I was lucky enough to attend my 4th iGaming North America (iGNA) conference last week (April 14-16), held at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. One of the first things that was apparent to me was the size of the conference, it seemed smaller than in years past. I did not get the chance to ask the organizers for the attendance numbers, but when I brought up this subject to people I was talking with they seemed to agree. Perhaps it is the number of conferences focusing on this subject (GiGse is being held the week of the 20th) or the lack of news or excitement in the iGaming sector.
Daily Fantasy Sports
One item that stood out to me was Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS). DFS and the possibility of expanded sports betting seemed to be the areas that had people interested and curious. The conference had a couple of DFS specific panels and it was a subject that was constantly being brought up in other panels. Jason Robins, the CEO of DraftKings, gave a presentation educating the audience on what DFS is. While at times it may have seemed like a DraftKings commercial, there were several interesting facts and figures provided. One that stood out was that over 50% of DraftKings players had started watching a new sport due to DFS. No wonder the leagues love fantasy sports, it keeps growing their audience base and introducing new people to them and their advertisers.
During the Q&A, I asked Jason if he felt with the lack of regulation of fantasy sports is something that could harm the industry if there was some type of cheating scandal or other issue. He largely avoided the question mentioning how when Major League Baseball partnered with DraftKings they performed all types of due diligence. My argument is that this is not the same as regulations and required controls such as those mandated by Nevada Gaming Commission and the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. I feel that we are just one major issue away from a scandal and the public’s trust in DFS being diminished. Speaking of fantasy, probably the most fun I had at the conference was an impromptu MLB DFS lesson I had from the director of fantasy games at BetAmerica, Joe 'JoeTall’ Bunevith. Unfortunately even with such a great teacher I have a lot of work to do before I turn into a winning player.
Bringing the Fun Back to Online Poker
A panel that I was looking forward to was the “Bringing the Fun Back to Online Poker” with David Sklansky and Mason Malmuth of Two Plus Two Publishing who need no introduction to the majority of Pokerfuse’s readers. The discussion was moderated by Rich Muny of the Poker Players Alliance (PPA). Their major point was that online poker needs to be made more fun with increased variance, especially at the lower stakes. They feel that over the years the game has grown much more difficult with the increased information, HUDs, rakeback, etc…, and that the casual player does not have a chance (this same concept is playing out in DFS currently). They point to the culprit being No-Limit Holdem compared to limit poker that keeps “bad” players in the game longer. They proposed ideas such as having games offered more like you used to play in your home games and the introduction of “bad-beat” jackpots. The general theme I came away with was they wanted to decrease the skill gap by increasing the luck factor (primarily at the lower stakes). I did not agree with all their views but it was interesting to hear such poker luminaries talk.
iGaming North America Awards
During lunch on the third day the iGaming North America Awards were presented. This is the first year that the iGNA had the awards. The awards covered several categories from Best Marketing Campaign (Tropicana), Best Fantasy Sports Provider (Draft Kings), to the Operator of the Year (Golden Nugget Online Casino). The Operator of the Year was given in memory of Diamond Flush. As many of you know Diamond lost her battle with cancer earlier this year. She fought tirelessly for the rights of the poker players and was responsible more than many realize for making sure Full Tilt Poker funds were returned to players. A tribute was given by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement Director, David Rebuck. In it we learned that on multiple occasions that Mr. Rebuck attempted to hire Diamond to work with him, but she felt she could serve the poker community better by remaining independent. I met Diamond multiple times at gaming conferences and was going to play a small part in the iGaming conference she was attempting to organize in Atlantic City. She will be missed, the industry needs somebody like Diamond to ask the difficult questions and keep the industry in-check.
There were other panels and talks, including one that I participated on discussing cyber-security and how gaming companies should respond in the event of a security incident, and while the majority had useful ideas and some new information there was nothing groundbreaking. Hopefully by the time iGNA 2016 comes along there will be some more movement and positive news in the iGaming sector.