• The media conversation around the 2022 edition of the Global Gaming Expo told a story about an industry that quickly recovered from the pandemic and that seems immune to the current financial crisis.
  • Our media analysis found that squashing the illegal market remains a top priority for the gambling sector, while responsible gaming became a hot topic at a time when betting operators have recently come under increasing levels of scrutiny for their treatment of addicted gamblers.
  • We also found that IGT emerged as the most influential company in the debate with its cashless gaming solutions, as the industry pushes for more integration of the technology onto the gaming floor.

View a one-page infographic summary of the analysis

When the American Gaming Association (AGA) launched Global Gaming Expo in 2001, the world of entertainment gaming got its most important event. The show, and the industry in general, was at its prime in 2019 and was eagerly looking forward to 2020 as its biggest exhibit yet. The velocity the gaming and casino industry saw as it approached 2020 was significant. When the world imploded and casinos shuttered briefly, the resulting black hole could have killed them as it did so many others.

But an interesting shift occurred out of that big bang. Instead of dissolving, from the amalgam sprang the new lifeblood of iGaming and mobile sports betting. And the reopening of casinos produced much-needed oxygen. So, when G2E announced 2021 dates, the industry looked toward the horizon with anticipation. The show came back that year as a hybrid event. This time they were complete with both legacy brick-and-mortar betting companies orbiting alongside a handful of newly regulated iGaming/mobile betting agencies.

However, the attendance was marred by post-pandemic international travel constraints that were still in place. While less attended than in years past, what 2019 did showcase was the hunger attendees had for the show’s return. Regardless of traditional gaming or iGaming trajectories, the show floor is where the organisers, exhibitors and educators align to create a global marketplace for the future of gaming entertainment. That face-to-face desire was palpable to the event organisers, and for its 22nd instalment, they committed to making 2022 one for the record books.

And while the 2022 edition, held at the Venetian Expo centre from Oct. 10 to 13, didn’t match 2019’s totals, it came close – it attracted nearly 25,000 gaming industry professionals, down about 2,000 from the 2019 show.

Naturally, it also attracted a fair share of media interest. So what did journalists focus on? To find out, we analysed 479 English-language articles published in October. Here are our main takeaways:

1. Optimism abounded as financial headwinds haven’t hit gambling yet

The trade show typically has an unofficial theme, and this year executive after executive was cited in media reports as lamenting the disconnect between the strength of their business and the weakness of their company’s shares. Many suggested the stock market has overreacted to a likely slowdown.

The economic state of the industry became the largest topic in the G2E debate:

Experts warn that a downturn across the wider US economy is more likely than ever, with the Federal Reserve continuing to raise interest rates to combat inflation that shows no signs of abating. Yet top gaming industry executives said that they are still optimistic, having seen little signs of worry in the sector.

Many media outlets noted that you wouldn’t know the US gaming industry is fretting about any loss of business or potential downturn in the economy. Casinos were among the first businesses to reopen after the pandemic shutdowns, and gamblers came roaring back, with profits surging. 

There were G2E panels discussing inflation and the supply chain – all issues the industry continues to deal with – but many reports remarked that, led by the Strip, Las Vegas continues to drive Nevada with a record-setting 18 consecutive months of revenue exceeding $1 billion.

Gaming revenue in Nevada has been booming, though international traveller numbers are below pandemic levels. At regional casinos across the US, revenue numbers rolling out so far for September show they’re even with pre-pandemic numbers or up double digits in some cases.

During the expo, the board of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority was taking a peek at new consumer-marketing television ads that humorously convey the message that the Strip remains an adult playground, with amenities necessary for a well-deserved break. The new marketing campaign comes as Strip tourism numbers remain 11% below 2019’s pre-pandemic level of 42.5 million visitors.

2. Illegal gaming was identified as a serious reputation issue for the industry

Squashing the illegal market — those off-shore operations that consistently pop up with the most basic Google search of “sports betting” — was also widely discussed. AGA estimates $300 billion is bet annually on unregulated machines, which translates into gaming revenue losses of $15 billion and tax losses of $4 billion a year.

AGA Director General Bill Miller was quoted as saying that the trade organisation will redouble its efforts. In fact, the focus on safety and security made him the most influential spokesperson in the whole debate:

In his keynote address at the convention, Miller said that next month the group will publish new research showing that Americans gambled more than $300 billion a year through illegal internet sites and slot machines and not regulated. The executive added that the figure translated to $15 billion in lost profits for legal casino markets. “It’s not about us,” Miller said. “It’s about the broader impact. Illegal gambling costs communities about $4 billion in taxes a year.”

Miller asked for help from law enforcement, for retailers across the country to remove unregulated machines, for tech and media companies to cut ties to the illegal sites and for policymakers to enact tougher laws.

The second most influential spokesperson, Amy Howe, CEO of Fanduel, also addressed the topic, asking the audience if they could imagine a smartphone industry where a third of the revenue goes to illegal operators. She added that illegal gaming not only creates a threat in terms of having something that’s not safe for consumers but from a competitive standpoint it also puts legal companies at a disadvantage because they have to pay taxes and do checks.

Reports of a growing illegal gambling market consisting of unregulated slot machines in several states also concerned Penn Entertainment CEO Jay Snowden. Many journalists reported on how he sent members of his management team into Pennsylvania communities to visit convenience stores, bars and taverns to investigate reports of illegal gambling.

