IGaming North America opened on Wednesday at the Planet Hollywood Resort in Las Vegas (pictured). Around 700 visitors came to hear how recent legislative developments across North America are impacting the gambling sector.
An impressive list of state politicians from California, Iowa, New Jersey and Pennsylvania told attendees how legislation was progressing state by state.
State by state
Senator Lou Correa of California explained how the state was moving towards a legislative framework for online poker while Iowa senator Jeff Danielson said his state was making similar moves.
Senator Kim Ward of Pennsylvania said internet gaming was "definitely the next step" there.
The launch of online gaming in New Jersey has been watched keenly as a test ground for the rest of the country. New Jersey senator Ray Lesniak was disappointed that the uptake hadn't been as high as predicted but was hopeful for the future as new legislation on payment processors progressed.
He also strongly criticised the "amateurish" marketing efforts of the New Jersey operators, expressing regret that the operators were pumping money into TV-based campaigns rather than online advertising.
Lesniak stressed that New Jersey was positioning itself as "the Mecca of internet gaming" - as a technology and operational hub for countrywide compacts. As far as he was concerned, "if you can do it in Atlantic City then you should be able to do it over the internet".
He also made a passionate case for the sports betting laws being “unconstitutional” and looked forward to accessing the estimated $500bn underground sports betting market. Lesniak said he “expected to win” the supreme court case when it rules this year.
The busy regulatory schedule of state governments across the country was summed up by Iowa’s Danielson. The state spent the current legislative session negotiating how to phase out greyhound racetracks, carving out fantasy sports as a non-gambling product and clarifying rules for online horse racing wagering.
Gambling issues across the country are moving at pace as states work out how to deal with the space given by the clarification of internet gambling rules.
Garber v Abboud
In one of the most anticipated panels Mitch Garber of Caesars Interactive faced Las Vegas Sands' Andy Abboud to discuss whether online gaming should be banned or regulated.
Abboud claimed that the anti-i-gaming stance of LVS was not a result of moral issues; he said his main concerns were about opening the market to all comers with poor regulation. Abboud claimed legislation was about to let a "lot of bad people go state by state" which would not be good for the industry. He felt there was a need for a cautious and well thought-out approach.
Garber retorted that LVS CEO Sheldon Adelson's position was contrary to Abboud's claim and that Adelson had a protectionist position stating that "i-gaming was bad". Garber said the claims that online gaming supported underage gambling and funded terrorism had not been seen at all and compared the well funded anti-i-gaming campaign to that of the tobacco industry, claiming it is a battle between "money and facts".
Abboud responded that it was important not to risk bricks-and-mortar casinos with badly written legislation. He said that the only winners would be companies such as Facebook and Zynga and the losers would be the casino owners.
Garber countered that online was way ahead of land-based casinos - identifying every player and tracking each transaction in and out, something that LVS in Macau "simply does not know". Abboud said he didn't understand the technology and didn't believe the technology claims that Caesar's made.
Abboud wanted to see the Wire Act reintroduced and enforced for all gambling while Garber said he also wanted illegal gambling shut down as that impacted his Nevadan business.
It was a vigorous and stimulating discussion and the debate raged back and forth. It is not one that will fade away with each side passionate and well funded.
The European angle
The European operators are here to develop new partnerships and share knowledge of the online gaming experience in Europe. Chris Sheffield, managing director at Betfred.com, warned that the offline industry needed to "ship out or shape up". European land-based operators have seen their businesses impacted by online only operators such as bet365.
Sheffield said European companies should not come to North America with brands but via partnerships, with American operators learning the European lessons on marketing, CRM, tools, testing and technology.
As the dust settled on the day the talk over networking drinks was all about the Garber v Abboud head-to-head.
With two more days of an energised conference still to go, iGNA is becoming a key stop on the US gaming conference circuit.