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4 February 2011

Special Edition
International Casino Exhibition 2011 - London

Dear Reader,

And here we go with Casinomeister's annual ICE report. If reading about the tripiness of London, freaky people, bitchin' restaurants, and online gaming is your thing, then read on...

Reportingly yours,


ICE 2011 - London

Monday - Arrival:
Shiny paint strokes...

Photographic proof of the following events can be found here.

London - my favorite city. Each time I go, I find something new to mesmerize me. Seeped in stoney relics, and graced with the dust of forgotten adventures, this city is a true wonder. Upon my arrival, I quickly found my hotel in Trafalgar square smack dab in the heart of London.

One of the finest things about this great city is that the museums are free. One of my first stops was the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. I only spent a couple of hours there, but it's a fantastic experience. At home, I've just finished watching the first two seasons of "The Tudors" on DVD - and in the National Portrait Gallery, they have a special exhibit about the Tudors. I was simply awed - marveling at the portraits that I've seen so often in history books. Here they were in real life - you could see the brush strokes reflecting the overhead lights - dried paint frozen in time. You must go if you want to blow your mind.

And my obligatory movie...Due Date with Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis was pretty damn funny. A little predictable at times - a bit like Trains, Planes, and Automobiles, but it was good fun.

And then the movie was over. Walking back to my hotel from Leicester Square at 11pm - the streets were packed with party goers - young and old all chattering away. I made a mental note of the Nelson column; it was well lit by a spotlight and I imagined only what his comrades would have imagined if they had a time machine traveling 200 years into the future only to see that modern day Brits still honor the man. But they would have been a bit more freaked out by the monstrous automobiles and buses careening around at that hour of night.

Tuesday - ICE Day One:
Meisterly meeting and more...

Met up with Maxd first thing in the morning, and we headed for the tube station at Charing Cross - going towards the ICE. The International Casino Exhibition is huge - it spreads throughout both Earls Court I and II, and includes all aspects of online and offline gaming. This was my tenth year here. Max and I wandered up and down the exhibition hall bumping into the occasional operator or other industry representative. Gathering information and possibly solving any outstanding player issues was on the top of our agenda, but for the first time, we didn't have any major issues that needed to be dealt with face-to-face. So this event was more of an "observe and learn" situation.

One thing we learned was that there was a lot of old school marketing going on. Old-school marketing involves hiring hot looking scantily clad young females to walk the floor and hand out brochures or whatever. It seemed that this year there were more than enough, they were swarming around us. But then, they could have just heard that I was there. It's tough being me sometimes.

Another thing we observed was that things may be going quite well for Playtech and Microgaming. You can usually get a sense on what track a business is on by the size of their booths - or if they are displaying at all (no Crypto). Playtech's booth stretched for thousands of square feet (no lie). In fact, I wouldn't call it a "booth", a would call it a massive display of corporate spending. There were offices on the floor level, and offices upstairs (photographic proof here). Playtech also seems to be very successful with licensing Marvel and an upcoming Monty Python's Spamalot slot.

Microgaming's presence was massive. What's new: a 3D slot where one wears the classic blue and red 3D glasses. Groovy. Additionally on the horizon, a multi-player live dealer roulette game that allows up to seven players - you can interact and see where others are placing bets. Weee - let's have a roulette party! Ingenious.

We sat with Microgaming's CEO Roger Raatgever for a spell and discussed a few player related issues that were voiced here in our forum. One question that US players are dying to know: when will MGS casinos take them back? Roger said he would take them tomorrow, but as long as the US market is a gray area, it's just not possible. My personal opinion is that it won't happen for years. Sure even NJ might be opening up, but not until the majority of the states (to include the Federal government) get on the same sheet of music, US players will probably have to wait.

There was another issue about game downloads and how to make it "smarter". Also game "favorites" will be totally modifiable in the preferences section of one's account - the favorites will be a bit more user friendly.

All in all it was a nice discussion. I noted how Microgaming's slogan has changed from "we're the game" to "Together, we're the game." It's really true. They have always been open to suggestions and advice to better the player experience.

Lunch with Max was nice. It was next door at The Prince of Wales. We had the standard Fish'n Chips'n two-beer-lunch, and talked about Casinomeister.

One quick note: we've uploaded Max's full year compilation for 2010 of PABs. You can check them out here. This was one item of our lunch discussion; I'm sure you might find these interesting as well.

One thing that we'll probably add next to the stats is "licensing jurisdiction" - does it make a difference where a casino is licensed or if it is licensed at all? You might be surprised at the results.

