Though I sometimes find it hard to fathom, this year officially marks my 20th anniversary of covering the gaming industry.
I had been working as a freelance writer and editor for a couple of years when I answered a blind ad looking for a reporter to cover business issues for a worldwide trade magazine. That publication was International Gaming & Wagering Business and its then-editor, Paul Dworin, saw enough promise in me to hire me on as a senior writer in charge of Riverboat Gaming News, a bi-weekly fax (remember those?) newsletter.
I’d like to think I was initially intimidated by the job but, to be honest, I loved it from the start. My previous editorial experience focused on the retail and real estate businesses, where competition was so cutthroat people were afraid to give any real information to the press. The riverboat gaming beat was an entirely different beast; new, nascent and full of executives and government officials more than happy to discuss their projects, business situations, potential market growth and dreams for the future. There was a general vibe of bonhomie; that everyone involved in gaming, including trade reporters, were in it together. I miss that feeling.
Back then, the riverboat gaming industry was so small and intimate I could pick up the phone and talk to any number of gaming leaders without the layers you need to navigate through today. So many executives were so friendly and giving with their time—Steve Norton of Argosy Gaming, Kevin Mullally of the Missouri Gaming Commission (and now at GLI), and gaming consultant and former Illinois lottery head Michael Jones immediately come to mind. But the list was much longer than that; people who would return calls and willingly share information and then ask what I knew.
It also helped that the riverboat industry at that time was largely centered in the Midwest, in the adjacent states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Missouri. Proximity bred familiarity, and it wasn’t hard for everyone to know everyone else.
Of course, the industry has changed a lot since the early days. Riverboat gaming, as originally envisioned by state legislators and enabling legislation, is largely gone; replaced by much more safer, larger and lucrative land-based facilities. The mom and pop operators are also a thing of the past, many melded into larger gaming conglomerates. But there has been one constant over the years: the desire of Midwest-based gaming operators, vendors and government officials to get together, share experiences and discuss issues of common interest.
This year, BNP Media Gaming Group, the owners of Casino Journal, is filling this void with the launch of the Midwest Gaming Summit, set to take place June 3-4 at the Westin O’Hare in Rosemont, Ill. The event, designed to provide a comprehensive view of the opportunities and challenges associated with gaming expansion in jurisdictions from Ohio to Iowa, will start with an opening night reception followed by a full day of conference sessions with two keynote presentations by David Patent, president and COO, Rush Street Gaming and Louis I. Lang (D-Skokie), Illinois State Representative and Deputy Majority Leader. In addition, some 20 high-level speakers from across the region have already been confirmed to speak at sessions ranging from Midwest Gaming by the Numbers to the Illinois Video Gaming Market. The Summit will also offer attendees plenty of networking opportunities and a sold-out exhibit floor, which features products and services from 21 companies. For more information, visit www.midwestgamingsummit.com.
Hopefully this event will help to rekindle the early spirit of Midwest Gaming, when all boats rose with the tide and the best days were yet to come.