It’s Official: ICE Is No. 1!

ICE Totally Gaming 2013—in its new home at ExCeL London—is now officially the biggest gaming exhibition in the world. With 31,000 square meters of exhibition space, 8,500 square meters more than last year; 481 exhibiting companies hailing from 55 sovereign states; and a conference program that featured 170 thought-provoking leaders from throughout the world, ICE certainly seems to stand as numero uno!

So what’s making it such a success? “Quite simply, it’s innovation, innovation and more innovation,” said Kate Chambers, portfolio director for ICE Totally Gaming. “If buyers want to see the games of tomorrow and not the ones being distributed today, and if they want to meet the decision makers from the world’s leading manufacturers, they should come to ICE.”
Novomatic won the Best Land-Based Social Responsibility Award at ICE.
Novomatic won the Best Land-Based Social Responsibility Award at ICE.

One of those innovations Chambers was referencing could be seen at TCSJOHNHUXLEY. Everyone at their stand was grabbing a tablet. Luke Davis, director of marketing, was proudly showing the new Xia™ Roulette Tablet. The first product to be launched on the Xia platform, this tablet has been trialed in G Casinos in Sheffield for the past six months with good results. Besides the flexibility of use, the Xia tablet allows the player some real privacy to link into a live game within a casino environment. The benefits of this tablet are the flexibility of use and also privacy; if there’s one thing I’ve seen before at the gaming tables, it is a winning player suddenly being surrounded by new friends.

TCSJOHNHUXLEY has also undergone some corporate changes since the last ICE with the arrival of Cath Burns as CEO, which has led to some expansion. Yes, expansion—that’s how well the industry is doing and, as with the tablets, some new innovative ideas were incorporated in the Gaming Floor Live and Supernova Table Bonus System, which went live early February at London’s Hippodrome and Aspers at Stratford.

It was also interesting to note that with 98 stands the U.K. comprised 71 percent of the exhibitors; however, companies from the small Mediterranean island of Malta were exhibiting on 34 stands (with the U.S. coming in at a close third with 26 exhibitors). The U.S. and the U.K., as we know, have always been hot on gaming, but Malta? I had to ask Mark Sammut, a consultant for the Lotteries and Gaming Authority, Malta, what was the big draw. “Malta represents operator-friendly regulations and, of course, a low rate of tax,” he explained. “The Maltese companies providing online gaming are considered to have stronger player mechanisms, which gains trust from the players.” He also says that games of skill are on the horizon. “When the regulations are in place I can see a big market growth in this area.”

This was also confirmed by Tom Dyson, senior business development manager at GamblingCompliance, who stated, “All eyes are on the new online poker licenses, which will be launched later this year.”

It appears online gaming is still very much a growth area in itself with such world-renowned and established companies as Bally Technologies, who recently signed a content deal with Openbet; WMS’ recent debut of Williams Interactive LLC; and IGT winning the Best Remote Product of the Year at the ICE Totally Gaming Awards on the eve of the ICE exhibition.

All the main established slot manufacturers are now firmly linked with an online operator. I asked IGT’s Sabby Gill, vice president of sales for EMEA & SOLAC, what was the secret to IGT’s success in this field, especially upon winning the ICE Totally Gaming Best Remote Product of the Year. “It is a great honor to win the top award for our remote game server,” he said. “There has been a tremendous effort put in by our teams to bring to market a technology that e-gaming providers can seamlessly integrate into their existing platforms to deliver best-in-class game themes. It is a smart interactive solution for operators who desire to grow player retention and frequency of game play. We’re a B2B company that knows C (consumer). We feel we need to know the player, not just the operator.”

ICE provided many opportunities for attendees to network.
ICE provided many opportunities for attendees to network.
However, IGT is still very focused on their land-based clients. As Gill explained, “We feel that demographic knowledge of the players is important, and we’ve been asking questions to find out what the players wanted.” Hence the launch of Money Idol™, a game specially attuned to the Asian market.

