Video interview: Ari and Ben Fox

CEC University is born: "We're trying to prepare the casino industry to understand that 'techtainment' is where they need to go for the future"

Ben Fox (left) and Ari Fox, Co-Founders of Casino Esport Conference.
2022-06-02
Reading time 7:50 min

The Casino Esport Conference (CEC) has recently announced that for the first time it will add an extra, third day that will see the creation of CEC University (CEC-U), aimed at providing classes on different areas of esports and video gaming. These include betting, monetizing, marketing, legal, hosting tournaments, cryptocurrency, blockchain, the NFTs, the metaverse, Web 3.0 integrated, hardware, games, culture, among others.

In order to have further insights into this whole new educational space, which will be part of CEC's seventh edition from February 27 to March 1 at the Alexis Park Resort in Las Vegas, Yogonet caught up with the event's founders and executive producers, Ari and Ben Fox, in an exclusive video interview, in which they explain a concept they call "techtainment" and the wide universe of opportunities it represents for the entire casino industry, including several ways to make money through technology. "They haven't even scratched the surface," they say.

"One of the things Ben I learned many years ago was that the casinos really like to keep everything in-house and they like to do things themselves," Ari tells Yogonet. "Or if they see a really good idea, they'll copy that idea and then put that into play for their consumers and their customers. So instead of actually trying to design or them going to consultants, they bring their executives to our event and our day of education, and let them learn for themselves from the people that they have to build that stuff from, or get that stuff built, so that they can do it in house. Get someone who's going to learn and educate about the metaverse, about cryptocurrency, about video gaming culture, and there's a lot to know. And that's why we've decided that we would add this day of education and workshops."

The Fox brothers have been studying and researching technology that they point out exists today and is not being offered in the casino in any way, shape or form. Ari warns that despite positive profit reports released today, the casino industry always has to think about tomorrow: "You could just look at the Covid-19 and what the casinos had to deal with, not just in Las Vegas, but in Macau and all over the world, that they had to shut down. And they were hurting. What did they do while they hurt? Well, they laid everybody off. Everybody's fired. Goodbye. See you. So that stabilizes their numbers. That makes their stockbrokers feel better, that they're still going to be around after the pandemic. And then they come back stronger after the pandemic because they just basically went into saving mode. I'm going to save all our money, hoard the money so that when times get better, we'll be able to open up, hire people and bring them all back. And that's what happened. So nobody talks about what happened during the pandemic and how they had to struggle. They only talk about last month's revenues and or yesterday's revenues and today's revenues. They don't talk about what's going to be in future revenues."

Ari argues that the future might not be bright if casinos are not prepared for it, and one of the options there is in the metaverse, which would draw the interest of a lot of more people: "It changes the whole conversation," he says. And when it comes to iGaming adoption, Ari notes that it should be thought and designed to be relevant to the future generation, as young people want technology, to be able to be entertained that way. "So I think that's why we are putting in these workshops, because we're trying to prepare the industry to be ready and understand that this is where you need to go for the future."

Video gaming, and technologies like the metaverse, crypto and NFTs, which may have downturns as we see today, are not going anywhere, CEC founders say. "And the casinos have an opportunity, particularly in the crypto space, because they're already doing it," Ari says. "Well, the truth of the matter is when you go into a casino and you get a poker chip, that's like a cryptocurrency, isn't it? It belongs to the casino, and you can use it within the casinos. Well, that's the same thing with cryptocurrency. If they mind their own crypto, then not only is that piece or that coin an equal valuation to a dollar, but now people can own that coin on a decentralized exchange, as long as it's cleared with the SEC, and that can fluctuate in cost. So when that person goes to cash in their coin with the casino now it's worth not a dollar, but it could be worth $5. Makes sense, right? Because now the casinos can make more money on mining crypto, or mining coin, and there's a lot of opportunities out there for them that they're not even looking at. And I think that's something that they're missing."

When talking about esports integration into casinos, one of the flagship examples for that would be the HyperX Arena Las Vegas at the Luxor. "I don't know how much of an involvement MGM had, but I know that they probably rented out the space for Allied Esports arena, and honestly, we're not ready for LAN centers," Ari says. "If someone can have just as good a time sitting in their own house as they can at a local access network center like an Allied Esports arena, then don't spend $30 million on an esports arena that's going to stay empty. It doesn't make any sense."

