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GGB Global Gaming Business Magazine
iGAmInG eXPLoSIon SCI GAmeS’ mAtt WILSon CAGe tAX trACKInG reGIonALS roAr
April 2021 • vol. 20 • no. 4 • $10
razy C Cabinets
Slot makers package their games in sleek, eye-catching and comfortable houses to enhance the customer experience
AdventureS Why gaming in Brazil may finally be ready
Downtown Milestone 50 years of the Plaza
and why it means so much to Vegas Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers
©2021 PlayAGS, Inc. All Rights Reserved. All ® notices signify marks registered in the United States. All ™ and ℠ notices signify unregistered trademarks.
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Vol. 20 • No. 4
Global Gaming Business Magazine
18 COVER STORY
10 AGA Pressing Priorities
The launch of new slot cabinets has become just as important as the slot games themselves for today’s suppliers, as advancing hardware technology is tapped to create new game features, and collaboration between hardware and software development teams becomes the norm.
12 Fantini’s Finance The Eagles Soar Frank Fantini
30 Making My Point How to Rob a Bank
By Frank Legato
By the Numbers
38 Frankly Speaking
14 iGaming Steps Up
40 New Game Review
Online gaming and sports betting have stepped up to fill revenue voids during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the growth mode of these genres is here to stay.
42 Emerging Leaders With Gaming Arts’ Matthew Heyerdahl and Clairvest Group’s Mohit Kansal
By Bill Sokolic
24 Downtown at the Crossroads The 50th anniversary of the Plaza in Downtown Las Vegas highlights the revival of the gaming district that started it all. By Oliver Lovat
32 Booming Brazil?
44 Cutting Edge
Brazil has the potential of becoming the next big casino gaming region in the Western Hemisphere, but many challenges remain before this potential can be realized.
46 Goods & Services
By Brendan D. Bussmann
With Matt Wilson, CEO, Gaming, Scientific Games
36 Cash and the Cage
49 People 50 Casino Communications
Demand for cashless funding of gaming and for reliable compliance technology represents new opportunity for suppliers. By Dave Bontempo
APRIL 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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Blasts From the Past By Roger Gros, Publisher
nyone who thought the death of Sheldon Adelson in February ended his influence on the company he founded was forced to think again last month. The sale of the Las Vegas assets of Las Vegas Sands—now known simply as “Sands”—demonstrated that the long shadow he cast over the company will probably be extended for quite some time. Adelson was known for taking chances in his business career. After spending a decade building the Consumer Electronics Show, CES, to become the largest trade show in Las Vegas, he sold it at the peak of its value to get into the gaming business and introduce the concept of an integrated resort. The Venetian was an immediate success, which dwarfed the value of CES that funded its establishment in only a few years. So when the sale of the Venetian, Palazzo and the Sands Expo Center was announced last month, it should have surprised no one, because Adelson clearly had the future of his company on his mind up until the moment he succumbed to the cancer that plagued him in his final years. Now run by the able and loyal Rob Goldstein, son-in-law Patrick Dumont, and his partner in life, Miriam Adelson, the sale is hardly the end for Sands—it’s more likely a new beginning. It isn’t even an exit from the U.S., as the company has eyed Texas, Atlanta and New York City as possible homes for the unique integrated resorts it creates. But the focus of the company—and the source of its vast revenues—continues to be Asia. With the Macau concessions up for renewal, the company will be a major player in the region far into the future—a future envisioned by the late Sheldon Adelson. And if anyone thinks that his influence on U.S. and Israeli politics is over, I urge you to think again, as Miriam is as dedicated as Sheldon was to continuing to be a force on those areas. What about the charity work that Adelson so famously directed? Miriam’s share of the $6.25 billion Las Vegas purchase price
Global Gaming Business APRIL 2021
will help a lot of worthy organizations and individuals. The sale of the Sands Las Vegas assets was only one of several stories in the last month that make us realize that maybe the past is not that far behind us after all. Sheldon’s friend Steve Wynn was back in the news last month for the first time in in a while. His exit from the company he founded, Wynn Resorts, was somewhat ignominious, but he has denied all the charges despite his withdrawal from the company. Like Adelson, Wynn was always generous to a fault when he was in charge, and now in retirement, that tendency continues. Wynn began his life in central New York, and has donated $50 million from the Wynn Family Foundation to the town of Utica to build a much-needed hospital. So maybe what we now know as the “cancel culture” is only temporary, and the good works associated with people will live on far beyond the expiration of the supposed scandal that brought them down. And finally, another name from the past returned last month, the Marnell family. Tony Marnell was a renowned builder in Las Vegas, participating in the construction of many of the city’s most iconic properties including most of the casino resorts imagined by Wynn. The family designed, built and operated the Rio, a true icon of its time. And his son Anthony II was the principal behind M Resort, now owned by Penn National Gaming. Last month, it was announced that the Marnell Companies will design the casino owned by Caesars Entertainment in Danville, Virginia. The Marnell signature used to mean something in gaming, so it’s great to see that influence will continue to be felt in gaming. The residents of Danville will clearly get a facility that will make its mark on the region. They say that with age comes wisdom. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do know the future of gaming is inexorably tied to its past, and those who forget the past will face an uncertain future.
Vol. 20 • No. 4 • APRIL 2021 Roger Gros, Publisher | firstname.lastname@example.org twitter: @GlobalGamingBiz Frank Legato, Editor | email@example.com twitter: @FranklySpeakn Marjorie Preston, Managing Editor firstname.lastname@example.org Monica Cooley, Art Director email@example.com Terri Brady, Sales & Marketing Director firstname.lastname@example.org Becky Kingman-Gros, Chief Operating Officer email@example.com Lisa Johnson, Communications Advisor firstname.lastname@example.org twitter: @LisaJohnsonPR Columnists Alex Costello | Frank Fantini | Roger Snow Contributing Editors Alex Blaszczynski Dave Bontempo twitter: @bontempomedia Brendan B. Bussmann | Oliver Lovat Bill Sokolic twitter: @downbeachfilm Michael Soll __________________
EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD Rino Armeni, President, Armeni Enterprises
Mark A. Birtha, Senior Vice President & General Manager, Hard Rock International
• Julie Brinkerhoff-Jacobs, President, Lifescapes International
• Nicholas Casiello Jr., Shareholder, Fox Rothschild
• Jeffrey Compton, Publisher, CDC E-Reports twitter: @CDCNewswire
• Dean Macomber, President, Macomber International, Inc.
