Gaming industry executives from around the world gathered last month at the Venetian Expo Center for the 2023 edition of the Global Gaming Expo (G2E), the most important event on the annual gaming calendar.
Initial reports put the attendee list for this year’s event at more than 25,000 attendees, who toured some 350 exhibits covering every aspect of the gaming business.
“We’re proud to bring the industry together for gaming’s premier event, convening leaders from every segment of our industry, and from every country involved in gaming,” said Bill Miller, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, in his welcome keynote address.
“We have literally tens of thousands of industry professionals here this year, and more than 350 exhibitors, showcasing the future of gaming.”
G2E turned 22 in 2023, and this year’s show set a post-pandemic record with over 269,000 square feet of exhibition space.
“G2E continues to be the premier destination for gaming stakeholders worldwide,” G2E Event Vice President Korbi Carrison said in a statement. “From our new brand and innovative activations to world-class exhibitors and blockbuster keynotes, we continue to raise the bar on G2E to deliver an experience that drives business and propels the industry forward.”
This year’s education sessions covered a range of topics, from casino smoking bans to influencers, the future of artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and new cashless payment technologies. There were many sessions on the Monday program, but panels continued throughout the four-day event after the exhibit floor opened on Tuesday. Here are a few highlights:
What’s Next for U.S. iGaming
The growth of iGaming in the U.S. or lack thereof was a topic that drew a packed crowd as Light & Wonder Global Head of Government Affairs Howard Glaser was joined by Wondr Nation President and CEO Anika Howard and Continent 8’s Chief Product Officer Justin Cosnett to discuss the difficulties of growing an industry in a segmented regulatory environment.
Howard, whose company is entering its third year of operations, cautioned that further regulation will likely be coming to the sector in the near future. She also contended that the relationship between land-based and digital operations can be symbiotic—the customers who primarily play online, she said, often come to physical casinos with more focus on non-gaming amenities, which have become a bigger area of focus for casinos everywhere.
With the recent infiltration of MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment by hackers, cybersecurity was definitely on the minds of many attending the show. There were several companies showcasing their systems on how to make casinos and resorts safer.
At a panel session, Continent 8 Chief Revenue Officer Nick Nally said several people were interested in the company’s cybersecurity and products. “I think people were already treating this seriously, but with what happened with MGM, I think there was definitely an emphasis on cybersecurity,” Nally said. “They are thinking, ‘That could be me next.’”
Training Better Employees
One way to make a casino more efficient, not only with cybersecurity but other important areas, is through better training of casino and gaming company employees.
RG24seven was at the show, presenting its revolutionary virtual training. CEO Wendy Anderson said G2E was invaluable in regard to informing attendees what her company does.
“We were very pleased to reconnect with familiar faces and forge new connections,” Anderson said. “Attendees visited our booth to discover firsthand how RG24seven Virtual Training positively impacts the gaming industry.
“We showcased our responsible, effective, and free compliance-grade virtual training service for casino and gaming company employees. RG24seven offers an assortment of topics covering Responsible Gaming, Anti-Money Laundering, Human Trafficking Awareness, Corporate Social Responsibility, Gaming Technology and a host of gaming industry training content presented by key industry experts and partners.”
Interblock CEO John Connelly hosted an education session outlining the future of electronic table games.
Connelly began with a presentation highlighting the explosive growth of iGaming, and how the revenue of the U.S. market doubled in two years, compared to 18 years for the traditional table game sector. In August, Connelly said, online revenues from just four states totaled about 60 percent of total U.S. table game earnings.
The overall message of the discussion centered around the need for land-based suppliers and operators to find new, innovative ways to incorporate online capabilities into their offerings. At Interblock, Connelly noted how the company has expanded its portfolio from one product in 2015 to over 40 today.
Connelly also detailed the various capabilities of Interblock’s new Smart Pit technology, which took home the Gold Medal for Best Table Game Product or Innovation in this year’s GGB Gaming & Technology Awards.
Microbetting and Sports Betting
One of the hottest trends in sports betting is microbetting. The activity has been around for years, but it seems to be catching on with a younger demographic of bettors.
Microbetting, as the name suggests, involves placing small wagers on specific events within a sporting event, such as the outcome of the next pitch in a baseball game or the next free throw in a basketball game. This form of betting has gained immense popularity in recent years, thanks to its fast-paced nature and the potential for instant gratification.
At an education session, Chris Bevilacqua and Mark Nerenberg of Simplebet spoke about how Gen Z bettors are drawn to microbetting.
“We see this as a huge opportunity,” Bevilacqua said. “It is expected to grow 50 percent within five years. Now it is 20-30 percent of the handle of in-play betting. When we started six years ago only a small percentage was in-play.”
“Microbetting has been around for decades,” Nerenberg said. “What we say was U.S. sports was much more conducive to microbetting.”
One of the main reasons for its rise in popularity is the advancement of technology, particularly the widespread use of smartphones and the availability of real-time data. With just a few taps on their devices, bettors can now place microbets on various sports events, no matter where they are. This accessibility has opened up a whole new world of opportunities for sports enthusiasts to engage with their favorite games in a thrilling and interactive way.
