Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I-Gaming Industry Unites at EiG in Barcelona

Over 1,050 i-gaming professionals from 42 countries converged last week in Barcelona for the European i-gaming Congress and Expo (EiG). At this, the biggest EiG to date, the general feeling was that there has never been a more important time for the i-gaming industry to come together and speak with one voice.

EiG opened with a message that both surprised and touched the packed conference room. David Carruthers, former CEO of BetonSports, spoke via video from his residence in St Louis, USA. Carruthers couldn’t speak about his upcoming legal battle but said he was "strong, fit and in high spirits" and is "preparing for the final outcome of his nightmare." He thanked the industry for its support.

EiG, produced by ATE and River City Group which are divisions of Clarion Events, is the first major i-gaming gathering since the arrests which have rocked the industry and sent i-gaming share prices plummeting.

After the video, Norbett Teufelberger, co-CEO of Bwin spoke rousingly about his experience of being held by the French authorities. "We have been treated as criminals," he stated. He called on the industry to put aside their usual competitive stance to unite and fight together to defend the besieged industry.

The conference programme spanned three days, featuring many more of the biggest names in the industry. Sessions of particular interest included the Monopoly Debate, which brought together state and private operators, including the CEOs of Norsk Tipping and Ladbrokes Nordic, in a frank discussion. The session attendees were also very interested in the news that the European Commission had that day decided to question France, Italy and Austria about their cross-border gambling legislation. The session on USA concerns also drew much interest, with worrying information on the ease with which UK nationals can be extradited to the US.

Running alongside the conference was a 46-stand exhibition showcasing numerous new products and services for the i-gaming industry. Feedback from the exhibitors was extremely positive, with several reporting multiple deals being signed over the three days.

On Friday the 13th, the last day of the Congress, President Bush signed and passed into law the “Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act 2006” which criminalises online gambling firms operating in the US. The general consensus was that this was a sad day for US consumer choice.

The conference sessions closed with a flourish, with a CEO panel that included Mitch Garber of PartyGaming and John Anderson of Considering the events of the last couple of weeks, all were impressed by their commitment to sharing their thoughts with the industry.

Whilst all being positive about the future of the industry, the panel warned against the smaller private operators not taking the new law seriously, with Garber concluding “I think it's very brave of private company operators to think that they're not going to be next to be indicted, arrested and pursued.”

Interesting times indeed for an industry that includes some of the most entrepreneurial minds in the business world.