2011 IAGA International Gaming Conference a Smashing Success

Held for the first time in conjunction with gaming trade show G2E, the International Association of Gaming Advisors (IAGA) held its 2011 conference Sept. 30-Oct. 2 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas. CEM was among the bunch, covering the conference via videos and this print review.

IAGA is a non-profit professional association dedicated to the study and development of gaming regulation and compliance. It was formed in 1980, and has since grown to more than 500 members worldwide.

This year’s conference was no doubt a major success for the organization, breaking attendance numbers from all past conferences. More than 270 gaming industry regulators, executives, financial experts, attorneys and compliance officers from around the world gathered together to share their knowledge, learn from other attendees, network and enjoy some great activities. The attendance was particularly impressive this year because in previous years, IAGA held its conference jointly with IAGR, the International Association of Gaming Regulators, but this year they had their own conference at nearly the same time. “We love having our regulator brothers and sisters with us, and they’re in South Africa this year, and just feasibly, that did not make sense for us as an organization,” commented Gavin Isaacs, CEO of Shuffle Master and outgoing president of IAGA.

Isaacs acknowledged the rough economy, but said the beautiful thing about these conferences is they’re always in exotic places, with prior ones being held in locations such as Prague, the Bahamas and Rome. “Given the last three years, people’s budgets have been cut, travel budgets have been cut,” he said. “We had to cancel a conference in Buenos Aires, which put us in financial difficulty. So a way out of that I thought would make a lot of sense would be to have it with G2E.”

The cocktail party held poolside at The Cosmopolitan was filled with networking, fun and a stunning view.
The cocktail party held poolside at The Cosmopolitan was filled with networking, fun and a stunning view.
A Successful Start
I noticed, and heard the same thoughts from others, that everyone was thrilled at the overall success of the conference, in terms of quantity and quality of attendees and the high value of information shared. It was an extremely well put-together event—one of the most smoothly run, not to mention highly valuable, ones I can say I’ve been to. And behind it all was surprisingly calm but proud executive director Kerry Koenig, whom Isaacs publicly thanked for her hard work and dedication to the conference and the organization.

From the session room to the lunch room to the hallway, people buzzed about the latest and hottest topics. The points of conversation spanned the gamut, and included jurisdictional news from U.S. states and international countries, i-gaming, licensing, regulation, mobile, technology, social gaming, even ambiguous topics such as “value,” and of course, law.

Isaacs opened the conference with these words: “This conference promises to be as informative, entertaining and thought-provoking as all others have proven to be before it. I’m delighted by the extremely strong turnout of gaming advisors across the world. We have more IAGA members in attendance than we have ever had before.

“Some of the great panels you will hear over the next two days are specifically designed to be a little bit more provoking than in the past. With times as challenging as they are, new thinking is required so we can continue to adapt both as individuals and an industry.”
In addition to the stimulating panels and speakers offered, IAGA hosted fun and laid-back networking events each evening at three of Las Vegas’ best properties and engaging night spots: Morel’s French Steakhouse & Bistro in the Palazzo, The Rhumbar at Mirage and poolside at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

Marc Rubinstein trades the role of IAGA president with Gavin Isaacs.
Marc Rubinstein trades the role of IAGA president with Gavin Isaacs.
Sessions
Pulling together some of the biggest names from all corners of the industry, IAGA gathered the best for its sessions. Consisting of two luncheon speakers, several roundtables and additional breakout sessions, not one was lackluster.

It all kicked off on Sept. 30 with two hours of “Gaming 101,” an introductory look at the legal, regulatory and financial aspects of gaming presented by former IAGA President Paul West of Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz, Susan Hensel, director of licensing for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, and Scott Schweinfurth, CFO of WMS Industries Inc.

Then after breakfast and opening remarks on day two, was an intriguing and insightful CEO roundtable featuring panelists Isaacs, Boyd Gaming Corp. President and CEO Keith Smith, Global Leisure Partners CEO Mark Harms and Cantor Gaming President and CEO Lee Amaitis. What was so great about this session was hearing straight from these powerful heads of companies their views on the industry, touching on a wide range of topics such as the economy, replacement cycles, jurisdictional regulation, technology, Asia and Internet gaming. One of the most intriguing discussions, though, was on problem gambling. Smith shared: “Having one problem gambler is probably one too many. We were one of the founding members of the NCRG more than a decade ago, and we think it’s just good for business to do that; it’s the right thing to do. The reality is, the incidents of problem gaming is today about 1 percent, which is the same number it was 20 years ago even though you’ve had this explosive growth of gaming across the country and the world.”