In terms of techtainment as a generator of many alternative ways to make money, Ben delves further into the metaverse. "I've been told time and time again that casinos are in the real estate business. So, touching on that, there's no better real estate than cyber real estate, because when you're dealing with cyber real estate, you have a kind of recreation of what you have in brick and mortar, and you're able to also sell real estate within your own property, even though it's cyber. So, these are some of the things that we're going to be teaching them at the CEC U, and It's not just about teaching. It's about them being able to graduate and use these tools. And the people that we are bringing to the classrooms are people in the industry, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, these people who are already in the business of providing platforms for all this kind of stuff and a way for them to make money."

And this conversation change goes way beyond esports or online casinos. "I mean, iGaming is ok, you take the slots, you put them in the people's homes, you take the poker game, you put it in the people's homes. They don't have to leave. They're still connected to the casino in one way, shape or form. But what we really want to do is expand on that because the new generation, they don't live in one location. Everything is cyber-related. So why isn't the casino getting these people? Why aren't they capturing them? These people want entertainment. They spend hours a day watching TikTok videos that have absolutely no payoff or no reward for them whatsoever. But that's their form of entertainment. So what are we missing? We're missing this whole casino industry utilizing the tools that are currently available to them, including esports," Ben concludes.

One of the key issues when addressing these emerging technologies is related to fears and fraud risks, but Ben notes they are "way more regulated and controlled than anything you can do in a casino with human error. So here we are with all this information and we need people to ask us questions one-on-one so that they can get the answers and cover all these fears and worries they have about being able to get into this business. We feel that by putting them in classroom environments, it's going to allow more of that, they're going to be able to take notes and ask the questions and get the answers to the things that they couldn't really do in a lecture. They can get answers, but it's primarily about listening, mostly, and then asking a few questions that happen to come up, but really not getting to the point where they say, ok, I left this classroom, now I know what to do, now I know who to call, now I know where to start. So that's a different approach, and no one really does it."

By mid-May, just a few days before the interview, U.S. state regulators of Texas, Wisconsin, Kentucky, New Jersey and Alabama simultaneously filed emergency orders against a virtual casino that has been operating in the metaverse, Flamingo Casino Club, which markets an alleged affiliation with Caesars' Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel & Casino. This followed a similar case in April in which Alabama and Texas halted NFTs sales of Cyprus-based Sand Vegas Casino Club. When asked about these cases, Ben says they actually should be a wake-up call for the industry: "Obviously the ones that have decided to set them up and use somebody else's name realize that they can make money at this. So if anything, the casino should turn around and go, OK, they already were just using our name to try to make money. There must be some reality to this. So it just proves everything that we've been talking about, the fact is that the criminal element knows that the business is there."

One of the key educational hubs represented at CEC-U will be UNLV's Black Fire Innovation. "What we're trying to do is not only bring Blackfire in with their curriculum and their base, but also even go beyond what they're doing and give them an opportunity to say, well, we didn't touch on that. Maybe we'll go back to our students and start classes with that, on how NFTs and crypto can integrate into the casino and hospitality market, and how we can utilize that to place in our curriculum," Ari explains.

CEC-U also plans to bring in people at the forefront of technology from Decentral Games, which runs the Decentraland metaverse, Ubisoft, and also from Intel, Google, and Microsoft. "They all have evangelists that will come explain to people what they're doing, how the casino can make money utilizing those products and how to do it. Maybe not only that, but maybe those people who go to our classes will say, we have to hire someone. I have to talk to my HR people and we have to hire someone that knows how to develop and build metaverse spaces. And maybe we have to go through and build a techtainment department," he adds.

Ari also finds a potential new conversation for Native American tribes: "I've heard multiple times from Native America that some of them don't like the fact that they have to rely on casinos for their reservations, to build their ecosystems. So it's a necessary evil. They do it. It does make money and it helps their communities. But what about building a mining space, creating service stations to build mining spaces? Well, where do they go for that? Maybe we have somebody at CEC-U that builds mining farms that mines crypto, and they could create their own cryptocurrency. There's a lot of opportunities here." 

Watch the full video interview with Ari and Ben Fox on our YouTube channel.

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