• Stephen Martino, Vice President & Chief Compliance Officer, MGM Resorts International, twitter: @stephenmartino
• Jim Rafferty, President, Rafferty & Associates
• Thomas Reilly, Vice President Systems Sales, Scientific Games
• Michael Soll, President, The Innovation Group
• Katherine Spilde, Executive Director, Sycuan Gaming Institute, San Diego State University, twitter: @kspilde
• Ernie Stevens, Jr., Chairman, National Indian Gaming Association twitter: @NIGA1985
• Roy Student, President, Applied Management Strategies
• David D. Waddell, Partner Regulatory Management Counselors PC Casino Connection International LLC. 1000 Nevada Way • Suite 204 • Boulder City, NV 89005 702-248-1565 • 702-248-1567 (fax) www.ggbmagazine.com The views and opinions expressed by the writers and columnists of GLOBAL GAMING BUSINESS are not necessarily the views of the publisher or editor. Copyright 2021 Global Gaming Business LLC. Boulder City, NV 89005 GLOBAL GAMING BUSINESS is published monthly by Casino Connection International, LLC. Printed in Nevada, USA. Postmaster: Send Change of Address forms to: 1000 Nevada Way, Suite 204, Boulder City, NV 89005
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Mopping Up in MacaU T
he gradual removal of Covid restrictions for visitation to Macau for most Chinese provinces began in February around Chinese New Year. Early revenue reports since that time have shown just a small uptick in revenue from a year earlier when Macau casinos were the first to close as a result of the pandemic. In its weekly report on Macau operations issued on March 8, Jefferies analysts identified three items which would dramatically improve revenue production. “We believe a sharper Macau GGR recovery will depend on border restrictions easing via: 1) China re-instituting the electronic IVs; 2) removal/ extension of the requirement for a negative nucleic acid certificate within seven days of arrival; and, 3) removal/relaxation of compulsory quarantine for Hong Kong and Taiwan arrivals. China has reported no new local infection cases since February 14, and only one local infection case since February 7. Meanwhile, Hong Kong has reported less than 20 new daily cases this month.” The revenue in the chart is expressed as Macau patacas. The conversion rate is 8 patacas for US$1.
pain in nevaDa
he 2020 Nevada Gaming Fact Book was released in March. A publication of the Nevada Resort Association, which represents all the major tourism organizations in the state, the Fact Book emphasized what was already known: the Covid-19 pandemic hit the state hard. With Nevada tourism largely based on air traffic, the impact was brutal. The charts demonstrate the steep decline in visitors to the state, and the actual disappearance of convention-goers, the heart and soul of the midweek Las Vegas market, from mid-March until the end of the year. While visits to Las Vegas have increased, they are mostly drive-in visitors from California, where a total lockdown is still in place. To obtain a copy of the report, visit NevadaResorts.org/factbook.
Global Gaming Business
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General Manager, Mohegan Sun Casino at Virgin Hotel Las Vegas
hen Richard Branson founded Virgin Hotels several years ago, he always intended to place a hotel in Las Vegas. That happened last year when, in cooperation with Bosworth Hospitality and investment firm Juniper Capital Partners, they purchased the former Hard Rock Hotel. The casino at Virgin Las Vegas will be run by Mohegan Gaming & Hospitality at Mohegan Sun Las Vegas, with Joe Hasson as the general manager. Hasson spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros in a Zoom podcast from the casino in March. To view or listen to the podcast, visit GGBMagazine.com. GGB: It’s an exciting time to open a new property, but you’ve been through that a few times. What’s different opening this casino? Hasson: We’re excited and proud to bring the Mohegan brand of gaming to the Las Vegas Strip corridor. I
1 2 3 4 5
feel the appropriate pressure of that—which is a good thing to feel. This is different because this is truly an integrated resort. They’ve had this opportunity in place for a long time, and they’ve brought together a bunch of great brands. In addition to Virgin, they brought in the power of the Hilton Curio database, they have AEG Presents running what will be a great entertainment and events center, and then a fabulous array of restaurant entrepreneurs who bring all the pop, pizzazz and sparkle that you can imagine all under one roof. We were very familiar with the Hard Rock casino. What will be different at the Mohegan Sun casino?
You’ll find a complete re-imagination of the resort. For the casino, the Mohegan brand will bring all the popular slot games. Anything that is new, we’re going to have it. But we will also populate the floor with the old favorites, whether it be reel games or video poker-style games. We want this to feel familiar as well as new at the same time. You won’t find the infamous center bar. We’ve replaced that with the center of the casino, a combination of slots and table games. The bar has been moved to the entryway of the resort, which is essentially the lobby bar now, which also includes the ultra-lounge. I think people will enjoy it. People will find old and new at the Mohegan Sun casino. How are you going to interact with the other partners?
We want this to be a seamless experience for the guests, so the operators need to have the coordination behind the scenes among all the partners. My job is to stay in close contact with those other businesses that are part of the integrated resort and to make sure we’re coordinated in such a way that the guests are comfortable and fulfilled. You’ve got multiple databases that you’re going to use—Mohegan, Virgin Hotels, the database of the former Hard Rock and the Hilton Curio. How will those folks be addressed?
When I think about the power of the Mohegan database, we operate in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Washington state, Louisiana and now we’re operating in Canada, across from Niagara Falls. We know our guests in all those regions come to Las Vegas, and now we’ve got something great to offer them. For the former guests of Hard Rock, we’re going to reach out to them and ask them to try us again. Come visit us and let us introduce ourselves to you. We’ll place you instantly in the right tier of rewards that you were accustomed to without having to earn your way to that level. It’s a matter of respect. Lots of the former employees of the Hard Rock have returned. How is that working out?
