The past decade at The Innovation Group has equipped Erika with a keen understanding of the nuances that exist within the Native American and First Nations communities. As the new leader of The Innovation Group's Native American division, Erika is championing the efforts to improve, expand, and diversify our offerings to Native American Tribes and First Nations in any stage of their development. The primary contact for new and ongoing relationships with Tribes and First Nations throughout North America, Erika can be reached in our Denver office at 303.798.7711 or [email protected] . 


March 30 - April 2

San Diego, California

David Rittvo, Executive Vice President of The Innovation Group's International Division, is leading a team to expand the company's presence on an international level, with a focus on the Asian Region. He joined The Innovation Group as a Senior Analyst in 2009 to provide gaming feasibility analysis and to help formalize a specialty advisory discipline within the organization that provides F&B-specific consulting, marketing, development, financial, operational, and management advisory services to the firm's gaming, entertainment, and hospitality clients. The international studies have included feasibility, market assessments, financial pro forma projections, and master plannin g for multiple clients in Vietnam, The Philippines, Sri Lanka, Macau, Australia, Japan, Korea and Taiwan. He can be reached at
[email protected]

Renese Johnson currently serves as Vice President of Caribbean and Latin American Development at The Innova¬tion Group. Her multi-faceted skill set has played an integral role in providing clients with specialized research to advise on strategic business decisions for comprehensive project developments in emerging markets within the region. Most recently, she has done work in Paraguay, Bahamas, Trinidad & To¬bago, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, and Panama, to name a few. Renese will be attending the Caribbean Gaming Show in Puerto Rico in March and SAGSE Panama in May. She can be c ontacted at 407.702.6648 or [email protected]
If officials have it their way, Grenada may be the first to see a casino break ground. Written by Planning and Economic Affairs Minister Oliver Joseph, the Casino and Gaming Bill passed by both Houses of Parliament in August 2014 and allows for a casino license to be awarded to a new or existing hotel with a minimum of 300 guest rooms. It has not yet been determined how many casino licenses will be distributed yet, but the minimum gaming age has been set to 18 years old with locals prohibited to gamble. Though the country is not without its critics over the introduction of casino gaming, according to Minister Joseph, the bill received its stamp of approval by the Governor-General's office in October 2014.  As of February 2015, Minister Joseph noted that a commission has been established with a Chairman in place. While a number of officials continue to express contempt over the bill's expedited process, others, such as Tourism Minister Alexandria Otway-Noel, have shown it full support and see it as opportunity for Grenada to revamp its tourism sector and create job growth.
A surprising new plot twist to the region has been the recent announcement by President Obama to terminate the 54 year-long economic embargo imposed by the U.S. against Cuba and restore diplomatic relations between the two countries. With this, limitations on travel has been loosened, however, travel for leisure purposes remains prohibited. On January 29th, a group of U.S. Senators introduced the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015, which would lift all travel restrictions for Americans to visit Cuba.  With an untapped market of over 11 million residents less than 100 miles from Florida, Cuba stands as one of the most attractive emerging markets in the Western Hemisphere. Even more interesting is the history of gaming in the City of Havana, which was once known as "the tropical playground for the Eastern U.S." and featured a number of loosely regulated casinos, U.S. branded hotels, and flashy nightclubs. There are some industry insiders who believe there is an opportunity to breathe new life into these gaming channels, albeit after comprehensive legislation is established. While a likely exhaustive process, it's no less impossible than the five other counties in the region that are currently going through similar measures. Some have taken years to get here while others have covered similar ground in  just a few months.  

The Innovation Group projected revenues from an instant racing facility to be located in Lexington, Kentucky.  This included a detailed evaluation of the performance of instant racing machines in various competitive environments and a revenue projection for this specific location. In addition, The Innovation Group developed an operating pro forma for the facility, detailing all revenues and expenses.

