International Gaming Awards: Harrah’s chief Garber calls for on-off gaming harmony

Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder once asked that if ebony and ivory can live together in perfect harmony side by side on his piano keyboard, then why can’t we?
The message of Harrah’s Interactive CEO Mitch Garber during his keynote speech at the International Gaming Awards ceremony last night may not have had any racist overtones but it was certainly all about harmony. Harmony and synergy; the contrasting worlds of online and offline gaming finally sitting down together, toasting each other’s success and not asking each other out for a fight.

Mitch Garber gets some advice from our very own Rebecca Leggero
Mitch Garber gets some advice from our very own Rebecca Leggero
It was good of the events organisers at Clever Duck to take what has traditionally been an old-school, land-based gaming awards ceremony and bring it up to speed by inviting the online crowd along. The internet upstarts who have so often been perceived as a threat to the fortunes of the offline gaming industry are co-existing with their cross-channel cousins whether they like it or not so they might just as well get on – which was the crux of former PartyGaming CEO Garber’s message.

„I’m very happy to speak at a night like this where finally the online and the online gaming world and the offline gaming world are being celebrated and honoured together because I truly believe that this industry will become a singular industry very, very soon,“ said Garber. „Gary Loveman, my chairman, has shown some very forward-thinking and a very proactive approach in creating Harrah’s Interactive Entertainment and seeing the off-line and the land-based casinos as being symbiotic and complementary to each other instead of being seen as being cannibalistic and competitive to each other.“

Garber also called for clearer European legislation in order for the online gaming industry to flourish. „The internet expansion has not been quite as the land-based expansion was,“ he said. „In 1999 we had £3bn gross win in internet gaming. In 2008 it went to £21bn. There was £300m in poker win in 2003 and £4bn in 2008. Europe today makes up 40% of the internet gaming market, north America makes up 30% and Asia makes up 30%. But the deal in the internet regulatory state of affairs has not been consistent as was applied in the land-based world. This is where we have a gap between the growth of online gaming and the growth of land-based gaming.

„We have in Europe the most problematic law because as long as there is an unambiguous, clear and positive interpretation and application of Article 49 we cannot say that the online gaming industry is like the land-based gaming industry. Every hotel and casino that is erected is clearly erected with a license and title to the land with a license to offer gambling inside that establishment. There is no room for ambiguity; there is no room for vagary.

„And I think that if we as an online industry get together with the land-based industry and if we are going to be serious about the next ten years and have a business that is run as efficiently as the land-based industry is run then we are going to need to assure ourselves of a consistent and unambiguous application of laws across the board.

„Harrah’s can clearly see a time where there is a regulatory and taxable framework in most civilized countries with lots of internet access. We see the examples of the UK and Gibraltar where it has been very effectively regulated and licensed and monitored – and so we know that this activity can be licensed, regulated, monitored, taxed efficiently and run fairly well. We need to move together, the land-based and the online gaming communities to bring the business together.

Garber added that the next phase of the industry’s evolution would be to follow in the footsteps of Apple and iTunes and achieve success via the cross-promotion of online and offline business. He re-iterated that fears about the offline gaming industry revenue being cannibalized by the online industry were unfounded. In fact, quite the opposite.

„Online gaming helps create customers for offline gaming,“ he said. „Customers cannot be in your casino all the time so having a connection to your customer while he’s not in the hotel is absolutely smart marketing for the future. The land-based world should start to embrace the online opportunities.“

It was also important to embrace the younger, computer-dependent generations, whose world revolves around an online axis. „The future generation of offline customers has never mailed a letter, doesn’t write its homework with a pen. That future generation is a computer-driven generation that only really knows how to communicate and get messaging and marketing information through their computer. They will be expecting to game online and they will be expecting to communicate with the land-based casinos they identify with online. Those land-based industries that ignore the next generation of gamers are doomed to not have those gamers visiting their casinos.“

On the subject of the future, Garber added that legalized online gaming is a matter of when and not if, and urged the industry to prepare for a what promises to be a fertile land of opportunity. „In five years time there will almost certainly be regulated and taxable online gaming in most first-world countries,“ he said. „That’s a near virtual certainty and you can definitely plan for that. You can certainly see five years down the road and see a clearer unambiguous application of Article 49 and a future legalized gaming legislation happening in the United States at some point.“
Garber is clearly an optimist, and believes that if the online and offline worlds do embrace each other they will make money together. He said: „I am really very hopeful that the land-based gaming world will embrace the online gaming world, will partner with the online gaming world and will help the online gaming world in achieving the type of consistent and unambiguous interpretation of laws, the type of strong regulatory frameworks that we have in the land-based world. It will only benefit all of us if we can achieve that in the online world as well.“
Ebony, ivory, living in perfect harmony…