Although Gill has only been with the company 18 months, he’s spent 23 years in IT, making him perfectly placed to understand the Internet operation. “We are no longer just a product company; we have Cloud and Internet gaming.”

So what’s happened to Cloud since it was launched last year? “It was initially trialed at G Casino in Liverpool, but due to conflicting priorities, it wasn’t taken any further,” Gill explained. “However, it has now been installed and is live at Olympic casinos, and several strategic opportunities have been identified in Latin America (soon to be announced). With the flexibility of Cloud and the valuable data that it can produce at speed, it has proven to be a very adaptable and useful tool for casinos.”

However, they still have their feet firmly on terra firma. As Gill said, “We’ve launched six new rapid progressives at ICE, but Candy Bars continues to be one of our best-performing games, and the introduction of Take the Cake and Cats and Dogs to the same game family will be a great opportunity in the future for us and we believe they will continue to be some of our best-performing games.”

This year, IGT has revived their popular, spinning wheel games with the introduction of the industry’s first 5-reel community bonus game, Fast-Hit Progressives™. Other spinning-reel offerings include thrilling 3-reel, 1-line games such as Haywire Multipliers™ and Blue Blazes Win Zeros™! What is completely different about these games is that when one of five progressives hit, the winner receives a jackpot while another equal award is shared among the other players, making everyone a winner.

WMS has also been very busy this year, focusing on product development, and at ICE they showcased more than 60 new and unique for-sale and premium products for the global markets. One of the featured products was the SPIDER-MAN game, the latest in WMS’ Sensory Immersion 2.0 series and follow-up to the popular Aladdin & The Magic Quest theme, which features innovative synchronized motion chair technology and advanced sound and graphics powered by WMS’ next-generation CPU-NXT3 operating platform.

Also highlighted was their newest The Wizard of Oz themes on the Gamefield xD cabinet, which has dual 32-inch screens and enhanced performance characteristics enabled by the robust capabilities of the CPU-NXT3 operating platform. While in London for the show, the first Gamefield xD installments went live at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City, where there was up to a two-hour wait to play the game, Kristi Krasovetz, senior marketing manager, told us.

Well, without a two-hour wait, I was able to try out the new Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory™ theme, the third WMS Sensory Immersion 2.0 theme that delivers an entertaining experience with enhanced graphics and superior play mechanics, that are synchronized with the movement of the motion chair as you take a ride on the CHOCOLATE RIVER BOAT™.
SHFL entertainment was exhibiting for the first time at ICE under their new banner. The crowds were gathering around their new chipping machine, which, when linked to their new Connect2Table, analyzes the various aspects of the games such as speed, usage of chips, value of chips in use at any one time and over a period of time, to help the operator better understand how and when their punters play. Their Deckmate2 can now thoroughly shuffle one deck of poker cards in a fantastic 22 seconds. And they estimate that they now have a huge chunk of the market in land-based table games. But, as with so many, it’s going to be the online side of their company that is about to expand.

I was lucky enough to meet Nick Gabriel, SHFL’s newly appointed head of online operations, who was delighted that SHFL had recently received new certification to provide remote gaming from both Gibraltar and Alderney.

At the MEI stand, I saw the familiar and friendly face of Andy Reichlin, marketing director for gaming and retail, and the new British-based marketing coordinator, Daniel Toma, as they were guiding people around the stand. MEI is currently being purchased by Crane Co., but business goes on as usual. This year they were exhibiting their new SC Advance, which has evolved from their CASHFLOW SC, and is now even faster and more secure. They tell us it has the industry’s best first-time acceptance rate, plus the increased capacity to accept up to 100 different currencies.

There were 481 exhibitors at this year’s ICE.
There were 481 exhibitors at this year’s ICE.
A USB facility has been added to the Portable Programming Module (PPM) to enable direct download of information for new currency and it can also be used via Bluetooth. It has a digital display for easier use and will be for sale in April 2013.