We honored whatever promises were made to the casino employees, so as general manager of the Mohegan Sun casino, I’m pleased and proud to welcome those employees back. It’s a matter of mutual respect and cooperation and the manner in which Mohegan Sun does business, and it’s the right thing to do. Very few general managers who open up new or reinvented properties have a veteran workforce on day one. I have the luxury and that honor.
Global Gaming Business APRIL 2021
“People around here are saying, ‘It’s going to make more traffic; it’s going to make it tougher on us.’ Really? The Indians were here before you. And you took their land. It’s incredible how people think.” —Jack Morris, co-owner of the Hard Rock Atlantic City, on helping New York’s Shinnecock tribe develop a casino in the Hamptons section of Long Island
CALENDAR April 27: Russian Gaming Week, InterContinental Moscow Tverskaya, Moscow, Russia. Produced by Smile Expo. For more information, visit RGWeek.com. LIVE May 18-20: CasinoBeats Summit, InterContinental Hotel, Malta. Produced by SBC Events. For more information, visit SBCEvents.com. LIVE May 27-28: SIGMA Asia, SMX Convention Centre, Manila, Philippines. Produced by SiGMA. For more information, visit SiGMA.com.mt. LIVE May 28: Prague Gaming Summit. Produced by European Gaming Media and Events. For more information, visit PragueGamingSummit.com. VIRTUAL June 8-10: Canadian Gaming Summit. Produced by the Canadian Gaming Association. For more information, visit CanadianGamingSummit.com. VIRTUAL June 14-17: International Gaming Summit 2021, Culloden Estate and Spa, Belfast, Northern Ireland. Produced by the International Association of Gaming Advisors (IAGA). For more information, visit TheIAGA.org. LIVE June 21-25: ICE Connect Virtual Summit Europe. Produced by Clarion Gaming. For more information, visit ClarionGaming.com. VIRTUAL July 8-10: National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) 2020 Summer Meeting, Intercontinental Magnificent Mile, Boston, Massachusetts. Produced by NGLGS and Spectrum Gaming. For more information, visit NGLGS.com. LIVE July 23-25: Indian Gaming 2021, Las Vegas Convention Center. Produced by National Indian Gaming Association and Clarion Gaming. For more information, visit IndianGaming.org. LIVE August 17-19: G2E Asia, Venetian Macao Cotai Exhibition Center. Produced by the American Gaming Association and Reed Exhibitions. For more information, visit G2EAsia.com. LIVE October 4-7: Global Gaming Expo (G2E), Sands Expo Center, Las Vegas. Produced by the American Gaming Association and Reed Exhibitions. For more information, visit GlobalGamingExpo.com. HYBRID
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AMERICAN GAMING ASSOCIATION
Pressing Priorities Why a boost to the travel and tourism businesses makes sense for gaming By Alex Costello
pringtime and travel go hand-in-hand, with the season usually bringing a boom for the industry as spring-breakers book trips, businesses plan travel and conferences, and families map out their summer vacation plans. But as the calendar pages flip this year, the lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic continue to disrupt industries across the travel, entertainment and hospitality sectors, including gaming. The travel industry lost nearly $500 billion last year, resulting in $64 billion lost in federal, state and local tax revenue. The travel-reliant gaming industry saw a 31 percent drop in annual revenue as casino operating days decreased by 27 percent due to pandemic-driven casino closures and capacity restrictions. These figures underscore the need for additional action at the federal level to accelerate this important and disproportionately impacted segment of our economy. We’ve been encouraged by progress on this front, and by Congress’ commitment to supplement broader Covid-19 relief efforts and jumpstart the travel and tourism industries. U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (DNev.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and U.S. Reps. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) and Darin Lahood (R-Ill.) recently unveiled the Hospitality and Commerce Jobs Recovery Act (HCJRA), a bipartisan, bicameral bill to incentivize Americans to travel again. In February, the Senate voted on a budgetary amendment supporting funding for the hospitality industry, including conventions, trade shows, entertainment, tourism and travel, echoing the priorities of the HCJRA. Although the amendment was not binding, it’s a direct statement from Congress that they are prioritizing these industries for federal funding and is a positive sign that elements of the HCJRA will likely be considered for future relief packages. The Senate’s creation of a new subcommittee on Tourism, Trade and Export Promotion also shows the desire of senators to support and expand travel in the U.S. This news is even brighter
Global Gaming Business APRIL 2021
“31 percent drop
The travel-reliant gaming industry saw a in annual revenue as casino operating days decreased by 27 percent due to pandemic-driven casino closures and capacity restrictions.
for the gaming industry, with Senator Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) serving as committee chair and Senator Rick Scott (R-Fla.) serving as ranking member. Senators from gaming states leading this subcommittee will ensure that our priorities are top of mind as they consider legislation. On the House side, the recent renewal of the Congressional Gaming Caucus—with more than 30 bipartisan members—is a positive indicator that our industry’s interests will be represented in many congressional committees as Congress deliberates how to get our economy moving again. As Congress continues to support ways to accelerate the recovery of our travel and tourism industries at the federal level and as the nationwide vaccine rollout continues, there are reasons to be optimistic for the resurgence of travel in 2021. The gaming industry is well-positioned to ensure that our priorities are addressed in these recovery efforts, and the American Gaming Association will continue to work with our partners in the tourism industry and our champions on Capitol Hill to continue this momentum as gaming makes its comeback. Alex Costello is senior director, government relations for the American Gaming Association.
