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Published: Thursday, 10/4/2012

Gaming industry says it’s on national roll

BY SALLY VALLONGO
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE

LAS VEGAS — In preparation for the first of the presidential debates on Wednesday in Denver, President Obama paid a long visit to this swing state, popping into campaign headquarters in nearby Henderson, Nev., where he lodged, to treat staff and volunteers to pizza, among other outings between role-playing sessions.

The presidential visit drew large crowds of supporters and of protesters; it called attention to Nevada’s very troubled economy and added to small aircraft operators’ woes by putting severe restrictions on air space around this desert metropolis.

And it heightened the buzz around one of the gambling world’s central gatherings: the Global Gaming Expo (G2E), which some 24,000 delegates representing more than 400 gambling-related companies attended.

Welcoming all to G2E was Frank Fahrenkopf, Jr., president and chief executive officer of the American Gaming Association, producer of the G2E, held at the Sands Expo and Convention Center on the strip. Here, slot machine makers, casino-service providers, and support-product makers trot out their newest devices and attendees can sit in on dozens of sessions exploring aspects of the industry and can network, network, network.

Seen at Tuesday’s grand opening were Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of the rock band Kiss; Rick Harrison of the History Channel show Pawn Stars, and NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer, all newly minted icons for slot machines by American manufacturers. Increasingly, slot designers draw from pop culture for themes.

In general, slot machines by top companies such as IGT, WMS, and Bally, which may begin turning up in Hollywood Casino Toledo and other gambling centers coast to coast, offer brighter lights, shinier cases, and more elaborate on-screen action. Inspiration for other new designs on display included Dolly Parton, popular online nonbetting games such as Bejeweled, and the perennial favorite Scrabble.

There was a noticeable excitement in the halls of the convention center. According to Mr. Fahrenkopf, a former head of the Republican National Committee and chairman of the Denver debate, the news was generally good, and definitely better than in the last five years.

“We are back to 2008 numbers for the first time,” he said during his introduction of keynote speaker Katty Kay, a BBC America anchor — she too was en route to Denver to cover the debates.

“I think evolution is the key word at this year’s show. The industry is evolving through expansion, such as Ohio, Massachusetts, and Maryland,” Mr. Fahrenkopf told the the Las Vegas Review-Journal prior to the G2E opening. Ohio is now one of 21 commercial gaming jurisdictions in the United States, and revenues reported by casino operators are up by 5.4 per cent. As good as those numbers may appear, the big buzz here was online gaming, which, although illegal in the United States, is being promoted by the AGA and many operators because of the potential profit, some of which now goes to offshore operators. U.S. Sens. Harry Reid and Jon Kyl, of Nevada and Arizona, respectively, have drafted legislation to legalize online poker in the country.

According to Mr. Fahrenkopf, 85 countries have legalized Internet wagering of one kind or another, with some $34.9 billion bet annually by an estimated 33 million players worldwide, including millions of dollars from U.S. players who access Web sites illegally. “It’s no longer a matter of if online gambling will be legalized in the U.S., but when, where, and how,” the AGA head told the Las Vegas Sun on Tuesday.

If the G2E is all about the promotion of gambling in all its forms — machine-based slots, poker of many forms, craps, roulette, horse racing, and sports betting — there’s an adjunct enterprise to deal with the negative spin-off from play taken to extremes.

From Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, the National Center for Responsible Gaming held its 13th annual conference, the place for academic researchers, government officials, direct-care providers, and social-agency leaders to discuss the latest research and move closer to a definition of problem gambling and ways to treat it.

It was created in 1996 by Mr. Fahrenkopf and the American Gaming Association to study social issues related to gambling, particularly behavioral problems. Although the general percentage of gamblers who fall into the problem area is 2 percent, the sphere a gaming addict influences can include family, friends, employers, colleagues, and creditors.

Even before Hollywood Casino Toledo opened on the Maumee River, Toledo has had its share of issues with problem gamblers, who may embezzle from organizations that employ them or resort to other theft.

Funded by the gaming industry, the national center offers grants to academic and independent scholars who add to the general understanding of and treatment for what is called disordered or pathological gambling. Penn National Gaming, which operates Hollywood Casino Toledo, is among the supporters.

This year alone, the center has awarded $1.5 million in grants for support of research in prevention and treatment of gambling disorders.



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