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Trends Are Trending

GGB’s annual 10 Trends identifies what to expect in 2024

Trends Are Trending

When GGB started publishing the “10 Trends” article in our December issue in 2010, “trending” wasn’t a thing. But as we know, trending is now the most important thing when you’re talking about social media and awareness of the general public—well, just those who participate in social media.

So in this, our 14th edition of 10 Trends, like every year, we’re focusing on the issues our Editorial Advisory Board has identified as the most important to the gaming industry in 2024.

Now it doesn’t take a genius or a savant to identify most of these issues. Cybersecurity is the most obvious one, with the attacks that brought MGM Resorts to its knees and the attacks where Caesars paid off the criminals to avoid their wrath. But Manjit Singh brings a new dimension to the problem.

Frank Legato pins two trends that anyone following the slot business will recognize.

The rise of iGaming is something we should all be aware of, along with the illegal “skill” games that are ravaging players who thirst for legal games in their home states. And of course, the casinos in the southern tier of New York state mean the largest city in the U.S. will have at least one casino. Will they approve three totally new casinos or allow MGM and Genting to convert their two VLT properties to complete casino resorts?

It always seems Asian gaming hinges on Chinese customers, but Brendan Bussmann says the attitude of the central government in Beijing will determine how successful a strategy that focuses on Chinese gamblers will be.

Tribal gaming is always a trend, but this year Jess Marquez focuses on the challenges of compact renewals that are making tribes uncomfortable in Oklahoma, California and other states where compacts have a “sell by” date. And what’s the deal with casino marketing? Our own Julia Carcamo gives her thoughts.

So we hope our trends will be “trending” once you read this piece, but whatever happens, you need to be aware and prepared for these growing issues in 2024.


If You Build It, They May Not Come Operators await the return of Chinese gamblers

With the world finally in full recovery mode from the pandemic, one of the largest questions that continues in the gaming industry is: When will the Chinese traveler return?

Over the last few years, China has undergone its own transformation in how it has evolved in a post-pandemic world. While not having had its borders open since the beginning of 2023, it has faced economic, social and travel trends. These all play into the structure of the existing gaming markets, but also future gaming markets that may or may not have the same luster as they did prior to 2020.

Prior to the Great Shutdown, the Chinese were some of the most sought-after customers, a customer that would travel extensively and spend in gaming jurisdictions due in part to their propensity to gamble. While many of these makes were directly in Asia, it is also a customer that Las Vegas and others have relied on as well as sought after as gaming continues to expand across the globe.

China itself has its own challenges as it has continued to face economic challenges over the last few years. Recovery has not been certain and deflation set in again in October 2023 as prices began to fall again. The growth rates that have been shopped for years are not what they used to be.

One of the other keys for 2024 will be to have China improve its overall economics and put more money into the wallets of its population. China also put in measures to further track the movement of money during the Great Shutdown, adding future constraints to the Chinese traveler. The challenge will be to allow this money to further move into jurisdictions like Macau, but then beyond China’s borders to other immediate and regional destinations.

Macau has already seen to a large extent numbers comeback in a very robust way, just as we saw when other gaming markets re-emerged from the pandemic. With many numbers as reported from Q3 earnings calls at or on track to return to 2019 levels, Macau is on its way to recovery. With additional non-gaming amenities coming online as part of the concession process, this should continue to grow the destination with gaming as visitors head back to the market.

Growth continues to be part of the gaming story in Asia. The Philippines is a prime example of how growth is surging in some markets. While they face a host of regulatory changes between the eventual sale of assets from PAGCOR (Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation), significant concerns on anti-money laundering, and the potential action banning the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs), the market continues to be one of the best growth stories across the board for land-based activities. With further expansion in the land-based market and new operators taking over the existing PAGCOR facilities, there is opportunity to attract additional Chinese consumers.

Korea’s new facility in Inspire will also be a test for the Chinese traveler. With its close proximity to mainland China, it will be the next market to see if they will flock to these casinos. South Korea recently waived visa fees to try and increase the number of Chinese visitors to the market, with the goal of attracting 2 million before the end of 2023. This is still down significantly from pre-pandemic numbers that approached 5 million.

Other emerging markets are on the horizon. While the Japan market still is not open, it is one that was always thought to have two models, one with the Chinese consumer and one without. While the market is some seven years away, it is yet to be seen how attitudes and geopolitical tension play to the future IR market in Japan.

Thailand is another market that is contemplating what may be the next emerging market after the United Arab Emirates emergence in 2022. In 2019, the destination saw roughly 11 million Chinese tourists. Numbers are far down from those peak levels, but Thailand recently opened up tourism by waving visa requirements. Prior to the visa-free travel, there were only 2.2 million Chinese to enter the market in 2023.

