Serious Business and Excellent Food Combine for OIGA Show

The Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA) lived up to its nickname “The Biggest Little Trade Show in Indian Gaming” during its 20th anniversary annual conference Aug. 12-14 in Oklahoma City.

With a record number of attendees topping 2,400, a sold-out exhibit floor (165 exhibitors) and all of the Oklahoma gaming tribes well-represented, it continues to be the largest regional tribal gaming show in the country.

Giving fuel to the enthusiasm at the trade show this year was the fact that on July 21, just weeks before the event, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) released its annual Indian Gaming Revenue Report announcing an all-time record growth for 2013. OIGA published the entire report in its conference program.

From the NIGC Report: The 2013 gross gaming revenue (GGR) is calculated on the 449 independently audited financial statements submitted by 235 gaming tribes. The 2013 GGR of $28 billion represents a 0.5 percent growth in revenue as compared to 2012 reported GGR of $27.9 billion. Overall Indian gaming revenues have stabilized over the past four years. Associate Commissioner Daniel Little said, “Indian gaming topped $28 billion for the first time since the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). It’s a testament to the trust the gaming public has placed on this industry and it reinforces the fact that this industry has the most comprehensive regulatory structure in the business.” The entire report with additional charts and graphs can be found on the NIGC website, www.nigc.gov.

As is typical of the OIGA conference, the 2014 show was organized with relevant and current workshop topics, a well-designed exhibit floor and ample offerings of food and beverage. I spoke to several attendees who gave credit to Executive Director Sheila Morago for executing a great show and truly paying attention to the details. Morago, who was visible and available the entire event, admitted with a smile that having plentiful food and beverage options is in fact a priority at OIGA, as well as the significant events, workshops, seminars and exhibits.

Unlike many other industry trade shows, Morago plans the OIGA schedule so nothing conflicts with the exhibit floor time, and I found this to be a strong selling point for many of the vendors (the majority of OIGA exhibitors indicated they were renewing for their 2015 spot). I walked the entire floor and found a surprisingly diverse group of loyal and faithful exhibitors.

Here are a few of their impressions:

Integrity Gaming had the first visible booth at the main entrance to the OIGA floor, complete with open bar. Integrity offers a large variety of bingo and blackjack supplies, all of which were on display. I spoke to Integrity Gaming’s Mari Kuykendell, who said that OIGA historically is Integrity’s bestselling show, and although the company attends several industry conferences, typically this is the only one where it exhibits, because the conversion rate is so strong.

Julie Hakman and Kellie Weaver of AmericanChecked expressed similar sentiments, saying that OIGA is also their best show for gaining new customers and achieving actual sales. Hakman credited the phenomenon with the fact that OIGA seems to be more intimate than other shows. AmericanChecked is a Native-owned and Tribal Employment Rights Office (TERO) certified company that provides casinos with background screening checks as well as employment and licensing history. Its latest technology, a system called TribalTrac, allows for a safe and secure sharing of information between tribal employers, a process that greatly reduces time and improves accuracy.

Shannon Basset-Cowden and Mary Beth Powell of YWS Architects stated that OIGA not only provides good networking but also strong community connections because, as Basset-Cowden said, “All of Oklahoma comes together to celebrate what they do in Oklahoma gaming.” They also pointed out that unlike some of the larger national shows, they believe that everyone at OIGA is attending to make a decision, purchase a product or really investigate the possibilities of new vendors and updated technology. This is different, they noted, from some of the larger and more global shows where tourists, spouses and significant others come along for the experience but don’t really have any true business purpose. YWS is a global design and architectural firm with a branch in Oklahoma and a special focus on gaming and gaming-related enterprises.

Perhaps the most unique OIGA exhibit was the campaign of Matt Silverstein for U.S. Senate. Silverstein is a native Oklahoman, an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation, and is the Democratic nominee in Oklahoma for the U.S. Senate running against longtime incumbent Jim Inhofe in the upcoming November election. He is an independent financial advisor by trade, therefore a Washington D.C. outsider, and he definitely has tribal sovereignty at the heart of his campaign. I personally stay politically neutral, but I do support our Native nominees hailing from any party; (I applauded Winona LaDuke as the vice presidential candidate alongside Ralph Nader under the Green Party). On Capitol Hill, we greatly miss the presence of former Senators Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.) who were supporters of federal Indian policy and strong advocates of tribal sovereignty. If elected, Silverstein said he plans to implement a two-pronged tribal focus strategy, a) have an open door policy to all tribal leaders and b) make sure to vet judges because the federal Supreme Court is crucial to the interpretation of federal Indian law. I don’t have any knowledge of Oklahoma politics, but from what others told me, Silverstein will have a tough time winning an election against the longtime incumbent Inhofe, who will be 80 on his next birthday and was first elected to politics in 1967. Regardless, Silverstein found a strong audience at OIGA with a packed booth; may we all wish him good luck as he supports and preserves tribal sovereignty and native culture.

I also attended the Global Gaming Women’s OIGA reception held after the first full conference day and had the pleasure of meeting Ginger Curtis, director of industry relations and programming for the large gaming industry conference, G2E. G2E is the granddaddy of all gaming shows and conferences, bringing together every possible sector of gaming on a global basis. It was nice to see gaming women supporting each other, networking and sharing common goals and experiences. Ginger made a point to express her (and G2E’s) support of tribal gaming on a regional and national basis and to remind everyone of the dates of G2E (Sept. 30-Oct. 2) this year.

Morago’s team was extremely creative with the seminar and workshop track titles at OIGA this year. A few examples of session titles:

• “You Only Hurt the One you Love”; Stringfellow Consulting’s session on scams
• “Just Because You Dream It Doesn’t Mean They Will Come”; KlasRobinson’s workshop on feasibility studies
• “Who’s That Knocking At My Door”; GLI’s session on network security
• “Cool New World”; a general workshop on virtual currency

Although no catchy title, the finance seminar was extremely well attended and provided experts from leading firms across the country advising on various traditional and creative/alternative financing for tribal projects. Most of the tribal representatives in attendance were seeking financing for ancillary projects such as hotels or travel centers (not for actual gaming facilities).

Leading gaming manufacturer VGT participated as both an exhibitor and panel presenter, with VGT officials discussing current trends and technology related to Class II gaming. The company had one of the largest turnouts with more than 150 attendees from its organization. I caught up with VGT Director of Marketing and Communications Deborah Dwyer, who made it clear that even though the food is great and the conference is a fun place to be, the number one priority is getting business done. “It is a show where business is transacted and people are serious; they come to the workshops wanting to learn, and they come to the exhibit floor seeking products,” she said.

Linda Roe, vice president of business development and client relations at Thalden Boyd Emery Architects, may have stated it best: “OIGA is just the best run show because Sheila organizes it so darn well!”

Morago is already planning the 2015 OIGA conference; she announced that the date will move next year to July 27-29. “Here at OIGA,” Morago said, “we would like to send out a big thank you to all of our sponsors, exhibitors, speakers, volunteers and attendees—make the show the success that it is.” Updates can be found at the OIGA website: http://oiga.org.

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