- The biggest event in the gaming calendar, ICE London, set a new attendance record, as it returned to full-scale post-pandemic this February.
- Our analysis of the media debate around the event showed that safer gambling moved centre stage, while gambling companies started dwelling on a new topic: sustainability.
- We also found that diversity became a bigger reputation priority, while there’s a reputational need for casinos to promote their positive economic impact.
The 2023 edition of ICE London saw gambling industry professionals from throughout the world making their way to a full-capacity ExCeL London. The celebration of the international gaming industry was shared by over 40,000 unique attendees – the first time the show has broken through the symbolic figure.
Focusing on the power of adopting a collective response to the challenges, opportunities and responsibilities that face the industry, the ‘Stronger Together’ motto of the event captured the industry mood. According to some commentators, the return of the major supplier brands gave a sense of solidarity and togetherness to ICE.
To see what stood out this year, we analysed 1,383 English-language articles published during the last month in predominantly industry outlets like CasinoCompendium, Casino Life And Business Magazine and iGaming Business. Here are our main findings:
1. Safer gambling moves centre stage
At ICE 2023, industry players focused 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.
The central importance attached by the industry to safer gambling was underlined by the Consumer Protection Zone (CPZ) at the venue, comprising a record 20 stands. The CPZ, which has become one of the highest-profile features on the ICE show floor, featured a blend of providers of responsible gambling tools and solutions alongside leading not-for-profit organisations. Brands featured on the 2023 CPZ included the Gambling Commission, Focal Research, Intuita Consulting, IGT, LexisNexis, Gordon Moody and the Responsible Gaming Council.
The Consumer Protection Zone was the main ICE story for many media publications, making Safer gambling the largest topic in the debate:
Another coverage driver within that topic was that safer gambling charities like Better Change and Betknowmore each received a donation of £13,200 at a presentation ceremony held on the opening day of ICE London. The presentation was a result of generous support from ICE Consumer Protection Zone sponsors Kindred Group, Betsson, Flutter, IGT, Les Ambassadeurs, Only Prizes, BettorView and Greentube which raised a total of £52,800.
This came at a time when 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.
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.
2. Gambling companies dwell on a new topic: sustainability
At face value, the gaming sector might not seem like it has many environmental impacts. But digging below the surface, we can see that gaming creates a demand for carbon emissions – such as through data centres and business travel. This makes it critical for gaming companies to look at how they can reduce their organisation’s wider carbon footprint – such as by requiring that data centres use renewable energy.
In fact, the most influential company in the ICE 2023 debate – IGT – became prominent partly because of its new sustainability efforts.
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.
IGT’s global sustainability initiatives were encompassed within its new Sustainable Play campaign, which was unveiled at ICE London and included thereafter in IGT’s marketing and communications of its continued commitments to 9 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Sustainable Play aimed to celebrate IGT’s efforts to implement greater sustainability measures through practices that benefit the company, its key stakeholders and the gaming industry.
Casinos have long been the source of many environmental concerns, whether it’s their constant energy consumption 24 hours a day, or the carbon footprint incurred by tourists travelling to resort destinations such as Las Vegas.
One of the biggest drains on fossil fuels in modern-day casinos is their constant need for lighting. In order to encourage a ‘timeless’ atmosphere, casino architects deliberately miss out windows from their designs, which supposedly encourages people to carry on gambling – the same effect happens as a result of no clocks on the walls and consistent repetitive music.
But not only do brick-and-mortar casinos and betting shops create huge amounts of environmental issues, from biodiversity degradation to air pollution, but online gambling also harnesses a huge amount of energy for its online servers.
Considering the impact of Covid-19, as the GB Gambling Commission reported in 2020 that 96% of people it polled placed bets at home, this impact of online gambling is growing. So while igaming’s environmental impact might not be as visible as other industries, it cannot be ignored and if the Paris Agreements’ aim of net-zero emissions by 2030 is to be met, the industry must understand its impact.
3. Diversity becomes a bigger reputation priority
Employee inclusion, diversity, and equity were also important aspects of the ICE 2023 media conversation, as some executives discussed how the sector, which is still male-dominated (with some notable exceptions at the leadership level) can reflect on what more can be done to attract women to the industry, and to ensure that their work environment enables them to flourish and progress.