While Thailand probably offers its best shot of jumping into the gaming sector to date, it cannot assume that the Chinese will return to their pre-pandemic levels. However, setting the tone with strong regulations and anti-money laundering provisions on par with those in other strictly regulated jurisdictions would bode well for the jurisdiction’s future desire to add gaming as an amenity for tourism.

One thing is certain heading into 2024—Beijing will continue to monitor the flow of Chinese visas and dollars as they may exit the country or even stay within its borders with travel to Macau.

Beijing holds the fate of the Chinese traveler. This will further translate beyond the two systems into benefits from Macau into other jurisdictions. Those jurisdictions that want to run strict regulatory operations are likely to be the bigger beneficiaries of the Chinese consumer. It’s a matter of whether they stay within the good grace of Beijing at the same time.

Just because you built it, they may not come.

—Brendan D. Bussmann, Managing Partner, B Global


Bring It On! Why the introduction of iGaming can mitigate the problems surrounding legal sports betting in North America

One of the reasons why online sports betting should be legalized, said the proponents, was to keep players from wagering on illegal sites. Well, that hasn’t happened, and, if anything, it’s only strengthened offshore sports betting.

At BetBash in August, an annual meeting of professional sports bettors at Circa in Downtown Las Vegas, complaints abounded about legal sportsbooks and their hesitancy in accepting sports bets from the “sharps”—bettors who know how to game the system. And these misplaced attempts to guarantee profitability have actually made offshore illegal sportsbooks become more important. They do cater to these “sharps,” and have figured out how to make money on them.

There are lots of reasons why the legal sportsbooks are reluctant to take the bets of the more informed bettors. High tax rates are just one of them, but pressures to make money from the parent companies are increasing.

In the “old” days—before legalized sports betting swept across the country—sportsbooks in Las Vegas were used to having losing days when a ball bounces the wrong way or an underdog team plays well above its talent. But today’s legal sportsbooks are expected to take in enough bets that those unusual days are minimized.

One way the sports betting losses could be less important is the introduction of legal iGaming—slots, tables and poker. The revenue earned and the taxes produced dwarfs that of sports betting. In most states and provinces where both wagering choices are available, iGaming is clearly the dominant sector.

But the growth of iGaming hasn’t come as rapidly as sports betting did, even though it’s a far bigger moneymaker than sports betting will ever be.

The reasons for this are varied. In some states like Mississippi, where even online sports betting is banned, the legal land-based casinos oppose it because they believe gamblers would just stay home to play rather than come to their facilities. In other states, the vestiges of “too much gambling” are alive and well. But this slow growth is largely because legislators and regulators may not understand the value of having both forms of online gambling available.

While most jurisdictions where iGaming is legal are relatively large states population wise—New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Ontario—they pale in comparison to states like New York and California. The Golden State hasn’t even legalized sports betting yet, so iGaming is just a pipe dream because tribes fear that visitors to their casinos will choose their living room couch. But New York is very close to legalizing iGaming. And once that money starts flowing into state coffers, other states will certainly take notice and the growth of iGaming could accelerate. Probably not the blazing speed that greeted sports betting legalization, but at a more measured pace that will prove to be profitable to all those interests.

And maybe by then, when online sportsbooks and iGaming are traveling hand in hand, the illegal websites offering those tremendous odds and payoffs to the sharp bettors will begin to wither as online bettors opt for the consumer protections and customized service that those iGaming options can offer.

—Roger Gros

Diplomatic Uncertainty
Despite record-setting revenues, politics pose a big threat to the future of tribal gaming

For all intents and purposes, the single most influential day in the history of the U.S. tribal gaming market was October 17, 1988, with the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The subsequent three and a half decades have unfolded like a Homeric epic, with twists and turns, partnerships, betrayals and, in recent years, record-setting prosperity.

However, as 2023 ends and 2024 begins, the state of tribal compact negotiations and governmental relations remains as fluid and uncertain as ever, with several high-profile cases currently playing out across the country, from Washington state to California, Oklahoma, Florida, New York and elsewhere. Of course, each example is nuanced and revolves around separate issues from the others, but the overall question of how the tribal industry will be affected by these politics moving forward remains to be seen.

The states in which tribes are currently battling with the logistics of sports betting, namely Florida and California, will perhaps have the most wide-ranging effects, given the recent proliferation of commercial-backed initiatives.

As of this writing, the Seminole Tribe has announced plans to roll out sports betting and table games at its Florida properties in early December, multiple years and several millions of dollars after its original 2021 compact was sent through the ringer of the U.S. legal system, culminating in a nod from the Supreme Court October 26.

“I think Florida will have the most nationwide implications, but there are compacts going on in places like Washington and Maine that are also very interesting,” says Gene Johnson, executive vice president of the advisory firm Victor-Strategies. “Tribal gaming has been a lifeline for the tribes that sustained their sovereignty and allowed them to do cultural preservation and economic development. It’s something that they take very seriously, looking at the next seven generations. So it’s not just a matter of the quarterly numbers—it’s a long horizon.”