After a successful initial development of a 102 room hotel in 2012 for which The Innovation Group did the feasibility study, the Tribe again returned to The Innovation Group in 2014 to determine the feasibility of an expansion, given added amenities which increased the likelihood of additional cash and MICE business. The Innovation Group recommended the addition of 68 rooms, including three double bay suites. Also projected was an updated operating pro forma for the expanded hotel, and an estimate of incremental gaming revenues.

Paul Girvan, Managing Director, is based in The Innovation Group's New Orleans office with 25 years of experience advising clients across the gaming industry. Paul leads the firm's iGaming practice and can be contacted at 504.523.0888 or [email protected] .
iGaming North America Conference

The Innovation Group is proud to once again co-host the iGaming North America conference from April 14-16, 2015 at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Based on the convergence of land-based and online gambling, iGNA is the premier networking and educational event, continuing to perform as one of the most successful conferences regarding iGaming.  

2015 marks the fifth year of this unique networking and educational event designed to introduce the land-based gaming businesses of North America to the global iGaming industry. As the industry's most trusted advisory firm, our goal is to provide a cost-effective educational and networking environment that helps foster understanding regarding the potential impacts of regulation of internet gambling in the U.S. and Canada, and provide critical information about the players, resources, legislative framework, and topics that are important to all segments of the industry. There is expected to be a lull in Real Money online gaming development in North America as states and the Federal government wrestle with broad political issues. However, an emerging topic is social gaming, which requires no legislation and brings with it experience in data analytics and the development of ROI positive marketing programs to monetize the online social casino and to drive business to land-based operations. This brings social casino gaming immediate relevance to land-based operators.

We have an exceptional program again this year, with 2015 featuring another terrific set of speakers. Click here to register today.

"While I didn't expect to be thrown into a casino development position, I could not have asked for a better opportunity to expand my abilities and create a unique IR development."
    Justin Fung
Managing Director of Aquis Group

"The Innovation Group's Emerging Leaders program is a great example of the gaming industry's strong effort to recognize and reward top talent across all disciplines. On behalf of Global Gaming Expo (G2E ), I was proud to be involved in the scholarship selection and award process, and was amazed at what some of our industry's young executives have already achieved. I look forward to working with both The Innovation Group and the AGA to continue this unique program at G2E 2015."
    Ginger Curtis
Director of Industry Relations & Programming
Reed Exhibitions - G2E Events

"Being a part of Emerging Leaders has given me the opportunity to learn from young, successful gaming professionals, which has been incredibly inspiring and motivating. The advice I have received from other members of Emerging Leaders has been invaluable; I will carry it with me through my personal and professional life."
    Stephanie Adkison
Analyst, The Innovation Group


Out of The Innovation Group's Orlando office, former intern Stephanie Adkison is now a full-time Analyst, and Renese Johnson has been promoted to Vice President of Caribbean & Latin American Development. Erika Meeske of the Denver office was promoted to Vice President of Research & Analytics.
February 25, 2015

Innovation with Tribal Diversification

The Innovation Group continues to expand its suite of services to Native American Indian Tribes, particularly where traditional casino development and expansion needs are shifting to more comprehensive economic development strategies as Tribes work to diversify their portfolios. This shift in new improvements and advancements is in response to the increasingly competitive bricks & mortar casino market within the United States.

Improving properties by adding attractive lodging, meeting, food & beverage, and entertainment amenities continues to help Tribes capture market share; however, with casino markets quickly becoming saturated, the Return on Investment (ROI) from casino expansion projects can be below competing investment opportunities. This has led to increased interest from casino operators in establishing other types of long term investment platforms. Simultaneously, collected cash flow from operations over many years for many Tribes has allowed for re-investment in Tribal infrastructure and large scale economic development initiatives.

The Innovation Group's roots - before emerging as the preeminent gaming consulting firm it is today - are in urban planning and development.  Our background and experience is exactly what is needed to assist Tribes in weighing economic development and investment opportunities that continue to leverage their large land holdings and compliment existing leisure investments. The overall economic development strategy often times begins with highest and best use assessments of the land parcels slated for development. Forward-thinking projects can range from expanding leisure investments beyond resorts, to reinvesting in healthcare, energy, education, and other commercial Tribal enterprises. When assisting Tribes in this area, The Innovation Group comes not only with tools for forecasting demand, revenue, and profits from potential ventures, but with the ability to advise Tribes in developing comprehensive investment and business plans, estimate construction costs, calculate ROI, and measure long term employment and other economic impacts on Tribes today.

