The Ballad of Harold the Hall Lizard
A look at how gambling industry attitudes toward Bitcoin have changed over the years through the lens of a ‘fictional’ character
When I was asked to do an article about the recent rise in the price of Bitcoin and how that might affect the gaming industry, I paused for a moment. The ‘no no…it’s different this time’ approach would induce many an eyeroll. Probably the biggest eyeroll would come from me as I typed it.
Still, it’s a topic worth talking about and so I considered different ways to approach it.
I decided to write about my experiences with ‘Harold the Hall Lizard’. Harold the Hall Lizard is a real person. The conversations below, while not verbatim, are spot on with respect to sentiment and theme.
All of us who have been in gaming for a while know a ‘Harold’. He’s the guy who always seems to be in the middle hallway at ICE. Never at the booths, never in presentations, but lurking around the orbit of an ICE VIP. Harold is always up for a chat, but is never actually meeting with anyone.
I knew Harold from a stint where we tangentially worked together, and I would see him every year at ICE.
Here’s how my encounters with Harold went at ICE between 2017 and 2020.
ICE 2017 [BTC Price: ~ $1,000]
Crypto panels, ICE 2017: One ‘future of payments’ panel on which I did not participate, with ~75 engaged people paying close attention
My ICE schedule: Maybe half full
Harold: “Crypto? What, like cyber security? I thought you were the Poker and Rock and Roll guy?”
ICE 2018 [BTC price: ~$7,500, but still very fresh off the $19,500 mania of Mid December 2017]
Crypto panels, ICE 2018: Two that I participated in: one in the main room with easily 500 people there and a legal panel that was standing room only with 100 people in it.
My ICE schedule: Packed with rockstars. Pretty much everyone I called made some time.
Harold: “Hey, I love crypto. I’ve been into it for a long time now. Let’s collab, bro!”
ICE 2019 [BTC Price: ~ $3,500 and sentiment at an all time low post 2017 mania]
Crypto panels, ICE 2019: One panel, I was on it. It was the first panel of the first day and there were 11 people in the audience. Two of which were my colleagues.
MY ICE schedule: picture a tumbleweed rolling through an empty desert.
ICE 2020 [BTC Price: ~ $9,500]
My ICE schedule: packed with people; at least half of whom called me.
Harold: “I’m starting to get intrigued by crypto again”
The point of all of this is that until this year, sentiment at ICE, and more broadly sentiment in the industry itself, was driven completely by the price of Bitcoin.
In 2020, the interest was driven by the fact that people were starting to use BTC and crypto to play, and everyone was trying to get their head around how to incorporate it into their operation in a way that was consistent with their risk tolerance.
One discussion point from this year’s ICE that always seemed to surprise people is that generally speaking, when price is high, gambling in BTC actually goes down.
When the price is lower, people tend to gamble with it more.
There are a couple reasons for that: First, it’s because when it’s down, people think ‘might as well have a punt and see if I can get my money back’. But, it’s also because people still think in terms of fiat.
For me, that’s the takeaway of this. The difference this time is that people are no longer just thinking of crypto and Bitcoin in terms of its price as it relates to fiat. Now, it’s about function.
To be clear, as much of an advocate as I am, I do not ever see a day where two guys in a bar say something like “I’ll bet you .00123954823 BTC on Chelsea”. But, we have cleared the mania phase. Now it’s time to get to work and figure out how to make digital currency technology work for us — irrespective of price.
I am sad I will not see Harold at ICE 2021. I would have liked to see what he would have said.