A positive sense of hope, overcoming adversity and many opportunities for growth and new business was the balance of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association fair, which 27th annual edition occurred from August 16th to 18th in the brand-new, state-of-the-art Oklahoma City Convention Center, United States. Originally scheduled for late July, it was a good decision to move the conference and trade show to August in order to give people more time to obtain COVID-19 vaccinations.
The gaming event was the first time for Oklahoma casino operators and suppliers to meet in one place in more than two years. Vendors showcased everything, from coffee to cash handling machines to scents to pipe onto casino floors. Besides, the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic offered Johnson & Johnson vaccine shots.
A fully organized and complete agenda was developed during this week. On August 15th, there was an OIGA membership meeting. Monday, August 16th, was a day for networking, with the Annual Golf Tournament benefiting the John Marley Scholarship Foundation (in the morning), the Poker & Blackjack Tournament, and the Kickoff Party (afternoon and night). Attendants also had the chance to register during the day at the Oklahoma Convention City Center.
On August 17th and 18th, conferences and sessions were held during mornings, while the products and services exhibition happened in the afternoons. Those days, at the trade show floor, there was also a reception and a lunch, to further enhance business contacts and networking. AGS (booth #728), Ainsworth Game Technology (#308), Aristocrat (#538), Global Payments Gaming Solutions (#213), IGT (#302) and TransAct Technologies (#820) were some of the main companies among the 100+ exhibitors at the event. Moreover, for the fourth year, the ‘Made in Oklahoma’ coalition occupied a corner of the floor, celebrating Oklahoma business at its best.
NUMBERS, SESSIONS AND MEETING CLIENTS AGAIN
One of the main moments of the show was the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) presentation of Fiscal Year 2020 (FY 2020) overall Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) figures. It’s important to remember that this study includes revenue data from 524 independently audited financial statements of 248 federally recognized Tribes across 29 states. NIGC Chairman E. Sequoyah Simermeyer and Vice Chair Jeannie Hovland communicated that FY 2020 revenues totaled USD 27.8 billion, a decrease of 19.5% over FY 2019 (USD 34.6 billion). It’s evident that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the FY 2020 GGR results. Unlike previous years, the NIGC administrative regions experienced a FY 2020 decline of more than 13% in GGR.
Although these seem very negative numbers, speakers said: “Tribal gaming has shown resilience and commitment, and continues to develop new roads to economic stability.” In fact, those results are in a way better than the ones from commercial gaming. In accordance with the American Gaming Association (AGA), revenue as a whole in the U.S. decreased in 2020, dropping 31.3% to USD 30 billion.
Other statistics on Oklahoma were much more encouraging, reflecting clear signs of recovery for the sector. Matthew Morgan, Chairman, OIGA, announced that Oklahoma’s Indian gaming industry paid USD 167 million in exclusivity fees to the state on the last fiscal year, a record amount that evidences the sector’s rebound. State revenues from gaming increased more than 35% between the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years, the latter ending in June 2021. What’s more, this full 2021, the industry appears on pace to see pre-pandemic gains for the rest of the fiscal year. Morgan credited a unified pandemic response among tribal leaders as the reason most casinos were able to reopen by the end of June 2020.
“It’s an example of what can be accomplished when everyone is working at the same table. I applaud the efforts of tribal leadership, our gaming employees and our business partners who have worked hard under difficult conditions during the past year. Our gaming operations have sustained much-needed jobs and revenue to Oklahoma communities, continuing to provide high-value entertainment to patrons while maintaining strict health and safety protocols. While our properties are not back to 100% open yet, we are on pace to bounce back to 2019 levels. The tribal gaming industry has shown great resiliency over the past year. I believe this is further proof of the positive benefits our tribal nations bring to Oklahoma,” Morgan highlighted.
Apart from some relevant keynotes, there was a wide schedule of interesting panels and sessions, including issues such as Closing to Reopening of Gaming Rooms; Mobile Sports Betting in the Indian Country; E-Sports; Sportsbooks Across the U.S.; Casino Hosting and Player Development; Marketing & Data Strategies to Reengage with Your Best Players; Responsible Gaming; Problem Gambling; Compliance and Technology; Data Capture and Utilization; Technology Advances in Cashless Gaming; Building a Digital Fortress Against Cyber Crimes; Cleaning & Disinfecting Casino Resorts; Tourism and so much more.
The theme that attracted the most attention from executives was, of course, sports betting. “Sports betting definitely brings a new energy to Indian gaming,” said Ernest L. Stevens, National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) head. “We don’t have to recreate the wheel with this. We can look at other markets and figure out something that can work well here in Oklahoma. What we need to do is drive customers from their illegal markets over to legal markets. Right now, tribes are not benefiting from illegal markets. The state is not benefiting from the illegal markets,” added Morgan.
Right now, 28 states have sports gaming in some form, including four states that border Oklahoma. Besides, 10 others are in the process of legalizing it. Some states are working with tribes, some aren’t. All of them are allowing betting on pro sports teams.
KEY ROLE OF GAMING WOMEN AND FUTURE PERSPECTIVES
One of the most anticipated aspects of the fair was the possibility of meeting again in person with clients, friends and peers from the industry, something that, in most cases, had not happened for two years. In that sense, there were two valuable gatherings in regards to gaming executive women. Global Gaming Women entity organized ‘Leading with Confidence in Today’s Environment’, a talk that joined Kristina L. Humenesky (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma), Kelly Myers (GLI) and Julie Hakman (AmericanChecked) with moderator Lorrie Bamford (Gaming Capital Group). The second meeting was also based on issue ‘Confidence in Leadership’. All the participants were from group United Women of Tribal Gaming: moderator Margo Gray, and presenters Pam Shaw, Robin Coffey and Kelli Weaver.
All of them underlined the achievements of women in the tribal gaming industry and the challenges they will have to face to continue working towards greater equity, diversity and equality within the sector.
At the end of the event, Morgan shared his thoughts on the conference results. “It has really been a wonderful event. After cancelling last year’s shows, it has been an extra special feeling to see again our friends and colleagues from across the country and around the world. As we all know, the casinos and the tribal governments are the economic life blood of the communities. We have to keep on staying stronger together,” he enthusiastically declared.
After two positive events, the NIGA show in July and this OIGA conference in August, with renewed energies and a promise of better times to come, the industry awaits for the next important fair in the United States, Global Gaming Expo that will take place from October 4th to 7th at Sands Expo in Las Vegas.