Friday, Nov. 20, 2009 | 2:05 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Exhibitors and organizers feared the worst going into the 2009 Global Gaming Expo, but they changed their tone Thursday as the convention came to a close, calling it an overall success.
The American Gaming Association reported a 7 percent increase in conference attendees for the first two days of the show compared to 2008, an increase that no one was expecting.
“To be honest, we would have been happy with flat numbers from last year. We thought numbers would be down, so it’s been a bit of surprise for us,” AGA Senior Vice President and Executive Director Judy Patterson said.
Patterson said the association was encouraged during the weeks leading up to the show because of an uptick in last-minute registrations. But the news of the increase exceeded all expectations, Patterson said.
Overall attendance numbers, however, which include conference attendees and exhibitors, were down 3.7 percent for the first two days of the show.
But conference attendee numbers are the ones that matter to exhibitors, Patterson said.
“This year was much busier than last year and possibly busier than 2007,” WMS Vice President of Game Development Phil Gelber said.
The Chicago-based gaming manufacturer said there was a lot of buzz about the company’s next-generation "Price is Right" game featuring Drew Carey and a continued interest in its most popular game, "The Wizard of Oz."
Highlights for International Game Technology included its server-based technology — a popular trend among several manufacturers on the floor — and new games like its "American Idol" and "Sex and the City" slots.
“We’re very pleased with how our customers have reacted to our products as well as the analysts and investor community,” IGT Public Relations Manager Julie Brown said. “We’ve gotten a lot of initial numbers for the 'Sex and the City' game, so much so that our product management team is calling it a monster and we love to hear that.”
Larger manufacturers weren’t the only exhibitors that came to the show.
Christy Joiner-Congleton, president and CEO of San Diego-based Stics, a small company that analyzes database and loyalty card marketing information to determine how casinos can best offer comps to their customers, said she thought G2E 2009 was better attended than last year’s show.
“A trade show is really the best way for us to meet customers, the most cost-effective way,” said Joiner-Congleton, who formed Stics in 2004. “I think a lot of our e-mail marketing gets deleted, but this is an opportunity to meet people in person. It helps you find the needle in the haystack.”
Francis Davis, managing director of a small British company, attended his first G2E this year after he found a new market in the United States for a portable gaming device his company markets to bingo halls in the United Kingdom.
When his new mobile gaming unit was introduced in the United Kingdom, his company, X2 Computing, unexpectedly received five telephone calls from American companies. He said he was surprised because he didn’t publicize the overseas deal.
He set up meetings with those companies, then realized he might have had more opportunities than he thought and decided to exhibit at the show, he said.
“I think everybody knows Xbox and the PS3 game systems, so it makes sense to offer games to bingo players, and that opened the door for mobile gaming,” he said.
Davis said his small booth yielded 30 inquiries in less than two days, enough to make the trip worthwhile.
But exhibitor attendance fell an estimated 22 percent at this year’s show, from 724 in 2008 to about 560 in 2009.
Patterson and AGA President and CEO Frank Fahrenkopf said the decline was the result of some small companies closing because of the economy and others not being able to afford to attend.
The focus of this year’s conference sessions was again the recession and the gaming industry’s recovery, but many felt the talk took a much more positive tone than last year.
“At last year’s show, there was more of a feeling that we are in the recession but this year, the feeling is that we are in the recession, but we see the light and it’s coming soon,” Gelber said.
“From the operators’ side, what we were hearing is that they had to make the hard decisions and cut their expenses, and they are now starting to see some of the rewards of that,” Patterson said.
“From the manufacturing side, what we heard is that they were getting very creative with their customers in terms of financing. They’ve almost gone into the banking business in some senses,” she said.
President of Aristocrat Technologies’ Americas Division Nick Khin talked about some of those modifications that manufacturers have had to make at Wednesday’s keynote address.
To help operators weather the storm, Aristocrat has been offering more leases, payment services and financing options.
IGT said it has had to do the same.
“Casinos are wondering how can they possibly refresh their casino floor at a time when they don’t have any money, so what we’ve tried to do is provide them with some great packages and financing options,” Brown said.
As G2E comes to a close, the AGA will now turn it’s focus to the fourth annual G2E Asia in June, a trade show geared toward the growing Asian gaming market. The uptick at this year’s Las Vegas show could be an indication of more success at the Asian conference and G2E 2010.
“This is the time when exhibitors commit to G2E Asia and to next year’s show, and those sales are going very well,” Patterson said. “It’s just showing that things are on the mend.”
In Business Las Vegas reporter Richard N. Velotta contributed to this story.