Their EASITRAX machine was on show as well. This remarkable machine allows information from more than 100,000 games to be fed into a computer. This tracking technology can then compile reports from each game and thus supply the operators with up-to-date information via the operator’s own website. What more could you ask for?

It would appear that Reichlin wants more. He would love to create a cash box for land-based gaming tables that would make both the operator and the gambler happy. Having been a count manager myself, I can certainly say that there are a lot of people in the gaming industry who would also love to see a system that is favorable to both the operator and the gambler.
It was on the third day of ICE, the historically quiet day, when I managed to push my way onto the SPIELO International stand. “This is quiet!” exclaimed Sylvia Dietz, senior director, global marketing. “We’ve been so busy at ICE that it’s almost been impossible to move on the stand.”

Their slogan, “We Speak Gaming,” was emblazoned around the stand. “We talk any gaming language,” Dietz said. “We’re the only company that offers solutions across all gaming channels.” Owned by the Lottomatica Group S.p.A., SPIELO International can certainly say with great confidence that their company can speak any gaming language.

At their stand, they were displaying the new slot version of the video game Plants vs. Zombies™ with its Graveyard bonus; it really drew the crowd’s attention, particularly as SPIELO International had eye-catching zombies walking through the exhibition hall. They were also showing their newly adapted Bejeweled game, which features a cascading matrix, buyable game boosts and seven linked, non-hierarchal progressives. Also on offer was the new diversity™ multigame, which features suites of 10 games with stand-alone progressives which, with its smaller 22-inch screen, is particularly attractive for those with limited floor space.

But it wasn’t all about gaming; entertainment featured heavily over at Interblock. An enthusiastic Tina Ferko, PR manager, told me that things are going really well for Interblock at this year’s ICE show. “This year we’ve concentrated on the entertainment side of gaming,” she said. “We tried to present our customers something unique and innovative, something that would shock and amaze their minds and I believe we succeeded.”

And they most certainly did that with the crowd-pleasing Interblock Hologram Gaming Lounge (IBHGL). Interblock first showed the IBHGL at G2E Las Vegas in October 2012 in a VIP room, but its popularity created such queues that company decided to open the hologram presentation to all visitors and make a premier presentation for the European market at ICE. The company has now installed one of the showrooms for the hologram projection in their U.S. office, located in Las Vegas, and are just finishing with final installation in Slovenia, where the company is based. After its first launch in October, IBHGL has won tremendous inquiries from the customers and already won an award for Best Innovation for 2012. The main advantages that casino operators can recognize are the innumerable possibilities that this important project can offer on their casino floor with practically a touch of one button. “Hologram can be used for gaming, advertising and even for concerts—Elvis just might be ‘live’ in Vegas again,” Ferko commented.

But this company still has their eye on the gaming side of the market. “The U.K. market is going really well for us,” Ferko said. “For example, we have Organic Island inside the Hippodrome Casino, which we are very proud of. Globally, the company has been well-balanced in its sales.”

At ICE, Interblock also presented a very important novelty, the enhanced fourth generation of gaming products, the G4D- Diamond™, offering many new featured side bets, which can bring more revenue to casino operators and more pleasure and excitement for the players. “These are definitely products that will mark the year 2014!” Ferko said.
Is Interblock going to move to online content like so many of its competitors? “We are observing this side of gaming development closely and we believe there will be a synergy between online and live gaming in the future,” Ferko replied.

Over at Bally Technologies, Michael Bertetto was proudly showing customers the new Pawn Stars video slot machine, based on the hit international reality show. Taking all the elements of the show, including negotiation, Bally has devised a new game whereby the player can interact with the characters from the TV program. This game had already been installed in Vegas two weeks prior to ICE and has been a hit. Prominently featured at ICE as it begins to premiere in European casinos was the 22×32-inch Michael Jackson King of Pop game with five bonus opportunities and surround sound seats. This game has now gone live in Venice and casinos in France.

