Monday - Arrival:
London - I love London. It's difficult not to feel glimpses of the past in every alleyway, on every crossroad - on every corner. The city's influence on literature, musicians, and artists of every medium is immeasurable. These are the streets where Dickens walked, where Shakespeare mused, where the Beatles were mobbed - and where the Clash partied. Reminders of the Blitz - of heritage, imperialism, and of wars' past, blend into a swarm of pedestrians - a montage of England - now. A great place to sit on a street corner and day dream.
But no time for that (daydreaming) here. I was in London attending the annual International Casino Exhibition (ICEi), and this is the best place to gather information for you, my dear reader, and disseminate it via this newsletter.
The first day in London for me is traditionally my free day; the only day I have on my own uncluttered with meetings, or other dire appointments. Normally, I catch a film or perhaps venture to a museum. This trip I took in no less than two films: "Avatar 3D", which must be seen on a big screen. Please don't wait for it to come out on DVD; see it now before it's too late. Great film - a few holes in the storyline but it's action driven with a couple of villains you can love to hate. Definitely worth seeing.
Film two: "Up in the Air" - a relatively good Clooney film. He's rather funny; a flawed character on a odd mission. And he runs into a few people that really cause him to stop and think. A character driven story that stays with you, and gives you something to talk about later.
Once I got that out of my system - I was ready to roll for the next day. Day one of the ICEi.
Tuesday ICEi Day One:
Meisterly meeting and more...
Max Drayman and I were staying at the same hotel in Trafalgar Square - in fact - roomed right next door to each other. This was convenient, and allowed us to do a lot of chit-chatting along the way via the "tube".
Upon arrival at the ICE, it seemed to be "same ol' same ol'" Same old faces, same howdydo's, but it was a little different. People seemed to be a little more energized - or maybe it was that they were just "fresh" since this was the first day of the conference.
Max and I toured the floor, and one of the first the persons we ran into was Enzo, from 3Dice Casino. He's one of the most knowledgeable and upfront casino managers out there. We picked his brain a bit on what's been going on at 3Dice.
Enzo brought up some good points about max cashouts, and why they are bad...for the player. Max eloquently discusses this here in his (new) section "Max's Corner".
...any given player has a certain chance of a big hit. If they take a "max cashout" bonus and hit on it then (a) they only get paid a small fraction of the true win and (b) their chances of hitting again anytime soon are pretty slim. In other words they've blown their big chance.
Another dark secret of the "max cashout" is that the casino records apparently report that the win was paid in full and thus counts on the payout they advertise on that game. In truth though most of the win was clawed back so the game is actually paying out at a much lower percentage than it would otherwise seem. (I hope I've got that right.)...
In short, max cashout bonuses are a bad idea. You ought to be avoiding these as much as possible.
I spoke with Microgaming's CEO about the US situation, and it's just a hard fact to deal with that US players are going to have to get used to no more Microgaming. But in the same breath I can say that Microgaming as made a major coup with "The Lord of the Rings" due to be release hopefully by the end of the year. "Thunderstruck II" is also due out in the next month or so - it has stacked wilds - yeah!!
That afternoon we met up with the folks from Lock Casino. I had been looking forward to this since we've been in contact for the past few weeks. They have gotten some very good reviews from the players in our forum, and they were keen on coming on board. After meeting with them, it was obvious that they are clued up on what players (and everyone else for that matter) are looking for in an online casino. They are mostly former Bodog people and hail from Canada. They are currently in our "Baptism by Fire" section. Give them a try!
Late that afternoon was the Meister Meeting at the Atlas Pub right around the corner from Earls Court. This pub seems to be a pilgrimage for us since a lot of us have meandered over there since the first few ICE sessions years ago.
Super thanks to Club World Casinos who sponsored the event. And as always, this is the best party of the conference week (IMO). It's not too loud, not too crowded, you know most everyone - some aquaintences going back a decade, there is never a line to get a drink, and there is always a surprise guest. Last year Montel dropped by; this year it was the poker guy Phil Laak (Unabomber).
In all it was great event - now a tradition. And super special thanks go to Greedygirl who worked out the last minute plans when it turned out Waxy's didn't have enough room for us. Rebecca Liggero did a nice write up on it here
The night turned into a blur as we meandered through Soho, China Town, and back to our respectable places.
Voice from the past
Wednesday ICEi Day Two:
- ICE 2006
I think it was Webzcas' first time at Sushi, and it's always a treat to turn someone onto something a bit exotic - even though for some people, Sushi is quite the norm. Webzcas is the webmaster of Onlinecasinoreviewer.com
, an excellent online casino portal and he's a very sharp and dedicated webmaster. We discussed webmastery things like search engine optimization and how we deal with casino stuff. In fact, one of my missions in London was to meet with various webmasters and talk about what concerns us: webmastering.
Anyway, we left Sushi Uno and delved into the heart of London's Soho district. London is by far my favorite city. There is so much history, so many faces from every nationality and culture, so many people to bump into - it's always crowded. And we made it to the Detroit Bar
, checked my coat and we descended the spiral staircase downward...
