairer Gambling; certain sectors of the industry then poured fuel onto the fire, forcing the Government to act. Quite frankly, the Government and Gambling Commission would have preferred that the whole furore not happen, and that they did not have to deal with it, but it did, and now the industry has fewer friends than it did before. Large US operators were well represented at ICE this year: Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts and Hard Rock International all took part in ICEVOX. Mark Frissura, CEO of Caesars Entertainment, gave a presentation that said that Caesars is out of bankruptcy, back in business, and once again ready to flex its muscles. I expect to see the company investigating expansion opportunities in Europe in the coming months. I understood from one of the panel discussions, ‘A Year in the Life of a Japanese Integrated Resort,’ that Japan’s IR Bill is in fact moving forward but is now about to enter a risky phase. This is the time when the Bill enters the Diet, Japan’s parliament, and compromises will have to be made in order to reach consensus and get the Bill on to the statute books. The risk is that, in its rush to get the Bill out of parliament, some of the compromises the Government will make could reduce the economic potential of the IRs and also could mean the original policy goals might not be met. It is worth remembering something Professor Peter Collins, an economist and former Professor of Gambling Studies at Salford University, wrote in his book The Great British Casino Shambles: “Developing good casino policy though comparatively unimportant in the greater scheme of things is quite complicated… Policy about vices both arouses powerful passions and is ultimately not very important. No government should, therefore, ever expect legislation relating to vices to be easy or uncontroversial.” I also learnt that the privatisation of Holland Casino is being pushed back to 2020 at the earliest. Politics has got in the way again. The Dutch government has been seeking to privatise the company for a number of years now and, at the same time, legalise and regulate online gambling. The country currently has an ineffective general prohibition against online gambling. All was going swimmingly well – the civil servants put together some proposals, parliament responded with many questions, the Government answered – and then the VVD, the ruling party, lost its majority in a general election in March 2017 and it took seven months to cobble together a coalition government with three other parties. Gambling is always a controversial subject, and one that governments are loath to touch unless they must, and the new coalition included a conservative Christian party, so passage of the law was already looking unlikely. It is now looking as if it will not happen at all, which was more or less confirmed by the Dutch officials at ICEVOX. In both of these jurisdictions, the same issue is at play. Unless you have a strong politician who is prepared to get behind it, champion the cause and push the legislation through early in the election cycle, getting a gambling Bill passed is virtually impossible.