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Trade Show Blues

Boy, trade shows aren't what they used to be.

Trade Show Blues

This year’s Global Gaming Expo marked somewhere between 25 and 30 Las Vegas trade shows I’ve been to. I’m not sure, because I don’t remember how many years they had two trade shows. (Someone should look that up.) There used to be one in the spring and another in the fall. Then one year, there were actually two in the fall. But in any event, I’ve been to a lot of them.

The only reason the trade shows aren’t what they used to be for me is that, compared to the early ones, I am, well, a bit weathered.

I can’t say I’m too old for trade shows—not when someone like Len Ainsworth, who is, I believe, 157 years old, still goes to them every year.

Yes, I know, Len’s 87. But the guy has more energy than I do, and I find that particularly depressing. Last year, someone asked him if he remembered me, and he said, “Yes, I never forget a mustache.” But I digress.

In many ways, the big Las Vegas trade show is much more enjoyable to me now, on a professional level, than in the old days. I conduct panels on important topics. I listen to industry leaders give keynote addresses. I feel like an active participant in the gaming industry.

When I first went to trade shows, I was basically talking to vendors. Any vendors. Well, any vendors who advertised for whatever particular trade journal I worked for at the time. There were slot-stand vendors. Chair vendors. Lock vendors and key vendors. Light-bulb vendors. Fake tree vendors. Fake grass vendors. Vendors who sold the little gears that used to make coins to fall into hoppers. And, the vendors who sold those little gears to the other vendors.

I used to talk to a lot of vendors, I guess, is the main point I’m trying to make.

Then, there were the inevitable booth demonstrations, often assisted by some celebrity impersonator (“A Tribute to Atlas Locks, with ‘Buddy Hackett!’”) or sometimes an actual, real-life washed-up celebrity. I met Spanky McFarland at a trade show. It was long after his salad days as a Little Rascal, but he could still hawk a casino supply with the best of them.

I once stood through a 15-minute presentation on a light bulb. And, at the end of it, to the presenter, I seemed intently interested in this particular light-bulb technology, and I obviously shared his enthusiasm about this breakthrough in the illumination sector of the gaming industry—even as I was, on the inside, desperately wishing for a sniper’s bullet to end the presentation mercifully for me.

Hey, I’m a pro, what can I say?

Since those early days, I have, of course, zeroed in on one of those vendor areas, slot machine suppliers, as my specialty. (Also, salad fork suppliers. Ask me anything.) At the trade shows, I invariably talk about, analyze and evaluate slot machines, and it’s much more stimulating than my earlier trade show tasks.

The other thing that’s different about trade shows these days is the evenings. When I was still in my 20s during those first trade show years, the after-show parties were legendary. I once went from a Las Vegas slot vendor’s party to an Australian slot vendor’s party, and then… I woke up the next day. It turns out I had walked through the desert back to my hotel, which I only figured out two weeks later, when sand fell out of my pockets as I took my pants to the cleaners.

The morning after that night, though, I just shrugged it off, and then went to interview the slot director of Caesars Palace. I must have looked like Keith Richards.

Then, the next night, I went to another party.

Fast forward to this year. I spent every G2E day visiting booths, taking notes, moderating panels, doing podcast interviews, being interviewed by reporters, and handing out Gaming & Technology Awards. In the evenings, I’d go to a party or two, but afterward, I could barely manage an hour of degenerate gambling. Never mind drinking. Sleeping usually took over after much gambling or drinking took place.

If I went to ’80s-style trade show parties now, in my 50s, I’d have to be carried out. I’m not afraid to admit I can’t drink like I used to.

But I can still project total immersion and interest in a good light-bulb presentation.

Hey, like I said, I’m a pro.

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.  

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