ICE Conference Set To Rebound, But Brexit Clouds London Future

January 25, 2023
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​​​​​​​The ICE gambling conference seems poised to rebound to full strength or better next month, but rising London costs worsened by Brexit raise questions about its future in the UK’s capital.

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The ICE gambling conference seems poised to rebound to full strength or better next month, but rising London costs worsened by Brexit raise questions about its future in the UK’s capital.

In contrast to last year’s online gambling-heavy event, what is billed as the world’s biggest B2B gambling conference seems set for smooth sailing this year, with COVID-19 receding as an issue.

But complications from Brexit make exhibiting more challenging for exhibitors and attendees from the European Union.

The UK’s exit from the EU brings obstacles in selling goods, importing then exporting items for display, working as a consultant or expert looking to give presentations for pay and even bringing in workers to set up displays.

Still, ICE returns to its traditional early February date this year after a postponement to Easter week last year helped deter attendance from some of its top land-based gambling focused exhibitors.

This year’s ICE is being called the biggest yet, with organiser Clarion Gaming saying that along with sister show, IGB Affiliate, ICE will occupy all space in the 100,000 square-metre ExCeL Centre for the first time.

With a slogan “Stronger Together”, Clarion says it expects attendees from 155 countries, with 60 countries displaying goods and services.

The future of ICE is apparently a sensitive topic, as some key parties are staying mum.

With ICE less than two weeks away, Clarion is shooting out two to three promotional press releases a day, but a spokesman declined to answer any questions about the future of the conference.

Two of the biggest exhibitors, Novomatic and Gauselmann Group, are also not commenting right now.

Last year, Gauselmann was vocal on the need for a change of venue, citing truck transportation, customs duty and high London accommodation costs.

But this year both Gauselmann and Novomatic declined to comment, with Gauselmann saying “as soon as there is a decision in favour of all parties — and thus the industry — we would be very happy to talk again”.

Novomatic said: “There are many aspects to consider and we are of course constantly evaluating all options internally and we are also in constant and mutual exchange with the show organiser and the industry.”

But one big advantage has tipped in London’s favour as it looks to retain ICE — the Elizabeth Line, which opened in May 2022.

Named after the late queen, the underground train service promises a 45-minute ride from Heathrow Airport to ExCeL, or about 15 minutes from many central London locations.

Last year, Clarion Gaming executive director Stuart Hunter said the company is neutral on locations, just looking to do what pleases most customers.

In December, Clarion Events managing director Alex Pratt told G3 Newswire that Clarion had launched a review of alternative cities, adding “we’ve never moved an event of this size”.

“It’s not impossible,” he said, adding that industry feedback is central to any decision.

This year ICE is back at its traditional February spot, with COVID-19 concerns muted, and most missing exhibitors will be back.

Gauselmann and Novomatic, as well as Euro Games Technology (EGT), Spain’s Zitro Games and R Franco, TCS John Huxley and other European companies return this year.

But Brexit in general may be an impediment for international conferences, with the UK becoming less popular as a conference destination right from the 2016 vote.

Between 2012 and 2016, the UK had the fastest growth in conference numbers among the top five European countries, with gains of nearly 31 percent to 703, behind only Germany, according to Amsterdam-based International Congress and Convention Association.

But between 2016 and 2019, the UK had the biggest decline, by 17.5 percent. By 2019, it had fallen to 580, ahead of only Italy, the association said.

Still, it was not till January 1, 2021 that the UK left the EU and actual complications started.

Since January 2021, EU visitors can attend trade fairs and sign contracts, but not sell directly from the fair.

Consultants or most experts may be chagrined to learn they can only give one-time or short series of talks, as long as they are not for profit.

As a visitor, “you cannot do paid or unpaid work for a UK company or as a self-employed person” without a work visa.

Although members of a technical staff supporting artists, entertainers, musicians or sports personalities get some leeway, those who set up exhibition trade displays do not.

Exhibitors can apply for a Admission Temporaire Carnet (ATA Carnet) to temporarily import goods for a trade fair — in the UK, the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry and regional chambers administer them.

But to avoid being assessed customs duty, items need to be individually itemised by make, serial number, weight and value, so they can be re-exported from the UK at conference end.

That means every wine glass, laptop or extension cord, as well as slot machine, needs to be accounted for.

“It’s a huge, huge complexity,” one exhibitor said.

Freebie pens, brochures, chocolate bars and trinkets companies hand out to conference attendees? Brexit does not stop an exhibitor from giving out free stuff, but it must all be declared in advance.

All these rules have applied to exhibitors from Asia, Australia and the Americas for years, but since January 1, 2021, they apply to EU exhibitors as well.

One potential problem for UK companies if ICE moves from London to an EU country — in general, the same rules would apply to them in the new jurisdiction.

Exhibitors and attendees have mixed views.

Bulgaria’s EGT supports a move to “somewhere in Europe”, with both Spain and Germany as “good options”, a spokeswoman said.

One Dutch company, Cash Support, said it will attend ICE this year but not exhibit because “the online army is too prominent”, plus issues of “dealing with Brexit logistics”.

The casino cash machines maker said on LinkedIn it supported the “idea of having a European mainland show in the near future”.

One Cambridge, England-based manufacturer, Quixant, is a fan of ICE, but would not complain if it was moved to Madrid, where it would be conveniently close to a gambling equipment show in late February.

“Late March would be perfect in a warmer European country, post Brexit,” said executive vice president Duncan Faithfull.

A spokesman for Las Vegas-based IGT said the company finds “exhibiting in February at ICE London has worked very effectively for us”, and Clarion has “done an excellent job” working with suppliers.

“We will take an open-minded perspective to any ideas that Clarion has about future locations for the ICE show, provided that suggested new locations do not compromise the quality of operator attendance or cost efficiencies related to the location,” said spokesman Phil O’Shaughnessy.

One non-European long-time attendee, Victor Rocha, joked that “we don’t have a dog in the fight, but the food is better in Spain”.

Rocha is conference chair of the Indian Gaming Association and a member of ICE Ambassadors group.

“Seriously, a change of scenery is always nice,” he said. “Although I do love the easy accessibility of ExCeL.”

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