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Polarity and tribalism

| By Jon Bruford | Reading Time: 4 minutes
The announcement of ICE’s relocation may cause a Mad Max-style tribal meltdown within the industry, complete with leather gear and flamethrower guitars, hopes Jon Bruford in this personal take.
ICE London ExCeL hall

Well, the big news finally emerged from Clarion towers, home of the industry’s biggest expo, ICE.  The big show is on the move from London to Barcelona in 2025. I’m just refreshing your memory, or bringing you the news if you’ve been trapped in a mineshaft recently.

The shortlist came down to Paris, Madrid, Barcelona and staying in London. With the Elizabeth Line opening, the latter was a genuine option; but it would have done nothing for the increased costs and logistics headaches for businesses bringing slots and other equipment into the UK from mainland Europe.

Business response has been publicly very positive, with German giants Merkur and Spain’s Zitro both shouting good things about the new venue in recent releases. And what’s not to like about the decision? 

A venue big enough for ICE

It’s caused a lot of division in the industry, much of it quite understandable. After all, there is already at least one other exhibition in the city, albeit much later in the year. I honestly don’t believe there will be a clash between SBC’s event and Clarion’s, and I’m not saying that because Clarion’s publishing arm is giving me this platform. I’m saying it because they’re very different – SBC has carved a niche and ICE is ICE. 

ICE and iGB Affiliate Barcelona
ICE and iGB Affiliate move to Barcelona in 2025

There is room for both to grow and thrive and never even see each other’s feet, never mind tread on their toes.

One of the many issues Clarion will have faced when thinking about relocation is a really simple one: how many venues in continental Europe could house an expo the size of ICE and the attendant infrastructure it needs? 

The answer is unbelievably few. The best expo venue I have ever been to is undoubtedly the magnificent Messe München, and it could have comfortably absorbed ICE and numerous other events simultaneously. Plus, it’s in a wonderful city that’s pretty easy to get to from just about anywhere. That’s some boxes ticked right there.

However, around the time of the Brexit vote, I distinctly remember conversations taking place in shadowy broom cupboards and being told that German manufacturers would not back a move to the country, as any such move could be considered a result of their desires and not those of the industry as a whole.

It’s a fair bit of foresight because the fallout we are now seeing is pretty amazing. You would think Barcelona absolutely sucked, because some people are furious about the idea of going there once or twice a year.

Location, location, location

I genuinely believe Clarion has had to choose the least bad option for many different parties. They’ve had to factor in the costs of their customers, the infrastructure of the host city for attendees, the venue itself – and of course, is the venue actually available? It’s a nightmare decision in a lot of ways.

One of the things that is often underestimated in putting on an expo is one of the simplest: put it on somewhere that people like to go. We all love Vegas, right? Most people love London too; it’s one of the few truly international cities. The events taking place in North America outside of Vegas tend to focus on New York City, for obvious reasons. I suspect if one were to switch to Baltimore, attendance might suffer. 

Welcome to Las Vegas sign
We all head to Vegas at one stage in our industry careers

No matter how good your conference might be, where you put it is as important as what you put in it. Even if someone is spending the business’ money on their expenses, if it’s to go somewhere they enjoy being, where they can socialise happily outside the expo hours, where their team is happy to be… That’s half the battle.

Como and Clooney

Several years ago, I went to an expo and conference in Lake Como. What a stunning place; most of the conference took place in the grounds of a former stately home, in a custom-built building right by the lake. I went for a run one morning and, no word of a lie, George Clooney cycled past and said good morning. I bet that made his day.

Lake Como
“There are worse ways to spend a Thursday afternoon”

It brings to mind one of my very favourite stories from my travels though Italy. On the Thursday afternoon, I was at a drinks reception in the amazing stately home. The sun was going down behind us, the mansion faced east, toward the lake’s peninsula (Como is kind of ‘Y’-shaped). The hill jutting right into the lake opposite was the colour of burnished copper, an unbelievable hue; the lake was so still that the colour reflected perfectly, it was all you could see. 

I stood at the top of some steps leading into the water, champagne flute in one hand, some kind of blue cocktail in the other hand. Steve Surch was standing next to me, he was at Casino Technology at that time. 

We are faced with nature’s utter magnificence, humbled by its beauty. Steve summarised perfectly: “There are worse ways to spend a Thursday afternoon.”

Barcelona? Yeah, it sucks to be in the gambling industry. 

Jon Bruford headshot

Jon Bruford has been working in the gambling industry for over 17 years, formerly as managing editor of Casino International and presently as publishing director at The Gaming Boardroom, with Kate Chambers and Greg Saint. He owns a large dog with a sensitive stomach and spends his free time learning about stain removal.

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