In 2014, I attended a gaming conference in Atlantic City where the main focus was on the newly introduced use of the internet to deliver gambling products to people within the jurisdiction.
The discussions among the operators and related parties were generally positive. Everything was going well. They were working through the challenges and excited about the future — the standard script for a gaming conference.
Then a funny thing happened: A panel took place featuring four poker players who had been playing on the three iPoker sites in the New Jersey market. Soon, this panel established a rhythm where all four participants complained about the poker products being delivered. In short, the sense of accomplishment that had been the theme of the conference, as established by the comments of the traditional industry-related folks in the Atlantic City gaming ecosystem, was being challenged by four people who were not thrilled with the reality of the new online poker experience.
To this day, I believe that the gaming industry learned an important lesson from this experience: Never invite actual players to have control of a panel at a gaming conference, for they will muddle the narrative with a dose of the actual player perspective.
In other words, players who use the product will often act outside the traditional gaming echo chamber of the parties promoting the product.
A burgeoning Bash
One person who believes that gaming customers, especially of the sports betting variety, actually have something to say and should be listened to is Gadoon Kyrollos, a.k.a. “Spanky.” Over the past three years, Spanky has created an institution known as Bet Bash that has gone from a one-evening event at a rooftop bar in Jersey City with about 250 people attending to a four-day event in Las Vegas where more than 500 people recently attended.
Moreover, those four days featured many opportunities to talk and listen and were capped off with the launching of the Sports Gambling Hall of Fame, featuring true legends in sports wagering and located within the sportsbook at Circa Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.
Bet Bash is attended by people who have an attachment to betting, plain and simple. They may include a professor of statistics from a major university and a grandparent who has embraced betting as a side gig and/or hobby during retirement. They may be individuals who bet small amounts or whales who “send it in.” The common denominator is that these people enjoy what they are doing and want to get better at it.
And in the middle of all of this is Spanky, making them feel welcome and important. The design of the event is to facilitate and encourage interaction.
I have been fortunate enough to attend all three of the Bet Bashes, and Spanky has turned me into a true believer. These events are an incredible opportunity to learn, share, and laugh with a wide range of betting product consumers. And these people have something to say.
What bothers me is how many people were not around to hear what they had to say, including the normal collection of operators, regulators, lobbyists, affiliates, and consultants who generally flock to the formulaic and predictable gaming conferences.
New barriers between player and operator
Because I thought there was so much to learn at Bet Bash, I wrote an article in June for one of North America’s larger publishers of gaming content to encourage regulators to attend. It appears that was a waste of time.
Spanky, too, worked through social media to encourage the more traditional members of the gaming ecosystem to attend, with very limited results.
I discussed this reality with a number of people at Bet Bash III and afterward. The responses I heard included opinions that those who skipped Bet Bash do not see the benefit of learning more about sports betting and/or talking to bettors; that they would rather schmooze with the industry operators than the bettors; that they were afraid the bettors would challenge their actions or knowledge; that it is not their job to interact with bettors; and — the most commonly offered take — that the industry doesn’t care about the bettors.
This seems to be a problem.
The last night of Bet Bash III was capped off with the first induction ceremony to the Sports Gambling Hall of Fame, a formal affair in the Circa Resort Ballroom. It was my great honor to introduce one of the first inductees, Mr. Scott Schettler, who had run the Stardust Race & Sports Book back when that meant something. Scott requested that I present him with the honor, for I had run the casino at the Stardust and Scott and I had worked together in the good ol’ days.
At that time, the only thing that separated us from the bettors was a counter, and daily, we would talk, negotiate, argue, laugh, and generally carry on business with the bettors. Since then, it is no longer a counter that separates the player from the operator but rather a whole lot of technology. It also seems that a lack of respect is separating the groups.
What I don’t understand is why the conversations have stopped taking place. Why does it seem algorithms are more important than human interaction? Why don’t operators care about bettors who are trying to learn more about how to bet, and why don’t they assist with a bettor’s education? Why don’t regulators want to hear the complaints real-life people are experiencing?
Don’t get me wrong — Bet Bash is not strictly about sharp bettors. It’s for people from all walks of life who enjoy and are interested in betting. Why aren’t their voices at least somewhat of interest to the industry and its stakeholders?
It is my hope that going forward, a changing view of Bet Bash will prevent the need for these questions.