Steering the ship in our Native American and First Nations services division is Erika Meeske, a nationally recognized expert in Native American gaming, with nearly a decade of industry experience.  Erika is an Associate for The Innovation Group and Vice President of this critical business segment. She has worked with more than 50 different Native American Tribes and First Nations on a wide cross-section of projects, including feasibility, highest and best use, social and economic impact studies, improving business operations, primary market research (such as market surveys), and psychographic and database analysis. Erika is supported by a team of veteran gaming professionals and analysts, with specialized experience in the Native American services we cover.


Japan continues to position for IRs despite legislative delays

As the Japan Diet begins its winter 2015 session, there is renewed anticipation for the passage of the Draft Integrated Resort legislation. Although the previous special session ended without the passage of the bill, there have been notable developments at both the federal and regional levels. The Innovation Group has been tracking the process in Japan for the past three years, including meeting with stakeholders in Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, and other smaller regional markets. 

The sizing of the Japan market remains a moving target due to the fluid nature of the legislation being considered. Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) has been estimated to range between $4 billion and $10 billion if IR's  are developed in metropolitan areas, depending on the location and operational dynamics, and between $350 million and $1 billion for smaller regional casinos. The current legislation also includes a lot of moving variables, including the potential to limit local access and/or require an entrance fee, as well as potentially limiting access to junkets and credit; exact estimates for the market are difficult to ascertain at this time. 

Regardless of the exact legislation, the potential IR developments in either the Tokyo Metropolitan Area or Osaka will be the single largest property, in terms of revenue generation, in the world. Activity in Osaka continues to move forward on both the governmental and private sector fronts.  A group of Osaka-based businesses, under the umbrella of Kansai  Association of Corporate Executives (KACE) has released plans for a large-scale IR to be developed on Yumeshima Island. 

Both the Osaka City and Prefecture governments are continuing their pre-development, planning and information gathering phases. Our impression is that Osaka is positioning itself to be ready to start the lengthy development process once legislation is passed on the federal level, with the hope of being the first Integrated Resort in Japan.  It appears that Yokohama has increased its profile in communicating its ability to be the host city for a large-scale IR development for the region. The Yokohama City council recently submitted comprehensive plans for the waterfront development that would include an IR.  The sites would allow the IR to take advantage of Tokyo Bay, Yokohama's relative location to Haneda International Airport and strong transportation access.

From another perspective, the regional level effort has seen the most progress since the last Diet Session.  As a result of Okinawa's withdrawal from pursuit of the first regional casino, the Hokkaido prefecture has emerged as the leading regional casino candidate. Similar to Osaka, Hokkaido has initiated its regulatory, development, and information gathering process.  In late 2014, the prefecture released a request for information to over 25 casino companies and developers, asking for background information regarding the operation of casinos, a view on potential development sites around Hokkaido and background on gaming potential for the regional market. The outcome of the RFI should begin to shape Hokkaido's next steps for the development process and position it for continued momentum once the legislation is passed on the federal level.

On the federal level, as previously mentioned, the initial IR legislation is "in the queue" to be considered and is awaiting presentation to the legislative body. In addition, the members of the Diet and other stakeholders are fielding questions and concerns regarding the potential social impacts of the Integrated Resorts, which led to further discussions amongst politicians. These could include a local entrance fee, strict self-exclusion policies and strong identification checking systems. Furthermore, it is anticipated that the legislation will include a provision that allocates a certain amount of gaming revenue to tackling gambling addiction and creating care facilities for problem gamers. Federal bureaucrats are also continuing their information gathering trips and research to other IR markets, such as Singapore, Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Europe.  The goal is to gather the best practices from established IR markets and implement those into the draft legislation and second gaming bill.

