One of the biggest exhibitors at ICE London is calling for the gambling conference to be moved to continental Europe “as soon as possible” due to Brexit complications, as ICE organisers themselves ponder the future.
Germany’s Gauselmann Group, the €2.5bn gambling giant that is ICE’s second-largest exhibitor, said Brexit is “the most serious problem” affecting ICE, traditionally the world’s largest gambling conference.
Gauselmann has been among about 30 exhibitors pulling out of ICE this year, citing COVID-19 concerns, proximity to Easter and Brexit.
The April 12-14 dates, postponed from February, have been unpopular with some, but the biggest long-term concern is Brexit, according to Gauselmann.
Problems include truck transportation, customs duties and the high cost of accommodation in London, said company spokesman Mario Hoffmeister.
New complications created by Brexit include that employees of the German catering firm the company uses to feed guests now need work permits, he said.
European Union citizens the company liked to hire as hosts have also left London, due to inability to get work permits or high living expenses, Hoffmeister said.
Soaring prices for accommodation also make London “more and more expensive and thus less attractive”, he said.
“We believe that many other companies in the industry see it the same way,” Hoffmeister said. “Therefore, from our point of view, ICE must be moved to continental Europe as soon as possible to remain attractive.”
The show’s organisers say ICE will remain in London next year, but beyond that could be an open question, said Stuart Hunter, managing director of event organisers Clarion Gaming.
After the conference, in May, Clarion is planning extensive surveys of clients and in-depth reviews to determine the best way forward, he said.
Topics will include how to keep costs down, as well as the best venue.
ICE has been in London since its launch but “times change, Brexit could very well affect the situation”, Hunter said.
Austria’s Novomatic, Spain’s R Franco and Zitro, the UK’s TCSJohnHuxley and Quixant and Bulgaria’s EGT have all cancelled their attendance for ICE 2022, along with Gauselmann, most citing “logistical difficulties” along with COVID-19 and the Easter timing.
This week, Dutch companies Signs4U, REAC and Cash Support pulled out, citing “extra costs involved with Brexit and shipping product into the UK”.
Novomatic, the biggest ICE exhibitor, said it did not want to comment yet on the future of ICE.
Despite cancellations, ICE is not suffering, according to Hunter.
Only about 30 of 450 exhibitors have cancelled — albeit the biggest ones — and floor space should be about 80 percent of its February 2020 size of about 80,000 square metres, he said.
About 75 percent of attendees are expected, Hunter said.
“We realise it’s not working for everybody, but it’s working for the majority,” he said. All the cancelling companies have pledged to return next year, he said.
ICE could not be moved from the Easter Week date this year due to scheduling at the ExCel centre, but current plans call for a return to its traditional early February date next year, Hunter said.
Moving ICE might not be an easy proposition.
For example, RAI Amsterdam is a popular venue, but it is about 10 to 15 percent too small, he said.
One disadvantage for London should also disappear soon, according to Hunter.
Some complained when ICE moved from the central location of Earl's Court a few years ago to ExCel centre in Newham borough in East London.
But by the end of June, the 60-mile Crossrail Transport for London extension is due to open.
That will put the conference 17 minutes from Bond Street in the West End, Hunter said
“It will feel as if ICE is Central London again,” he said.
ICE may be the European gambling conference most affected by Brexit, as half its exhibitors are land-based companies.
In contrast, London-based SBC Events, which organises a half-dozen betting and casino-focused events a year, says it is less affected as its conferences are largely online gambling focused.
There is some impact, such as UK-based stand builders and other contractors who struggled to bring supplies to a Barcelona conference, but the effect was hard to distinguish from COVID-related supply chain issues, said event director Paul Mills.
Brexit will be a challenge for UK-based conference organisers and exhibitors, but not an existential one, he said.
“The whole point, I hope, was not to kill business; there’s got to be ways around it,” he said. “Deliver the right event, it’s worth jumping over those barriers.”
Conference organiser Willem van Oort, who promotes his Gaming in Holland and Gaming in Germany events at ICE, cringes at the thought of even higher costs in London.
“Is this your headline, ‘Brexit killed ICE London?’” he joked.
But van Oort is still a believer.
“ICE is ICE,” he said. “Nothing beats ICE.”