The controversy around the portrayal of women at last week’s ICE London exhibition is rumbling on with Kate Chambers, Managing Director of show organiser Clarion Gaming responding to the negative press by emphasising that Clarion’s priority has always been “to encourage respectful representation of women.”
It was just the night before ICE 2018 that the Gambling Commission’s chief executive Sarah Harrison described the way promotional girls were utilised at the conference as something that is having a “significant stain on the industry’s reputation.” The comments drew the attention of the mainstream press, which had only recently exposed an organisation called The Gentlemen’s Club for its treatment of women, and led to a number of ‘undercover’ reports from the show floor criticising companies for their depiction of women in their promotions.
However, Chambers defended the organiser’s policies in this area: “Our campaign to encourage respectful representation of women began over a year ago, prior to the 2017 edition of ICE. The majority of the senior team at Clarion Gaming is female and our strategy has been to drive a cultural change, which hopefully has a degree of permanency rather than a proscriptive change.
“While I think we have achieved some success adopting this strategy, moving forward we will be taking a greater degree of control over this important issue and updating our position in partnership with our stakeholders. Wherever Clarion Gaming operates in the world, it does so with the support of the industry we set out to serve and we will be canvassing stakeholders through our Ampersand Think Tank and research initiative that enables us to communicate directly with the industry. Following this process, we will produce an Action Plan of deliverables for wider consultation and I would ask members of the industry who would like to be part of that process to contact me directly. The Action Plan will apply to all of our brands.”
However some members of the industry are annoyed at the way they have been portrayed in the media. Endorphina, the company highlighted in the press for featuring a pole dancer, defended its actions by pointing out it was tied into a promotion for its latest slot, a BDSM-themed game which just happens to be launched at the same time as the third 50 Shades of Grey film from Hollywood.
“This theme is a trending topic and is not considered as such a taboo as it used to be in the past. Many books and movies, which present BDSM, have recently been issued and warmly welcomed by the public around the world,” it argued.
Dan Waugh of Regulus Partners also questioned why the Gambling Commission felt the need to express a view on the matter. In a nuanced piece to newsletter subscribers, Waugh described about how blanket criticism of the gambling industry – as sexist, misogynist, mean and uncaring – may be doing more harm than good.
“The use of promo girls has been a feature of ICE ever since I have been attending and – I am told – is a characteristic of some other expos too,” he wrote. “A quick search on Google produces examples from the automotive trade, technology companies, brewers and distillers, energy drink producers, bankers and yes – even newspaper publishers. Based upon interviews captured in the Guardian, it appears that some of the hostesses at ICE experienced unwanted advances (innuendo and touching) from (presumably) male delegates. This is unacceptable. In addition, some attendees (principally but not exclusively women) may be offended by it all and their feelings warrant consideration.
“However, while tacky and tawdry, it is not (yet) illegal and it has little to do with our gambling laws. It is also hardly the fault of Britain’s gambling CEOs who were censured for it in the press. ICE is an international trade fair where the vast majority of exhibitors are non-British companies; many are not even licensed by the Gambling Commission. As Marina Hyde wondered in her Guardian column, given the number of regulatory issues facing gambling, perhaps the use of hostesses at ICE ‘should be a little further down the Gambling Commission’s list of give-a-tosses’.”
Meanwhile gambling consultant Steve Donoughue has written an open letter to the ICE organisers arguing that a crackdown is unwarranted. He commented: “The promotional girls are not exploited, they know fully well what is expected of them and they do their jobs professionally and happily. There has been no reports of harassment or assault and if there was, the law would apply and the perpetrator prosecuted.”
One of the consequences of the controversial issue is that the news that ICE actually broke records again during its 2018 edition has been somewhat overshadowed. Kate Chambers commented: “I would like to reflect on another excellent edition of ICE London. The show floor provided a global representation of the industry, with 589 exhibitors from 65 countries producing games for every jurisdiction and every gaming vertical. In terms of the attendance figures, our registration company undertakes a robust interrogation of the data prior to submitting the number of unique visitors for independent audit. In the week prior to ICE London, the pre-registration figures were 4% up and our initial attendance figures are showing a similar uplift, which would be the seventh consecutive year of growth.”
Discussing this year’s conference in the Racing Post, B2B director of the Racing Post Eugene Delaney added: “There is no better platform than ICE for meeting and networking with the entire industry. It’s the must-attend show of the year. Clarion somehow manage to improve the event every year with more visitors from more countries than ever before.
“From our perspective, the Racing Post Cafe was the central meeting point for the sports betting industry and the stand has never been busier. We had a great show and it’s the ideal way to start the year.”