Whether the legislation is passed is yet to be determined, but 2015 could be a make or break year for the stakeholders involved. Should the legislation pass, the scale and energy around the development opportunity and resulting product should be unlike anything seen in Asia.


CARIBBEAN & CENTRAL AMERICA: In a region where quality large-scale gaming development has proved elusive, Jamaica, Grenada, Bermuda, and Mexico are tantalizingly close to finalizing gaming regulations.  Will they set sail towards their destinations or will their ships get stuck at the dock?  

Baha Mar is not the only big gaming development taking place in the Caribbean. With a soft opening planned for late March and a grand opening in May, the property will be the largest casino resort in the region. The Bahamian government has even recently passed additional legislation that would allow for interactive gaming and higher credit limits to attract VIP players. However, even as industry experts follow this development, we shouldn't lose sight of the other gaming activity currently taking place throughout Central America and the Caribbean.  Though the region has a reputation for regularly suffering from cases of "hurry up and wait" syndrome thanks to opposition officials, legislative delays, and mandated rewrites, there is an unprecedented number of countries with recently enacted or proposed gaming bills on the table. Some legislation even stands to bring large-scale developments in a region that mostly features small-scale, amenity-style casinos that tend to attract lower-tiered players who frequent the facilities as a secondary or tertiary option. At worst, it could be more of same with years of debate ahead, however, at best, this can lead to an unparalleled volume of gaming development with the potential to revamp the region's landscape.

With the help of many advisors, including The Innovation Group, Jamaica became the first country amongst the group to formally approve casino gaming legislation. The Casino Gaming Act of 2010 permits up to three casino licenses to be awarded to 'an integrated resort development', or IRD. Under the law, an IRD must have a minimum of 2,000 new hotel rooms, with at least 1,000 already built in order to open the casino. With this requirement, the Island hopes to attract major developers having the ability to build large-scale projects that can stimulate the tourism sector. Designed as a two-part process, developers must first earn Approved Integrated Resort Development (AIRD) status through the Ministry of Finance (MOF) before officially applying for a casino license through the Casino Gaming Commission (CGC). In June 2013, the MOF began its RFP process. Since that time, things have been delayed by ongoing parliamentary reform for passing formal casino gaming regulations under the Act, including internal training to the CGC. According to the MOF, as of September 2014, there are two final contenders still vying for a license: Harmony Cove Ltd., which has proposed plans for an $800 million integrated resort in the Northern region of the Island in Trelawny, and Celebration Jamaica Development Ltd., which has a proposed plan in St. James parish. In February 2015, Minister of Finance and Planning Dr. Peter Phillips announced that the casino gaming regulations had been finalized and that a formal decision on licenses could be made as early as the end of March.

Although an associate member of the Caribbean Community Secretariat (CARICOM) for over 10 years, Bermuda's Tourism Authority CEO, Bill Hanbury, will tell you that Bermuda is an 'Atlantic' Destination. To draw greater appeal from tourists who are typically drawn to the Caribbean, officials like him have been working hard to develop measures to stimulate tourism which has seen year-over-year declines since 2007.  After years of deliberating over the introduction of casino gaming, including a comprehensive study by The Innovation Group, one such measure was recently green lighted in December. The Casino Gaming Act of 2014 permits three casino licenses on the island. Not much more has been solidified in the Act, as the regulatory framework is anticipated to further refine parts of the legislation, according to Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell. Questions such as the exact location for the sites and whether locals will be allowed to gamble are still unknown but are being evaluated. With Bermuda consistently ranked as having one of the highest GDP per capita in the world, this becomes an important determinant for overall market potential. Combined with its close proximity to key U.S. markets along the East Coast, Bermuda has the ability to be a very intriguing market for future gaming development.

