The press releases flooding my inbox can mean only one thing: it’s time for ICE. And this year the venue is much bigger, the hype is spreading further and the weather is much, much colder than it has been for years.
The first day of ICE closed with a warm flush of love for the 2013 Hot 50 before delegates swanned off bracing themselves against the freezing London night...some headed for snug hotel rooms while many more headed for a night on the tiles.
Staffing solutions provider Pentasia sponsored a fantastic champagne reception in the Crowne Plaza to celebrate the achievements of the Gaming Intelligence Hot 50. CEOs, marketeers, consultants, lawyers, regulators, technologists, PRs and even a few humble journos gathered together to raise a glass of bubbly to the people who are driving this industry forward.
Gossip, cards and kisses were exchanged with Governor Chris Christie being the most talked about person of the night. Will he or won’t he sign the New Jersey igaming bill this Thursday (February 7th)? The general verdict seems to be that he won’t. But the general hope (expectation might be too strong a word) is that he won’t veto it either. The smart money is on him either letting it pass into law without giving it his personal seal of approval (hence not dirtying his hands with controversial legislation) or giving it a conditional veto (ie. giving us hope that we can - again - assuage his doubts).
The Hot 50 party was an intimate event for the Hotties and their friends but ICE has got so big that this year, the wider world has started to take notice. Last Saturday night, BBC Radio 4 invited bwin.party CEO Norbert Teufelberger, William Hill head of mobile Juergen Reutter and consultant Melissa Blau to give the Great British public an idiot’s guide to the online gaming industry on its business magazine The Bottom Line.
Teufelberger, particularly, was on good form, admitting: “I was trained 25 years ago to never call it gambling; always gaming.”
He then went on to admit failing to sell sports betting to women and failing to convince the Chinese government to regulate. Well, both were a big ask. He could have boasted he has also helped create the biggest online gaming company in....oh yes, he did mention that too.
“The real money gaming world has been quite boring over the last 10 years,” Teufelberger went on to say, before announcing that bwin.party would be launching social games this week, which presumably will not be boring at all.
ICE is, as always, a coming out party for all manner of new products. Special mention can be made for the new operators turned B2B providers. Bet Victor unveiled its B2B guise for ICE as did Boylesports. B2B seems to have become an essential accessory that no online bookmaker can do without.
New kid on the block Yggdrasil deserves a mention for the most unpronounceable brand name in recent memory. It is pronounced “yg: drasil”, the press release helpfully pointed out.
Net Entertainment unveiled its new branded game South Park to much excitement until its video failed to work. However, the gathered crowd was proof that delegates like a bit of theatre...even if it occasionally goes wrong.
Microgaming paraded Batman’s bike in the eating area and split their stand and world famous bar in a strange pincer movement, which was presumably aimed at catching delegates at both ends of the ridiculously enormous ExCeL hall. Novomatic just extended their traditionally big stand to a stupidly large size that must have left no-one in doubt as to how large they are.
Upstairs in the conference rooms, charming deputy head of DG Markt at the European Commission Harrie Temmink cheerily admitted that the EC has not done very much so far but said that the Anti Money Laundering Directive would be extended today (Wednesday) to include all providers of gambling including poker.
Downstairs lurked denizens of the sports betting ghetto. As Novomatic and other masters of the universe dominated acres of the main concourse, the sports betting community was hidden below. (If you can’t find them, walk all the way to the end then go down the stairs.) Nobody seemed able to explain why they were lurking in the depths.
However, while the ghetto may have been remote, it may not have been as cold as the other end of the hall. The wind whistled through the west entrance leaving everyone in the first 100 yards of the ridiculously long ExCeL centre absolutely freezing. Will someone please figure out how to close those doors!