Covering the World

The North America iGaming conference will update attendees on a wide variety of issues.

As we finalize the program for the forthcoming iGaming North America conference (April 5-7 in Las Vegas), it’s time to take a closer look at the moving targets that are the industry’s trending issues.

The two-step process for developing conference program content entails identifying the key areas of focus (the easy part) and then finding an angle that best suits the needs of our increasingly sophisticated audience. To foster relevant, meaningful discussion, the second, much trickier phase is an ongoing process that extends all the way to the days preceding the event. With that, I offer a glimpse at a few of the moving targets and what we’ve got in store.

Poker

Every year I convince myself that next year is the year in which we finally have nothing new and exciting to cover in the poker space, and I was once again wrong in 2015. With PokerStars poised to enter the U.S. market, we could be about to experience the most dramatic change to the competitive landscape since the U.S. debut of regulated online poker.

The picture began to crystalize when bwin.party’s fate was sealed by its sale to GVC Holdings, creating a two-horse race between bwin.party and 888. Now the industry curiously awaits the third horse, PokerStars, which solidified its position as an industry mammoth after passage of the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act (UIGEA), only to be shunned for its past dealings as online poker’s “bad actor” on the outside looking in.

As the newly laid pavement on Stars’ road into the regulated U.S. dries, we ponder just how its arrival will play out. Will they recapture U.S. dominance? Will a reinvented, U.S.-licensed PokerStars have the same appeal to a customer base amassed during the renegade years between the Moneymaker phenomenon in 2003 and UIGEA passage in ’06? Can the industry stakeholders work together for the communal good of online poker? We will enter iGNA posing these questions and come out with a better feel for where things are headed.

DFS

The DraftKings/FanDuel saga has captivated a U.S. audience well beyond the iGaming space. As we wait to see how it plays out, we continue to ponder where daily sports fits into the iGaming picture. A few years back, fantasy sports erected a barrier between itself and gambling, but the wall came crashing down as the two industries discovered the fruits of a mutually beneficial relationship. Will the state-level battles over the legal status of DFS split them apart, or is this just a bump in the road? What of the looming bursting of the bubble to take place once the novelty of America’s hottest gaming pastime fades? (See online poker.) The excitement will level off a bit as the NFL season shrinks in the rearview mirror, but many questions will remain unanswered come iGNA in April.

Virtual Reality

Three and a half decades beyond Tron, virtual reality has found momentum in the commercial world, and the casino industry is dipping its foot in the pool. While I don’t expect licensed VR gambling to take the U.S. market by storm anytime soon, it is notable that VR casino platforms are making strides and that the land-based industry has adopted virtual tours as a marketing vehicle. Is VR for real? (Get it?) All kidding aside, the topic has been showing up more and more on our attendees’ radar and is certain to surface at Planet Hollywood in April. People for whom I have a lot of respect insist VR is still more of a gimmick than anything else, yet I remain intrigued with it as a topic to be tackled at iGNA.

eSports

I don’t have a feel for where the eSports/gambling marriage is headed, but the potential is astonishing. In my previous GGB piece, I referenced eye-popping figures put out by Eilers Research. The group estimates that by 2020, 19.4 million consumers will be wagering a combined $23.5 billion on eSports, and that will translate to $1.81 billion in revenues. But here’s the thing: I cannot imagine the eSports gambling industry avoiding the legal battle that the DFS sites are now enduring.

History tells us that faceoff is inevitable. Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, daily fantasy eSports website Vulcun announced in January that it will no longer take real-money entries. Nevertheless, the potential of eSports betting is too impressive to ignore, and those who stand to benefit will be up for the fight. The status of eSports and its place in the North American gambling space will be one of the hottest issues at iGNA, but we’ll also rewind back to the basics by demonstrating exactly what eSports is, what it looks like, how betting takes place and why it is such a hit among bettors.

Those are just a few of the topics that are swirling about as we nail down the iGNA 2016 program. I anticipate other areas to heat up as April approaches, and the program will accommodate. For example, will the efforts to legalize sports betting be revitalized? What exactly is Nevada’s position on RAWA and how will it impact the industry? Which state will be next to join New Jersey, Nevada and Delaware in the iGaming club?

We’ll continue to ask these questions as the program for 2016 takes its final shape. The latest version of the evolving program can be viewed online at igamingnorthamerica.com.

Mark Balestra is the director of publishing for Clarion Gaming. A veteran of 11 years in the online gambling business, Balestra is the editor and co-creator of Interactive Gaming News (www.iGamingNews.com) as well as the editor and co-author of Internet Gambling Report, a legal guide to interactive gambling.

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