For over half a century, the law of the land in Mexico has been the 1947 Federal Gaming and Raffles Law. Based on this antiquated law, the lines of legality have often been blurred for local gaming facilities, with many operating illegally and using loopholes such as court injunctions to prevent federal officials from forcing a shut down.  Forever increasing levels of corruption peaked in 2011 with the shooting of 52 people at the Royal Casino in Monterrey. In 2013, the Government took formal measures against illegal gaming, establishing the Special Committee on Games and Raffles review, headed by Ricardo Mejía Berdeja. The main goal of the organization, among other things, was to investigate the current licensing process for existing gaming venues and recommend comprehensive legislation that can effectively standardize gaming in the country.  In March 2014, the Interior Ministry, or Secretaría de Gobernación (SEGOB), made a formal announcement to fast track an updated decree for gaming regulations, which included creating more transparent language to regulate gaming and the overall licensing process. By December, a draft of the new legislation was approved by the Chamber of Deputies. Expecting swift approval by the Senate, instead, the Senate announced a delay on the vote until 2015. Still, industry insiders remain hopeful that the law will pass sometime this year as it has been fully endorsed by all political parties.  They also anticipate that the bill will officially legalize Class III slot games and live dealer table games, if even only in select areas. Most recently, SEGOB officials announced the possibility of adding a component that would establish 'zones' for full scale casinos in major tourist destinations such as Riviera Maya and Acapulco, specifically identifying gaming expansion in the Country's lucrative tourism market.

As seen with Baha Mar, when aligning the right kind of support from both the public and private sectors with a knowledgeable, dedicated team equipped with a well-devised strategic plan of action, it is possible for countries in this region to create a note-worthy gaming development. Conversely, they could become victims of stagnant movements in public measures with little private support, leaving them unable to set their sails towards any true tourism prosperity.  Either could be the case with any one of these other countries, making them worth keeping an eye on to see who may be the next to step their 'game' up.


The Role of Social Gaming in the Opening of the U.S. iGaming Market, Part I  

Real-money iGaming has been introduced in three jurisdictions in the U.S.: New Jersey, Delaware, and poker in Nevada. In none of these states can it be said that the introduction has been a success. In all cases, the revenues generated were much less than projected. In general, this lack of success has been the result of payment processing problems, geo-location issues, lackluster marketing, and low liquidity.

On the other hand, the initial introduction of iGaming has not seen any problems associated with  underage gaming, unapproved geographic access or problem gambling. These successes are important, as they contradict many of the claims of opponents of online gambling. The software to achieve this has been proven to be effective, and this will greatly help in arguing for the expansion of iGaming to other states.

The failures in terms of revenue generation are, however, significant. It has now become apparent that real-money iGaming as currently set up will not provide a revenue windfall to the states.

This was something observers predicted some time ago, and has now been demonstrated. This causes a real problem for the expansion of iGaming for real money to other states. Legislators in the past have been motivated to pass gaming legislation to generate revenue, create jobs, and encourage investment. iGaming offers comparatively few jobs and state revenues a fraction of land-based revenues.

Consequently, the traditional arguments made to enlist legislators and encourage them to open up a state to new forms of gaming are moot. Why would legislators adopt what would be a controversial position without the ability to point to concrete benefits for the state?

As a result, the expansion of real-money iGaming to other states seems to be in hiatus, at least in the short term.

Free-play and social gaming may be the best road forward, "breaking a trail" for real-money gaming to follow when it becomes more widely understood and accepted. There are a number of reasons why I see this as a valid way forward:
  • Free-play and social gaming are essentially legal already. At most, gaming commissions may have to adopt regulations and approve operators.
  • Much has been made of "saturation" on the land-based gaming side, and it is my belief that free-play and social gaming offer one avenue to bolster the competitiveness of land-based casinos, providing them with the means to protect their markets, market their product and drive online customers to land-based casinos.

Maryland Live!, a free-play site, provides a good example of the effectiveness of free-play sites. The company has released some research which indicates that 12 percent of the online free-play database came into the casino to play for real money. Of these, 40 percent came more frequently, were worth 20 percent more per visit, and stayed 10 percent longer than other customers.

Another casino (which cannot be named for proprietary reasons) reported that its free-play poker site had 22,000 active poker players in five months, of which 15,000 were not in the casino database. The same casino also reported that 8 percent to 10 percent converted to land-based players. This is of huge significance in many states where lawmakers have realized that they (the state) are major stakeholders in land-based casinos and are seeking ways to strengthen the gaming industry in their state.