A definite highlight of the day was having lunch with the operator of iNetBet. We met at the Bibendum, and had a fine lunch of fish and assorted veggies. Really quite good. The restaurant is stylish, airy and bright - it's the "Michelin House"; the first British headquarters of the Michelin Tire Company commissioned in 1909. It's been restored as a French restaurant and oyster bar. It's worth a look-see if your ever in the South Kensington area.
iNetbet is one of the jewels of a casino at Casinomeister. They've been listed in our accredited section for years and have remained a reliable and principled casino operation. Great people to work with and to know.
From here, we traveled back to the ICE where Max and I were scheduled to meet with the Kahnawake people. This is something I've been anticipating since I was given a heads up a few weeks ago that there were some serious changes being made for the better at Kahnawake.
And I was thoroughly pleased with the meeting. Max and I met with the Chairman and General Counsel of the Gaming Commission, and with Micki Oster who now oversees complaints. Micki, some of you may remember, was the pivitol reason why the Trident Group of casinos was awarded Best Casino Group for three years - she was one of the best operators - ever. I don't think anyone would deny that these casinos were entirely player focused, providing outstanding service, and were 110% fair when it came to whatever issues players were dealing with. This is the best move any entity in the i-Gaming industry has made since I took on Max Drayman as my complaints manager a couple of years ago.
Further: Kahnawake licensed casinos will have seven days to address player complaints. If they fail to do so, these will be flagged and sent to the chairman. And the Gaming Commission has teeth; the casino servers are located on the reservation and if a casino fails to abide by the commission's ruling (whatever it may be), there is a plug in the wall they can pull.
So the KGC is finally getting it together. Within the next several months, we'll be seeing other player friendly implementations: new logos that direct players to good-to-know info on the casino (RTP percentages) etc. Actually, the KGC meeting made the entire trip worth it.
Later, Max and I met up with the CEO of Stryyke Casino and one of his administrators at the 2010 ICE in London. Stryyke was chosen as the runner-up for "Worst Casino 2009" We discussed their previous issues and came to an agreement that they would be placed in our "probation" section for six months to see how things go. We have a direct line of communication now, and they seem to be genuinely concerned about their business and their players. I don't toss casinos into the "Rogue" section to punish them - I do this to give them a wake-up call; that their establishment has areas that call for improvement. We are giving them a chance to get it together, and wish them the best.
So they're out of the pit and under observance for six months. If anyone has any issues with them, please contact Max here.
That evening was another highlight. Dinner with the guys from 32Red. Always classy - always entertaining. We met at the Blue Post in Piccadilly, a typical London pub where we chit-chatted over a pint or two. From there, we sauntered off to Bentley's, an outstanding oyster bar and grill, with the renowned chef Richard Corrigan. The food: stupendous; the wine - phenomenal. And we lasted until the wee hours when they politely asked us to leave.
Some of us ended up at The Empire Casino in Soho. For those of you who like to drink beer (or anything else for that matter), the pubs in London close at 11 pm. Bummer. The only places that stay open late are the casinos. I couldn't be bothered with the games there, but it was nice hanging out with a few friends...until it was really late. I looked at my watch and thought, "Oh boy, 3:30 am is not good..." So I bid everyone adieu - it was way past my bedtime.
Thursday ICEi Day Three:
Voice from the past - ICE 2003
...London has a lot of magic for me; mainly from it's history and it's writers. Dickens was always one of my favorites, and what a delight it was to have a magnificent lunch with PartnerLogic just around the corner from one of Dickens' homes. It was here that he wrote "A Christmas Carol", the story of Eberneezer Scrooge's Christmas ghosts. There is a graveyard across from the restaurant with headstones dating to the 18th century. Dickens probably saw these on his daily walks, and these stones perhaps found themselves intertwined in his stories. The restaurant was on Old Marleybone Road; Scrooge's partner was Marley. Cool stuff. And I digress once more.....
Petebox is the man...
Needless to say - I slept in. But it was fine since Max and I were to meet the Bodog guys for lunch at a Pub around the corner from the hotel. It also gave me a chance to run to the bookstore to get some books for the kids. The morning went fast.
Lunch with the Bodog guys was at the nearby Lord Moon on the Mall; a touristy place, packed, but with great atmosphere and decor. Besides being really crowded, the only thing there that sucked was the Fish and Chips. Not good. A small piece of thawed out dry piece of fish. Very disappointing. We had a great chat though, and headed back to the conference. This was the "end show" last chance to meet up with anyone that you missed meeting up with.
I was to meet up with the CEO of Royal Apollo casino. I was looking down at my schedule - hoping I had the guy's cell number (no luck), and when looking up there standing in front of me was the general manager of the Virtual Casino Group.
"You must hate me," he said. I thought - oh, jeese - here we go again. I replied "No I don't hate you, I just don't like what you do." We had a back and forth discussion about him trying to redeem the Virtual Casino Group, and my reluctance to get myself involved anymore.
