Regulus Partners begins the week by dissecting the media storm surrounding an eventful ICE2020 Conference. Despite the negative headlines, the industry can take comfort in its balanced reaction to media hysterics…
In a week when the Guardians of Righteous Justice descended upon the ICE2020 expo in search of indignation, Signor Flavio Grasselli delivered a particularly memorable riposte to the brand of confected outrage that surrounds everything gambling these days.
In response to questions about whether a mermaid outfit was suitable attire for someone promoting mermaid-themed gaming machines, the “conference delegate from Italy” told the BBC that, “Gambling is linked with the forbidden,” adding that the “sensuality of a woman” and the “sensuality of the roulette wheel” in casinos were naturally linked. Well indeed.
Not since the days of the Fast Show’s Swiss Toni have we in Britain been treated to such eloquence, recalling candle-lit date nights at the Berni Inn and Barry White laying down gravel on the Victrola. More importantly, this was a beautifully honest and gloriously Latin rejection of the sanctimonious guff that all too often passes for discourse on gambling policy.
The uproar was instigated by the fact that conference organisers Clarion had failed to consult Mary Whitehouse when ruling on dress codes for promotional staff (having already done a great deal to tone down some of the emerging market extremes that were creeping into the global expo). As a result, a relatively small number of men and women revealed more of themselves than the BBC and the Guardian considered tasteful (although curiously, the concern appeared to focus exclusively on females).
It should be noted that ‘promotional attire’ has been toned down considerably in response to criticism; if we now need to expunge it entirely, then this is no longer a gambling industry issue but a much broader question (capturing the use and/or dress of Cheer Leaders for US sports for example, or what Strictly contestants should be allowed to wear).
We also question the logic of the gambling industry setting itself up as a bastion of modern Puritanism whenever it is in public – the idea that this will in any way assuage the criticism of the perennially outraged is a naïve one, in our view.
In a week when the Shadow Culture Secretary Tracy Brabin was forced to defend herself for bearing shoulder-flesh in Parliament, there were further signs of the highly illiberal tendency to judge people by what they wear. Ms Brabin’s colleague, Carolyn Harris MP (who did not actually attend the conference) called it “unacceptable” that the “overseas companies” who fell short of her standards were “promoting their business at a UK conference”. Post-Brexit Britain is open for trade – but only if you pass the dress code.
The media was so upset about the possibility of sexual objectification that it published images of a number of the promotional staff (we must hope with their written, considered and explicit consent). This ensured that costumes intended for an audience of a few thousand adults (costumes promoting gambling products no less) were seen instead by millions – including children. It’s a moral maze.
This was not all – the conference organisers and the gambling industry were also criticised for allowing “white actors” to dress in “stereotypical East Asian or Egyptian costumes”. This was even more revealing. In our woke century, make-believe is no longer socially acceptable. One may not wear the costume of a country, culture or race of which one is not deemed to be a part (an attitude that seems divisive and discriminatory) and stereotypes are strictly forbidden (farewell Ministry of Silly Walks).
In the future, we ought to expect similar proscription for performances of ‘Aladdin’, ‘Madame Butterfly’ and ‘Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat’ – so at least there is some upside; though if the tailors of Saville Row will start to police the cultural origins of the two-piece suit equally aggressively, we may be left with very little to wear.
While a little bit tiresome, the media stories and political commentary revealed something actually quite heartening. At an event that showcased thousands of gambling products and services and featured scores of speeches and panel discussions, there was always the possibility that some over-eager salesperson or unguarded executive would say or do something inappropriate; yet it was something as lightweight as a bunny outfit that prompted moral condemnation.
Indeed, our broad view of the trade show was of an industry in uneasy transition. There was much talk of regulation and innovation, but not much of that had made it into the products and services on display. To an extent, this is optical: slot games are easier to showcase in a trade show environment than responsible gambling tools and take up more physical space.
Nevertheless, we were very much left with the feeling that the pace of innovation in gambling is not the same as in broader consumer technology, or what building broad customer satisfaction (including responsible gambling) demands. By focussing too much on external criticism regardless of its justification, and increasingly ‘playing it safe’ operationally, the gambling industry may be setting itself a bigger trap than its current regulatory one: whether it can retain its hard-won (and still very patchy) mass-market relevance.