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Group Think and Gaming Conferences

More communication with the end user is always beneficial

Group Think and Gaming Conferences

The signal is the truth. The noise is what distracts us from the truth. ― Nate Silver

Several years ago, I was in Atlantic City at a gaming conference and there was a panel featuring four iPoker players. What amazed me about this was it was a most reasonable discussion to feature. What also amazed me was how rare it was to talk about issues at a conference with the actual consumers of the product.

The folks on this panel were outlining a whole series of faults and frustrations with trying to interact with the iPoker systems, and this seemed like it should be terribly interesting and important to everyone at the conference. Since then, I have not seen this type of experience repeated.

I also recently had a personal experience with trying to interact with the poker and sports betting operators in Pennsylvania. I was in Pennsylvania for approximately three weeks during the holiday break and joined both a sports wagering and poker site. I was very non-plussed by the encounters.

The sports betting site could not work with my Mac laptop; the site crashed repeatedly before big betting events; and the withdrawal process was weird in that it would not allow me to take my winnings out of the system, and this was not a result of any terms and conditions of a promotion.

With the poker site, I suffered numerous geolocation faults while clearly being within the state; I needed to delete and reload the iPad app before I used it each session; and I am still working to get my money out of the system, for my earlier efforts were met with a notice that the withdrawal system was not working.

Now, it appears to be working, but the site seems to be having issues with my request to withdraw that make no sense to me. On both sites when I made an effort to contact customer support I was at the end of a very long queue (i.e. 49th). I had no idea as to how bad the delivery of the iGaming product was, and certainly none of the many conferences I have attended gave me this insight.

When I was the CEO of a Las Vegas casino, I spent a lot of time on the casino floor, because I was interested in what my fellow employees and the market were thinking and experiencing. While on the floor, many guests would approach me with a complaint, sometimes in an agitated and angry state, and when they were finished with their complaint, I would always thank them.

I would thank them because they gave me important information that would allow me to improve the delivery of my product. I would also prod the vice presidents of the property to quit sequestering themselves in their offices and get out into their operations, because I was getting better information from our customers for free than I was getting from a bunch of expensive vice presidents sitting in their offices.

From all of these experiences, it seems curious to me that our conferences do not avail themselves more to hearing from people who are involved in interacting with the products the industry is offering.

I attend a great many conferences, and during these conferences I hear all kinds of wonderful things that are taking place in the gaming space. It is a rosy world indeed, yet from what I hear from players, and what I experienced myself, all is not all rosy.

While some of the player frustrations address business decisions by the operators, or the decisions made by politicians, many other frustrations are simply that the ability of the sites to work as advertised is fake news. In the case of the poker site, it took four days before I received a generic acknowledgement that they knew I was having problems with the withdrawal process, and that my concern took so long to address because there were a number of complaints. It also seems the ability of the sites to effectively communicate with their markets is dismal. It seems the whole space should care about these issues.

I understand conferences are designed to make money and one of the main sources of this money is sponsorships. The flip side of this is those sponsors pay money so they can get on panels, or control who does get on panels, and these folks are not in the mood to have folks complaining about the products being delivered.

This creates a world in which all does in fact appear rosy. It is also a mythical world, a world in which the agenda becomes a slave to sponsorship dollars, and no one wants to bite the hands that feed them. I think this is unfortunate.

The problem with continuing to operate in an echo chamber is a fool’s errand for the future of gaming, and the industry should become alive to this reality. Operators should understand complaints are precious packages of data that allow for improvement in the product or process, and so those complaints should be aggressively mined.

If the goal of the conferences is to make money, they are on course. If the goal of the conferences is to educate and provide an environment where operators can gain valuable insights from disparate parts of their markets, they are failing. It is as if the conference scene has become part of a company perk, and the learning function is to take a back seat to the ego stroking and the play time that seems to be the goal of the modern conference attendee.

It is important to understand that if the disgruntled consumers are not listened to by the operators, they will turn to unregulated environments, the press or government. One only needs to look across the pond to see this reality. Clearly, disgruntled consumers are not going to ban together to gain access to the conference circuit by spending sponsorship dollars so as to inform the operators that aspects of their operations suck, and that is too bad.

Over my long tenure in and around the gaming industry, I have heard numerous explanations for weak company and industry performance. The blame is placed on the market, the economy, and a whole variety of different things that allow the company to play victim. In reality, often the firm had no earthly idea that they were doing things badly, and they had no earthly idea as to what they were doing badly because they had isolated themselves from important market signals and opted to surround themselves with the noise.

This is a dangerous path on a grand scale, and if the conferences are not going to allow access to this segment, it might be time to send fewer executives to the conferences and instead make them go out and visit with their consumers.

Richard Schuetz entered the gaming industry working nights as a blackjack and dice dealer while attending college, and has since served in many capacities within the industry, including operations, finance, and marketing. He has held senior executive positions up to and including CEO in jurisdictions across the United States, and served as a member of the California Gambling Control Commission and as executive director of the Bermuda Casino Gaming Commission.