12 Apr 2019

Ampersand Live Las Vegas discussions unveil an industry stuck in the limbo of its own legacy

Ewa Bakun

Frustration at the slow speed of change has been the sentiment dominating the Open Space discussions held between 2014 and 2018 by the Ampersand Live Las Vegas participants, gathered once a year by Clarion Gaming to brainstorm around the key trends, challenges and opportunities that grab the attention of the US gambling market. 
The topics discussed, put forward by the participants themselves at the beginning of each meeting, reflect the many trends that saw their rise (and sometimes fall) in the short space of the five years, after the launch of iGaming and until sports betting dominated the industry’s interest.  They show an industry chasing its own tail, quoting the minutes of one of the discussions, for the next big thing to revolutionise an otherwise stagnant world of land-based gambling. Stagnant and outdated in the eyes of the Ampersand Live attendees, usually in charge of strategy and innovation, so clearly investigating new opportunities for growth. 

Over the five years of our meetings, trends such as social casino, Daily Fantasy Sports, eSports, skill gaming, mobile/ on-premise gambling and online gambling appeared every year in the free-flowing and organic discussions, debated with various degrees of focus and optimism. While important from the perspective of our Ampersand attendees, what’s consistent is that they lose on their appeal when put in front of the executive boards, who evaluate them in the context of hospitality behemoths they manage, that currently make most of their revenues on fairly traditional products catering to older demographics. And thus the reality of today clashes with, and puts brakes on, the prerogative of the future. Internal negotiation to get the buy-in and investment for the adoption of those new opportunities appears to be critical and possibly more important than the external factors to be able to implement them. 

Two main goals seem to motivate the emergence of, and interest in, most of these trends: customer conversion to physical properties and ability to attract millennials. Ironically, these two goals sometimes also compete with one another: while digital experience is critical to attract millennials, it is the same digital experience that is feared to detract from the offline visitation too. That’s why tools and technology to cross customers over from the interactive, online or mobile channel to the bricks-and-mortar one, that needs to be safeguarded as it still remains the trusted and tested source of revenue, have always been key to our Ampersand conversations. 

Of course it’s not just down to internal, corporate limitations. Regulation also comes in the way of innovation, although some regulators are actually seen as quite progressive and supportive of innovation, in particular if they also partake in the responsibility to keep the industry profitable and sustainable (like in New Jersey).  But many of the disruptive trends need a legislative change and that’s what brings us back to the industry’s ‘existential crisis’, to quote Ampersand notes again. Gambling laws are very much the result of industry’s lobbying and influence; with the industry divided internally on its desire to adapt new trends that might disrupt its legacy revenue, law-making stays paralysed by the mixed signals conveyed in the education efforts with the law-makers. Once again internal industry disagreements on the direction and speed the sector needs to take to stay relevant for the future generations of consumers become a stumbling block to effect progress. 

Isn’t that frustrating?

The article has been written after the analysis of the notes that captured the Open Space discussions during the annual Ampersand Live Las Vegas meetings. To learn more about Ampersand and Ampersand Live, please visit www.clariongaming.com/ampersand or contact me directly on ewa.bakun@clariongaming.com. 

View all Ampersand Live Meet-Up Notes
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