he American Gaming Association reported a 7 % increase in conference attendees for the first two days of the show compared to 2008, an increase that no one was expecting. “To be honest, we would have been happy with flat numbers from last year. We thought numbers would be down, so it’s been a bit of surprise for us,” AGA Senior Vice President and Executive Director Judy Patterson said.
Patterson said the association was encouraged during the weeks leading up to the show because of an uptick in last-minute registrations. But the news of the increase exceeded all expectations, Patterson said. Overall attendance numbers, however, which include conference attendees and exhibitors, were down 3.7 % for the first two days of the show.
But conference attendee numbers are the ones that matter to exhibitors, Patterson said. “This year was much busier than last year and possibly busier than 2007,” WMS Vice President of Game Development Phil Gelber said.
The Chicago-based gaming manufacturer said there was a lot of buzz about the company’s next-generation "Price is Right" game featuring Drew Carey and a continued interest in its most popular game, "The Wizard of Oz."
Highlights for International Game Technology included its server-based technology — a popular trend among several manufacturers on the floor — and new games like its "American Idol" and "Sex and the City" slots.
“We’re very pleased with how our customers have reacted to our products as well as the analysts and investor community,” IGT Public Relations Manager Julie Brown said. “We’ve gotten a lot of initial numbers for the 'Sex and the City' game, so much so that our product management team is calling it a monster and we love to hear that.” But exhibitor attendance fell an estimated 22 percent at this year’s show, from 724 in 2008 to about 560 in 2009.
Patterson and AGA President and CEO Frank Fahrenkopf said the decline was the result of some small companies closing because of the economy and others not being able to afford to attend.
The focus of this year’s conference sessions was again the recession and the gaming industry’s recovery, but many felt the talk took a much more positive tone than last year.
“At last year’s show, there was more of a feeling that we are in the recession but this year, the feeling is that we are in the recession, but we see the light and it’s coming soon,” Gelber said.
“From the operators’ side, what we were hearing is that they had to make the hard decisions and cut their expenses, and they are now starting to see some of the rewards of that,” Patterson said. “From the manufacturing side, what we heard is that they were getting very creative with their customers in terms of financing. They’ve almost gone into the banking business in some senses,” she added.
President of Aristocrat Technologies’ Americas Division Nick Khin talked about some of those modifications that manufacturers have had to make at Wednesday’s keynote address. To help operators weather the storm, Aristocrat has been offering more leases, payment services and financing options. IGT said it has had to do the same.
“Casinos are wondering how can they possibly refresh their casino floor at a time when they don’t have any money, so what we’ve tried to do is provide them with some great packages and financing options,” Brown said.
As G2E comes to a close, the AGA will now turn it’s focus to the fourth annual G2E Asia in June, a trade show geared toward the growing Asian gaming market. The uptick at this year’s Las Vegas show could be an indication of more success at the Asian conference and G2E 2010.
“This is the time when exhibitors commit to G2E Asia and to next year’s show, and those sales are going very well,” Patterson said. “It’s just showing that things are on the mend.”