Back at the ICE: speaking of licensing, Max and I sat with the representatives of the Kahnawake Gaming Commission for about an hour. They went over the changes they have made over the past year (since our last meeting), and discussed plans for the future. I can honestly say that the KGC has finally risen above other licensing jurisdictions with their proactive and responsive approach to their operators and players. I really wish that Malta would wake up and use the KGC as an example on how to conduct itself as an agency that is there to provide players and operators a professional service. Malta for now, is merely an expensive rubber stamp.

From there, Max and I met up with Sara Vincent, the CEO of Purple Lounge. Purple Lounge if you remember, was removed from the Accredited Section last Spring for a bonus term deemed unfair (you can read all about it here). But since then, they have changed the term and the player is being taken care of. Purple Lounge also recommitted themselves to the Casinomeister Philosophy of how to deal with players and affiliates. So to make a long story short, Purple Lounge is back up in the Accredited Casinos section.

Voice from the past - ICE 2003

Well, within 30 seconds of arriving in my hotel room. The phone rings and it's Kevin from Reviewed Casinos wondering why I'm not drinking beer downstairs in the bar. Well, I gave myself ten minutes to unpack, and I made it down there and there was a whole zoo of people that I knew. Ted Loh, Craig Miller, the guys from Reviewed Casinos, Spiral Solutions and Greedy Girl from GoneGambling. Oh what fun we had blabbing away, figuring out what we were going to eat while we drank beer. Sushi it was and we wandered down to a very cool sushi restaurant.

Day turned to evening... and it was time for the annual Meister Meeting at Waxy O'Conners. As usual, it was a real fine turnout of forum members (and a few welcome stragglers). There are always a few faces I've never met before - meeting Cheeky Monkey and Amandajm for the first time was worth the price of the party alone. And of course not only these two, but it was worth it just meeting all of my webmaster buddies, and all the other riff raff who made it down there. Thanks Club World for their sponsorship of another fine Meister Meeting.

That evening a select few of us drifter off next door to an Indian restaurant where Simmo!, the curry king, squared us away with a mesmerizing banquet of mystery meats and sauces that deemed challenging to some of us, especially Maxd whose meal revisited him throughout the night. What joy.

Wednesday - ICE Day Two:
Back on the showroom floor - it was another great turn out of scantly clad young ladies, and a number of others who I was able to get some great gossip from. No it wasn't about you, my dear reader, but about someone else...I digress.

One person to meet was the casino rep from GoWildCasino - the newest member of the Baptism by Fire section. At the moment they have an exclusive Casinomeister No Deposit Bonus - check it out if you're not in the US. GoWild has been around for a little while - they had a rough beginning, but over the past year they've gotten it together. I hope they keep it that way. So far, so good.

For lunch, Max and I met up with the operators of iNetBet for sushi lunch at Yashin in Kensington. The sushi is out of this world, but the restaurant staff frown upon the pedestrian notion of ruining the subtle flavors with soy sauce and wasabi. I guess they were right; the food was fabulous.

We discussed with the iNetBet guys that there seems to be a impression that iNetBet's customer service is curt and sometimes rude. At least that seems to be the gist at times in the forum. Personally, I don't understand it since I've seen their responses. They don't get it either. And if you had met these guys, you'd wonder how that would be. These are two of the most copacetic and pleasant blokes you could hang around with. My suggestion to them was to have their customer service use more smilies in their emails...whatever. I don't know.

Our discussion went from there to a couple of player issues and then progressed to what to do in the Seychelles, what cool bands have you seen, ska and reggae, and our simple lunch digressed into a four-bottles-of-wine-lunch with lots of saké ta boot. We had an open afternoon, so no worries.

Voice from the past - ICE 2006

I met with Micki from Trident Lounge, Brian Cullingworth and Ted Loh at Memories of China on Kensington High street. Now I've eaten a lot of Chinese food in my day. I grew up within 45 minutes of San Francisco's China Town. I had mastered the use of chopsticks at the age of three. I know good Chinese food when I eat it. This was probably the best I've eaten. They had these crispy sesame seed crunchy things for starters which are to die for. The food was fantastic, the service good, and the company very enjoyable. In fact, Sir David Frost was sitting adjacent from us - finished his meal and left.

That evening we ventured into Covent Garden, which was crawling distance from our hotel. Christophers was the objective - having a great meal was the mission. My webmaster buddies Webzcas and Simmo! were there - along side the guys from 32Red - always classy; always entertaining.
The recent court decision concerning 32Red's trademark victory was a topic. In my opinion, this sets a precedent for companies or even webmasters who want to protect their intellectual property rights. This is a very good thing. As the evening wore on, we came to appreciate excellent company, provocative conversation, and extraordinary wine.

