Editorial: Memoirs of a GIGSE

15 June 2007

The 2007 Global Interactive Gaming Summit and Expo (GIGSE) began with a bang.

Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. 4:06 a.m.

The "bang" startled me as very sober security personnel snatched my sumptuous, squeaky, airport-issue cot from beneath me, shut it with decidedly-cold rapidity and moved on--this before I had time to slip on my left sock, or, for that matter, scratch my behind (as is my wont).

There we were, 18 or so hours into our snake-bitten trip to Montreal.

I stood there--crusty--watching as Lenny Impellizzeri, Webmaster, River City Group, stumbled over a brilliant "Caution: Wet Floor" sign, after which Mark Balestra, my editor, remarked (while clumsily jamming pointer-fingers into the corners of his eyes): "Well, at least I had an isle cot."

And so it went. Fortunately, all staff were present (in one manifestation or another) to kick off the show.

After several cups of coffee and a couple handfuls of a muffin whose berries I've yet to identify, the conference sessions, along with them, my illegible scribbling, began. What follows are some of the more interesting news bits taken from the sessions I attended. My thoughts, too, are mixed in there somewhere.

River City Group CEO Sue Schneider opened this year's show philosophically, remarking "What a difference a year makes." We've all heard, and in certain cases, adopted, over-editorialized colloquialisms like "embattled," "entrenched," and "embroiled" to describe the industry and certain of its figures. In light of the growing sense of apprehension surrounding the industry--both in the editorial community and elsewhere--Schneider called for a single, global body to represent the interests of the industry. "We need to assess where we're going," she said. "There's still a lot of fragmentation . . . it's been frustrating to see a lack of cohesion." Her remarks call to mind those made by Eduardo Agami, President, SBG Global, at October's European i-Gaming Congress and Expo (EiG). "This industry has always been pursued legally by all sorts of different forces," Agami reflected. "We should've shored our forces together a lot better, internationally, as a community." Schneider said that while the efforts of different interest groups like the Poker Players Alliance and the European Betting and Gaming Association were encouraging, the need for a unified, global body remains.

GIGSE keynote speaker I. Nelson Rose, one of the world's foremost gambling law authorities, projected that by 2010 the United States would see the enactment of an Internet gambling study bill. Rose also said that it was only a matter of time before states, California, especially, introduce I-gaming legislation. With regard to California, Rose said that he expected it to legalize intra-state gambling, moreover, that its gambling market would be an "interesting growth area." Rose argued that gambling should be a states'-rights issue, and that by 2010 there will be an "explosion of exceptions" to the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.

In Latin America, meanwhile, opportunities abound. Fernando Ors, VP Business Development, Codere, reported that Internet penetration rates--often seen as barrier by operators looking to enter the region--have exploded between 2000 and 2006. Argentina tops the list, with 26 percent of households having access to the Internet. In the six years to 2006, the rate has grown 300 percent, or 50 percent year-on-year. Uruguay wasn't far behind at 21 percent, and behind it, Mexico, at 17 percent. Brazil (14.1 percent), Colombia (10.2 percent) and Panama (9.6 percent) have in the six years to 2006 experienced tremendous growth in penetration, at 418 percent, 440 percent and 567 percent respectively. With regard to mobile users, Ors projected that, by 2008, the Latin American region would boast 345.8 million mobile users--by 2011, 401.4 million. Ors emphasized localization as "the only profitable way," and said that opportunities regarding R&D and the establishment of IT infrastructure were abundant.

Mark Mendel, counsel for Antigua in its dispute with United States before the World Trade Organization (WTO), quipped that " . . . the United States may be shutting the door on the rest of the world, but they are not shutting the door on us." Mendel said that the recent decision by the United States to withdraw its gambling-related commitments from the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) may engender a "massive" wave of claims, especially in Europe. EU Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy in January went public about a possible challenge by the EU against U.S. restrictions on I-gaming. McCreevy told Reuters that U.S. rules were a "prima facie" case of protectionism and that the WTO was a possible venue for challenging them.

And finally, in true David-versus-Goliath fashion, the recently established Interactive Media Entertainment and Gaming Association (iMEGA) unveiled a legal challenge to the UIGEA. The group filed a complaint against U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Reserve System, seeking judgment to restrain the United States from enforcing the UIGEA. "There are so many new forms of communities that are being built and grown every day," said iMEGA spokesman Joe Brennan. "Because these communities are online, their audiences are distributed globally. And when we start crossing state, national and international borders, how is that going to affect the growth, content and commerce of these communities? So, rather than just allow this law to go unexamined, we think that's it's in the best interest to serve as a plaintiff and support this action in court--to ask the court to grant an injunction so the court can examine this law, and examine the far-ranging effects of this law, not only for gaming specifically, but how it may affect the growth of the Internet, Internet freedom, privacy, choice and the growth of those online communities in general."

Chris Krafcik is the editor of IGamingNews. He lives in St. Louis, Mo.