Stuart Hunter: ICE success embraces global gambling’s make-up and diversity
SBC speaks to Stuart Hunter, Managing Director of Clarion Gaming on the return of the ICE 2023 expo to its custom February dates. Global gaming’s biggest expo will embrace all stakeholders following two-years of unforeseen disruptions that have changed all industry dynamics, as Hunter underlines that ICE remains gambling’s most important show.
SBC: 2023 sees ICE return to its standard schedule of February dates… Does this represent a ‘back to normal’ approach for Clarion Gaming?
Stuart Hunter: I much prefer looking forward than looking back but you are right last year’s change of dates to April was brought about due to concerns over Covid was a complex process which involved a protracted and intensive programme of consultation with the senior management team at ExCeL in order to secure new dates at such short notice as well as working with our industry stakeholders from throughout the world.
Now that the entire industry is back at ICE, including all of the major supplier brands to the land-based sector and on our traditional February dates the focus is very different from what it was in Spring 2022.
The great news for the international gambling industry is that ICE 2023 is completely sold-out and will occupy the entirety of ExCeL London – making this edition of the show the biggest on record.
It really is going to be a fantastic celebration of all aspects of the global gambling industry. As an organising team we simply can’t wait to welcome those first visitors disembarking from the wonderful Elizabeth Line trains and making their way from Custom House station to pick their badges up for what is the most international and comprehensive industry event on the calendar. The last full-size ICE was in February 2020 – it’s been a long three-years!
SBC: ICE is recognised as the ‘industry’s agenda-setting conference’. However, which industry narratives/themes have caught your eye during the past year, and how will they be reflected at the expo?
SH: I think the key point to make is that whatever the themes, topics and trends that are important to the industry or will define the future will be manifest at ICE London in some shape or form. We are very much facilitators rather than instigators. From the get-go, our strategy has been to always work with the industry and to take our lead from the industry.
We never attempt to ‘set the agenda‘: our job and our responsibility is to deliver what the industry asks us to. We have established processes and mechanisms by which we gather that feedback not least our regular industry symposia held in both London and the USA last year but also the ICE Ambassador initiative.
Our ICE Ambassadors comprise a group of thought leaders drawn from across the industry – land-based and online – who give their time freely and who provide us with insight, industry intelligence and advice. It is a group of critical friends who we sense-check ideas with and they provide an invaluable source of counsel. Similarly, we work closely with the European Casino Association and we are always open to picking up and running with exciting new ideas.
A great example of our collaboration with stakeholders is the first street gaming hub which we are launching in February in partnership with the Gambling Business Group. We were approached by Peter Hannibal, chief executive of the GBG with a proposal to create a show feature dedicated to the street sector. It’s a great idea that we’ve helped to bring to fruition and will feature contributions and insight from leading GBG members who are active in the street sector, including Novomatic UK, Entain, Buzz Bingo, Merkur UK and GameNation. Working with our stakeholders in this way is hugely satisfying because we are using the platform and the influence of the ICE brand to deliver what they want and need in order to further the industry.
SBC: This is the second year of ICE under your management. What changes has a new Clarion Gaming brought to its flagship show?
SH: Without wishing to repeat myself we always work with our stakeholders, we always listen, we always ask why not and we always go the extra mile or kilometre to deliver.
These are the foundation stones of how we operate and define our business philosophy. For ICE in April 2022, it was crucial for us as a team to enhance the in-person experience after such a challenging absence in 2021. That investment and development continues for 2023 with pre-show and onsite tools, experiences and features to support an industry fully reunited.
SBC: As North and South America grow in prominence for gambling operators, should London still be the home for global gambling’s biggest expo?
SH: One of the really special and unique characteristics of the ICE experience is the ability it delivers to meet industry professionals from throughout the world and see the latest products/services from global innovators.
To give some context the last full-size edition of ICE in 2020 attracted industry professionals from 155 nations – I believe the UN recognises 190. 60 countries were represented by exhibitors on the show floor. It’s the ability to see what’s happening throughout the world of gaming in one place that excites our stakeholders and keeps them engaged. The Stronger Together campaign we launched in support of ICE 2023 encapsulates the argument perfectly
SBC: Closer to home, are you concerned that ICE 2023 will clash with the UK government’s delayed Gamble Review judgements that have been postponed to February?
SH: Obviously, we are aware of the importance of the White Paper for all operators with a Gambling Commission Licence. The Commission is exhibiting on the Consumer Protection Zone; we are expecting members of the gambling team at DCMS to visit, we have regulators from throughout the world in attendance not to mention all of the major trade associations and strategic bodies. If the White Paper is published before or even during ICE week what an opportunity to debate and analyse the government’s recommendations than at the world’s most influential gambling trade exhibition?
SBC: Following backlash last year, 2023 sees land-based suppliers return to ICE. How have the concerns of this crucial segment of the industry been accommodated?
SH: I take issue with the use of the word backlash. We fully understood and respected the reasons why the land-based suppliers weren’t able to attend an April event but the truth is we had no other options on dates. The team has been working with our land-based customers for the best part of a year to plan and deliver their return and each brand has had a laser focus on their planning and the significant contribution they play in making this one of the most memorable editions of ICE on record. ICE 2022 was a huge success but there’s no doubt that a full- scale ICE which includes land-based brands among the roll-call of 650 exhibitors is a wonderful prospect
SBC: Do you have a final message for delegates returning to ICE 2023?
SH: First of all, 2023 is going to be another record-breaking edition – the biggest ever. We are expecting a big and a truly global attendance, a fantastic all-encompassing energy, a proliferation of new ideas, new connections, world-beating networking opportunities and of course, the very best concentration of the most significant innovators and suppliers to all sectors of the international industry found anywhere. In fact, we are projecting somewhere in the region of 3,000 product launches taking place on the show floor over the three days.
Our Pitch ICE programme offers up to 14 gaming entrepreneurs the opportunity to showcase their solutions and innovative approaches in front of industry investors and visitors attending ICE London.
In addition to Pitch ICE the show offers a compelling and rounded experience with features such as the award-winning Consumer Protection Zone which will be the biggest in its history, the ICE Esports Arena, the International Casino Conference, World Regulatory Briefing, the ICE VOX learning programme and the new Gambling Business Group Street Gaming Hub. It’s a packed and dynamic schedule delivering opportunities to connect and engage as soon as visitors make that short walk from the Elizabeth line at Custom House and through the doors at ExCeL London. It’s set to be a wonderful and I think an emotionally charged celebration of the global industry and an experience that’s not to be missed!
ICE London, 7th – 9th February, ExCeL London, is the biggest b2b gambling industry event in the world and features games creators, distributors, operators, retailers, innovators, trade associations, strategic bodies, safer gambling charities and regulators – representing every gaming vertical. To join the global gaming community gather ideas, connect with like-minded industry professionals and identify new opportunities visit: www.icelondon.uk.com.