IMA trade fair returns as four-day information forum, shop-window and order fair after two-year hiatus.
Visitor numbers slightly below 2012. Regulatory policy framework still unsettled, dangerous and poisonous for the market. Player protection and prevention major issues at trade fair.
Ordering activity at one of the major trade fairs for amusement and vending machines in Europe presented a very mixed picture: gaming devices for limited-duration rental or leasing facilities were still met with great interest at IMA. After IMA’s two-year break, critical buying momentum was generated by entertainment and technology innovation. Providers of durable capital goods for arcades either stayed away from the trade fair or ended up entirely dissatisfied. Expansions have halted, and little remains but, at best, quality control and replacement investments. That’s understandable, considering that the German State Treaty on Games of Chance and laws on gaming establishments passed by the German states aim at an across-the-board expropriation of the amusement machine industry in mid-2017 – if those laws are upheld.
As the sole media partner from our country, for the second time, at this important international event and as one of the promoters of such events, Casino Life & Business Magazine, the first magazine for the Romanian gambling industry, was present in Düsseldorf to attend to IMA trade fair.
The 32nd edition of IMA closed its doors after four days at the Exhibition Centre Düsseldorf. Returning after a two-year hiatus, the trade fair for amusement and vending machines counted 9,156 visitors, a figure just slightly below the 2012 result. It appears that visitors continue to view IMA as an identification platform and information hub. The trade fair’s decisive comeback shows that no other tool is able to perform these functions. In 2013, the Association of the German Amusement and Vending Machine Industry (VDAI) had cancelled the trade fair due to massive political restrictions placed on commercial gambling. The full, widespread effects of across-the-board, broadly business-destroying German state laws on gambling establishments passed in recent years will become obvious by mid-2017 at the latest (if those laws are upheld). These laws would in consequence establish a network of no-go locations in cities and municipalities. Therefore, no one could have expected medium- and long-term investments at IMA. This market has come to a complete standstill. Expansion has halted. Many long-term exhibitors, including shopfitters and architects, have given up or are trying their luck with new business models.
Retail sportsbetting providers were represented in stronger numbers than in previous years. Even though policy-makers have had a duty for years to clarify the regulatory framework in this area, the grey market is booming everywhere. The sportsbetting trend is an international development that’s not bypassing Germany. It’s a grey market that, while tolerated, is eagerly awaiting clear rules only government can provide.
Manufacturers and dealers of commercial coin-operated gaming machines were satisfied with the outcome of the trade fair in every way. Short-term rental and leasing offers were met with brisk demand. Mirroring the consumer electronics market, HD technology, large screens and entertaining content dominate the supply in this area. It appears as if efforts to innovate have paid off. Thus, business in the short-term market remains untouched. However, the growth of recent years is missing. Dealers (-8%) as well as manufacturers (-12.7%) were already faced with sharp declines in 2013. Longer mandatory closing times, smoking bans and higher amusement taxes contributed to a total decline of 2.6% across all levels of the amusement and vending machine sector.
As far as player protection is concerned, a new market has emerged at IMA. Training in fields such as prevention and implementation of social-policy concepts for gaming establishments have become both a challenge and a duty for operators and staff today. However, the sector is facing difficulties when it comes to training and education. There have been excellent results in this area in recent years, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and the amusement machine industry is even more committed to retaining the specific job descriptions of the sector than in the past. But the longer it takes to create a clear, reliable regulatory framework, the harder it will be to attract young people to these professions.
Demand was strong at IMA in the security technology, networking and cash management sectors. Just like private homes, industry establishments have increasingly become the targets of robberies perpetrated by “professional” gangs. That’s one reason why cash management and networking are steadily increasing in importance. At the same time, networking also helps to optimise business processes in light of slimmer profits.
A novelty at IMA was a group stand combining the leading associations of the amusement and vending machine industry, which was presented by the umbrella organisation “Die Deutsche Automatenwirtschaft.” While crises in other sectors have led to splintering and collapse of the association environment, associations in the amusement and vending machine industry are closing ranks in defiance. Accordingly, one thing became obvious at IMA: the amusement and vending machine industry is fighting back on all levels and with all means legal and constitutional.
Paul Gauselmann made it clear in his IMA opening address that the amusement and vending machine industry isn’t about to roll over and die. The chairman of the industry association believes that many realistically minded politicians and a large number of renowned legal scholars specialising in constitutional and European law side with the industry. The history and downfall of the German State Treaties on Games of Chance began in 2004. There’s been a new State Treaty every four years since, each one being overturned by the courts after two years. Owing in part to the magic of numbers, Gauselmann sees the end of the current State Treaty approaching in 2014. For now, the Sword of Damocles that is this treaty still hangs threateningly over the amusement machine industry. “But the rule of law will prevail in a constitutional state. There is no room for expropriation and occupational bans,” Gauselmann said in his speech to 200 guests of honour from politics, media and business.