Stuart Hunter, Managing Director of ICE’s organiser Clarion Gaming, and Tiina Siltanen, the new Vice Chair of the European Casino Association, became the most influential spokespeople in the debate namely by talking about diversity.
Stuart Hunter was cited as quoted that when so many of the industry’s influencers and strategic bodies come together in one place it’s also possible to address broader issues regarding diversity and inclusion in the gambling industry.
Citing ICE’s ‘Stronger Together’ motto, Tiina Siltanen stated that companies are also ‘stronger together’ when we are addressing diversity in all of its forms.
The industry has spent a long time trying to change the public perception of gambling from a dirty deed done by a few behind locked doors and blacked-out windows to something which is a mainstream leisure activity enjoyed by many. It has been hugely successful in its efforts and allying itself with entertainment has certainly brought in the big bucks.
But success in the world of entertainment is based upon staying relevant – embracing and adapting to the winds of change and continuing to reflect the world around it.
If betting and gambling want to be seen as ‘entertainment’ then it needs to be ready to deal with the same kind of scrutiny. Slot games with overtly sexualised female imagery, turbaned princes, nosed-boned African hunters, coolie-hatted Orientals, or any of the other outdated stereotypes currently found in most game providers’ back catalogues are fast losing their relevance. Continuing to offer them as entertainment runs the risk of the industry being labelled at best tone deaf and out of touch, at worst perpetuators of outdated stereotypes for profit.
This risk applies to all aspects of the industry, not just games and content. From the imagery and language used in marketing and advertising to the choice of ambassadors, advocates and influencers, the industry needs to learn from the mistakes of others outside of the gambling sector. In particular, it needs to be alert to how accusations of cultural incompetence will only add to its current reputational issues in areas such as responsible gambling if it only provides tools or support for players who come from specific backgrounds.
4. The industry needs to promote its positive impact
Rancorous public debate often blurs the facts on commercial gaming, which has long been a divisive issue. To some, gambling is a vice that is detrimental to society and that draws criminal activity. To others, commercial casinos are providers of entertainment (much like sports arenas or amusement parks) that can generate jobs and tax revenues.
But there’s another issue that needs to be discussed: casinos’ role in the economy. The casino industry needs to strengthen its reputation not only by focusing on safer gambling, diversity and sustainability, but also by promoting its positive impact on local economies.
This still isn’t a big part of the gambling industry’s PR and comms efforts. A rare example is the European Casino Association‘s campaign that highlights the positive impact of the industry on local economies and society.
ECA said the evidence of the impact is in the first-ever comprehensive economic impact study of the industry in Europe. The report highlighted the areas in which the industry has had a direct and indirect positive impact through employment, compliance, promotion of tourism, heritage conservation and more. A land-based casino is an economic motor that other businesses benefit from, such as hotels, construction companies and other suppliers. This makes casinos an integrated part of the local economy.
The industry’s economic impact was a key concern in the ICE 2023 media debate. Per Jaldung, chairman of the European Casino Association, said European casinos were “strong local employers” and played a key part in “pushing the service industry” forward. “This is not public relations. It’s front and centre and guides everything we do as an industry.”
5. Gambling companies should take part in regulation debates
UK’s regulatory landscape was another one of the main problems discussed at ICE London. Several spokespeople called for authorities in Great Britain to introduce “firm but fair” regulations to ensure the country has a strong approach and commitment to responsible gambling.
For example, Entain chairman Barry Gibson was quoted as saying that any new regulations introduced in Britain should have player safety at heart but also take into account the interests of the industry. Gibson said that proper consultation with the wider industry would help form regulations that will have more of an impact and establish Britain as a global leader in responsible gambling.
However, ICE speakers didn’t address a burning issue in the regulation conversation that is gaining more and more media attention: gambling advertising. Many media outlets have argued that gambling advertising has morphed out of all recognition in the last 18 years, as gambling logos can be seen 700 times during major football matches on TV, while the social media accounts of big betting companies post over 28,000 ads per year.
Top-trending research showed that gambling ads on Twitter are particularly appealing to children and young people, so it is perhaps no surprise that as many as 30,000 young people aged 11 to 16 may suffer from harmful gambling habits, as well as financial, emotional and social difficulties.
To stay relevant and resilient, gambling companies should take an active part in the advertising regulation debates – especially in the UK, which is the largest regulated online gambling market in the world and at the same time at the global forefront of gambling advertising deregulation.