Launching later this year is NASCAR, an interactive game whereby you can choose your favorite driver to race for you and collect bonuses as you go around the track. For those who are into racing, it’s an amazing game, with the added bonus that your car never crashes.

As always, the continuing concern for responsible gaming was at the forefront of manufacturer’s minds, and this year Novomatic won the ICE Totally Gaming Best Land-Based Social Responsibility Award.

I was lucky enough to grab five minutes with Max Lindenberg, marketing and business development, and David Orrick, communications and business development director, at their large and busy stand. What did this award mean to them? “Novomatic is not only a manufacturer, but also a worldwide operator, which is key to winning licenses, and this award is an extremely useful endorsement for our company,” Lindenberg replied.

“We see ourselves as always progressing with CSR ethos in mind,” Orrick added. With those words and values coming from one of the largest integrated conglomerates of the gaming industry that offers a variety of products on every platform of gaming, it would appear that gaming is in very safe hands.
Interblock’s Hologram Gaming Lounge
Interblock’s Hologram Gaming Lounge

For those overcome by the variety of games and products in the exhibition hall, ICE offered conferences on a wide range of topics, opening with the International Casino Conference, followed by World Regulatory Briefing, CRM, Loyalty & Retention and Monetizing Social Gaming. On Monday, the center stage was taken by Michael Leven, president and chief operating officer of Las Vegas Sands, who delivered a keynote presentation on the concept of the European mega-resorts.

The two auditoriums where the seminars took place appeared underutilized by the visitors, even though the large, airy lounge area between the two was extremely inviting with swish, white leather seats. The list of talks and debates was interesting and varied and was compiled under the headings of Gaming Leaders Program and Future of Gaming; they incorporated issues with regard to responsible gaming, marketing and data, and the use of social media. There were also a good selection of seminars on IT support and digital marketing—a fantastic choice, but many people were far too interested in the main exhibition.

Simon Thomas, joint owner of The Hippodrome and winner of this year’s ICE Totally Gaming Best Land-Based Casino Award, told me he had attended the exhibition every day. “The show was magnificent, the move was well overdue; it will take time to get used to and it will be a learning curve for the exhibitors. The casino products were fantastic, and although we have already set up the casino with new products, it’s always essential to see what else is on offer.”

When you meet an award winner, you have to ask how they won that award—especially as The Hippodrome has only been open eight months. “We feel we’ve created something that is unusual and fun, especially for the U.K. market,” Thomas said. With this land-based success behind him, would he consider going online? “Absolutely! Online does have the credibility problems, but if you have the trust, online is flexible, convenient and complimentary to land-based operations.”

Set-up stresses aside, how was the show for exhibitors? AGEM’s Marcus Prater told me: “I admire what Clarion Events has achieved at ExCeL; the show is suffering from some logistical issues related to the move-in, but if the show results in new interest and business for AGEM members, then I’m going to like coming to ExCeL. It is a gigantic show and ExCeL is a change, and we are all adjusting to it.”

“To be honest, I miss the Earl’s Court location; it’s a fantastic part of London,” said MEI’s Reichlin, “but ExCel is a lot bigger and has a better layout. ICE is the most important show for us because of the opportunities to sell to so many different European countries.”

“ExCel is better structured, easy to understand and is busier,” said Silvia Mincheva of Euro Games Technology.

“Earl’s Court was not appropriate for high technology performances anymore,” Ferko commented. “ExCeL is much more of a business center, offering more options for socializing during the show. With a few minor upgrades regarding the organization, we believe next year’s ICE will be perfectly carried out from organizational point of view.”

For WMS, it was a very busy third day, with many meetings, but Krasovetz said, “the show’s been very positive with the right people coming through.”

But ICE is not about relocation or other stressors; it’s about customers. Build it and they will come … and they did.

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