21 February 2013
International Casino Exhibition 2013 - London Affiliate Conference - London
And here we go again - Casinomeister's annual ICE report. If reading about the nuances of London, trippy people, bitchin' restaurants, and online gaming is your thing, then read on...
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ICE 2013 - London
Monday - Arrival:
Portrait of a lady...
Photographic proof of the following events can be found here.
I really love London, and those who know me or who follow my yearly excursion would know this well. Since 2001, I've been hoofing it to London attending the ICE and now the LAC - two conferences/exhibitions that involve the online gaming industry, but within two different spectrums. But more on that in a few. One of the best things about the trip is the city itself...
...and my pilgrimages. One in particular is the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square. In London, the national museums are free - just like they should be. You should never have to pay to experience art like this. During my yearly tour, I try to spend a few minutes loitering in front of 500 year old painted canvases looking at the people who lived a half millenia ago - it helps putting things into perspective before the conference mayhem begins. Two of my favorites are here and here - I would have invited them for a meal 500 years ago. They look like they had a lot of tales to share.
It also helps catching a movie before it all begins. I had time for Stephen Spielberg's "Lincoln". It was ok. I'm a fan of Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Fields - great job from both of them. I just find Spielberg movies a little too overly dramatic - at times being saccharine sappy, e.g. the opening scene with the recitation of the Gettysburg address - "meh".
But capping off the evening with good food and company was the plan. I had a very nice dinner with Max Drayman and the folks from Kahnawake at Langan's Brasserie. It was quite a nice meal - and it was great catching up with these folks. More on Kahnawake later.
Early to bed - early to rise, well that doesn't happen in this town - but we did our best. Max and I ambulated back to Trafalgar square eager to find our respective rooms at the Grand, and to commence on the ICE first thing in the morning.
Tuesday - ICE Day One:
Earl's Court - I long for thee...
This year was different. Instead of the International Casino Exhibition being held at Earl's Court, we were obligated for a long tube ride and a connection to the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) - to the Excel. The docklands - yes, it was as appealing as it sounds. What a desolate bore of a place. The Excel is gargantuan in size, and just sucks you in. The exhibition hall is/was massive - and sure, it can hold all of the exhibitors' stands, but this was a prime example of "mine is bigger than yours." I have to admit, there were a number of modest booths - pragmatic functionability; brochures laid out, stack of business cards, free pens, and a couple of smiling sales reps. But these were few and far between. Microgaming had a massive cocktail bar (not free), and a separate two-story structure that had bouncers at the foot of the stairs. Playtech had erected an apartment building I'm guessing with private bathrooms. Max had it spot on: "...same noise, same hawkers, same scantily-clad booth babes wearing silly outfits to (supposedly) make you forget that you couldn't give two shits about whatever crap it is they've been hired to peddle..." What is important though, are the meetings and/or networking that we had scheduled.
Our first meeting was with Betfred's rep who was prepared to explain completely what had happened during the Finsoft/Spielo Games issue that was widely reported in our forum and then some. My main concern was the status of the investigation, and what safeguards were in place to prohibit this from happening again. What most people have not understood about this situation is its complexity, and with proper licensing (the GRA for one), there is time-consuming due diligence, auditing, reports from differing companies, and a menagerie of persons involved. After my meeting with the rep, I was satisfied that they have done what they should have done in this circumstance. My comments here.
We had another productive meeting - this time with the reps for Jackpot Party - and there is a fantastic promo coming up - I'm sure the winners will want to give me a "kiss" when it's over.
Max and I wandered about for a bit more - and decided that we needed some fish and chips. Even though the Excel had an almost endless string of food-courtish cafes and sandwich counters, we needed a pub. And there is no pub anywhere around these "docklands", so we headed back to the west end where we were able to partake in beer-battered fish, pints, and a discourse on Casinomeister.
One thing that we discussed was the PABs. After years of PABs being processed and resolved, (one way or the other), we only have the archives and quarterly reports posted on the site. We decided that it would be a good idea to post the current PABs and their status - and I've done that here. At the moment there are about twenty some-odd PABs open - only six of these have corresponding threads. Just goes to show that there is plenty going on in the background in our complaints section.
Voice from the past
- ICE 2008
I don't come here to hang out in booths, I come to talk to people, to meet with them get to know them and their operations. My digital recorder, lost in my backpack and belonging to some thief right now, was to assist me in making some unprecedented interviews with figureheads of this industry�so I bought a new one, and put it to good use.
Ed Ware, the operator of 32Red, was my first guest and we met in a rustic pub just down the road from the ICE. Our conversation was very informative. He touched on his policies on how his casino handles problem gamblers (which is a hot topic in the UK), and his casino's relationship with US players. This is an operator truly dedicated to this industry and to his players. This is what operating a casino should be all about, and it's nice seeing this personified. You can listen to this interview here.