To make a long story short, I have given these guys enough chances to get their act together. But their philosophy towards this industry is starkly different than mine. To fleece a player is not an issue to them. And I have been approached by enough ex-employees of the casino group to know that these guys are just plain bad news. They will lie straight in your face and think nothing of it. Take a look at this ICE blast from the past: ICE 2004
...The CEO of the Virtual Casino group has assured me that the Virtual Casino group has turned over a new leaf, they have a new managerial staff that is dedicated to the industry and they have been cleaning up their act...
We also cleared up some misunderstandings about Prism Casino and Cirrus casinos. These casinos had many related identifiers when they were either launched, or under operation. I had pointed this out clearly months ago, and stand by my findings. But it was good to finally hear an explanation as to why. One of the reasons was that the Virtual group was acting as a consulting group to get these guys started. They were sharing server space, email accounts, stats, etc. but as the initial weeks went by they separated into their own identities and business entities. I was not wrong what I have said in the past; I've said that there were identifiers that connected theses casinos to one another. But now I feel it's safe to say that they are separate businesses...
Bullshit. A total pack of lies. The CEO/owner lied to my face. It's six years later, and we all know that Cirrus Casino and Prism are under the same ownership - Virtual Casino. And the deal about the new leaf? This was prior the big $1.5 million cheat scandal, so what's up with the leaf thing? At the moment they can speak to the hand, and this is what I expressed to their general manager. I have no interest in dealing with these people at all.
That evening was the iGaming Awards - really a good show. The food wasn't bad at all, and it was nice seeing a lot of familiar faces. The best thing however, was the entertainment. I thought they would have a comedian like last year's event (apparently, I was the only one laughing - the rest of the audience sounded like crickets), but this was amazing: Petebox is a musician who makes "beat box" music with his mouth. But he's also a master of looping. You need to check out some of his videos at Youtube here, and you'll see what I mean this guy is great.
There was also the presentation of a check of £65k from industry folk to Oxfam's Haiti relief. Casinomeister members had contributed nearly $25k for this charity. This amount was matched by Calvin Ayre which amounts to about $50k. Amazing stuff - and we ran our charity drive for only four days. What an awesome force our members are.
And then there were the awards, and the evening wore on and lasted too long...
Voice from the past
Friday: London Affiliate Conference
- ICE 2009
As Sue Schneider's farewell party was packed. We were on one of those Thames river party boats - taking a cruise up and down the river, partaking in jovial jocularities, and it was great seeing so many familiar faces of those who have been in the industry as long as Sue has. It was a great way to start a week.
The dinner turned out to be a roast - a roast of Sue. Mark Balestra (our MC) began with how he was unsure whether or not the dinner dress code was formal or informal, but seeing that Sue was wearing shoes proclaimed that the dinner was formal. We had a lot of laughs at her expense that night. Even so, it's going to be a shame seeing this fine lady go off to wherever e-gaming icons go when they retire. She'll definitely be missed.
And the boat food was surprisingly good.
Listen to the players...
It was being held at Old Billings Gate, but the taxi drivers weren't really sure where to go exactly. It's a bit non-descript.
The LAC was obviously well attended - one level of booths, and another level suited for meeting places and to get a free water. My primary mission was to host a panel discussion featuring players Vinylweatherman, thelawnet, (Sloster couldn't make it), and PAB manager Maxd. It was the first time that players were taking part in a panel discussion, and it was due time in my opinion.
But before the discussion, I had the chance to meet the operators of Casino Titan who have gotten rave reviews in our forum. They are in our Baptism by Fire section now - you can give them a try, or wait until they are fully "Accredited".
From there, I mosied on down to the where the discussion panel was to be hosted. Unfortunately it was in the middle of the exhibition floor and the acoustics weren't the greatest.
We discussed what makes for a good casino - what turns players on - what turns them off. What they look for when signing up and what convinces them to deposit. They also gave their advice to casino operators and affiliates on what to do and what not to do. It went over pretty well, and never enough time to cover everything. Many thanks to Vinylweatherman and thelawnet who made this happen - it's very much appreciated.
That evening was spent with the Intertops guys. 26 Smithfield Restaurant on 26 Smithfield road. For some reason, this was also a problem for the cabbies.
The pub/restaurant was nice 'n cozy - a large party room ustairs. Odd waiters, (one looked a little like Joey Ramone but with shorter hair), but the food was really good. I was rather surprised - and thanks to everone at Intertops!
And that was it - I was on the plane the next morning wondering, "Where did the week go?" I didn't do half of the things I wanted to do - no National Gallery, no Sushi, no book store marathons...but it was a very good trip. And I'm anticipating some good things ahead.
Voice from the past - ICE 2005
And then it was time to go, so much more to tell, but not enough room nor time to tell it. But believe you me, this industry has so much going for it, and so much to offer - from reaching into our deep pockets and helping victims of the tsunami to being committed to the safety and enjoyment of players of casino games, I'm a really happy camper.
Photographic proof of the events can be found here.