Strength in Numbers
More than 180 member companies from 22 countries Nearly $21 billion in direct revenue • 61,700 employees 13 publicly traded companies • ONE POWERFUL VOICE Address worldwide industry regulatory and legislative issues • Discounts on major trade show booth space Promote responsible gaming initiatives • Updates from influential global industry leaders Advertising discounts in leading industry publications • Educational partnerships benefiting students and members Visibility in AGEM’s print advertisements • Exposure for publicly traded companies in the monthly AGEM Index Join AGEM today and work together with the world’s leading gaming suppliers. Marcus Prater, Executive Director +1 702 812 6932 • email@example.com Tracy Cohen, Director of Europe + 44 (0) 7970 833 543 • firstname.lastname@example.org Connie Jones, Director of Responsible Gaming +1 702 528 4374 • email@example.com Design & photo-illustration by Jeff Farrell.com • AGEM and charter ESP member since 2007.
©2021 Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM). Membership list current as of March 2021.
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The Eagles Soar Regional casino companies are becoming investor favorites because of Covid cost-cutting, sports betting and iGaming By Frank Fantini
year ago, the world of U.S. regional casino operators wasn’t very exciting. Oh, there was the usual emphasis on cost reductions, on refining marketing, on tweaking a property here, planning to convert a riverboat into land-based gaming there. And sports betting was starting to roll out with some promise of future growth. My, how things have changed. Today, regional casino companies are rocking. They are the growth darlings of the gaming industry. While the Las Vegas Strip, Macau and other markets continue to await Covid travel recovery, the regionals are raking. Stocks like Penn National, Boyd and Churchill Downs hit highs after highs. Here are several reasons for the transformation of several regional companies from dull ducks into regal eagles. • Sports betting is arriving fast, and the numbers are impressive for companies that have built their alliances, such as Penn National with Barstool Sports and Boyd with Flutter’s FanDuel, in which it also has a 5 percent stake. • iGaming is proliferating, too. Again, companies like Boyd, Rush Street Interactive and Golden Nugget Online are showing the potential in this space. And Boyd, for one, is stepping up the pace, soon launching its own iGaming brand reviving a storied name in Stardust iCasino. Interestingly, DraftKings is growing its iGaming business rapidly as it converts sports bettors into online casino gamblers. It is worth noting that, while sports betting makes most of the headlines, casino games generate higher margins and the market is bigger—lots of women—as opposed to sports betting, which tends to skew very heavily towards male participation. • Margins, which CEOs and CFOs a year ago touted as improving, are skyrocketing thanks to Covid-motivated cost cutting. As examples, Penn National’s EBITDA margins improved a phe-
nomenal 7.2 percent in the fourth quarter at reopened properties. Boyd grew 5.8 percentage points to a record 33.1 percent. The impact of these three developments cannot be understated. Consider New Jersey. In January, which was the latest month of data available as of this writing, iGaming and sports betting revenues combined for $184 million, which exceeded legacy casino revenue of $160 million. iGaming, a more reliable number than sports betting, which is very seasonal, was $103 million. That annualizes to more than $1.2 billion. New Jersey, Pennsylvania and just the first 10 days of brand-new Michigan iGaming and sports betting saw MGM generate $53 million in revenue, Penn National $47 million, Boyd $35.5 million, Golden Nugget Online $31.5 million and Rush
casino companies have learned how to manage at much lower costs. The impact can be significant. Eric Green, chief investment officer at Penn Capital, noted in his Investor Insights video interview, presented by Fantini Research, that if Golden Entertainment can retain half of its improved margins, EBITDA would grow from an expected $200 million to $250 million, and a $20 stock would generate $4 a share in free cash flow. Green’s interview in which he discusses his best investment ideas, can be viewed at FantiniResearch.com (click Investor Insights). Assuming a stock can reasonably be expected to sell at 10 times free cash flow, the potential impact is clear. Margin improvement has another benefit. It improves the balance sheet. Even if the additional EBITDA created by operating more efficiently is not used to pay down debt, the mounting cash reduces net debt, thus improving metrics like debt-to-EBITDA and enterprise value-to-EBITDA. Caesars CEO Tom Reeg is frequently quoted as saying the new age of online gaming is similar to the opening of the U.S. heartland to casinos during the riverboat expansion of a generation ago. Interestingly, it is the beneficiaries of that era— Caesars, Penn National, Boyd among them—that are benefiting from the new gold rush, too. More parochially, Covid-19 and high taxes are accelerating the growth of Sun Belt states and secondary metropolitan areas such as Miami, Houston and Denver. That will benefit casino markets such as Biloxi, Lake Charles and Black Hawk-Central City. But the biggest gainers are southern Nevada and Reno, which are convenient to a huge population of disaffected Californians. Once again, this is to the benefit of regional casino operators such as Boyd, Red Rock Resorts, Monarch Casino and Golden Entertainment.
casino companies are “Regional rocking. They are the growth
darlings of the gaming industry.
Global Gaming Business APRIL 2021
Street Interactive $26 million. Extrapolate those number to all of the markets that will be opening and as they mature. The impact will be significant. One caution is that acquiring online customers is not cheap. Those customers are fickle, playing with you today and playing with your competitor tomorrow if he offers a better deal. That fickleness, however, is where companies with giant databases have an advantage. Penn National, Boyd, Caesars, DraftKings, Flutter’s FanDuel and MGM all have databases of tens of millions of their proven customers to mine and national networks of brick-and-mortar casinos they can cross-market. That both helps reduce cost of player acquisition and contributes to growing revenues, including in brick-and-mortar facilities for the casino companies. Improved margins are less exciting but important. No doubt, expenses will grow and margins will decline as casinos fully reopen. But also no doubt,
Frank Fantini is the editor and publisher of Fantini’s Gaming Report. For a free 30-day trial subscription email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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AGEMupdate AGEM MEMBER PROFILE
The Innovation Group (TIG) has long been recog-
nized as the world’s most respected research and advisory firm, specializing in the gaming, entertainment, hospitality and leisure industries. To date, its research and analyses have driven over $100 billion in bricks and mortar, and technology-related investment decisions across more than 80 countries and six continents. The firm’s accuracy and reliability are unparalleled, with forecasts historically tracking within 5 percent of actual revenues and its business planning and development support invaluable. This year, TIG will emphasize recovery-focused player database and marketing strategies, operational efficiency audits, feasibility for a new generation of casino amenity concepts, sports betting market entry strategies, and game day experience analytics for sports venues and teams, among other initiatives. The Innovation Group continues to facilitate the Emerging Leaders of Gaming program, which has established itself as the go-to network for young professionals assuming the next generation of leadership in gaming, entertainment, hospitality, food and beverage, tourism and leisure. The company continues to support the growth and development of these rising stars as they achieve their fast track to success, destined to fill tomorrow’s senior-level and C-suite management positions. Over the course of the past year, The Innovation Group has released many reports and analyses regarding the impact of Covid-19 on the gaming industry as well as recovery strategies. The Innovation Group’s executives have also published many articles of interest in leading industry publications such as GGB and on many gaming websites. The Innovation Group will be attending and presenting at various conferences throughout 2021, live when possible, and otherwise, virtually. These conferences include various SBC Digital events (February through June), SXSW/South by Southwest (March), Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention (July), Canadian Gaming Summit (June), IAGA/ International Association of Gaming Advisors International Gaming Summit (June), Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Conference (July), and Global Gaming Expo (October). Learn more about TIG clients and services at www.theinnovationgroup.com.