A Slew of Slots
While exhibits represent every segment of the industry, much of the attention always goes to the slot manufacturers’ displays.
While individual games from the manufacturers were covered in the October issue of Global Gaming Business, several manufacturers featured games revealed for the first time at G2E.
- AGS rolled out games in its new Spectra cabinet, including the G2E reveal Piñata Pays, which substitutes piñatas for the three pots in a collection bonus in which the fat piñatas burst to trigger an enhanced hold-and-re-spin round.
Also revealed at G2E from AGS was Panda Empire, featuring pandas holding pots that enhance a hold-and-re-spin round; Genie Unleashed, in which the player collects treasure chests to trigger a wheel bonus; and Straight Cash, one of the new AGS high-denomination, three-reel games. In the latter game, the reels show only numbers, which represent credits in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get bonus.
- Ainsworth Game Technology did a G2E reveal of Grand Fortune. This medium-denomination, five-reel video slot features a primary game bonus. When a scatter symbol lands on the fifth reel, all cash-on-reels symbols on the screen are instantly awarded. This applies to a hold-and-re-spin feature that awards jackpots as well as cash-on-reels symbols.
Also featured was Rocket Link, with a hold-and-re-spin feature that includes rockets which fire to break up chains and unlock higher-level awards, expanding the reels up to eight rows—and the top progressive prize.
- Aristocrat’s G2E exhibit was highlighted by the introduction of the company’s series of NFL-branded slot machines, the first on the new King Max cabinet. A show reveal was a second King Max game, Tarzan vs. Wild, using the big screen for sweeping visuals of Tarzan swinging through the jungle. It centers on a two-level wheel feature in which a wheel spin can yield credits, jackpots or free games. An outer wheel awards multipliers that increase the inner-wheel prize by 2X to 20X.
- Aruze debuted its first games since its slot products were acquired by Empire Technological Group, which changed its business name to Aruze Gaming Global. Highlights included new titles on the former Aruze Gaming America’s popular Muso 55 cabinet. The Power Tower series—Power Tower Lion and Power Tower Bull—includes an independent reel on the center spot of the grid, with the central game character serving as a wild symbol for a hold-and-re-spin feature.
Aruze also showcased four cabinets. The Triple 32, designed by engineers who were with the former Aruze Gaming, features three 32-inch monitors, the top screen active for integrated game features. The Empire Speed Cabinet has three 27-inch screens, the top monitor for attract features. The Hyperspeed cabinet, designed by the combined Aruze and Empire team, features a 42-inch portrait monitor.
- The big news this G2E for Bluberi was the show reveal of the sequel to the mega-hit Devil’s Lock. Called Devil’s Lock All-In, it is featured on a new cabinet, the premium, low-denomination Beacon Elite, featuring a 49-inch J-curve portrait monitor.
The graphics of the Devil’s Lock series have been improved, and new characters have been added to the game’s story, including the devil’s “Evil Twin,” the “Devil’s Mom,” and “Pig Princess,” who adds a new entertainment factor to the lock-and-spin feature from the original. All appear on the screen periodically to enhance the bonus features. For instance, the Evil Twin appears to unlock chained cash-on-reels symbols, jackpots and multipliers. The Mini Pig appears to award one re-spin to collect cash-on-reels symbols, and the Pig Princess triggers a feature called “Mirror Reels.” It’s really a unique way of presenting a free-spin feature in which all jackpots are doubled. In this case, a second reel array appears above as a backwards mirror image of the reels.
- IGT revealed a licensed title on a new cabinet designed specifically for the game. Kept under wraps until the show, a new family of games featuring the late superstar Whitney Houston utilizes a giant display consisting of two stacked 55-inch monitors and a custom sound system in the new SkyRise cabinet.
The game utilizes mechanics from the popular Prosperity Link, weaving pot-style collection, a hold-and-re-spin event, and a jackpot wheel—all featuring life-size footage of Houston singing her most popular songs.
- Light & Wonder did a show reveal of a new licensed brand, the first game based on the Netflix series Squid Game. The program is a fantasy series depicting teams of contestants playing children’s games—for their lives. Losers of the competitions, including a tug-of-war, Red Light/Green Light and Glass Bridge, fall to their deaths in a fantasy drama not unlike Hunger Games.
L&W has boiled all these fantasy competitions into bonus rounds in four inaugural base games, in which players watch competitions wrapped into different slot mechanics and reap rewards as the losers fall to their deaths on the screen. One main hold-and-re-spin event adds different levels of symbols, with the goal of reaching the top and a wide-area-progressive jackpot.
Another G2E reveal from Light & Wonder was the massive new Horizon cabinet, with a 75-inch portrait monitor in front of an integrated LED wrap-around display, all combined into a totally immersive hardware package. The subject of the game is as massive as the cabinet—Kong: Skull Island. The entire display is remarkable—the giant ape looks almost life-sized. The Kong character interacts with the game, adding various enhancements to free games and other bonuses.
The dates for next year’s G2E were announced at the show. Once again, the Venetian Expo will host the event, October 7-10, 2024, with education sessions running October 7-10 and the expo hall open October 8-10.