THE BACK PAGE: Looking forward to the 21st century
We’re about 12 years into this thing, but has it really started yet?
Over a decade into the 21st century and we’re still wondering if it will take another decade for full-scale networked gaming on U.S. slot floors, still wondering if the U.S. government will tackle online gaming legislation, still waiting for any number of states to tinker with their constitutions to allow for full-scale casino gaming where their landscapes are already dotted with casinos.
If there’s a trend here, it seems to be that governments move slowly, not just when it comes to gaming, but generally speaking. This is particularly true in the U.S., which is in the midst of yet another less-than-ennobling presidential campaign. After watching the conventions last month, just for fun, I YouTubed some of the more notable convention speeches since the 1980’s (yes, that’s what occasionally passes for fun chez moi). What was pretty clear, to this armchair observer at least, is that every U.S. presidential election since 1980 has been basically about the same thing; government is the problem vs. government can/needs to help. If they only had a brain vs. if they only had a heart. The candidates are always people of accomplishment, but campaign season very often transforms them into The Scarecrow and the Tin Man, talking about this place called Oz that doesn’t really exist.
Time was when inertia was a useful strategy when consensus was lacking, but time also was when we had the luxury of time. Things move disturbingly fast these days, and, in most areas of life, you could say technology is the culprit. In terms of needs and motivations, people still are what they are, but their behaviors are changing, and quickly, not to mention processes that can move entire sectors of the economy.
Things languish when they don’t evolve, nowadays even more so. Let me take you back to last month, when we invited some of the best thinkers and doers in the gaming industry to ponder the last 25 years and what we might take from them as we go forward. James Maida, president and CEO, Gaming Laboratories International, wrote the following, and, as the industry gathers this month to ponder the future at G2E, it bears repeating:
“With all of that progress and prosperity, one thing has remained constant: the technology in our daily lives has outpaced the technology in the gaming industry. This is not a new trend – it is one that has plagued our industry for the past 25 years. There are pockets of the industry that have emerged as technology leaders and early adopters, giving us models to follow. However, we have been taught that we need to be much better at closing the gap between the time it takes for technology to be adopted in regular life and into the gaming industry.
“Some past examples for us to learn from include TITO, cashless gaming, and embedded bill validators – technologies that were commonplace in daily life, yet eluded us in gaming for too long. Now that we have them, it’s hard to imagine life without them. So as we look to other technologies such as using iPads, iPhones and other type devices for mobile gaming; using the internet for gambling; and incorporating social gaming like Facebook; we need to acknowledge our habit of late adoption and commit that in the next 25 years, we will do a better job at decreasing the time between when technologies are invented and when they appear on the gaming floor.”
Our cover story this month is an update on the U.S. online gaming market where, truth be told, less is happening than might otherwise be hoped for, Nevada’s bold first step notwithstanding. There are some very good reasons why, and the temptation to wait and see what will happen at the federal level is justifiable, but, from a macro standpoint should the ball not be advanced by Congress this time around, waiting would be the worst option for the U.S. casino industry, which, to the gamer at least, looks a little too much today like it did 10 years ago.
Our sluggish century shouldn’t make us feel too bad. It was said the 20th century didn’t really get underway until 1914, and it took a global military conflict to get things moving. This time around, it would seem to be financial crisis. Then again, 2008 seemingly wasn’t crisis enough, at least in terms of getting people of disparate views to put their heads together. Gaming interests in the U.S. know how to advance the economic argument of voluntary taxation to revenue-challenged lawmakers. Internet gaming is a more complex political challenge, and industry consensus is more integral to the solution here. That won’t be easy, but you only have to turn your TV on to see where unyielding interests lead.