The annual gathering of the gaming industry at the ICE Totally Gaming expo in London this week drew widespread criticism for the way women were objectified by some exhibitors.

It has to be said that the industry leading suppliers had stands that were filled with knowledgeable staff who could present their products to prospective customers. Then there were those who just wanted people to notice them and decided that flesh would catch the eye.

Talking to female industry executives over the past few days, reactions to ICE's pole dancers, body-painted advertisements and skin-tight catsuits have ranged from anger, to despair, to bleak resignation.

"This is a long standing issue and having been in the industry for 16 years, I have seen very little change when it comes to diversity improvements during this time," Ladbrokes Coral managing director of gaming brands Alison Digges says.

"Industry shows such as ICE are about showcasing the industry and it is frankly embarrassing that companies are continuing to use women in what is a blatantly sexist way. It is the duty of those at the helm to change this."

Show organisers need to understand that the same old tricks of the past decades don’t work and only serve to alienate and infuriate their female attendees, while this industry and almost every other needs a more gender-balanced workforce for an infinite number of reasons.

"The industry should put pressure on conference organisers to have strict guidelines around what is acceptable and to ban those companies that don't adhere to it," says Digges.

"If this doesn't happen we will simply boycott the events."

The exhibitors who caused this uproar were trying the simplest trick to catch the attention of their primary market, men of a particular age. Looking at the coverage from the past few days, it's hard not to imagine that some of the outraged newspapers were targeting a similar type of individual.

The Guardian's first expose led with a picture of a card announcing a new Playboy-branded slot. This was replaced with a picture of a young lady on a pole with her legs apart. This later evolved into a video clip of said lady doing her pole performance.

The Independent had its own undercover video, courtesy of Twitter commentator and anti-FOBT activist Matt Zarb-Cousin. A still picture offers readers a glimpse of the beautiful women that are on the video, but you'll have to watch another video from one of their advertisers first. Never mind, Matt (or his camera "person") has done a great job of secretly filming some chests and bums.

The Sun had a video which had edited together a medley of other videos, including a double-pole dance, so it had it all. And there were nine pictures if you didn't want to watch the video, while other featured articles on the page included images of a drunk TV personality falling out of her dress, a singer falling out of her dress, and a woman already out of her dress and in the shower. 

Yes, if you really don't care, sex sells.

ICE organiser Clarion has been criticised for not doing enough to stamp this out, and not responding immediately to the media furore didn't help. It belatedly issued a statement to The Guardian which read: "ICE London has been working with the European Casino Association to encourage respectful representation of women on exhibition stands. This programme started in 2016 and will continue."

The company added: "ICE London has featured educational initiatives on diversity and inclusion organised in partnership with Global Gaming Women, an organisation that delivers programmes that support, inspire and influence the development of women in the gaming and lottery industries."

Talking about an initiative that started in 2016 is great if it has worked, but it hasn't.

Digges says that ICE and other gambling trade shows are simply symptomatic of the industry's wider issues with women. She finds it "embarrassing" that the only way companies feel they can sell their products is through barely-dressed women.

"It seems somewhat desperate to me," she says.

Digges hopes that the negative coverage resulting from this year's ICE will force companies into making long-term change. Having interviewed a number of outstanding female gaming executives for the latest issue of GIQ magazine, it is clear that the most successful operators and suppliers are embracing change. Time for the rest to follow suit or get left behind.

And the outraged media, you can play your part too.

 

bm@gamingintelligence.com

 

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