ICE North America 2020 Day 1 recap

ICE North America 2020 Recap: COVID-19 Forces Gaming Conferences Online

Betting USA takes a look back at the ICE North America virtual conference.  

Coronavirus has shutdown public gatherings big and small, and if you’ve ever attended a gaming conference, you know they’re tightly packed with people from all parts of the globe. Suffice it to say, conferences are going to be one of the last things that will return to normal.

Fortunately, the education sessions from gaming conferences are easily transferred online. After having to cancel its New Orleans meetup, ICE North America is the latest conference to jump into the virtual realm.

Day 1 of ICE North America 2020

ICE NA 2020 kicked off with a keynote address from Simon Holliday of H2 Gambling Capital titled, Financial Impact of COVID 19 on the Global Gaming Industry.

That was followed by two separate panel discussions titled, The Next 12 Months in iGaming and Taking Lotteries Online & The Imperative of Omni-Channel.

Here’s a look at the highlights from these sessions.

Holliday’s Keynote: Don’t Be Fooled by the Early Numbers

Simon Holliday kicked off the conference with a keynote address on the state of, and what the future holds for the gambling industry.

Holliday noted that revenue from and usage of online casino and poker sites have seen a significant uptick since the shutdowns.

However, he also cautioned that the sector was likely to see a reduction in revenue over the course of 2020, largely from the loss of sports.  

Holliday also discussed what casinos might expect when they reopen, and once again, his comments were filled with warnings.

According to Holliday, H2 expects a surge caused by pent-up demand when restrictions are loosened. Still, ongoing concerns, as well as travel restrictions, will likely keep visitation low for the foreseeable future.

Will COVID Lead to a Legislative Run on the Bank?

One of the big takeaways of the day was the belief that the closure of land-based casinos in the US will give legislators a gentle nudge when it comes to legalizing online gambling.

That will be an intriguing story to follow, and on the surface, it makes all the sense in the world.

States will be looking for new ways to generate revenue, but gambling is often controversial, and the revenue generated online is little more than a band-aid for the budget shortfalls states will be facing. As simple as it seems, legislators might prioritize bigger ticket items over online gambling.

Modernizing the Lottery

The final session of the day focused on US lotteries. The main themes were how the state shutdowns have impacted sales and what can be done to help the lottery modernize its offerings.

The widespread belief is traditional lottery products are facing similar issues to slot machines, an aging demographic. That has spurred a lot of the online legalization talk.

One panelist didn’t see it that way. According to Gordon Medenica, Director of the Maryland Lottery, data he was a part of collecting when he worked in New York indicates there were a lot of younger players. The problem, according to Medenica, was using a land-line telephone to conduct surveys. Once the state started collecting data through the internet, the lottery discovered it had a lot of younger players.

Medinica is clearly in the minority, but it’s a compelling argument that needs to be better explored.

ICE North America Day 2 Recap: Modernizing The Gaming Industry

Day 2 of the ICE North America virtual conference picked up where Day 1 left off. Once again, the topic du jour was the need for the industry to modernize and protect against future COVID-19-like events with increased delivery channels and products.

Day 2 of the conference was hosted by two well-known names in the gaming conference world:

  • Ewa Bakun, Director of Industry Insight and Engagement, Clarion Gaming
  • Victor Rocha, Conference Chair, National Indian Gaming Association and President, Victor Strategies

And it featured three panel discussions and a “fireside chat”:

  • Regulator Exposé – What COVID-19 means for sports betting and gambling regulations in the US
  • What can virtuals and esports offer the industry?
  • How will 2020 disruption impact the momentum of sports betting’s roll out?
  • Fireside Chat – Capturing Eyeballs and Market Share

Here are the highlights from the sessions.

States Ready to Embrace New Products and Delivery Channels

As was the case yesterday, there was an emphasis on the current pandemic nudging, or in some cases, perhaps forcefully pushing legislators into supporting expanded forms of gambling.

That thinking stems from the belief that lawmakers will:

  • desperately search for ways to raise revenue, and the upfront licensing fees from gambling licenses (sports betting or otherwise) coupled with ongoing tax revenue are a great place to start.
  • also be looking for ways to pandemic-proof gaming. Whether its online lottery/casino/poker or loosening regulations on event betting, there will be a need to protect against future shutdowns from COVID-19 or some other act of God.

The Lack of Sports Allows Virtuals and Esports to Get their Foot in the Door

The second panel of the day at ICE North America had a different focus, as it looked at esports and virtual sports and what they can offer the industry.

The presenters for the session were:

  • Scott Warfield, Managing Director, Gaming, NASCAR
  • Steve Rogers, Chief Commercial Officer – Virtuals, Inspired Entertainment

The most interesting data point was provided by Warfield who said, virtual NASCAR races are averaging 1 million viewers. That’s a solid number compared to the 3 million viewers the NASCAR Cup Series pulled in in 2019.

Warfield called the virtual races a “light in a dark place.”

Of course, there’s a big caveat to those numbers. Live NASCAR races are competing against the other major sports, whereas the virtual races are pretty much the only sport in the town. But as is the case with online gambling, anything is better nothing.

Operators Will Need to Lean on Affiliates

In the final session of Day 2 of ICE North America, Michael Daly, the General Manager of Catena Media US and Daniel Kustelski, the Cofounder and CEO of ChalkLine Sports discussed marketing and the affiliate business in what was dubbed a fireside chat.

The pair covered a lot of ground in a short amount of time, including the possibility that operators might emerge from the pandemic with tighter purse strings, resulting in them leaning proven customer acquisition channels with a strong ROI, like affiliates.

A Few Quick Hitters

Some other interesting topics that came up during the conference were:

  • Kustelski’s belief that some of the protectionist policies, like in-person registration, that have seeped into sports betting bills will disappear. These policies are bad in normal times but have truly been laid bare during the pandemic.   
  • Daly speculating that Coronavirus shutdowns will have operators weighing a balance between online and land-based offerings.
  • Hard Rock International’s Kresimir Spajcik stating that “Closures are giving us a chance to catch our breath and innovate new products,” something the casino industry is generally not known for.

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