Quite often in life we take things for granted, until that something is taken away from us, and then we appreciate it so much more.
Case in point: The 2021 version of the Global Gaming Expo (G2E), which took place the first week of October at the Venetian Expo Center in Las Vegas. G2E is presented by the American Gaming Association (AGA) and organizer RX. In their post-show press release, officials said the return to Las Vegas “highlighted the gaming industry’s resilience and innovation.”
Some interesting facts and figures: The 21st year of the show attracted more than 13,000 global gaming professionals, including exhibitors, buyers and media from around the world; no less than 233 exhibitors, making it the largest in-person gaming event anywhere on the planet since the pandemic’s start; and there were five keynotes and 46 education sessions.
While every exhibitor was thrilled by the foot traffic at this year’s G2E, two were particularly impressed by the makeup of the crowd: “The level of executives attending was tremendously higher than I have seen before,” observed John Connelly, Global CEO of Interblock Gaming. “There were more C-level executive management attendees than in a long time,” chimed in Dave Kubajak, SVP of sales, marketing and operations for JCM Global.
This was my first G2E, but drawing on 20-plus years of experience of being trade press for the technology and financial services industries, it was one of the “happiest” conferences I’ve ever attended. Caitlin Harte and Laura Olson-Reyes used the words “buzz” and “energetic” to talk about the positive atmosphere in the Expo Hall, so I know I am not imagining things. Harte, director of product marketing for Incredible Technologies, said, “We had a lot of foot traffic, quality meetings and tons of interest in our new products. There was a buzz around our booth, and really around the whole show.”
Olson-Reyes, VP of marketing and corporate communications for AGS, reported officials with her company were concerned attendance would be down due to travel restrictions.
"Everything was much better than expected. Our booth was consistently busy all three days. The show was so energetic. People were happy to see each other.”
Trevor Croker, Aristocrat CEO and managing director, and AGA chairman, said in a post-G2E statement: “After the hardest year in our history, G2E provided a robust marketplace to drive the global gaming industry’s recovery forward. Nothing beats an in-person show – and we were thrilled with the audience and enthusiasm surrounding G2E 2021.”
NEW PRODUCTS POINT TO FUTURE OF GAMING
Slot machines continue to grow in size and complexity, with several manufacturers bringing in 360-degree displays that immerse a player in the world of the slot. Finally, several companies talked about the importance of an omnichannel approach to gaming – linking the land-based and online gaming worlds.
JCM Global had a crowd at its booth from the first minute the Expo Hall opened thanks to its ICB ASAP. The acronym stands for intelligent cash box with automated secure asset processing, but in a nutshell, it is a series of robots that take over the tedious task of counting the money that comes to the back of the house from all the various cash boxes on the casino floor.
Kubajak told Gaming America the robots allow the casino to accomplish what typically takes five people to do with just one person monitoring the machine.
“But we don’t see this as taking away jobs, we see this as an opportunity to reallocate resources,” Kubajak said. “At a lot of tribal casinos you see people get stuck in the count room. They can’t advance to anything else. With the intelligent cash box, those people can be moved to customer-facing positions.”
Other features of ICB ASAP include addressing social distancing requirements, reducing chances for human error, theft or skimming – and therefore variance.
BLUBERI GOES HEAVY METAL
Bluberi brought its Novus platform and new B49 cabinets to G2E 2021. Casey Whalen, the company’s chief commercial officer, described Novus as the latest Bluberi operating system with “state-of-the-art math and playing mechanics.”
“The cabinets have a single, 49-inch monitor and 27-inch topper. The combination of playing mechanics with our art and graphics is something none of our competitors do better,” Whalen said proudly.
Also on display was Bluberi’s partnership with Bzillions in the form of the new “Big Mech” cabinet and Iron Derby. Whalen said Big Mech is a mechanical reel product that breaks new ground with its metal form reels.
“This game does not use the reel strips you normally see, these are laser-cut pieces of steel,” he explained. “No one else has these, so when people leave our booth that is what they will be talking about. Iron Derby is a marquee slot that evokes images of the carnival horse racing game.”
“This is our first conference since G2E in 2019,” he said. “We launched a rebrand of the company and turned over the executive team. Our mantra is: We are going to be the easiest company to do business with. For this show, we are doing several unique things with our cabinets that we want to show off, and we want people to know they will have a frictionless partnership with us.”
LINKED PROGRESSIVE JACKPOTS, CONNECTING CASHLESS
Among several new products AGS brought to G2E this year was its Bonus Spin Xtreme progressive system for table games. The product was Shortlisted for a Global Gaming Award in the Product Innovation of the Year category, Olson-Reyes noted.
“This is a progressive side bet system with three concentric wheels,” she said. “It allows casinos to link all table games to progressive jackpots. It even works with roulette and craps, which do not normally work with jackpots.”
Chad Hoehne, founder, president and CEO of Minnesota-based Casino Trac, said the company’s new financial services-connected mobile app changes the way players interact with money. He said the app connects with the casino’s financial services suppliers, allowing the funding of the player’s account in the casino for use on the gaming floor, and then later the player can transfer any winnings to his/her bank account.
SUPPLY CHAIN BLUES
One of the few negative topics that burst a little bit of the happy bubble of G2E 2021 was the worldwide supply chain issues that have snarled every industry on the planet. Economists say the foul-ups are a result of the abrupt shutdowns starting in spring 2020, followed by equally abrupt attempts at restarts a few months later. They promise the disruptions are only temporary, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take for gaming equipment suppliers who cannot find parts.
Bluberi’s Whalen said the company had supply chain challenges in “many significant parts” of its build and materials divisions, specifically, monitors and parts of the motherboard.
“We couldn’t get sound chips,” he recalled. “Instead of a usual single-source, we had to tap multiple sources from third and fourth vendors. With that said, we feel pretty good about where we are now. We have managed to cobble sources together.”
When asked if his company was impacted by Covid-related issues, Interblock’s Connelly made a face as if he had been punched in the gut.
“Absolutely we were impacted by the pandemic,” he lamented, shaking his head. “With that said, I am very proud of my team because they have been able to keep lead times to 12 weeks or less. That is longer than we would like, but still within a reasonable time frame for our customers. We are seeing forecasts to cut that to nine to 10 weeks, but that is subject to change on a month-to-month basis based on supply chain issues.”
Tiffany Sadler, global marketing director for SuzoHapp, noted the company has been battling delays for certifications and prototyping.
“G2E is the deadline most companies set for their new products, so we were ready, but as far as production goes, we are not as ready as we would like to be for Q4 and into Q1,” Sadler explained. “We have a lot of product on the water or in the railyard.” G2E 2022 will return to the Venetian Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas October 10-13. It will be interesting to see if the industry keeps its buzz through the next 12 months.