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LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- The gaming industry's leading trade show, where the newest slot machines, management systems and other gambling-related products are unveiled to casino operators, opens this week at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
The timing for the Global Gaming Expo, however, couldn't be worse.
The global and American economies are tanking, leaving consumers with fewer discretionary spending dollars. Casino executives have been holding the line on expenses, such as updating gambling equipment.
Representatives of the leading slot machine manufacturers are worried the G2E trade-show floor could turn into a three-day window-shopping excursion.
"We think people will be there and, more importantly, we hope they bring their checkbook," said Bally Technologies Chief Operating Officer Gavin Isaacs. "Ultimately, casinos have to replace their games. A certain amount of buying will take place, but the replacement cycle is much slower than we all anticipated."
Slot makers have spent millions in research and development dollars in the past on technologically advanced gaming machines and devices just for G2E.
"We believe this is one of the strongest lineups of new products that we've displayed at G2E," International Game Technology spokesman Ed Rogich said. "As a company, we can deal in various ways with exploring different financial support options for our customers. We understand the realities of the market exist and we can get creative in adapting a financial solution for our customers."
Like many of its competitors, Boyd Gaming Corp. has taken a slow approach to spending capital.
Chris Gibase, a senior vice president who oversees operations at Boyd Gaming's Midwest and Southern casinos, said most of the G2E sales take place in the weeks after the trade show. He said the company looks at the trade show as an opportunity to see what emerging technologies could be on the casino floors in he coming year.
"Obviously, we're being more selective and more careful of what we do," Gibase said. "As far as purchasing for 2009, we are definitely in the market, but we're being careful in what we do and how we do it."
The meeting and convention portion of G2E begins today and the trade show runs Tuesday through Thursday. G2E is closed to the public. Last year, the show attracted more than 31,000 attendees. Advance registration for G2E is currently between 28,000 and 30,000.
Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., president and chief executive officer of the American Gaming Association, which organizes the show along with Reed Exhibitions, said the economy will be the underlying theme throughout the show. Several panels will focus on the gaming industry's economic slowdown. The keynote speaker Tuesday is financial journalist and CNBC contributor Ron Insana.
Fahrenkopf said the type of spending by casino operators that will take place on the showroom floor is the biggest unknown.
"The economy is a worldwide problem," Fahrenkopf said. "Anything that impacts the consumer hurts our industry. What's displayed (at the trade show) is going to have to be something that catches the consumer's eye. Our operators all have different approaches."
Fahrenkopf, however, is encouraged by G2E's early figures. The floor will have 755 companies, up by seven from a year ago.
The 355,000 square feet of exhibit space is a slight increase. Fahrenkopf does expect attendance, however, to be down.
"Some companies which sent four people to the show last year might only be sending two this year," Fahrenkopf said. "What happens on the show floor? Who knows?"
Isaacs said Bally Technologies is showing off products that could be on casino floors early next year. He said the idea is to manufacture slot machines that will drive customers, not just have games that have all the technological bells and whistles.
"The wow factor is important, but there is not much use if you can't get the casinos to buy them," Isaacs said.
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