Meister Meeting: Tuesday's main event - and one of the highlights of the trip was the Meister Meeting - a meeting at Waxy O'Conners in Leicester Square that we do every year. And as always - it was great. It was a extremely satisfying experience hanging out with old friends, and meeting members from the forum that I've never met before, and hearing Irish pub music from and two band members of the local Bible Code Sundays.
The feedback that I get is usually the same each year - it's the best meet up. Low key, plenty of jocular jovialities, and early enough in the week before everyone gets strung out with a flood of meetings and business dinners. Thanks Club World Casino for their sponsorship.
From there, a few of us meandered to the Joy King Lau restaurant around the corner. This is definitely a hidden gem - I've been there a few times and it's really, really good. The deep fried tofu is to die for. No doubt about that.
The evening turned to a blur as we went on to the obligatory O'Neills, hung out there for a bit and headed to the Hippodrome Casino - a relatively new hangout for us.
Wednesday - ICE Day Two:
Back to the Excel. I was starved and needed a bite to eat before our meeting with the Kahnawake folks. Ah ha! I could order a fried egg muffin with bacon at the exhibition hall. Little did I know that when you say "fried egg" in British English, this means that the yolk is especially fluid and dripping with clear snotty chicken embryo substance. I tried to be as discreet as possible during our meeting, but it's hard when runny egg yolk is dripping all over your hands - and I forgot to snag a napkin at the take-out stand (sorry Kahnawake). It was a great meeting. The Kahnawake Gaming Commission is making strides forward with its transparent and effective complaints procedures and reports. In fact, it is the only gaming jurisdiction that posts a disputes resolution summary. The same goes with its Player Self-Limitation and Self-Exclusion Summary.
This is a jurisdiction that has done a 180 degree turn from a few years back. I only wish that some of their peers would do the same (IOM, UKGC, GRA, et al.). Good going KGC - I'm looking forward to next year's meeting. I promise no runny egg mess next time.
Max and I met Jay from Red Rabbit Casino - a contender for the Baptism by Fire. It seems they have their act together - so we'll see.
And then lunch - Max and I had to head out once again for some deep fried battered fish. We had to prep ourselves since we were scheduled to have pints with some of the guys from Sports InterAction at the Ship & Shovel pub by Charing Cross. This is another one of our yearly pilgrimages. Some people chose to pilgrimage to holy sites like Mecca and Lourdes - we choose pubs in London.
It was mirth all around - and after a couple of hours, Max and I mosied on to the Salisbury pub at St. Martin's Lane meeting Ed Ware and co. What an awesome pub - famous for its etched Victorian glass and amicable ambience. When it's dark and rainy outside, this is where you want to be. There always seem to be famous faces about since this is in the theater discrict - we spotted Nigel Havers - who slipped out at a moment's notice.
From there we ventured to The Ivy - our dinner spot for the night. This was a place to be seen - and to look for others who may be worthy of seeing. What I found whimsical was the co-ed toilets. You are standing at the urinal and in walk the ladies. The night wore on - it was a very memorable experience.
Voice from the past
- ICE 2006
That evening I - and a number of very cool webmasters and personalities in the online gaming world met with Ed Ware, Patrick Harrison, and Lee Simmonds from 32Red
at Quaglinos' Restaurant on Bury street. It's a brightly lit modern English restaurant which serves modern English food. Some of the people joining us were Ted Loh, the webmasters for the Japanese portal Online Casino Fan
, Online Casino Reviewer
, and forum member Vinylweatherman
. The service was slow as hell, but it gave me the chance to find out that Ed Ware and I share many commonalties music-wise. I had no idea he was a big Joe Strummer fan (the Clash), and really into the new wave punk scene when it was happening. Some of my best "rock and roll" memories come from DEVO's performances in Santa Cruz 1979, 1980, Elvis Costello's Armed Forces tour and a myriad of other blurry memories. It was nice to finally talk to someone who could relate.
Thursday - ICE Day Three:
I didn't spend much time at the ICE that day - in fact, I spent the morning at The Grange Hotel at St. Paul's (the official hotel for the LAC) since many people were meeting up there. Met the Intercasino people who are hoping to have more presence on the site - I more or less told them it's up to them. We have a specific forum at Casinomeister where casino reps can post their current or special promos. It's all here.
That afternoon it was our annual lunch with the iNetBet guys. The Roka at Canary Wharf was our venue - totally first-class - some of the best sushi ever. The conversation began with a few current issues in the forum - which were articulated and resolved. And the conversation moved on to Tarentino and his recent films - and discussing favorite movie soundtracks and composers (Bernard Hermann, Danny Elfman, Ennio Morricone et al.).
From there we were back at the Grange - I was able to meet up briefly with the rep from Monaco Aces congratulating him on a job well done with the Baptism of Fire. They should be on the Accredited list within the next couple of days. I bumped into a few more people wanting to chit-chat, and by this time - I felt something was missing from my trip. Something that had been ticking in the back of my head for the past few days. I hadn't seen "The Hobbit" yet on the big screen; my son had seen it in Germany (in German) and I had promised him I'd see it while in London. What choice did I have at this point? I decided to slip away and play hooky - I went to the movies.