AGEM Board of Directors Actions for March 2021 • AGEM’s ongoing work in Mexico has seen some very positive steps recently, following the chairman of the AGEM Mexico Committee Carlos Carrión of Aristocrat meeting last month with the new SEGOB Director Alma Itzec De Lira Castillo. SEGOB announced the organization of the “Innovation Symposium in the Games and Draws Sector” proposal for a new federal law for late March that, among other items, will review the proposed changes to the federal gambling law that has remained virtually unchanged since the 1930s. AGEM members that have business in Mexico were invited to attend the virtual event, which will also see other industry organizations such as operator trade groups AIEJA and APPJSAC represented. In other good news, it is hoped the proposed Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM) certification that would add a further layer of certification to gaming machines will now be shelved as the new SEGOB director and the president of Mexico have recently voiced their opposition to the NOM moving forward. • The first G2E Steering Committee meeting was held on February 17 and featured two members each from AGEM, the American Gaming Association and Reed Exhibitions who got together to decide major issues that ultimately shape the show. The first meeting covered just highlights, and also saw Reed introduce a new Health & Safety initiative that was subsequently shared with all the AGEM members. As a first step in the process, G2E has added a health and safety page on the G2E website that contains Reed Exhibitions’ initial planning information for events and will be the foundation when developing G2Especific guidelines. This content will continue to evolve as they learn from other in-person events and consult with local and state officials in Nevada and the Sands Expo. G2E-specific safety plans and official regulations will be on the website as they become available. • The AGEM/AGA 22nd Annual Golf Classic presented by JCM usually takes place in April or May, but is being postponed to a later date this year due to the pandemic. The event continues to be a key event for AGEM, providing a fundraiser for the International Center for Responsible Gaming (ICRG), and since its inception, has raised more than $2.2 million in donations for this very worthy organization. A questionnaire is being sent out to AGEM members to ascertain preferred dates, participation and format to understand the best ways to continue to support the ICRG in these challenging times. • AGEM members recently approved three new Associate members to the roster, taking the total membership to an all-time high of 190 companies. Al in Motion, based in London, offers software, IT, administration, advertising and other supporting services to the betting industry. Fulwood Media, based in Middlesex, U.K., provides in-depth insight by connecting people with the right information and facilitating networking; and Unity Technologies, based in San Francisco, is a leading platform for creating and operating real-time 3D (RT3D) content.
Forthcoming Events • Jason Giles, executive director of the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA), gave an update on the Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention at the AGEM March meeting. He confirmed the show will now take place in Las Vegas at the new Caesars Forum July 19-22 and run alongside the RES (Reservation Economic Summit) that will be located at Paris and Bally’s. There is hope that both shows will run at full capacity, but this depends on Governor Sisolak’s recent announcements of proposed easing of restrictions from 75 percent capacity in May, and if all goes to plan, hopefully 100 percent capacity on June 1.
The AGEM Index improved by 55.72 points to 751.79 points in February 2021, an 8 percent growth rate over January 2021. During the latest period, all but one company in the AGEM Index reported increases in their stock prices over the month. The AGEM Index’s monthly growth was driven by a significant gain in the stock price of Agilysys (AGYS). The company’s stock price climbed by 62 percent and contributed 15.09 points to the AGEM Index. Another strong performer for the month was Scientific Games Corporation (SGMS), whose stock price increased 19.4 percent and contributed 14.94 points to the index’s monthly rise. The major stock indices performed well as the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 experienced monthly growth of 3.2 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively. The NASDAQ experienced a gain of 0.9 percent.
APRIL 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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N I S O O L EXP
The pandemic wasn’t as painful in a handful of gaming states where online gambling is legal By Bill Sokolic
or more than two months last spring, casinos across the U.S. shut down in response to the growing coronavirus pandemic. But for those living or visiting New Jersey, an alternative existed for blackjack, slots and other casino staples. Online casinos. iGaming. iGaming has been part of the New Jersey gaming landscape since 2013, but it took a giant leap forward during the pandemic. April 2020 internet win rose 118.6 percent from $36.6 million in 2019 to $75.9 million. May’s win jumped 124.1 percent from $38.3 million to $85.9 million. The figures for June posted $84.9 million, a 123.1 percent gain compared to the prior June. For all of 2020, iGaming generated $970.3 million in New Jersey, 101 percent ahead of 2019. During the same time frame, casino win in brick-and-mortar properties in Atlantic City dropped 43.7 percent. Online gaming in the state continued its record pace as 2021 dawned. Golden Nugget Online Gaming led the pack in January, eclipsing the $1 million-per-day mark at $31 million, up 5 percent from December’s $29.4 million. Borgata ranked second with $28.7 million, a gain of 5.5 percent over December. Anyway you dissect it, those are eye-popping numbers.