A powerful argument can be made that free-play or social gaming is merely another channel for the land-based casino to market itself and to engage with customers that currently may not be visiting their casino, and, most importantly, to combat competition from surrounding states.

  • The demographics of free-play and social gaming players are attractive to land-based companies in that they have a strong reach into younger demographics while at the same time reaching a broad swath of females 45 and over-the core demographic of slot players.
  • Social gaming is a highly analytical endeavor with operators able to determine when the best time is to offer players promotional elements, or to prompt them to "level-up" by purchasing access to different games and levels.
  • There would be no artificial geographic boundaries for casinos with customers from two or more states.
  • It is a proven market with social casino gaming worth $1.5 billion in the U.S.
  • It is already a major presence in the emerging mobile channel, with mobile claiming a 58 percent share of the worldwide social gaming market and mobile casino gaming growth in the U.S. growing at an impressive rate (49 percent for casino games, 36 percent for bingo games, and 5 percent for slots).

Most casino companies are already engaged at some level in the iGaming issue as the chart (taken from an Innovation Group Survey of casino operators in the fall of 2014) shows.

Next month, we'll present some charts and data that will establish the connection between social gaming and real-money iGaming.


Emerging Leaders of Gaming Launches Newsletter

Emerging Leaders of Gaming, a program designed to turn today's young executives into tomorrow's industry leaders, was formed by The Innovation Group as a means of giving young professionals that extra advantage in the already competitive gaming, entertainment, leisure, and hospitality industries.
It started in 2012 when nominees were selected and then granted a vast array of resources and connections made available to them through research and recommendations that we have been building for the past 20 years. That year, The Innovation Group hosted its first Emerging Leaders networking event at G2E. Then in 2013, G2E and Reed Exhibitions joined to host the industry's inaugural 40 Under 40 Awards.

2014 marked the continuation of the official publication of the AGA and of G2E, GGB Magazine's "40 Under 40" year-long series, which features 40 winners handpicked by The Innovation Group, G2E, and GGB Magazine's Editorial Advisory Board, and includes written contributions by The Innovation Group's own young professionals. And, like the year prior, we provided "scholarships" to a number of young professionals, enabling them to utilize the extensive educational opportunities associated with annual conferences like G2E.

Emerging Leaders kicked off 2015 with the release of its first quarterly newsletter, which included recent survey results on Consumer Behavior in the Gaming Industry, with a focus on the "me-llenial" generation; a spread on our latest up-and-coming Emerging Leaders; and the reveal of this year's "40 Under 40" winners in GGB Magazine.

Ongoing networking and career advancement opportunities continue to unfold for the members of Emerging Leaders, bringing them that much closer to future senior-level and C-suite management positions, and The Innovation Group is proud to carry on in its contributions to this cause. We will continue to provide leadership and networking opportunities to tomorrow's industry achievers.

Recent Articles by The Innovation Group Staff
Social Gaming: Making the Connection. The Role of Social Gaming in the Opening of the U.S. iGaming Market, Part I  by Paul Girvan. Full Part 1 article available in March issue of GGB Magazine.

The Innovation Group's Latest Webinar

The Innovation Group conducted its latest webinar in December 2014 which shared an overview of two recent research studies: Consumer Behavior in the Gaming Industry and U.S. Gaming Revenue Trends.  An executive summary of each document is available here in the Consumer & Market Reports section of our website. And check out The Innovation Group's YouTube channel for a video of this webinar.

U.S. Gaming Revenue Trends & National Consumer Behavior Survey
U.S. Gaming Revenue Trends & National Consumer Behavior Survey

Where to Find Us in 2015:  Upcoming Events & Conferences

March 18-19
Puerto Rico
March 30 - April 2   San Diego, California
April 14-16   Las Vegas, Nevada
May 13-14   Panama
September 29 - October 1   Las Vegas, Nevada