The Seminoles’ victory would not only bring sports betting to one of the largest remaining offline markets, it would also establish precedent for the “hub-and-spoke” model that could potentially alter the way IGRA is interpreted for mobile sports betting and iGaming down the line in other states—hub-and-spoke refers to the idea that bets can be placed anywhere in a state so long as they are processed via servers located within tribal lands.

Early December will also prove vital to the north in New York, as the Seneca Nation of Indians’ existing compact is set to expire after months of failed dealmaking with state lawmakers.

That case, which has featured the recusal and then non-recusal of Governor Kathy Hochul over affiliations with Delaware North, the strange addition and even stranger subtraction of a Seneca casino in Rochester and everything in between, has caught the attention of tribal experts across the U.S. because of its central theme of deep distrust between tribes and state officials. Of course, the concurrent sprint for downstate commercial casino licenses in the state has only complicated matters even further.

Even states that have had great tribal success in the past, such as Oklahoma, are not free from this strife. A pair of 2020 compacts negotiated by Governor Kevin Stitt were invalided by the state Supreme Court the next year, a ruling that was recently upheld unanimously by the state legislature’s 10-member Joint Committee on State- Tribal Relations. Even though this development won’t exactly shatter the longstanding tribal market in the state, it further highlights the difficulty of getting tribal governments and state governments on the same page.

From a technical perspective, one shift that may arise from these diplomatic snafus is a Class II resurgence. Once thought to be inferior to the technology and modernity of Class III, manufacturers such as Aristocrat and Incredible Technologies are leading the Class II charge, bringing NFL-branded slots and electronic table games to new markets across the U.S.

“In some parts of the country, (Class II) is definitely becoming more and more popular for a variety of reasons,” says E. Sequoyah Simermeyer, chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission. “From a regulator’s perspective, I think the most important thing for us to be mindful of is making sure that our regulations about the operation of Class II are modern. They’re flexible, they’re responsive, and so there’s always an opportunity to look at what we can update either through guidance or through other efforts to make sure that those regulations are responsive and don’t stand in the way of any sort of innovation that tribes in the industry want to have.”

—Jess Marquez

 

‘Skill’ Games and the Illegal Market Illegal slot games are costing the industry and the states revenue

When people refer to “skill game” slot machines as being illegal, that’s true except for the obvious skill games in casinos—video poker, video blackjack and some other pseudo table games.

But the skill function in those games can be elusive because you often can’t tell whether you win because of your actual smarts at making decisions on those games or the random number generator just happened to land on a favorable outcome. Nonetheless, these games provide consumer protection in that they are regulated and controlled, as well as providing revenue to the state in the form of gaming taxes, sometimes as much as 70 percent of the win.

But the “skill games” that you find in gas stations, bars, restaurants and convenience stores in the U.S. require no such skill and provide no such protection or revenues. True, they often require a second action like a “nudge” on one of the reels that results in a winning combination, but that’s only a false hope, like the “near miss” features that are usually outlawed today in legal gaming jurisdictions.

The fact that you can find thousands of these games in all sorts of establishments is testament to the lack of understanding of basic economics by the people who should understand that: regulators and politicians.

Since these games are largely unregulated, they therefore offer no consumer protection, like a minimum payback percentage to the players or outright cheating by the machine operators. They also provide no revenue to the state, so when a politician wants to tax casinos a hefty percentage but then turns a blind eye to the illegal skill games, maybe they do understand economics better than we might think.

But then it’s probably their personal economics that are in play rather than the state finances. And those personal interests can clearly be shown in jurisdictions where they are still permitted to operate without state oversight such as Wyoming, Pennsylvania and Missouri.

There have been states that have converted these illegal games into a legitimate industry like West Virginia, Illinois, South Dakota, and most recently, Georgia. In those states, the fly-by-night manufacturers of these skill games have lost their edge to the major legitimate slot makers who supply games that are tested and regulated. They often are the salvation of bars and restaurants that would have closed with hundreds of jobs lost without the infusion of the capital provided by these games.

The American Gaming Association has been lobbying for the elimination of these skill games in states where they often are allowed to operate under the noses of the regulators and law enforcement. The AGA estimates that illegal slot games produce a handle of more than $100 billion, with $26 billion in revenues, cheating states out of almost $9 billion in tax revenues. The fact of more than 560,000 illegal games makes them 40 percent of the entire market for slot machines in the U.S. Slot hold in Nevada last year was exactly 7.16 percent, but illegal slots hold was more than 25 percent.

It’s time the states start cracking down on these illegal games, making the operators and the manufacturers pay for so blatantly violating state law for all these years.

—Patrick Roberts

 

New York, New York
The competition is intense for three available casino licenses

Times Square is more than an address. It’s the Crossroads of the World. Broadway. An expanse of light and color. Think Las Vegas without the casinos.