Thursday - ICE Day Three:
The last day at ICE was a brief one. I stayed just long enough to browse the IGT stands and some of the land based companies. Also WMS who will be offering games to those in the UK shortly - that's going to be exciting. Biding farewell to Earl's Court, I made it back down to the tube and took the Circle line back to Embankment. Bought some cheddar cheese at Spencers, I then mosied on back the Hotel.

That afternoon was spent mostly with the manager and operator of the Club World Casinos group at the Grange Hotel at St Paul?s. We discussed the whole "student clause" issue. Club World casinos prohibit full time college students to play at their casinos. It's stated in their terms and conditions - in fact it's the very first term they have. Unfortunately, a number of players never read the terms - or they read the terms after it's been pointed out that they've violated them - like our friend Danl who had to forfeit his winnings after it was discovered he was a student.

It has been suggested by some that this casino group only has this term to defend themselves from gangs of dorm dwellers who prey upon their bonuses. This has been denied - it's strictly a policy against those who don't have the means to gamble. Identifying students for them is pretty clear cut, and they've had this policy for years with only a handful of negative issues. I've suggested that perhaps they could briefly state on their website their philosophy concerning student play, and why its prohibition is important to them. Club World is the only casino group that has this policy. I think the reasoning behind the policy would interest players, but this decision is strictly up to the casino.

That evening was the iGB Affiliate Awards dinner and ceremony. I wore a black suit, purple shirt, with a silver bear claw bolo tie that belonged to my grandfather. It's a least 40 - 50 years old.

What I found somewhat odd was there were many new faces - so many in fact, I was pretty surprised on how many people I didn't know. Just goes to show that the affiliate community is growing incredibly. Unfortunately the London Affiliate Conference was not on my agenda this year. I had to make it back home to my dear wife who had just had surgery on her foot. She can't drive for the next four weeks; just call me Mr. Taxi.

Besides, I was getting pretty burnt out since I had been nursing some cracked ribs for the entire week. I hadn't had much sleep because of this. So instead of hanging out until the wee hours with all the familiar faces, I headed to the The Empire Casino in Leicester Square with my webmaster buddies Simmo! and Webzcas. It was nice way to wind down before heading back.

Voice from the past - ICE 2010
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...
So again, I found myself on a flight heading back home, reminiscing on the imagery of London - its nuances and deep-rooted history. And going over the events of the week gave me a warm feeling. It was a very successful week - this industry has a lot going for it, and in most cases it's not the technology or gaming aspects, it's the people that are making this industry forge ahead. Sure, there are some areas that need improvement, but for the most part, it's getting better. "Together, we're the game." I like that.

Photographic proof of the events can be found here.

Complaints? Kudos? Please let me know.


Bryan Bailey
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Previous ICE LAC CAP London Reviews:

My First trip to London - gotta read these:
ICE 2001 Review Part 1
ICE 2001 Review Part 2
ICE 2001 Review Part 3
ICE 2001 Review Part 4

Meeting Julie Sidwell and Vahe Baloulian for the first time.
ICE Review 2002
Casino-on-net banner ads on the London Underground. It's party time with Peralis, Greeygirl and more! Fire and Ice party is a hit!
ICE Review 2003
Thieves suck! Small online casino presence - no Microgaming. 32Red interview.
ICE Review 2004
Awesome show! Partnerlogic donates $111,000 to tsunami victims via CM, meeting with Virtual Casinos, MGS party on the Isle of Man
ICE Review 2005
Webzcas eats Sushi for the first time. Meeting many operators, Chartwell Technologies is rogue.
ICE Review 2005
RTG's duck-and-cover exercise. Tila Tequila. First year that CAP was in London.
ICE & CAP Review 2007
Meeting Max Drayman for the first time, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider launches, first Meister Meeting at the Atlas Pub! I win an award at CAP.
ICE & CAP Review 2008
Sue Scheider's roasting, Montel Williams comes to the Meister Meeting, meeting Rushmores operator, CAP Awards.
ICE & CAP Review 2009
Casinomeister members donate $25K to Oxfam. CM player panel discussion. Stryke casino - rogue.
ICE & CAP Awards Review 2010
A talk with MGS, 32Red's trademark victory, CEC's "student clause" issue, iGB Affiliate Awards
ICE London iGB Affiliate Awards 2011 | Casinomeister Review
Last time at Earls Court. Discussing the Virtual Casino Group. "Inside the Player's Mind" player discussion.
ICE & LAC 2012
First time at the Excel - meh. Finsoft/Spielo Games issue. "Inside the Players' Minds II". ICE & LAC 2013 | Casinomeister Review
The beard tour.
ICE & LAC 2014 | Casinomeister Review
Nifty29 vs Vinylweatherman at the Meister Meeting. Equating advantage players with fraud.
ICE & LAC 2015 | Casinomeister Review