This CEO roundtable was followed by “Gaming Regulation for an Evolving Global Industry: Striking the Balance,” moderated by IGT Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary Robert Melendres and featuring Nevada Gaming Commission Chairman Peter Bernhard, Gaming Laboratories International General Counsel & Director of Government Affairs Kevin Mullally, MGM Resorts International Executive Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary John McManus, bwin.party digital entertainment plc General Counsel Dr. Thomas Talos, and Alderney Gambling Control Commission CEO Andre Wilsenach. Perhaps the most “global” panel, this session really stood out because of the ever-so-valuable insights offered from Talos and Wilsenach as to what happens in European regulation versus U.S., which is strikingly different. Bernhard explained how in Nevada, they are front-loaded during the regulatory process, meaning there is no second look. “When we approve someone, we have to get it right the first time,” he said. He adds that they couldn’t do their job if there was any hiding of information, and you have to rely on upfront disclosure of everything.

Congressman Joe Barton addresses the crowd over lunch.
Congressman Joe Barton addresses the crowd over lunch.
Wilsenach opened his first panel statement by saying, “thank you for the opportunity to participate in what is probably one of the most organized panels I’ve ever served on,” then going on to discuss being an effective gatekeeper, also stating he often envies regulators in this part of the world because of how much easier disclosure is in the U.S. than other parts of the world.

Talos added that in Europe, the concept of discovery does not exist, so a third party cannot request information from a regulator about an applicant or licensee. He also shared that there is a major difference in the level of scrutiny and investigation in the licensing process. “Obtaining a license in Europe is comparable to obtaining a license in the securities laws or banking laws,” he said. “In some states, it’s not even that strict. There is no detailed investigation, no requirement to disclose personal information, to go through interviews with investigators. That’s completely foreign to us.”

Melendres asked Talos about when the U.S. legalizes online gaming, how his company will deal with complying with our disclosure. “First of all, I must say we very much look forward to U.S. legalized online gaming,” Talos responded. “We pulled out of the U.S. in 2006, so we feel we are in a very good position to re-enter the U.S. market. A licensed application will clearly be a challenge—someone said yesterday it could be a culture shock. It will definitely introduce an additional scope of regulation to our business.”

The fascinating statements continued, but for the sake of space in this article, if you want to hear more on these topics, watch for CEM’s video coverage of the conference.

A panel of A-list financiers rounded out the morning sessions, and then we were on to lunch with a buzzed-about keynote speaker. Las Vegas Sands Corp. President and COO Michael Leven sat down with former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan to talk about a number of topics of interest to the gaming industry. The conversation was informative and candid, providing useful insights to the audience. And on the following day, the thrilling lunch sessions continued with Congressman Joe Barton (R-Texas)—a co-sponsor of federal online poker legislation—addressing the crowd on the future of online gaming (this talk can be found in its entirety on CEM’s website).

Three breakout sessions were held in the afternoon, and CEM attended “Going Full Tilt? The Future for American and European Online Gaming” featuring Harris Hagan Senior Partner Julian Harris, Loyra Abogados y Assesores attorney Cristina Romero de Alba, Melchers attorney Joerg Hofmann and Kaempfer Crowell Of Counsel Dennis Neilander. Another enthralling discussion, this touched on the Full Tilt case and offered guidance American operators can use for doing business in Europe, as well as the opening of new European markets. Discussion eventually shifted to the U.S. Black Friday, to which Hofmann stated: “One thing is for sure. This should never happen again,” also stating that jurisdictions need measures in place for these kinds of occurrences.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. President and COO Michael Leven talks with U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan during the keynote luncheon.
Las Vegas Sands Corp. President and COO Michael Leven talks with U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan during the keynote luncheon.
One panelist stated: “These indictments did nothing to change the landscape. Players just went to other sites.” Another commented: “If congressmen don’t act soon, some states will go rogue. The first shot for us would be poker. That’s where my crystal ball is now.”

But, as Neilander cautioned: “Just because one licensee went in a rogue fashion doesn’t mean we should overreact.”