For Brett Herschenfeld, executive vice president at SL Green Realty, that thought posed a challenge, one that resulted in a consortium with Caesars Entertainment and Roc Nation, Jay-Z’s entertainment arm, with the goal of developing a casino in the heart of Times Square.

“New York City has the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to add a casino resort, and take Times Square to the next level as an entertainment destination,” Herschenfeld says. “As the largest commercial property owner in New York, we are well prepared to lead that process.”

For the longest time, the greater New York City region had nothing but promises. Legislation existed to add three casinos downstate, which encompasses New York City, Long Island and West Chester County, perhaps the most populous area in the country.

The state pushed up the timing by a year to 2023, but the procedure is not exact. Rather, a more or less fluid series of steps needs to be completed.

“New York has and always will be a process unique unto itself,” says Brendan D. Bussmann, managing partner of B Global. “You’ve got large personalities across the board and a lot of local politics. The extended timeline alone speaks volumes to the current process.”

There are three downstate licenses. Many expect two of those to be awarded to the current racinos, Genting’s Resorts World New York in Queens and MGM’s Empire City in Yonkers. There are 10 proposals so far, for casinos located across the five boroughs.

But not everyone gives the two racinos an advantage. “There are a host of challenges they still face because they will not necessarily have the highest level of investment as other projects and also have to justify further investment that starts at $1 billion for an application fee,” Bussmann says.

But Manhattan could also be the point of greatest opposition from those who live or work there. Too much congestion. Too much competition. Too much cannibalization.

SL Green faces resistance from the Broadway League, which doesn’t view a casino in its midst as an ally.

“After a long recovery, audiences are rediscovering the magic of Broadway and visitors are returning to the restaurants all around Times Square,” says Charlotte St. Martin, Broadway League president. “Clearly, we are heading in the right direction.”

A casino would have the opposite effect, she says. “We’ve looked closely at the facts and the research and believe a casino in Times Square would bring economic and social disruption, not development, to the deeply interconnected network of businesses that have made Broadway and Times Square an international destination.”

Not so, Herschenfeld says. “Caesars Palace Times Square would be developed in an existing building at 1515 Broadway. No new construction from the ground up. So, less disruption to existing businesses and residents. Caesars Palace Times Square is designed to disperse business and customers throughout the community.”

Queens and Brooklyn will get in the game. Hedge fund billionaire and Mets owner Steve Cohen just announced a partnership with Hard Rock International for a casino, green space and other amenities dubbed Metropolitan Park, an $8 billion project on a 50-acre site adjacent to rhe Mets’ Citi Field ballpark.

“It’s time the world’s greatest city got the sports and entertainment park it deserves,” Cohen said in a statement. “When I bought this team, fans and the community kept saying we needed to do better. Metropolitan Park delivers on the promise.”

Thor Equities, Saratoga Casino Holdings, the Chickasaw Nation and Legends are trying to get a casino on Coney Island. Sands Las Vegas expects to partner with Nassau County to create a casino around the arena that formerly housed the Islanders hockey team.

The instructions indicate all bids will be considered on their merits and no particular bid has a leg up, Herschenfeld says. “We also think it is crucial that a license be awarded to a Manhattan bid, and Times Square is the obvious location.”

Until applications are submitted, the New York State Gaming Commission won’t know which groups are seeking a license, says Brad Maione, director of communications for the commission. “There are no deadlines. We are still very early in the process.”

The Gaming Facility Location Board said it will review each application and decide on the locations based on three main factors: how many jobs a potential casino plans to create, how much revenue it can bring in, and the impact it would have on the surrounding area, the board told Spectrum News NY1.

The board cannot evaluate an application without approval of a two-thirds majority of a community advisory committee, and compliance to state and local zoning requirements. And the $1 billion application fee.

“This is New York, so politics comes into play a lot more than in other jurisdictions,” Bussmann says. “You have a state that believes gaming is there solely as a source of revenue. Everyone has loaded up already with a lobby team. While you do this in every jurisdiction to some extent, New York is a different beast.”

—Bill Sokolic

Growing Pots
The pot-collection style of bonus has exploded in popularity, and in usage in slot games

The pot-collection style of bonus has been around for years. Among the earliest appearances of this style of feature were two games from the former Scientific Games (now Light & Wonder) launched in 2017, Dancing Drums and Fortune 88.

In both of those video slots, a pot of gold coins sat above (Dancing Drums) or below (Fortune 88) the reel array. Whenever special symbols landed on the reels, coins would fly into the pot. The animated pile of coins would grow larger as more flew in.

The growing piles represented what is now known as “perceived persistence.” The indication is that when the pile is large, a bonus is near. On these games, when a random trigger threshold is passed, a wild symbol on the reels will “close” the pot, triggering a progressive picking bonus that will yield one of four progressive jackpots.

The reason it is perceived persistence is that while the pile of coins growing larger appears to signal a coming bonus, the growth of the pile actually corresponds to when the last progressive was hit. The growing pot is for show only.

