Hobby games trade body GAMA has looked into scrapping the planned move of its annual trade show to Kentucky in the wake of anti-LGBTQ laws passed by the state – but said the $1.8m cancellation cost would have a “lethal impact” on the organisation.
GAMA Expo bills itself as the professional trade show of the tabletop games industry, and features four days of seminars and panel discussions, review and demos of new products.
The event completed the last of four years in Reno, Nevada in April, following multiple years in Las Vegas. GAMA signed a deal to move the event to The Galt House Hotel & KICC in Louisville, Kentucky in 2019, booking expos at the venue until at least 2026.
But the GAMA board said members had been questioning that choice in the wake of Kentucky passing a suite of anti-LGBTQ laws, including a ban on transgender medical treatment for those under 18.
The SB 150 bill also restricts discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, allows teachers to ignore pupils’ preferred pronouns, and prevents trans students from using bathrooms, lockers rooms or shower rooms of their affirmed gender.
A statement from the GAMA board of directors said that when they chose Kentucky, representatives from The Galt House, The Kentucky International Convention Center and Louisville Tourism “emphasized that they are passionate about their location being a progressive city and that the money GAMA Expo would bring to their properties and the city would help their efforts in being an example of inclusivity for the state”.
The statement said,
“Following the passage of recent legislation and the closure of our final event in Reno, members reached out both publicly and privately to staff as well as to the Board of Directors. As an organization, it is our duty to consider our options when members voice concerns.
“Thus, the board directed the executive director to research the possibility of canceling the Louisville contract. The executive director returned with a breakdown of the penalties not only for one year but the attrition as the contract progressed.
“It would cost GAMA an estimated $1,822,716 to cover the cancellation of the three-year agreement, which is not financially feasible. That degree of monetary outlay would have a lethal impact on the organization.
“After analysis of fiscal limitations to canceling the 2024-2026 agreement, the decision was made by the Executive Director to move forward with our existing contract while expediting approval of the Site Selection Committee to research future locations.
“The safety of our membership and guests is extremely important, so the executive director has informed the board that the operations team will be seeking options for safety protocols and will review those with the board of directors as they develop. An example of such measures will be a shuttle service between the airport and the Galt House / The Kentucky International Convention Center.”GAMA Board of Directors
GAMA’s board added that it was also planning to follow recommendations by the American Society of Association Executives to include cancellation clauses in future contracts, which can be based on regions enacting laws violating the basic human rights of their citizens.
A record number of people descended on the GAMA Expo in April, although the number of retailers attending the event was still below pre-Covid levels, ICV2 reported.
Visitor numbers were up more than 20% compared to 2019, the last year before the coronavirus pandemic began impacting in-person events.
Numbers were up about 50% compared to the 2020 and 2021 instances of GAMA Expo. ICV2 added that retailer numbers had recovered somewhat from last year’s 271 stores, up 31% to 356 this year.
That total is still well below the record 480 stores which attended in 2019, which saw the venue hit capacity for exhibit space.