Top 10 observations from ICE North America

20 May 2019

Last week, the inaugural ICE North America took place at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, with an emphasis on sports betting in the U.S. and esports.

For those of us based in the Boston headquarters of Casino City and the GPWA, it was exciting to finally see the industry come to our hometown. Here, we provide 10 observations from the first ICE North America after spending the week roaming the conference floor and attending some of the sessions, with the hope that this was the first of many gaming conferences to land in our neck of the woods.

10. Sugar Ray Leonard
On Tuesday, guests at the conference got a special appearance from a boxing legend. Sugar Ray Leonard stopped by the media lounge to tell his story and take a few photos with some adoring fans.

Leonard, who won world titles in five different weight divisions, is considered one of the best of all time in his sport. He also signed a few boxing gloves and tossed them into the crowd for some lucky fans to bring home.

An appearance by one of the biggest names in boxing history is a good way to engage any sports fan, as well as kick off the sports betting talks throughout the conference.

9. Networking
With over 30 exhibitors on the conference floor for two full days, meeting and speaking with others was a must last week.

ICE North America provided a great opportunity to exchange ideas, products and conversations with hundreds of people, and it also included a couple of extra events to make networking even more of a focal point.

On 13 May, ICE North America hosted TEN Investors’ Day. This was a half-day event for members of Clarion Gaming’s Executive Network and some other invitees. There were sessions about sports betting investment and investment option decisions.

Another focal point was the two-day International Legislators’ Agenda in association with National Council of Legislators from Gaming States. This was composed of a few session from the ICE VOX North America agenda and covered some key themes, including the Wire Act, royalty fees and mobile wagering.

8. The mixers
On top of the networking chances, the mixers that ICE North America offered were another way of conversing with people in the industry outside of work.

On 13 May, there was a mixer at Bleacher Bar inside Fenway Park in Boston. Each night of the conference, a mixer was held for those who wanted to go grab a drink and talk sports, esports, gambling or anything they wanted.

So between the mixers each night and the constant networking opportunities during the day, there was a lot of discussion between companies and individuals.

7. Educational sessions
There were four different areas with sessions taking place throughout the conference. Each had a different feel to it.

The Boardroom was specifically a panel discussion that would field some questions from the audience after the moderator’s questions were answered. The Elevator was used for presentation-type sessions, and Hive had more of a networking feel, where the speakers would have conversations with the audience rather than a presentation with one person speaking the entire time. Finally, Counsel was an area for debate, where the audience could choose a side or voice its opinion to the guest speakers.

Within these four types of sessions, topics were covered in different ways to keep the audience intrigued. I attended several sessions, mostly in the Boardroom with a panel, which I will get into more detail about below as we turn our attention toward the products and key concerns for sports betting and esports.

6. Integrity fees
During a couple of sessions, one point that was brought up quite often was the "integrity fees" that some sports leagues are hunting for in regards to sports betting. In short, some sports leagues are hoping to receive a certain amount of the sports betting handle. An integrity fee is basically a tax, where sportsbook operators would pay the leagues a .25% fee based on the amount wagered on their events.

Major League Baseball, the PGA TOUR and the National Basketball Association have been the most aggressive in going after the controversial integrity fee. However, the National Football League would rather have books buy their data rather than pursuing an integrity fee. The National Hockey League is just aiming to make deals and is willing to take or leave the integrity fee to just move the process forward, according to Sara Slane, senior vice president of Public Affairs at the American Gaming Association.

This seemed to be a topic that doesn’t have a clear-cut answer yet, but which will surely see more progress and unfold throughout 2019.

5. Esports
Esports has become a big part of the gaming industry, and now can even be bigger with sports betting.

Many believe that for bettors to be able to place wagers on video games in the future, it is just a matter of having the proper guidelines and rules to go along with that idea. It could really boost that aspect of the gaming industry and attract more consumers as well.

4. DraftKings
On Tuesday morning, I went to a panel with DraftKings’ CEO Jason Robins, who spoke on a variety of topics. It was only natural for the daily fantasy sports giant to be involved in the show, since its headquarters are based in Boston.

First, Robins mentioned that, from DraftKings' perspective, golf is the most popular offering among the U.S., European and Australian markets. Most would assume that one of the four major sports would be in that position, but regaining one of the most, if not the most, well-known golfers in history when Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters Tournament surely helped golf and the PGA rise for DraftKings.

Another point Robins made was that DraftKings is feeding off the success that sports betting is having. He believes that people who watch sports do so because they want to root for an outcome, which they can do by playing daily fantasy sports or being involved in sports betting.

3. Daily fantasy sports
Sports betting is good for daily fantasy sports in the eyes of some of the panelists, including Robins. So, for those who are engaged in DFS and don’t want to see it dwindle away, there is no need to worry.

Robins spoke about how, because of the research done on sports betting, DFS sites such as DraftKings are making adjustments and finding out what consumers want more of.

You may also see bettors taking part in both, or flipping back and forth between the two. But in the eyes of the industry, it seems that DFS and sports betting will look to succeed with each other, rather than DFS being hurt because of the growth of sports betting.

2. In-play and prop betting
Prop bets and live betting were mentioned as the main attractions for bettors. This makes sense, since there were more than 100 prop bets for this year’s Super Bowl. They keep the fans and viewers in the game even if a previous bet seems to be failing.

Live betting allows players to follow trends early on in the game and place a bet based on what they have seen so far. It is different than just picking a team to win and then checking later on if they won or not. For live bets, bettors will be much more into the game.

Prop betting has a similar attraction; it could be betting on a number of things. The Super Bowl usually has the over/under on the length of the National Anthem, which is a popular bet. It keeps viewers’ eyes on the screen waiting for their bet to hopefully hit.

In-play betting has shown signs of growing as well. Even before the U.S. Supreme Court abolished the federal ban on sports betting a year ago, in-game sports betting was seeing a huge rise. According to the Las Vegas Review Journal, in-play sports betting, which is already a huge attraction overseas, accounted for more than 20% of the overall wagering handle at William Hill in 2017 in Nevada. Now that it is legal in the U.S. and more states are taking part in sports betting, live betting on sports should thrive.

1. Sports betting broadcasts
At the first two sessions on Tuesday morning, several panelists spoke about different broadcasts during sporting events that have a focus on the sports betting aspect rather than a play-by-play. Jonathan Kraft, president of the New England Patriots and investor-operator of the New England Revolution, along with Wes Edens, co-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, said they see this becoming a real possibility in a few years. Robins emphasized the same thing in the session that followed Kraft and Edens.

It seems that the sports leagues are ready for multiple broadcasts and for consumers to be able to watch a broadcast dedicated to the sports betting side of a game rather than the usual commentating. This would drive fan engagement but more specifically sports bettors.

Just to give you a visual, these broadcasts might entail a bottom line scrolling through potential live bets on the game being shown, trends of the game to help you make live bets, and more. It may also have commentators speaking on betting stats about the game and predictions and so on.

Related Links
DraftKings Site Details
DraftKings Ownership Details
American Gaming Association (AGA) Association Information
National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) Association Information
Ranked Online eSports Sites
Ranked Online Sportsbooks
ICE North America 2019