That was probably one of the best decisions of the week. What a fantastic film! I really enjoyed the Lord of the Ring films, but I found that if you weren't too familiar with the tales of Middle Earth, it was easy to get disoriented. Too many names of characters, places and things - these films need repetitive showings.
But "The Hobbit" was a pleasant surprise - an engaging character-driven story. When the last scene played out (after nearly three hours) I was thinking - "that was it??" I longed for more - I yearn for the next installment. (Max is a big Tolkien fan btw so we had additional things to discuss).
Friday - LAC Day One:
Friday was the first official day of the of the London Affiliate Conference. I was anticipating this event since it's become a bit more popular each year - and there were a handful of people I was looking towards to meeting - besides, the Paddy Power booth hosts a FREE Guinness bar. I was also moderating a panel discussion late that morning, and I was especially looking forward to that. Not just because of the intriguing and highly informative topic - "Inside Players' Minds", but because there was rumor of a small group of forum trolls who were planning to highjack the discussion with their misguided and ill-informed agenda laden bullshit.
I was ready for a verbal throw down, but alas, I was dissapointed - they were either no-shows, or cowering in the back row somewhere too chicken-shit to confront me in person. But this is typical for forum nobodies - these trolls. Their importance to the affiliate community and gaming industry is bloated in their tiny heads. Talk is cheap. And as expected - it was all bluster. Fine - that's one less bug to squash.
Besides the slight mental distraction, it was a good panel discussion: Greedygirl: expertise is with US players, marketing strategies, and Vegas casinos; KasinoKing: is an active affiliate and big time bonus player; Maxd: complaints manager and moderator at Casinomeister. These were the panelists.
We discussed whether or not affiliates were doing their part in keeping casino complaints to a minimum - and what they could do better to serve players effectively. Players have needs and wants (two separate things) and affiliates and operators need to understand these to become a positive force in the industry. Much of this I cover here. We covered current player concerns, and how well operators and affiliates are meeting those concerns. Not very well was the consensus (as we agreed last year).
The day flew by - I had a quick lunch with Max and Tom (Club World's Manager) - mmmm... Fish 'n Chips - I can't get enough. Max and Tom have an annual pow-wow on anything outstanding, or where improvements can be made, and it's all good.
I met up with the operator of the Main Street Group. If you recall, the Mainstreet Group of casinos were an accredited group for years, but they had some processing issues a couple of years ago and were removed from the site. I've been assured that everything is functioning as it should be. They will be re-entered into the Baptism by Fire section here shortly.
That afternoon, I met up with The Pogg to discuss briefly the Betfred/Finsoft fiasco - talk about webmaster stuff, and to chill and have a couple of beers (thank you again Paddy Power). He mentioned in his blog here that he hadn't expected me to be so tall. And I hadn't expected him to be so Scottish . He's a pleasant bloke, and I hope he does well in the industry. He has a lot to offer.
That evening crept up fast - and it was the iGB Affiliate Awards dinner. And honestly, I think this was the last time I attend. It was really nice - don't get me wrong, but I think I enjoy a more intimate locale with close friends - which I was able to do after the awards show.
Every year they have a comedian - this year it was some Canadian - and he really sucked. He was painful to watch - his jokes fell flat - his last yarn was a joke from the Internet. (In fact, it's probably in one of my newsletters.) I can't remember what we ate, but I would have rather had the deep fried tofu from Joy King Lau.
We were entertained by dancers in Soviet garb. I'm usually pretty astute to thematic nuances. But this - I couldn't wrap my head around it. A Soviet Cold War theme is a bit extraneous. I just didn't get it.
But there are the awards (more important than some Russian dancers and comedic milquetoast) - you can check them out here.
I was like Cinderella. I needed to get back to my room by midnight since I was catching an early flight back home the next morning. School vacation was kicking off and we had planned to drive down to Austria for a few days of skiing, (which actually turned a bit disastrous since both kids sustained injuries to their left arm - one broken wrist/one torn tendon). Nevertheless, I made it back in one piece and am now churning out this newsletter. Well, actually I'm finished with it since you are reading it right now. Thanks for getting this far - you are a true trooper.
Voice from the past
- ICE 2001
I've had a couple of weeks to contemplate my experiences of the Interactive Casino Exhibition and would have to say it was overall a
satisfying experience, but it was too small. It was great seeing the faces behind the websites and emails I've been in contact with over the past couple of years, but the ICE could have been bigger. There were perhaps only about twenty-five booths; that was it. I
was also surprised by how many "newbies" were in the business, people who have never visited the forums of Casinomeister, Winneronline, Got2bet, or other quality gaming information sites. This was scary. It goes to show that many of these vendors have not done their homework when it comes to finding out what is "really" happening in the online gaming world. It was the "oldtimers", people who have been
in the business for a while, who knew about our sites, and consequently, understood the importance of sites like ours. This new budding industry has a lot to learn.
Photographic proof of the events can be found here.
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