Showing Off: Expo Fills Many Roles for Gaming Industry

By Liz Benston, Las Vegas Sun
12 September 2005

Starting today, thousands of casino operators and vendors will descend on the world's gambling capital for Global Gaming Expo, the industry's largest trade show.

What began as a showcase for newfangled slot machines several years ago has ballooned into a major convention covering every aspect of the business, from restaurants and architecture to financing and legal compliance.

"The industry worldwide realizes that this is the show to come to," said Judy Patterson, executive director of the American Gaming Association, the country's premier trade group for commercial casinos.

The AGA organizes the event with Reed Exhibitions. The show runs through Thursday.

About 27,500 people are expected to attend Global Gaming Expo, now in its fifth year. That's about 10 percent higher than a year ago, a growth rate that put the show in Tradeshow Week's top 50 fastest-growing events nationwide.

More than 700 vendors from 107 countries will display their wares, and attendees will sit in on some 172 conference sessions, 23 percent more than a year ago.

As the industry grows globally, international attendance has soared, organizers say. About 20 percent of the trade show floor is represented by non-U.S. companies -- a 32 percent increase from 2004.

New this year are special exhibit areas on managing air quality and smoking in casinos, emerging technologies and nongaming amenities -- which are now making more money for some Strip casinos than gambling and are a growing part of smaller casinos worldwide.

For the increasing number of casinos and operators that are newer to the business, the Global Gaming Expo is an opportunity to scout out Las Vegas casinos and see the latest games.

For Las Vegas operators, which have regular meetings with slot makers and have easier access to new technology than some of their peers who are farther afield, it's a networking opportunity and an overview of what's available under one roof.

For the more than 200 reporters and other media registered to attend, it's a rare moment to get acquainted with an insular industry that will throw off its veil of mystique, if only for four days, and offer a closer look at how slot machines are made and casinos are managed.

For some attendees, it's an opportunity to strike deals.

AGA members say the show is an "important part of their decision-making," Patterson said.

"I don't think you'd see the growth in the number of exhibitors and growth in registration numbers (otherwise)," she said. "Each year the growth exceeds our expectations."

Some celebrities will be on hand to introduce slot machines bearing their likenesses, including actress Morgan Fairchild, artist Gene Simmons and comedian George Lopez. Celebrity speakers include CNN's Larry King, Cirque du Soleil Producer Franco Dragone and entertainers Clint Holmes, Rita Rudner and Wayne Newton.

While hundreds of slot machines will be on display, some slot makers say they are more focused on showing games that can actually be purchased in the coming months rather than slots with a release date of a year or more or whizbang prototypes that might never make it into casinos.

"Operators have asked us to concentrate on things they can buy now," said Ed Rogich, vice president of marketing for International Game Technology. "Instead of previewing a couple of years out, 90 percent of our product (will be released) in the next three to six months."

Games face their true test on the casino floor rather than at Global Gaming Expo, he said.

At Station Casinos properties, about 30 to 40 percent of the company's slot machines are replaced or otherwise converted in a year, Roy said.

Operators say competition is better than ever among the slot makers now that they all have some form of "cashless" machine that accepts tickets instead of coins.

Cashless machines with video displays have allowed manufacturers to introduce low-denomination machines such as penny slots, which let gamblers play longer by betting a penny or "credit" at a time.

"Everybody's on the penny bandwagon now," Roy said. "The market is more competitive than it's been in years past because all the manufacturers have new product that's doing well. As an operator, you have more leverage."

At Sam's Town, one of the largest off-Strip casinos in Las Vegas, Director of Operations Andre Filosi is also on the lookout for new technology.

"Manufacturers are probably better able to explain (downloadable) gaming" than in years past, he said. "But there are lots of regulatory approvals that need to happen and a lot of steps that need to be taken first."

Like other operators, Filosi said he's a shrewd buyer of licensed, or branded, slots. They are more expensive for operators because they require casinos to share their revenue with the slot makers. That means they will only take up a relatively small percentage of slots in the casino, regardless of how many catchy brands the slot makers introduce.

"Those are looked at closely to make sure they are top performers," Filosi said. We believe there's a place on our floor for them."

While slot machines with pop culture brands will once again take the limelight at this year's show, the major buzz will surround the innards of future slots.

So-called downloadable games, which are not yet approved by regulators in Nevada and many other parts of the world, allow casinos to change out slot games from a central computer server. Today, casinos update their games by changing each slot's computer chip or by simply buying an entirely new game.

"We'll have the ability to take games and adjust to what people want to play, said Dan Roy, senior vice president of operations for Station Casinos Inc. "We'll have a chance to go into a tournament mode very quickly."

Alliance Gaming Corp. Chief Executive Richard Haddrill said the games will take a year or two to be approved and accepted by customers.

It will likely be a slow process and will only be adopted on part of the casino floor to test customers' reactions, he said.

After three or four years, downloadable games will become an important casino management tool allowing operators to raise the denomination of machines and change pay tables with the push of some buttons, Haddrill said. Game content also will improve, he said.

"Video content has exploded and the shelf life is getting shorter," he said.

With the continued popularity of poker, new versions of table games and table management systems -- which are still being tested at a handful of casinos -- will have a bigger presence at this show.

The biggest game makers are using technology adopted by retail and other industries to develop "intelligent tables" that can read chips and cards -- allowing pit bosses to track exactly how much customers are betting, which cards are dealt and therefore, how profitable their games are. Two major systems will be on display at the show -- tables with "optical" readers and tables can read radio frequency identification (RFID) tags embedded in chips and cards.

Related Links
Global Gaming Expo (G2E) Gaming Vendor Information
Global Gaming Expo (G2E) 2005

Copyright © Las Vegas Sun. Inc. Republished with permission.