Jersey the Giant It’s not just New Jersey. The four states offering online gaming in 2020—Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New Jersey—brought in $1.55 billion, up 198.9 percent from 2019. “While iGaming is still limited in scope, it showed strong growth and was a bright spot in an otherwise difficult year for the gaming industry,” says Casey Clark, senior vice president of strategic communications for the American Gaming Association. “iGaming was very valuable to states offering it in 2020, providing a source of tax and gaming revenue, as well as a safe, legal alternative to the often predatory illegal market.”
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Playing online eliminates the camaraderie of sitting at a table or sharing a row of slots with fellow gamblers, but the essence of the games remains, as do the wins and losses. “Last year’s stay-at-home orders offered customers—both new and existing—a way to enjoy a gaming experience online while our brick-and-mortar casinos where shuttered,” says Steve Callender, president of the Casino Association of New Jersey, and leader of the Eastern Region for Caesars Entertainment. With the pandemic declining as spring approaches, in part due to vaccine rollouts, in part due to successful controls including masks, social distancing and capacity limits, will iGaming fall off, become a novelty? Experts think not, and can point to the experience in New Jersey as proof. “We’ve found that our online casino product further enhances our connectivity to customers throughout New Jersey, who are able to enjoy convenience gaming anywhere in the state,” Callender says. “The outstanding success of New Jersey’s online casinos has helped catapult the state as a leader in gaming here in the U.S., surpassing a record-breaking $100 million in revenue for the month of January.” Callender points out that the convenience of gambling in your living room does not replace the experience of visiting a live casino hotel in Atlantic City, which offers full-service resorts with celebrity chef restaurants, shopping, spas, entertainment and luxe hotels in addition to gambling. “Therefore, we find that the success of online gaming only complements the brick-and-mortar business, allowing our customers to take a bit of a gam-
“iGaming was very valuable to states offering it in 2020, providing both a source of tax and gaming revenue, as well as a safe, legal alternative to the often predatory illegal market.” —Casey Clark, Senior Vice President of Strategic Communications, American Gaming Association
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“We find that the success of online gaming only complements the brick-and-mortar business, allowing our customers to take a bit of a gaming experience home with them when they leave.” —Steve Callender, President, Casino Association of New Jersey, and President, Eastern Region, Caesars Entertainment
ing experience home with them when they leave.” Resorts Digital, part of Resorts Casino Hotel, has two strong online links with partners DraftKings and PokerStars: Resortscasino.com and Mohegansuncasino.com. Resorts CEO Mark Giannantonio does not expect a falloff as the capacity limits fade and casinos operate at 100 percent. “Online sports betting and online casinos are poised to continue to grow as more people become introduced to this option of entertainment,” he says. Rather than seeing iGaming as a threat, Giannantonio says the online gaming component drives business from one to the other through promotions and other marketing tools. “Resorts collaborates closely with our online business to ensure players are provided the very best product and service,” he says.
Pennsylvania Package Pennsylvania launched online casinos in July 2019, well before Covid-19 was born. “We got off to a good start primarily because of the partnership between online operators and brick-and-mortar casinos,” says Kevin O’Toole, executive director of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. The pandemic helped fuel growth to an extent, he says. “But in our first six months, Pennsylvania increased to five platforms and added five more in the next six months, and three more the six months after that. We’re still learning. But we don’t expect a noticeable dropoff after the pandemic. We have had a tough winter, but that has had no effect in online play.” In January 2021, total gross gaming revenue for online casinos in Pennsylvania was $80.4 million, compared to $13.9 million the same month in 2020. January also eclipsed December’s figure of $71.6 million by 11 percent. For all of 2020, online casinos produced $565.8 million, with poker accounting for $35.6 million, table games $152.2 million, and slots $377.7 million. Board reports show that the combined total revenue generated from all forms of gaming, along with fantasy contests, in December 2020 was $168.7 million, a 42.2 percent decline compared to revenue generated in December 2019. Statewide, online casino revenue in December 2020 rose 574 percent, with Hollywood Casino growing 1,289 percent and Rivers Philadelphia up 551 percent, to cite two examples. The downside of such growth is the ease by which some players can let their gambling get out of hand. 2020 was a difficult year to pinpoint the impact online gambling has had, says Josh Ercole, executive director, Council on Compulsive Gambling of PA, Inc. The warning signs will likely be similar between online gambling and gambling in a casino, but in a virtual platform, it may be more difficult to be identified, he says. While the call volume to the compulsive gambling hotline has remained about the same in 2020, the number of chats/texts rose 200 percent from 2019 figures.
There are several studies focused on iGaming and gambling addiction, most notably, studies that tend to focus on increased access, and ongoing participation, Ercole says. “iGaming offers a very fast and recurrent opportunity that requires very little to access (no travel, etc). Having this increased ease of access is a concern. While most people will enjoy this, for someone who is not able to maintain control, this could be problematic. “Over the past year, we have seen a very significant shift in the percentage of calls for help outlining sports and internet gambling as the most problematic type for callers. We have also seen an increase over the past year in 24-35-yearolds reaching out for help. Typically, the highest numbers have fallen in the 3555 range,” he says. Then again, iGaming can allow for better responsible gaming measures to be put into place through the added use of technology, says Brendan Bussmann, a partner with Global Market Advisors, LLC. “Players can put limits on their spend or exclude themselves from playing. This carries over from the online world to the brick-and-mortar space for a comprehensive solution.”