A few other games have adopted this type of feature over the years, notably the Rakin’ Bacon! series from AGS, on which the “pot” is a piggy bank that grows fatter until a random point where it bursts to award a progressive picking bonus. In recent years, we began to see this style of bonus increasingly. Games have come out using several pots of gold, sacks of money or growing characters to add an element of anticipation to primary games and as a way to trigger bonus events.

As evidenced at October’s Global Gaming Expo, the pot-collection bonus itself has exploded. It would have been difficult to find a display by any manufacturer that did not include a pot collection bonus.

The growing pots are now often used to trigger the feature that has become arguably the most ubiquitous on the modern slot floor, the hold-and-re-spin bonus. On others, the bursting pigs or overflowing coin pots will trigger an enhanced free-spin round.

In both instances, each of the pots represents a different enhancement for the bonus. For example, in Light & Wonder’s new Gold Fish Feeding Frenzy, the pots are fish bowls containing different-colored fish. When the corresponding fish lands on the reels, they fly up to the bowl and increase its size. Each fish represents a different enhancement to a free-spin round triggered when one or more of the bowls burst.

One fish adds extra free spins, one adds multipliers to the free-spin round, one adds wild symbols to the round. The goal, of course, is to crack all three bowls at once for a lucrative free-spin round including all the enhancements.

The modern pot-collection features on scores of new games from various manufacturers at G2E this year all follow a similar progression. Bluberi included one in its encore of the popular Devil’s Lock brand. Everi’s High Voltage Link features three pot-style accumulators that enhance a hold-and-re-spin bonus.

On IGT’s Mystery of the Lamp, three lamps sit above the three-by-five reel array for a pot-style collection feature. On one base title, the pot enhancements are “Ignite,” “Double” and “Jackpot,” boosting symbol values, doubling all jackpots, or triggering a progressive picking bonus, respectively. On the other inaugural title, the lamps are “Boost,” “Jackpot” and “Collect.”

In Ainsworth’s San Bao Dragons and San Bao Panda, the pots are two dragon eggs and the dragon character. In San Bao Panda, the three pandas serve as collectors and triggers for a free-spin bonus enhanced by the triggering icon.

Symbols cause pandas or dragon eggs to grow larger, until they burst (the eggs hatch), in a perceived-persistence feature resulting in sticky wilds, extra spins or a game that can win one of five jackpots.

As always, the goal is to trigger all three at once.

Whether by coincidence or design, all of the major slot manufacturers seem to have embraced this style of feature at the same time. In all likelihood, it is by design—as with the hold-and-re-spin events, the slot-makers are compelled to include this style of feature in a wealth of new games for one reason:

The players are demanding it.

—Frank Legato

 

Cybersecurity at the Crossroads
The urgency of cybersecurity regulations in the gaming industry and the need for stricter regulation

The gaming industry operates in a digital paradigm that brings both advantages and challenges. On one side, it has enriched patrons’ experience in gaming, making it more engaging and accessible. On the flip side, it has attracted a host of cybersecurity threats, putting both player data and business continuity at risk.

The escalations in cyber threats, notably social engineering attacks powered by advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and the proliferation of Ransomware-as-a-Service (RaaS) models, signify a crucial juncture in the gaming industry’s journey. Real-world examples of these threats materializing reveal a grim picture of the potential damage that can be inflicted.

Addressing these threats requires a robust and evolving regulatory response. The path was arguably pioneered by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE), which as part of its commitment to maintaining high standards for online gaming and sportsbook operators, made it mandatory for operators to implement multi-factor authentication for all New Jersey accounts.

Following this, the regulations introduced in Nevada serve as a testament to the growing recognition of cybersecurity as a vital aspect of the gaming industry’s operational integrity.

These regulations reflect a broader trend of the industry grappling with the need for enhanced security measures in the face of escalating cyber threats. Other U.S. states like Pennsylvania and Washington have also embarked on enhancing their cybersecurity regulations through their respective gaming control boards, indicating a trend where regulation is set to become more stringent as the industry moves forward.

The new Nevada Cybersecurity Regulation 5 focuses on enforcing a rigorous cybersecurity posture among “covered entities” within the gaming industry. The regulation mandates these entities to conduct an initial risk assessment to identify and evaluate cybersecurity risks, a crucial exercise in developing a tailored and effective cybersecurity framework.

Incident Response

Regulation 5 also places significant emphasis on incident response. It mandates the establishment of continuous monitoring mechanisms to promptly detect and respond to cyber incidents. This proactive approach ensures that potential cyber threats are identified and addressed in a timely manner, minimizing the impact on player data and business operations.

Additionally, in the event of a cyberattack resulting in data compromise or loss of control, covered entities are required to notify the board within a strict 72-hour window. This provision underscores the need for swift action and transparency in managing cyber incidents, fostering a culture of accountability throughout the gaming industry.