He wasn’t happy with the findings and used an executive keynote session to tell attendees at the expo that his team found fake online lottery products that are supposed to be scratch tickets that have the look, sound and feel of a spinning real (slot) machine. Snowden then sent a warning message to the G2E audience, calling illegal games a “catastrophe in the making” and “a reputational issue for our industry.”

3. The digital payment push becomes a must

Cashless payment solutions were identified as being at the forefront of innovation for gaming. Several casino technology companies promoted their cashless gaming solutions to trade show attendees, as the industry pushes for more integration of the technology onto the gaming floor. London-based International Game Technology PLC (IGT) showcased its IGTPay and Resort Wallet modules that integrate cashless payment options for consumers with its casino management system.

The media resonance of that payment solution helped IGT become the most influential company in the debate in terms of media impact.

We determine an organisation’s media impact in the context of a topic by looking at its media influence score calculated in terms of coverage by high-profile media outlets, topic relevancy score measuring its contextual relevance, and media visibility as measured by the number of mentions.

Like nearly everything in today’s economy, the gaming industry has made a strong push towards cashless play in recent years. However, growth in digital payments has been hindered by a lack of consumer knowledge. Another stumbling block has been casinos’ lack of ability to bring value to the consumer. From loyalty programs to reduced fees, casinos need to find the right way to drive digital or cashless payments.

Some ways to do this that were discussed during G2E include eliminating the enrollment process and bringing customers to their money faster with a one-click option, using fees to incentivise guests, giving customers a true value to go cashless and to digitally transfer funds, creating loyalty programs that customers want to adopt and moving towards digital with more vendor choices for the consumer.

Another key factor in the digital push for casinos has also been digital wallets, which make it easier for customers to transfer funds on and off a game. While digital wallets, and digital payments in general, benefit casinos in many ways, including creating less currency to drop and less to count while easing cage operations, one stumbling point has been the concern of problem gambling. Casinos can avoid this issue by providing tools to set limits, spot problems and provide actionable data to enforce responsible-gaming standards.

4. Responsible gambling gets more serious

Widely-covered education classes during G2E featured conversations on protected playing, together with “Evolution of Responsible Gaming in a Modern World” , which lined what the business can do to assist shield gamers as extra states supply authorised online gaming.

Betting operators have recently come under increasing levels of scrutiny for their treatment of addicted gamblers after a period of rapid blossoming in the late 2000s and 2010s.

Many countries have started taking measures. For example, the UK, home to the world’s largest regulated online betting market, is set to make a series of long-awaited modifications to its gambling legislation this year, which could include compulsory reviews on what customers can afford to bet and limits to stakes permitted online. Germany has introduced limits on how much customers can deposit. Last year, the Netherlands put in place a new licensing regime for operators.

In addition, campaigners for gambling addicts have argued that the industry has so far done too little to prevent harmful betting and that only the threat of regulation has spurred action from businesses.

That’s why a growing number of industry players have started focusing their comms efforts on responsible gambling, also known as safer gambling – a set of social responsibility initiatives to ensure the integrity and fairness of their operations and to promote awareness of the harms associated with gambling, such as gambling addiction.

For example, micro-betting app Betr gained media influence at G2E for becoming the first sports betting operator to ban the use of credit cards, the company announced Monday at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. In another effort to promote responsible online gambling, Betr will set deposit limits for users that are 21-25 years old.

By banning credit cards, Betr instead allows payment options such as pre-paid cards or debit cards to make deposits. The company, which was co-founded by entrepreneur Jake Levy and social media influencer-turned-boxing star Jake Paul, also announced that digital branded gift cards from Prizeout will be the exclusive winnings withdrawal option on Betr. Last month saw Betr launch its free-to-play gaming app nationwide, and its real-money betting app will debut in select states over the coming months.

5. Sports betting is moving towards an under-serviced segment – women

Sports betting represents just 10% of the total dollars spent in the United States on legal gambling, alongside traditional casino offerings such as slots, blackjack, and roulette. However, several media reports remarked that it dominated many G2E speeches and panels.

Breaking the predominant sports betting demographic of young white “frat boys” and bringing in more diverse bettors — particularly women — got a lot of attention. Analysts noted that women historically had been an under-serviced segment, but now are increasingly viewed as an emerging market where companies are looking at the demographics and creating relevant content.

Old-school bookies and sportsbooks present a barrier of sorts for women not confident in the intricacies of betting, but that changed with the emergence of online betting. Some panellists were cited as agreeing that as an industry, they need to start not necessarily moving away from “the frat-boy culture”, but certainly to add a little bit to it.

This comes at a time when more than 4.6 million women joined sports betting apps in the U.S. last year—a 115% increase in the number of women users compared with 2020, according to a report by Global Wireless Solutions. The number of men on sports betting apps still exceeds the number of women by 250%, but the growth rate of women customers is nearly double than that of men (63%). 

A company that gained media influence within the Sports betting topic was sports platform and e-commerce company Fanatics, which announced at G2E it will launch sports betting in January, hoping the company’s e-commerce success will translate into sports-betting customers. Meanwhile, DraftKings and FanDuel have teamed up with a handful of other leading operators to spend more than $100m on a 2022 ballot measure that would amend the California state constitution (sports betting is still not legal in this state) and permit licensed operators to accept bets statewide.

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