Michigan Ramps Up The fifth state to launch, Michigan, shows how quickly iGaming can take off. The state opened for internet business on January 22. Through January 31, internet gaming produced gross receipts of $29.4 million, says Michigan Gaming Control Board Executive Director Richard Kalm. “While this really is just a glimpse of what may happen, it’s off to a good start,” he says. Authorized internet games include, but are not limited to, poker, blackjack, cards, slots, games played with dice and/or tiles, roulette, craps, pai gow, and other games typically offered at a casino, Kalm says. The Detroit casinos have been open at limited capacity since late December because of public health concerns, and many of Michigan’s tribal casinos are located in areas frequented by tourists during warmer months, but not so much during the state’s cold winters, he says. “Internet gaming provides another option for bettors. It’s likely many were curious initially and wanted to test the options.” By law, the internet gaming operators are tied to the three Detroit casinos or the 12 federally recognized Native American tribes running casinos in Michigan. Three more tribal operators will be added to the market, each with iGaming access: Gun Lake Casino, FireKeepers Casino and Soaring Eagle Casino. “Providing online access from a mobile phone, tablet or personal computer adds an entirely new dimension to the gaming and sports betting experience,” says Four Winds COO Frank Freedman. “This new platform will enable us to bring the fun and excitement from inside our Four Winds Casinos to the homes of our loyal guests and players throughout Michigan.” West Virginia legalized online casino gaming in 2019 with the passing of the West Virginia Lottery Interactive Wagering Act, with a tax rate of 15 percent. The first online casinos opened for business the following year. APRIL 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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“Providing online access from a mobile phone, tablet or personal computer adds an entirely new dimension to the gaming and sports betting experience.” —Four Winds COO Frank Freedman on the Michigan iGaming experience
“Our state legislature was forward-thinking when it comes to iGaming. We’re doing very well with two operators and several more in the pipeline,” says Randy Burnside, assistant director, West Virginia Lottery. “Each casino can have three mobile operators.” Currently, the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town, in partnership with DraftKings, and the Greenbrier Resort in conjunction with BetMGM operate online casinos, according to Burnside. West Virginia’s $2.8 million in revenue in January rose 9 percent over December, and December jumped 62 percent over November. The win contributed $420,000 in taxes to the state, up from $382,000 the month before. Delaware’s iGaming revenues amounted to $738,525 in January, a 5.5 percent increase over December. Slot games took in $584,443, a 15.7 percent increase compared to December. Table games generated only $114,449.27, still good for a gain of 6.9 percent from January 2020, according to CDC Gaming Reports. “iGaming is uniquely able to meet people in their homes, which has proven vital in this time of social distancing and rolling closures,” says Christopher Justice, president, Global Payments Gaming Solutions, which provides a cashless way to move money between a bank and an account for online and land-based casinos as well as mobile sports betting. “This is not to say the future is 100 percent iGaming, but it does underscore the need to ensure online, land-based and every other form of gaming offers a digital component to meet the digital-first patron through their preferred channel.”
Political Pressure The success in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the three other states begs the question: why haven’t more states jumped on this like they did sports betting? “An online casino is simply a more complex issue, both in terms of the politics of approving online casinos and in terms of the industry’s highly fragmented attitude toward the relative wisdom of authorizing online casinos,” says Chris Grove, a gambling industry strategist. “It is a lot harder lift to not only educate stakeholders on how iGaming works and its benefits but getting all of those same parties to want to move forward to legalize within a jurisdiction.” The results win the revenue argument, Bussmann says. “But there is a different mindset and perception than sports betting. Legislators are more comfortable legalizing sports wagering since it has become mainstream just by turning on any broadcast. It’s different than allowing someone to have any casino game on their phone while they sit in their house.” Still, Grove thinks you’ll see legitimate conversations in most states that authorized online sports betting. “I’d put Illinois and Indiana near the top of that list, although Indiana won’t be moving anything this year.” Bussmann says, “While there are discussions of potential movement in other states, those will likely wait until 2022 to make a move into full debate. Illinois may be the only state to move significantly because of its desire for additional tax revenue, but should be careful on how overall gaming revenue from other sources could be impacted through an additional expansion.” 16
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Approval is not as easy as it seems. Take Indiana. In January, state Senator Jon Ford introduced S 417, which would allow Indiana’s 14 casinos and racinos to offer internet gaming, along with online poker. The money end would produce a nice chunk of change, according to PlayIndiana.com. Under the legislation, casinos and racinos would pay $500,000 each for an interactive gaming license, renewable every year for $50,000. Each casino can partner with up to three online brands, or skins. Those operators would be charged $100,000 for an initial license, and $25,000 a year. The state would charge 18 percent tax on gross gaming revenues, including 3 percent for local governments, and 3.33 percent of state tax revenue collected would go for an addiction services fund. “We’re estimating between $65 million and $80 million in annual tax revenue, so that certainly helps the argument,” Ford tells PlayIndiana. “Also, our casinos are still at 50 percent capacity with no food and beverage. We should want to do this bill to help the casino industry that has been down quite a bit this year.” But the legislation died. “We’re very disappointed that the bill did not move in the 2021 legislative session,” says Matt Bell, president and CEO of the Casino Association of Indiana. “Now that companies are launching online in Michigan, we really would have benefited from iGaming as a way to reintroduce our properties and bring in new patrons.” Despite the setback, Bell has high hopes for 2022. “I still think there’s interest in legalizing iGaming in the legislature,” Bell says. “I think it’s a matter of timing, not policy. We will continue to educate lawmakers and make a great case for iGaming in 2022.” Will the same fate await Illinois? Introduced last month, HB 3142, if passed, would create the Internet Gaming Act, which would permit iGaming through Illinois casinos and racetracks, according to CDC Gaming Reports. The bill also contains provisions for age verification, location of wagering, responsible gaming, and other key stipulations. Additionally, the bill would require a 12 percent privilege tax to be paid into the state gaming fund. An initial license would be $500,000 with a $250,000 renewal fee, along with less costly fees for management service providers, suppliers and other licensees. The bill has been referred to the Rules Committee, its fate unknown. Not even the gaming capital of the universe offers iGaming. “Key stakeholders don’t see a benefit in authorizing online casino,” Grove says. Indeed, the late Sheldon Adelson tried his best to stymie such moves elsewhere. “iGaming has always had a handful of opponents in Nevada as they continue to believe that iGaming competes instead of complements brick-and-mortar gaming,” Bussmann says. “If done properly, it can boost overall revenue to an operation. Until these operators are open to these opportunities, Nevada will continue to be surpassed by other states in terms of game offerings and regulation.”