Moreover, for Group I licensees, which are those with over $1 million in gaming revenue, Regulation 5 lays down additional requirements. It mandates the designation of a qualified individual responsible for cybersecurity, ensuring a focused and expert approach towards managing cyber risks. The regulation also necessitates annual internal audits of cybersecurity practices, alongside an independent external review, ensuring a holistic and unbiased evaluation of the cybersecurity posture.

Documentation and Accountability

Comprehensive documentation of all cybersecurity procedures is another cornerstone of Regulation 5. Covered entities are required to maintain a transparent and traceable record of their cybersecurity practices, enabling organizations to track their own efforts and regulatory bodies to assess the effectiveness of implemented measures.

These records are subject to review by the board, further highlighting the importance of accountability in ensuring a robust and secure gaming ecosystem.

The punitive aspect of Regulation 5 serves as a stark reminder of the gravity of cybersecurity disregard. Failure to exercise due diligence in cybersecurity is deemed an unsuitable method of operation, opening the gates for disciplinary action. This reinforces the imperative of a diligent, proactive and comprehensive approach towards cybersecurity, aligning operational strategies with the broader objective of fostering a secure and resilient Gaming ecosystem.

The cyber threat landscape is rapidly evolving, driven in part by the availability of cyberattack tools through advancements in AI and RaaS. This necessitates a more stringent and forward-thinking regulatory framework to keep pace with the escalating threats. There’s also a notable increase in proactive measures from both gaming operators and regulatory bodies.

In this setting, Nevada’s Regulation 5 emerges as a catalyst, establishing a strong precedent that is capturing the attention of other jurisdictions, signaling a shift towards more robust regulatory frameworks.

By adhering to evolving regulatory guidelines and fostering a proactive cybersecurity culture, the gaming industry is not merely working to mitigate the inherent cyber risk but also steering to protect the trust of patrons and mapping a promising trajectory toward a resilient digital gaming frontier.

—Manjit Gombra Singh, CEO of Druvstar, which provides AI/ML-based modern and cost-effective cybersecurity solutions for small and medium-sized enterprises

Are You Experienced? Marketing practices may change, but the patron experience remains paramount

As we approach 2024, casino marketing continues to evolve dynamically, with a clear trajectory toward innovation and a heightened focus on player engagement. Building on the foresight from my 2022 column examining the landscape in 2023, it is evident that the anticipated “youngification” of our core customer, the digital transformation of advertising and the digital engagement with our facilities have significantly influenced our strategies.

As we pivot with these trends, insights from leading casino marketers confirm that the industry’s commitment to the customer experience is more pronounced than ever. The unfolding narrative reinforces the need for marketers to remain agile in a landscape continuously redefined by innovation and the evolving preferences of a younger demographic.

Andrew Cardno from Quick Custom Intelligence forecasts a softening on the horizon. Rather than sparking alarm, Cardno positions this as an opportunity to refocus on the essentials—the “blocking and tackling” of strategic planning and foundational marketing. He advocates for a robust battle plan that emphasizes the bedrock principles of the trade:

  • A profound understanding of customer behavior
  • A steadfast commitment to data-driven decision-making
  • A return to the core tenets of marketing excellence

By doubling down on these fundamental strategies, Cardno suggests that casinos can navigate potential downturns with resilience and agility, turning challenges into strategic victories.

Experience Matters

With casino floors rife with high-volatility games and intricately designed features, the guidance from Player Performance Group’s Chris Province for meticulous evaluation of player worth has never been more relevant. As the gaming landscape grows increasingly complex, marketers are called upon to craft innovative reinvestment strategies that not only retain players but also enhance their value over time. The experience provided to guests is rapidly becoming the linchpin in their decision-making process.

Today, a guest’s experience extends far beyond the gaming floor. The distinctiveness and memorability of brand-aligned experiences are becoming crucial differentiators in attracting and retaining patronage. Wild Rose Entertainment’s Aaron Harn underscores this point, advocating for experiences that resonate deeply with players, creating an indelible link between the thrill of gaming and the ethos of the casino brand.

“The combination of human resources and marketing is vital to creating a brand-centric culture,” says Harn. This collaboration is pivotal to ensuring that every interaction between staff and guests reinforces the brand’s values, elevating the overall guest experience. By creating such an environment where every touchpoint with the customer is an opportunity to deliver excellence, casinos can secure a prime position in guests’ hearts and minds.

As players become more discerning, the exceptional experiences—thoughtfully aligned with the brand and delivered consistently by an engaged team—will satisfy and exceed guest expectations. In turn, this excellence in the guest experience will become a decisive factor for customers as they allocate their entertainment dollars, preferring casinos that understand and cater to their evolving desires and demands.

