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Seeing Visions

Finding and celebrating visionaries in the casino gaming industry

Seeing Visions

We’ve had a feature penciled into our editorial schedule for the past two years, but every time we try to tackle it, it becomes a very slippery topic: Where are the new visionaries in gaming?

It should be easy. Just pick gaming’s most successful companies, recognize the leaders and move on.

But of course it’s not that simple.

When you consider who was a visionary in gaming, the list is rather apparent—and long. Benny Binion, Jackie Gaughan, Steve Wynn, Sheldon Adelson, Kirk Kerkorian, Glenn Schaeffer, Jim Crosby, Bill Bennett, Claudine Williams, Bob Stupak, Jack Binion, Bill Boyd, Peter Carlino, Lyle Berman, and even Donald Trump in his typically clumsy way. And that list only names a few and in no particular order. And it only covers the operators. Suppliers have their own long list of visionaries. And let’s not forget regulators.

So you can see why we might have a problem.

First thing we wanted to do was to define “visionary” in today’s context. And even that’s hard.

All those people mentioned above were visionaries because they were the first to do something. I was in the first meeting of the Emerging Leaders of Gaming, which GGB produces with The Innovation Group, and John Acres was speaking. Acres is something of a visionary himself, having played roles in inventing player tracking, bonusing and other breakthroughs. This was about seven or eight years ago now, but Acres was telling those 20-somethings and 30-somethings about how exciting it was early in the history of gaming.

“You should have been there then,” he said. “You had the freedom to experiment—to think outside the box. In today’s gaming industry, that isn’t possible. Everything is controlled by the suits.”

Yes, it was a rather odd way to congratulate these young people who were just starting out in their careers, but Acres has never been known for pulling punches.

So, what can someone do these days that would be considered visionary? Because, what hasn’t been done in gaming yet? I’m sure there are quite a few things that are currently undiscovered, but those won’t become evident until someone actually does them, right?

But Acres is right about the big gaming corporations. There was a period many years ago when executives who worked for Harrah’s at that time all wore blue suits. And of course they were all men, for the most part.

Corporate policy often handcuffs innovation and experimentation. In many gaming corporations, even something as local as marketing is controlled from a corporate office hundreds or thousands of miles away from the property. Anyone with vision would be stifled in such a corporate environment and wouldn’t last long.

And does being a visionary mean that you’re a millionaire—or billionaire, for that matter? Of course not. Lots of those names listed above started out dirt poor, and their vision enabled them to amass their fortunes. So, how do you recognize a visionary without his money? Just another difficulty about creating a story on visionaries.

We can clearly compile a list of visionaries in iGaming. It’s a relatively new field and wide open to innovation. So there will definitely be a discussion in this feature about what makes a visionary in this digital world. From the technical aspects of getting gaming to work on the internet and mobile devices, to the experience of playing online, to the mechanics of player acquisition… there are still dozens of innovations that can catapult someone to visionary status.

The same can be said for the sports betting business, even though it’s been operating in Nevada for decades.

Today’s visionaries in gaming would probably come from the non-gaming side. Some people call our industry “casino entertainment” and for good reason. But we seem to forget the “entertainment” side of that description too often.

The casino entertainment environment is going to have to be experiential from now on. You can gamble from your living room couch or kitchen table these days, so you need a compelling reason to visit a casino. The person or company that discovers the secret to luring players into their casino for the total experience is going to be a visionary for sure.

So you can see our dilemma when it comes to this visionary feature. I’d like to solicit your opinions, and nominations too, if you feel so compelled. We’re a little reluctant to pinpoint anyone who might be a visionary, because once you do that the vision might slip away.

But nominate away, if that’s how you want to get your opinions across. My contact info is in the top of the masthead on this page, and I’ll be looking forward to your emails.

Roger Gros is publisher of Global Gaming Business, the industry's leading gaming trade publication, and all its related publications. Prior to joining Global Gaming Business, Gros was president of Inlet Communications, an independent consulting firm. He was vice president of Casino Journal Publishing Group from 1984-2000, and held virtually every editorial title during his tenure. Gros was editor of Casino Journal, the National Gaming Summary and the Atlantic City Insider, and was the founding editor of Casino Player magazine. He was a co-founder of the American Gaming Summit and the Southern Gaming Summit conferences and trade shows. He is the author of the best-selling book, How to Win at Casino Gambling (Carlton Books, 1995), now in its fourth edition. Gros was named "Businessman of the Year" for 1998 by the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Gaming Association in 2012.

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