ICE Panel Report: Marrying Chance and Skill Luke Haward, CDC Gaming Reports · February 8, 2018 at 3:30 pm A very interesting seminar on skill-based gaming was held on Tuesday 6th February at the ICE conference at ExCeL London, headed up by a pretty heavy-hitting panel including Caesars’ Executive Vice President Christian Stuart. The discussion was wide-ranging, and while the directors, chairman and executives present refused to be drawn on exact percentages of floor space they’d be willing to open up for skill gaming machines – claiming this was impossible to cite accurately due to multiple factors, including product availability – they all acknowledged that skill gaming was going to be a very major factor in the coming five years, and that they widely expect to have to increasingly meet the needs of a millennial generation said to be far more interested in skill – or at least hybrid – gaming than traditional games of chance such as slots. While there’s no doubt that operators and management are aware that skill gaming is going to be a big deal in the future, there’s a real need for them to temper that projection against the needs of the roughly 80% of their players, generally of an older demographic, who continue to seek out traditional slots. There’s a tension there – not only over making the maximum return per square metre, but also in the need to keep everybody happy. Placing esports events in the middle of the casino floor, reported Seth Schorr, chairman of the Downtown Grand Hotel and Casino, did not so much alienate existing slots players, as they had feared it might, but did reveal that, in general, younger esports fans wanted their own space. In Seth’s words “The casino team was a little nervous that we would scare away our typical bread-and-butter slot customers… fortunately we found out that was not the case. Esports tournaments added value and excitement. What was the surprise was that after about a year, the people coming to these (esports) tournaments didn’t necessarily love being in the casino. They didn’t love the smoke, they didn’t love the music, they didn’t love the guy on the mic giving away the Corvette on a Saturday night in a cheesy kind of way that we sometimes have to do things… they (esports fans) wanted their own space, so that was the opposite (of) what we expected.” Ultimately, the Downtown found that creating a space for esports players adjacent to the casino floor proved more successful. As noted by the panel, this is going to be easier for new and upcoming integrated resorts than for existing brick and mortar venues, who are forced to look at retrofitting. As further noted by the panel, customer adoption of new services, technology and games can take time, and a lengthy uptake process is no indication against future prospects. The industry is seemingly viewing skill gaming at the current time as a major research and development project, and esports itself as a destination that appeals to a millennial generation more interested in amusement and hospitality than old-fashioned no-frills gambling. And there’s still a lack of certainty over what promotional strategies will best suit this product for a branch of the industry that is currently valued at around $109 billion and expected to rise to $178 billion by 2024. Konami Senior Director Steve Walther, another panellist, referenced Whack-A-Mole, a new skill gaming innovation by Konami, as well as some other games put forward by GameCo, including an FPS shooter that pays out in real money. One of the main problems Walther mentioned is the question of how to bring adaptive play into the mix – in other words, how to keep players with a higher skill level from killing the casino dead whilst ensuring that players with a lower skill level stand at least a chance of cashing. Furthermore, Walther said, if players are up against the house, it’s hard to see pure skill gaming working for the casinos’ interests if return to player ends up exceeding 100%, whereas if players are playing against their friends in a raked pure skill game, there are questions about how high they’re going to want to play on a social platform. One very interesting concept put forward during the discussion was that of using blockchain technology to keep a record of player history and skill level, in order to verify, automatically, what odds to offer a given player. Panelists also acknowledged the value in having legacy titles from free mobile gaming, for example, featured on the casino floor to encourage uptake; Cut the Rope, with over a billion verified downloads, was a key example cited. Ultimately, the whole panel agreed that skill gaming is a major consideration for the years ahead, and that part of the solution likely includes mobile gaming even within brick and mortar venues, as customers today walk into the venues with a gaming device “on their hip”. They also universally recognised that, at the current time, there’s really a lack of product to place on casino floors. Moderator Bryan Kelly, SVP of Technology at Scientific Games, smoothly acknowledged this as “a true chicken and egg scenario,” with neither game developers or casino operators willing to make truly major investments at this very early stage of the game.