Ok, so we're back from our latest excursion to London for the annual ICE and LAC events. I believe Bryan is doing a big write-up that'll cover most of the play-by-play and factoid type stuff so that leaves me free to do what I like doing best: personal observations, impressions and prognostications. The same-old-same-o in other words.
First thing I gotta say is that LAC was a far better event this year, IMO. In the past it was a cramped, labrynthine place that smelled of sweat, greed and a vague sense of impending violence. It was as if you let a shark design a day care center: something wasn't right and it felt bad.
This year LAC was held in a much bigger space which gave it a welcome bit of elbow room, and it felt a whole lot more civilized. The binary thugs were thankfully exiled to the upper level which left those of us who don't make a living bilking the elderly out of their pension funds to go about our business unmolested. And so we did! We got good work done in those couple days and I give the whole effort two thumbs up. Thankfully the location was not so far out as to make us feel exiled and we were able to end LAC by sitting in a fine neighbourhood pub that was blissly free of LAC people like us. Thank you Richard for finding that and sharing a lovely few hours to wind down.
So what about LAC then? Well, an industry oldtimer we talked to put it this way: "there hasn't been any new alliliate business for two years, so why is this event bigger than ever?" Good question! There has been a distict thinning of the ranks amongst affiliates in the past year or two, the smaller and/or lazier guys are pretty much a disappearing breed. But at the same time there are significant pressures at the top of the food chain to make good affiliate business more important than ever. So the affiliates who can survive the current business climate are doing what they need to do: toughen up, diversify, expand and aquire. Rather like the rest of the industry I'd say. One last thing about LAC: decent food this year! Thank you Alex, much appreciated.
More or less sandwiched between LAC and ICE we held our little event, the annual Meister Meeting
. Some years the Meister Meeting is good and some years it is great but this year it was the best! We've had bigger turnouts but this year just hit that sweet spot where everything was about as good as you could have asked for. I can think of no other event on the calendar where people from all parts of the industry -- big operators, casino managers, affiliates, seasoned players, you name it -- from all over the world can hang out and simply enjoy each other's company. No pressure, no expectations, just free pints and casual conversation. Superb! Big thanks to Club World
And then everything flips and the faithful make the pilgrimage out to ExCel (for details see the intro to last year's ICE report here
). Ever been to a place you strongly dislike but you go there because everyone else does and it would be stupid to say "No!". That's pretty much what ICE is like at ExCel, calling it a necessary evil isn't much of an over-statement.
When we arrived at ExCel, the queues to get in for registration were unreal! Many hundreds of people deep. Registration itself was pretty much a mosh pit and seemed to take forever. And when we eventually did get our badges I was ready to call it Miller Time and find a pub. No such luck.
Bryan and I wandered around a bit and one of us said "ICE is ICE" which pretty much summed it up. We had a couple good meetings, learned that in spite of the disorganization the UKGC processes are slowly falling into place. Also heard about some very up-beat sounding changes happening in Malta that might mean the recent name change to MGA
is more than an empty re-branding exercise. This could be a very good thing given the surge in Malta licencees over the past year or so.
We talked to execs at two of the largest software providers and they're finally saying openly what many of us have surmised for a few years: casino operators that licence games from multiple software vendors are far less likely to listen to the wishes of any one vendor. In other words the software providers now have considerably less influence over the activities of those casinos than they did back in the days when single-source licencing was the norm. Not such a good thing when you're trying to get a rogue operator to clean up their act or do the right thing by players that have been cheated. The words "progressive jackpot abuse" come to mind but the software guys just say "we pay the operator and then it's out of our hands". The bottom line is that one of the checks and balances against operator misbehaviour has pretty much dissolved away, not a good thing.
We had our annual meeting with the Kahnawake people to catch up on the latest news there. Chairman Dean Montour announced that he'll be stepping down effective March 31 which I for one am sorry to hear. We knew this was coming, I believe his term has been extended a couple of times, but he's one of the very few individuals in the business who can be credited with leaving the online gaming industry a significantly better place than he found it. As I've said before the changes at Kahnawake have seriously lifted the bar for i-gaming regulators around the world and it's no exaggeration that the transformation at Kahnawake is now being taken as the model for change in other jurisdictions. Needless to say I wish Dean the very best in whatever challenge he turns to next. On that subject he's only said "I'll be around" and I very much hope that he is. Other news at Kahnawake includes the expansion of their player self-exclusion services, their new Inter-Juristictional Authorization (IJA) to allow casinos licensed elsewhere to host their services and/or personnel in Kahnawake, and their new (?) live-dealer Studios. I expect these will be discussed in detail elsewhere.
Of course we had the usual list of lunch and dinner engagements to kick back a little with a few of our friends in the biz. This years highlight had to be Outlaw's at The Capital Hotel: unreservedly superb! Many thanks to our gracious and generous hosts.
As we usually do Bryan and I spent a good part of the last afternoon sitting in a pub chatting about Casinomeister and kicking around ideas for the coming months. Or coming hours as the case may be since Bryan has already got the Meister Mall
online and open for business. Yay, Casinomeister merchandise!
So there you have it, the Max view on LAC/ICE 2015: a few revelations, a couple of bright lights for the future, a let-down or two, a couple of evenings I still don't remember too well and a lot more pints than one person should drink in a single week. Looking forward to next year!