Day three opened with “Online Gaming – A Status Update” moderated by Caesars Entertainment Vice President, Associate General Counsel & Corporate Secretary Michael Cohen, and panelists Squire Saunders Hammonds attorney Carl Rohsler, Nevada Gaming Control Board Member AG Burnett, Agility Interactive Managing Director and Tote Tasmania CEO Craig Coleman and Lewis & Roca Partner Tony Cabot. Rohsler was a dynamic and engaging speaker, offering several interesting anecdotes and similes, including France’s actions being like swatting flies and later referencing Winston Churchill, also offering a near spot-on impersonation. One of the most intriguing topics was social gaming and engaging the younger player. Cabot offered this perspective: “The staggering thing about Zynga is that it has so many participants on a daily basis, and it grew out of social media, not a solitary event that occurs at a slot machine. Zynga in particular, and social gaming in general, should be a lesson to the casino industry that our industry is about to change dramatically. … The people that are playing these free games are going to be your customer, and the solitary nature of a slot machine is not going to be what people come to Vegas for.”

There were two more Sunday sessions, “Policy Meets New Technology: What’s the Next Step?” with a group of current and former regulators, and “Evolution of a Gaming Advisor” to discuss the role of the gaming advisor.
Wrapping up the conference was Sean Carter, a “humorist at law,” and though it sounds like an oxymoron, it really was a fun—and funny—way to end it all. Offered for CLE ethics credit, Carter discussed the privilege of practicing law and the importance of kindness, because you never know when you might be attending school with a future president (Carter himself went to Obama’s college but decided to meet pretty girls instead of network with the future leader of our country)! He also offered this bit of advice when professionalism gets tough: “Praise need not be sincere to be effective.”

“Online Gaming – A Status Update” panel was a great start to day three of the conference.
“Online Gaming – A Status Update” panel was a great start to day three of the conference.
The Importance
An association such as IAGA is paramount to furthering our industry, as conversation is one of the first steps to change, and benefits from membership abound.

“It started out as a small group of gaming lawyers when gaming law was a fairly boutique practice,” explained Marc Rubinstein, IAGA president and Affinity Gaming senior vice president, general counsel and secretary. “With the expansion of gaming both in the United States and abroad, there are quite a few more practitioners and quite a lot more knowledge developed in the field over the years, and all of the top-notch people belong to the organization, appear on our panels, or both.”

Referring to some of gaming’s hottest topics right now, Isaacs added: “It is now more important than ever for us to hold conferences such as this so that we can address critical issues, share ideas, hopefully make improvements and enable our industry to advance and deal with the challenges and opportunities it faces today.”

Patricia Becker introduces the three new IAGA counselors.
Patricia Becker introduces the three new IAGA counselors.
“We have people here from the top levels of all companies,” Isaacs said. “The associations that you make, that kind of bonding, is just paramount. To me, the membership benefits are enormous.”

He says another benefit is simply having this broad base of expertise at hand should you need it. “Not only do you get to meet people and build relationships with them, which is very important if you ever have an issue, but you get to understand their perspective and where they’re coming from,” he added.

IAGA is based around getting everyone together as often as we can, Isaacs noted. And one of the key ways the association does this is through the annual conference.

“This was one of the most informative conferences our organization has ever hosted,” Rubinstein commented. “We are fortunate and grateful for the participation and attendance of so many important business leaders willing to share their experiences and insights on the many topics that are relevant not only to our members, but also to everyone involved in this vital and expanding industry.”

Rubinstein and Isaacs’ words ring true, as this was a sentiment echoed among many attendees and speakers as well. The range of industry experts from all parts of world offered information that even some of their fellow panelists were able to learn from.

The Future
Mike Rumbolz was recognized as a part of the new IAGA Counsel.
Mike Rumbolz was recognized as a part of the new IAGA Counsel.
In other news, new IAGA Counselors were announced, consisting of Brian Larson from Boyd Gaming Corp., Sen. Richard Bryan from Lionel Sawyer & Collins and Mike Rumbolz from Global Cash Access.

Isaacs also handed over the presidency reigns to Rubinstein, who told us his goal in the next year is to continue to expand IAGA’s presence internationally, and with several new board of trustees members being international, it’s a trend he wants to push beyond just being in name only.

With another successful event under wraps, Koenig shared this message: “What an exciting several days we have all had! Our Las Vegas conference was one of the best—great panels and speakers, palpable energy and excitement. … Next year promises to be even better with an IAGA/IMGL collaboration on panels at ICE and a conference in conjunction with IAGR in Singapore.”

But regardless of hopes for next year, I am still fired up from this conference, even weeks later as of this writing. If next year really will be better than this year, I am confident saying this is one organization and conference you must be a part of.

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