Peninsula Pacific Entertainment’s Todd Moyer is adamant that when discussions occur about the guest experience, the voice of marketers should be heard loud and clear. He concurs that the guest experience isn’t merely one aspect of casino operations but the crux of it. Moyer emphasizes the importance of returning to the roots of casino marketing by focusing on the essential offerings that casinos are known for—the gaming floor and the allure of slot machines. He argues that the essence of the gaming experience must take precedence, with the slot machines not just as fixtures but as the stars of the show.

Moyer stresses that marketing leaders must be not only familiar with but also deeply knowledgeable about the gaming products they offer, from the latest slot machines to the classic table games. This expertise enables them to enhance the gaming atmosphere—ensuring that the lights, music and services contribute to an immersive and exhilarating experience for every guest.

Moyer’s perspective underscores a fundamental principle: The gaming experience, when executed to perfection, is what truly captivates and retains customers. By advocating for marketers to sit at the strategy table, Moyer ensures that the guest experience remains at the forefront of operational decisions, ultimately defining the casino’s success in a competitive market.

The digital transformation of marketing continues to be a priority. Harn notes that embracing email and text will be essential. Moreover, the use of AI and analytics for personalization is critical. Harn, along with Pala Casino Vice President of Marketing Josh LeDuff, advocates for a better grasp of AI tools, enabling marketers to tailor experiences more effectively to individual preferences and behaviors. LeDuff also points out simplifying data to make strategic, data-driven decisions.

Profitable Customers founder Mary Loftness introduces the debate between the necessity of apps versus mobile-optimized websites, suggesting that an over-reliance on apps may only sometimes add value to the guest experience. She also highlights the significance of maintaining player engagement through communication strategies that motivate players to achieve the next tier in loyalty programs.

Heading into 2024, the casino industry must pivot to a player-centric model, where personalized, technology-driven marketing strategies enhance the traditional charm of the gaming experience. Casinos that blend digital engagement with deep insights into customer preferences will stand out, turning every visit into a memorable guest experience.

—Julia Carcamo, President, J Carcamo & Associates

 

Still Holding, Still Re-spinning
Slot manufacturers continue to produce variations on the hold-and-re-spin bonus, as players continue to practically demand it

This subject has been among our top trend predictions for a few years, and it looks like it will remain on the list for some time to come.

Where two decades ago, slot-makers were scrambling to duplicate the wheel bonus popularized by IGT’s Wheel of Fortune, these days, they are more likely to be scrambling to provide their own takes on what has become the modern-day wheel bonus. This one often accompanies those traditional wheel bonuses, but it always follows a formula created by game design legend Scott Olive for Aristocrat.

Variably called hold-and-spin or hold-and-re-spin, this type of bonus first appeared on the Aristocrat game franchise Lightning Link, launched in Australia and New Zealand in 2014. Olive was Aristocrat’s top designer at the time, and he still designs games for the manufacturer from his proprietary Australian game studio, HRG Studios.

Branded “Hold & Spin” by Aristocrat, the persistent—or more accurately, perceived persistence—game mechanic has resurfaced repeatedly from slot-makers across the spectrum.

The feature, refined by Aristocrat in new versions of Lightning Link, its successor Dragon Link and in other premium titles, follows this basic pattern: The player is given a certain number of free spins in which to collect icons of some value, the prizes for which accumulate. More often than not, the symbols involved are so-called “cash-on-reels” symbols—a symbol that simply displays a credit award.

If the number of free spins is three, every time one of those special symbols appears, it locks in place on that reel spot and the free-spin meter goes back to three. The rest of the reels spin, and every time an additional cash symbol appears, it locks in place for the accumulating award and the spin meter returns to three.

This type of bonus ends when either three spins yield none of the special symbols, or the entire screen is filled with the symbols.

Filling the entire screen with special symbols has become known as a “blackout,” and for many games, it results in the game’s top progressive jackpot.

Aristocrat’s success with the feature invariably resulted in other manufacturers creating their own versions of hold-and-spin, each putting its own twist on the feature, and its own brand.

Ainsworth Game Technology, for instance, offers the “Hold ‘n Stack” feature. The player is awarded five free spins in which to keep collecting coin symbols. There are frequent extra spins added along the way. Above each reel is a credit award. If the reel fills up with collected coins, that amount is immediately awarded, and the reel spots open up to new coins. The awards grow larger the further on the player gets in the feature.

IGT calls its version the “Lock and Respin” feature. In its latest application for the game Mystery of the Lamp, the feature takes place on a field of 15 individual reels—30 if the Jackpot feature is activated. Gems are added to the hold-and-spin event which award collection icons for all five jackpots, including the top $10,000 progressive.

Light & Wonder has its Hold-and-Respin feature, in which gems lock in place as cash-on-reels or jackpot symbols. Bluberi, Konami, Everi and others have their own versions of the feature.

Olive, who in 2021 was inducted into the EKG Slot Hall of Fame by Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, told GGB last year that the simple thrill of the chase is what keeps Hold & Spin popular with players.

