UK: PokerStars Win Another Award In An Ever-growing Market

Around a decade ago you'd be forgiven for thinking not many people cared about gaming. Sure, Vegas was booming with the slots jangling and parties surrounding the craps table. In fact, sure serious pros were sat at the poker tables opposite, playing for major pots worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. But never had the two really intertwined.

Like Hollywood A-listers or superstar athletes, Poker stars were untouchable to the average Joe, with skills that couldn't be passed. After all, not anyone can be Brad Pitt.

But then in 2003, the winds changed. Chris Moneymaker – an average Joe plying his trade as an accountant – won the World Series of Poker through qualifying online, proving anyone can play and win. Anyone can become a world poker champion whether you're Daniel Negreanu, Dan Bilzerian (those becoming household names speaks volumes about the change in the industry), or Dan the drug store owner from Albuquerque, New Mexico. The online poker scene saw people flock to in its millions.

Today, the worlds have well and truly merged. Poker is one of the most popular games on the planet, with millions of people logging on every day to compete with both professionals and friends alike. Online casinos are thriving. And now they even have awards. Awards that aren't limited to a niche and a few bigwigs at the top, but awards that are taken seriously, and ones that brands right across the planet thrive to compete for.

The International Gaming Awards are in their eighth year and for the third year running awarded PokerStars with the Best Online Poker Operator Award.

The evening handed out 24 awards in its biggest night yet at the Savoy Hotel in London and showed just how big the industry has become with awards being handed to resorts in Manila, Las Vegas, and the United Kingdom.

Upon PokerStars' win, who are now expanding into other fields of iGaming, said, "We are extremely proud and honoured that PokerStars won 'Online Poker Operator of the Year' and that Rational Group won 'Socially Responsible Operator of the Year', both in tough, competitive fields."

And competitive it is, so to hold it for three years is quite the achievement.

It's been a big 12 months for the brand. They hosted their one billionth tournament in 2014 and launched successfully Spin & Go tournaments, as well as the launch of casino and sportsbook which have recently arrived.

The whole industry is expanding dramatically, even Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo have recently become ambassadors for their brand, and elsewhere we're seeing further expansion.

Galaxy Entertainment, the brand who collected Casino Operator of the Year in Asia/Australia has been making headway in Macau, helping to transform into a region which makes more money in gaming than Las Vegas.

They opened Broadway Macau just weeks ago, helping reinvent the casino industry to the point where Alan Tam, the Chinese singer who will take up a residency there, selling out the 3,000 capacity Broadway Theatre at least one month in advance.

Of course, it's online where the real excitement lies and technology has been a massive part of why PokerStars have managed to become such a worldwide phenomenon with over 50 million members.

Rewind again back to 2003 and Chris Moneymaker was playing on PokerStars when he qualified for the World Series of Poker. At that moment online poker was simply a desktop feature. And despite being ahead of the times graphically back then, was far from as seamless and free-flowing as it is today.

The emergence of the smartphone completely changed that, transforming it into a game we could play online anytime, anywhere. It was the Moneymaker Effect all over again, but instead of being inspired by a World Series of Poker champion, it was inspired by a more unlikely source, Steve Jobs.

The introduction of the smartphone, and in particularly the iPhone, back in 2007 made gaming on-the-go available to the masses and by 2012 playing on mobile was just as common as logging on at your desktop.

It's why the Mobile Operator of the Year and Mobile Product of the Year are so highly sought after.

Today, 80% of all online adults now own a smartphone, meaning it's become a huge market. Every year mobile is taking a bigger chunk of the gambling market moving from 7% to 17.4% in just two years and by 2017 is expected to be worth $100billion.

So it's no wonder the likes of PokerStars and other major operators are putting an extra focus on improving our mobile experiences. In recent months, this year's Best Online Poker Operator have expanded their offerings, encouraging casino play on mobile and eventually it's expected the sportsbook will also feature once it's established itself online.

It's expansions like this which have transformed the market in the first place. Online casinos are offering more diverse games every year. There are as many slots available to play as there are on the casino floors of Las Vegas, and the introduction of Live Casino could once again prove to be a game changer, no doubt in the future the International Gaming Awards having to add a Best Online Live Casino Operator award.

The awards also honoured brands outside of online poker and casino, with brick and mortar establishments also getting a nod.

The City of Dreams in Manila picked up the Casino/Integrated Resort of the Year, once again being a reminder that the east is becoming a lucrative and popular region for gaming. The 15-acre opened just earlier in the year and has expanded the influence of Las Vegas and Macau in the Filipino capital.

The resort picked up the award after opening in February and is the second of four billion dollar casinos in Manila's gaming district. The resort itself features three hotels including Robert De Niro's Nobu Hotel, Crown Towers, and the Hyatt Hotel, alongside a theme park and a large selection of slot machines and table games.

It's a reminder that the live gaming industry is shifting towards Asia with Macau earning around $2.5billion in gambling revenue each month compared to the $897.9million which Las Vegas and the state of Nevada earned in April of this year.

Las Vegas didn't miss out on an award however, with the Wynn, a casino which has helped resurrect the Vegas Strip picking up Operator of the Year for the Americas, a title it won last year too.

In Europe that award went to the Hippodrome Casino, quite the achievement on a continent that is home to the Monte Carlo Casino, Crockfords, and the Casino Metropol just off Moscow's Red Square.

After another glittering year in the iGaming industry, the night was concluded by handing the Outstanding Contribution Award to Bill Cammegh, a man that not everyone may be aware of but you'll find influence of the man in all major resorts in the form of roulette wheels.

For over 25 years Cammegh Ltd have been supplying wheels to resorts in the likes of Vegas, London, and Macau, turning over around £5million-per-year, with the award being collected by him and his sons Richard and Andrew.

Managing director of the brand Richard Cammegh said, "It's an incredible achievement for my father and for Cammegh.

"Gaming is a global, multibillion dollar industry and to receive such an accolade at the International Gaming Awards is very special indeed."

It would have been incredible to think such an accolade would be so highly regarded when the 78-year-old began his company back in 1989 and even a decade ago we would have been forgiven for overlooking the 24-award ceremony. Today each award is hotly contested for, and brands will already be doing all they can to ensure they're in the running to pick up the star-shaped gongs in 2016.

For the winners, like Cammegh and PokerStars, they can celebrate what's been an excellent year for the brands, but not only for those, the gaming industry too. The awards celebrated a culmination of a brilliant and perhaps landmark year for the business. City of Dreams, Manila, will certainly contribute to a new era of gaming in the east, and PokerStars' continued success and expansion is of course great news for its 50 million members.

Of course the awards are a much deserved accolade for the winners, but it's perhaps that after eight years they are more important than ever before, and have proven the industry is going from strength to strength. And if there's one thing which would be a safe gamble, it's that they'll be back next year awarding brands with even higher revenues, even greater ideas, and even more sophisticated, stylish, and usable products.

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