Record numbers of I-gaming industry members participated in the annual Global Interactive Gaming Summit and Expo (GIGSE) May 16-18 at the Palais de Congres in Montreal.
A total of 1821 people from more than 42 countries registered for the conference and 127 businesses either had an exhibition booth or sponsored a proceeding.
"I think a lot of it is still the poker buzz," said Sue Schneider, CEO of River City Group, which hosted the conference. "Our industry is continually growing. Many people were here just looking, trying to see if there is a way they can get involved with I-gaming."
The week kicked off with a keynote address by Lawrence Lessig, a professor from the Stanford Law School and author of several books on the Internet including Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology . He is also the founder of Stanford's Center for Internet and Society.
Speaking as an expert in the evolution of the Internet field, Lessig told attendees that regulation of online gambling is inevitable because coming Internet identification technologies will make regulation simple and cost effective. He recommended to the audience that they prepare for the coming regulations, rather than continue to ignore and/or fight the process.
His words set the tone for the conference, inviting industry leaders to take a proactive approach in the upcoming regulation battles. He advised that the industry, through advertising, public relations, and exposure, mobilize the masses to influence lawmakers through traditional democratic practices. By working proactively through the regulation move, Lessig believes the industry can help institute regulations that work with and help expand the industry for the better.
The dozens of speakers who followed Lessig expounded on his premise, arguing that the industry must move forward with "one voice" because regulation of the Internet has been and will continue to be inevitable.
"We wanted to bring in an outside perspective for our keynote speaker and I think we succeeded," Schneider said. "I believe our attendees responded well to Mr. Lessig and it was good to see his ideas become the themes of the conference."
The GIGSE exposition hall opened Wednesday morning, presenting a virtual city of I-gaming companies trying to out do each other with extravagant presentation. Traditional marketing giant Bodog.com anchored the hall, using their two-story metallic booth to promote their annual industry conference.
A bevy of tall blonde Bodog girls handed out cigars to booth viewers, inviting the masses to ascend the stairs to the second floor where Bodog offered a club atmosphere with music and drinks. Bodog CEO Calvin Ayre paced the dance floor underneath eight-plasma screen TVs displaying the digital flame that is his company's theme for the upcoming Bodog conference.
One booth over, payment-processing giants NETELLER and Wirecard attempted the same marketing blitz, handing out lattes and alcohol, and using the beautiful Wirecard girls to woo people into viewing their financial service presentations.
Other extravagance included a massage parlor, giveaways ranging from pens to footballs, and the I-slot acting crew, a group promoting their "story-line" slots with a provocative martini spilling female escorted around the expo hall with her enormous mafia bodyguards.
"The expo hall is a great way for people to promote their business in fun and innovative ways," Schneider said. "Every year it gets a little crazier and this year is no different."
Attendees tired from the nights of partying gathered in the expo hall for GIGSE's final event on Thursday. Trying to raise money for Gordon House, a UK-based charity that provides international support for gambling addiction, River City Group entertained the masses with their Velcro Drag Racing Grudge Matches.
Strapping on oversized ski boots with large wooden planks covered in Velcro attached to the bottom, industry members raced down and back on a 25-meter Velcro track in two-person-heats designed to be grudge matches.
Wulf Hambach of Hambach and Hambach recorded the fastest time in round one, telling anyone who would listen that he was unbeatable on Velcro. He moved onto the finals to face Bryan Bailey, the trash talking CEO of Casinomeister.com and winner of round one's closest race against Bluff Magazine's Michael Caselli.
Hambach won the final race handily, proudly touting his GIGSE charity championship for the rest of the final evening, but the real winner was Gordon House, which collected more than $120,000 from donations at GIGSE.
The closing ceremonies for GIGSE was a roundtable discussion moderated by Schneider with Trident Group CEO Michele Oster, Chartwell Games Corporation CEO Lee Richardson, Intertops Founder Detlef Train, Bodog CEO Ayre, and industry research expert Eugene Christiansen.
Under the title "The Impact of I-Gaming, What Have We Done?" the group wove through the industry's future growth and potential problems, focusing on the legality of online gambling in the US and the UK, and the apparent lack of transparency some companies have – leading to a discussion on how to create credibility for the growing industry.
Regulation made a healthy appearance in the discussion, with the panel agreeing with a questioner from the crowd that it would be better for the industry to come together under one banner, rather than allow external forces to determine regulation parameters.
Still, even with the list of concerns and problems facing I-gaming, the panel agreed that the industry would continue to grow, avoiding future problems by continuing to produce innovative ideas that help evolve the market .
"I have seen it all, and I have no more fears. The attempted bans, the proposals to cut off our financial channels, monopolistic government policies, competition - we are still in business, and that will continue to be the case," Train told an applauding audience.
GIGSE will take place at the Palais de Congres in Montreal again in 2007 from June 4-7. Reservations will be possible as soon as more concrete plans are in place.
Ryan McLane is a gaming industry reporter for Casino City and is assigned to the poker beat. Email your comments and questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org .