“With Hold & Spin, what you see is what you get,” Olive told GGB. “The mechanics make it exciting for players to see what they are chasing in the game. Simplicity is the secret ingredient for the best and most enduring games.”

—Frank Legato

 

White Paper Weight
Regulatory uncertainty clouds the future of the U.K. market

After almost two and a half years of debate and deliberation, the government of the U.K. released its “High Stakes: Gambling Reform for the Digital Age” policy document in April, containing multiple recommendations to modernize the nation’s land-based and online gaming markets.

Potentially marking the biggest shake-up to these sectors for almost 20 years, this white paper exercise was produced by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in consultation with the U.K. Gambling Commission (UKGC) and other interested parties with the aim of improving upon prevailing Gambling Act 2005 legislation to ensure the right regulatory balance in the digital age.

For the land-based sector, the white paper recommends bringing sports betting to all casinos while permitting larger venues to increase their gaming machine estate from 20 to 80 units with an improved five-to-one machine-to-table ratio. Further proposals encompass an effort to free up dormant casino licenses, allow high-end properties to offer credit to non-U.K. punters following the completion of financial risk and anti-money laundering checks, and the initiation of a consultation on cashless gaming.

However, it is online where the white paper proposals could have the biggest impact as the document recommends the establishment of “unobtrusive” financial checks to limit gamblers to monthly and annual net losses of £125 ($152) and £500 ($609) respectively. For those who enjoy more serious action, the exercise suggests £1,000 ($1,210) daily and £2,000 ($2,430) 90-day ceilings following the completion of “a more detailed consideration of a customer’s financial position.”

The head of London-headquartered Gambling Consultant, Steve Donoughue, believes these checks have been suggested so as to bring a “public health” approach to the further eradication of problem gambling. But he also thinks this tactic is faulty because it is based on “little evidence, a lot of ideological fervor and bad science” as the U.K. already has “some of the lowest problem gambling rates in the world.”

“Activist academics have convinced the government and the Gambling Commission that all gambling is dangerous to gamblers and wider society, and the only safe approach is to significantly reduce the amount of gambling,” Donoughue says. “This is to be achieved by dramatically increasing the friction involved in allowing people to gamble alongside restricting the amounts. This ideological campaign is utterly flawed, as we are already seeing customers reject the illiberal and overly intrusive demands for financial checks by moving to unregulated markets where they will have no protection from crime or problem gambling-related activities.”

Similarly, the white paper suggests the UKGC update its “design rules for online products” and initiate a consultation on whether to bring in maximum individual stake limits for online slots of between £2 ($2.40) and $15 ($18.20). The exercise furthermore recommends setting a maximum £4 ($4.80) constraint per spin for players aged between 18 and 24.

Alongside these, the white paper calls for the passage of even more legislation to protect those under the age of 18 from gambling-related harms. The exercise suggests such statutes include a ban on minors accessing society lottery and football pool products, an improvement in age verification measures for on-course bookmakers and a provision to set 18 as the minimum slot machine cash-payout age.

Donoughue says the recommendations for those under the age of 25 are “a pure overreaction” akin to “using a sledgehammer to crack a very small nut.” Although this group is known to be more prone to problem gambling, the consultant asserts such moves would constitute the “collective punishment” of millions of punters “based on the mental health issues of a few thousand.”

Other proposals included within the white paper encompass a review to ensure incentives such as complimentary bets, bonuses and VIP schemes are being offered in a socially responsible manner, the development of a new evidence-based model to independently gauge safe gambling messaging, and a move to give punters more choice when it comes to the receipt of direct marketing materials.

Additionally, the white paper calls for the inauguration of an independent gambling ombudsman to adjudicate between operators and customers on a range of social responsibility and gambling harm complaints. In making this recommendation, the document says such an entity could help to rectify around 2,000 grievances annually put before the UKGC’s contact center.

Away from players, the exercise suggests the government conduct a review into the UKGC’s license fees so as to allow the regulator to set its own levies while simultaneously permitting it to block internet service providers and payment enterprises from offering access to unlicensed online domains. The white paper finishes by proposing the establishment of a statutory operator levy with any proceeds being used for the promotion and funding of research, education and treatment programs.

As to when or if any of these proposals will actually make it into law, Steven Myers from Praxis Consulting and Advisory says the slow implementation process could lead to a delay until after the next general election, which may well result in a change of governing party. This may not come until December of next year, while the former Genting executive moreover declares “there is still much to debate” although the issues have recently “degenerated into a series of opposing views for pro- or anti-gambling groups with little middle ground” as the quality of discourse continues to be “somewhat underwhelming.”

“Where gambling is concerned, the U.K. has a history of drafting legislation that does not necessarily deliver on the sentiment intended, and we may well ultimately see some variations of the current discussions on frictionless affordability checks, online staking and communications consent,” Myers says. “I doubt that either side of the debate will come out of the process feeling completely happy as and when any changes are implemented.”

—Alan Campbell

 

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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