Vegas in the Fall, where the global gaming industry comes together

vegas-in-the-fall,-where-the-global-gaming-industry-comes-together

If you first read this on a hand-held device while taking a break from working hard in the Venetian Expo or playing hard in somewhere unmentionable, then I take off my hat and raise my glass to you, for you were there, living the dream, at the very heart of the action. For the rest of us, observing from a distance, the purpose of this piece is to simply give flavour – or what is now known as ‘colour commentary’ – to what has always been the most significant event of any global gaming industry year.

Discover, Connect, Explore

Such was the tagline for this year’s G2E event, for as they say, G2E truly is the one place to see the people, products and ideas to drive your gaming business forward and define the future of the industry. Although as the wise old heads know well and the youngsters will have quickly learned, ‘Discover, Connect, Explore’ can take on a whole new meaning when visiting this particular city.

I find it astonishing when I remind myself that it is now 25 years since my first trip to Vegas and what was then called the World Gaming Congress, held in the Las Vegas Convention Center. Barry Manilow had a residency there at the time, although for some reason we gave that a miss. With knowing smiles, the wise old heads around me back then called me a ‘Vegas Virgin’ and how right they were!

We all remember our first time

Although I have been back many times since, there is always something special about the first time, when all innocent expectations are so wildly exceeded. We stayed at Luxor – it was fairly new and cool back then – and my eyes were quickly opened when all guests were called to assemble in the small hours of the second morning following the tragic termination of a lady of the night in one of the hotel’s 4,000 rooms. In truth, the fact that I was in my room in the small hours was unusual for that first trip, as we calculated that our average night’s sleep over the whole five nights was somewhere between two and three hours.

The early evenings were spent sedately, and professionally, attending industry parties (Aristocrat’s rooftop event included the presence of live zoo animals) and dining with clients. Later on, getting sweaty and drinking stupidly at Tommy Rocker’s was popular before, much later on, venues like Olympic Gardens and Cheetah’s (long before Mike Tyson put it on the world map) could see you right through to daylight. Did I mention we were there to work..? I can assure you that this schedule was hard graft!

Back to the show floor

Apart from its rock-solid established history, and location in the spiritual home of gambling, G2E works because it represents the entire industry and evolves with it, year after year. The speakers, exhibitors, attendees and partners represent the full scope of the industry, making the event stronger and the collective experience so much richer and more fulfilling.

It is the world’s largest and most important gaming event because despite the distractions of its location, it is where so much serious business gets done. The show floor is the year’s most in-depth source of new products, networking, ideas and information. If you are do business in or want to do business in the global gambling industry, then G2E Las Vegas is essential. This year, over 250 exhibitors demonstrated their latest innovations to more than 18,000 professional visitors. Furthermore, attendees also took part in over 70 separate educational sessions, covering every aspect of the wider industry that we can imagine.

The beginning of an amazing journey

The original settlement of Las Vegas was founded in 1905, after the opening of a railroad linking Los Angeles and Salt Lake City and in 1911, the town was incorporated as part of the newly founded Clark County. Real growth began in 1931 when work started on what is now the Hoover Dam of young male construction workers resulted in the building of theatres and early casinos, and the first gambling license was issued to the Northern Club. This was quickly followed by further licenses along Fremont Street, which became the first paved street in the city.

In April 1941, Thomas Hull opened the El Rancho Vegas, the first resort on what later became the Las Vegas Strip, and in October 1942, cinema magnate R E Griffith opened Hotel Last Frontier. But the next hotel to be built on the Strip was the one that everyone knows about.

In 1946, the Jewish gangster Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, supported by fellow mobster, Meyer Lansky, built The Flamingo and paved the way for the high-class casino resort concepts that have dominated the Strip ever since.

By 1954, over eight million people were visiting Las Vegas every year, spending more than $200m in the casinos. Gambling was no longer the only attraction; tourists were drawn to see the biggest stars of the day – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Liberace and, later, Elvis Presley – before enthusiastically resuming the gambling that financed it all.

All change as The Aviator lands in town

In 1966, Howard Hughes, eccentric billionaire hero of the American aviation industry, moved to live in Las Vegas. When asked to vacate his suite at the Desert Inn, he bought the entire hotel. He went on to spend an estimated $300m – back when that was a lot of money – acquiring many of the well-known hotels, loosening the grip held by organised crime. It is fair to say that Hughes was instrumental in ‘upgrading’ the image of Las Vegas towards a more cosmopolitan tourist destination.

The late 1980s saw the rise of a new type of entrepreneurs and a new chapter in the city’s history. The so-called ‘megaresort’ era began with developer Steve Wynn’s construction of The Mirage. More family-oriented, with diverse entertainment and over 3,000 guest rooms, each with gold tinted windows, it set a new standard for Las Vegas luxury and attracted tourists in droves, leading to additional financing and rapid growth along the entire Las Vegas Strip.

Duelling pianos and Ricky Hatton

At this point, fittingly as we are entering the 1990s, I have to confess that my own favourite place to stay has always been New York New York. Unlike some, I love the rawness of the place. The relentless noise, the crazy main bar, the duelling pianos, the thousands of Ricky Hatton fans taking the place over (twice), it reflects the city of its name – rough and ready for action. I love it.

As a new millennium dawned, the difficult global financial situation had a negative effect on both tourism and gaming revenues and by 2010, empty lots had begun to appear along the Strip. However, ours is nothing if not an industry that is used to taking the hits and climbing back up off the canvas, and since 2007, new landmark openings have once again become a feature of the city’s history, not least Palazzo (2007), Encore (2008), the CityCenter chain (2009), The Cosmopolitan (2010), The Ling (2014), Circa (2020) and Resorts World (2021).

Ain’t no stoppin’ us now

Back in the day, following that first visit, I wrote a piece that referenced the movie ‘Leaving Las Vegas’. Nicolas Cage plays a struggling writer who goes to Vegas with the intention of drinking himself to death. My joke was that I knew how he felt, and on more than one level! But it was not meant scornfully, for whilst it is undoubtedly one of the world’s great partying places, it is also the centre of the industry in which we all work. And all humour aside, the work that gets done over the three core days of G2E Las Vegas is arguably the most important work of any year. It is invaluable, it is the greatest show on our earth and long may its success on every level continue to evolve and flourish.