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The annual arms race among slot manufacturers these days is just as much about hardware as game content
By Frank LEgato
t was not that long ago that the cabinet on a slot machine was viewed as secondary to a game’s chance of success. When the Aria opened on the Las Vegas Strip in 2009, its server-based slot floor was viewed as the wave of the future. The flexibility of a server-based floor was supposed to transform slot operations, since game software can be altered on a schedule according to the demographics of who is likely to be in the casino at certain times. The cabinets are dumb terminals, there to house any number of game styles. In the mid2000s, many thought slot cabinets would become little more than cookie-cutter personal computers, designed as hosts to any variety of game content. As it turned out, rumors of the demise of advanced slot hardware were not only premature; they were downright wrong. Over the past decade, technological advancements in slot-machine game programs have been inexorably linked to hardware advancements. New slot cabinets are rolled out at trade shows every year right along with the new slot games. New games are designed to make the most of hardware, and vice versa. Slot games are merchandised via their cabinetry, and slot cabinets have become crucial to the development of new game styles. The ergonomics of the cabinetry has a direct effect on player comfort, and consequently, the length of slot play sessions. Product roadmaps of all the major slot suppliers typically contain game groups built around particular advanced hardware setups. “Technology is moving at a rapid pace, and cabinets that are 10 years old feel like they are 30 years old,” says Jon Hanlin, senior vice president of commercial strategy & business analytics for Aristocrat Technologies. “Our responsibility is to ensure our operating partners are getting positive returns on their purchases with great content and innovative hardware, but getting new hard-
Global Gaming Business APRIL 2021
ware to players is the goal.” “There is no question the look of the cabinet plays an important part of the game standing out on the casino floor,” agrees Jean Venneman, chief commercial officer for Gaming Arts. “Keeping up with technology and trends is important as well. But the ultimate success of that cabinet will still come down to the quality and appeal of the game as well as the supporting library.” “Players want to be dazzled, and desire the latest and greatest as they spend good money to be entertained,” says Travis Bussey, vice president of hardware engineering at Everi. “New hardware draws the eyes of players, distinguishing itself more so than any new title can on the same cabinet. Manufacturers are always in search of the next must-have hardware; however, designing and building a new form factor for the sake of technology does not make an impression on the player. Some level of play element needs to exist providing them a value proposition they have not experienced before.” Old-timers in the industry no doubt remember when slot floors evoked a mind-numbing sameness in which one cabinet looked exactly like the next one. These days, the floor offers a smorgasbord of shapes and sizes. “The casino floor continues to evolve with bigger, brighter, and more surprising hardware,” notes Caitlin Harte, director of product marketing at Incredible Technologies. “As technology rapidly evolves in all areas of life, players expect the same thing in their slot playing experience. The latest hardware is expected to capitalize upon the advancements in technology like screen resolution, wireless charging, and premium sound, then show all of it off with an entertaining game. Many players decide what new games to try
based on the visuals.” “New hardware is important to our customers for several reasons,” notes Anthony Baerlocher, vice president of product content and innovation at IGT. “First, deploying new slot cabinets is one way to differentiate one casino from the next, and to notably modernize the casino floor environment. This diversity of hardware also allows properties to cater to a wider variety of players and expand their player base.” Randy Hedrick, vice president of development engineering for Scientific Games, says cabinets change along with the expectations of players. “New hardware isn’t necessarily a required addition to each year’s new product cycle; however, it has become more of the norm in recent years as we work to adapt to changing player preferences,” Hedrick says. “Scientific Games builds great, high-performing cabinets that have a lot of staying power on the casino floor, but as consumer technology rapidly evolves so, too, have player expectations.” “It’s not unique to our industry,” adds Andrew Burke, CEO of Bluberi Gaming. He offers televisions and smartphones as analogous developments. “It used to be you’d have a TV and it lasted 10 years,” he says. “Now, it’s seems you’re getting a new TV every couple of years. It’s the same with iPhones—It used to be you’d need a new smartphone every few years. Now, a new one comes out every year, and you’ve got to upgrade. I think consumer expectation of how to interact with hardware has really changed, and we’ve been part of that shift.” Advanced hardware development also is becoming a necessity to compete in the modern marketplace. “It’s almost like an arms race,” says Karl Zedell, Jr., vice president of hardware engineering for AGS. “When you go to G2E every year, everybody has bigger hardware, bigger cabinets, advanced monitors, more lighting, and the latest technology.”
r&D collaboration This brave new world of slot hardware has evolved right along with software R&D. Development now involves collaborative work between software and hardware engineering. “A new gaming cabinet cannot be developed in isolation,” notes Vince
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Bruzzese, general manager, research & development at Ainsworth Game Technology. “You must seek opinions from all stakeholders and take their feedback into consideration in the product specification. Cabinets are rarely if at all designed with one specific game type in mind, but you may design a range of options which enable manufacturers to configure a cabinet for a specific game type if required.” “We have always had a highly collaborative process,” says Aristocrat’s Hanlin. “In the end, these cabinets are a vessel for our games, so integrating the game design talent into the process allows for optimal design and performance.” Victor Duarte, senior vice president and chief product & strategy officer for Konami Gaming Inc., says the level of collaboration between software and hardware teams in game development varies according to the product. “There are obvious examples like Konami’s Fortune Cup (horse-racing game), Rapid Revolver and Titan 360, where the innovative nature of the game play absolutely required close collaboration between software and hardware teams,” Duarte says. “In general, as we move deeper into the premium space, we expect greater shared custom innovation between the software and hardware elements, in order to help create that premium experience. And as you move toward the core product, we generally expect more standardized interaction for those core players who desire a more straightforward presentation.” “Our hardware leadership works closely with game development to ensure we provide a hardware platform that augments the game experience for the player as much as possible,” says Everi’s Bussey. “For the most part, we aim to stay neutral and avoid theme-specific accents in hardware design, but some changes can add a subtle flash, help merchandise themes or play mechanics, or more effectively communicate the game’s value proposition.” “For me, it’s always the hardware first,” says Bluberi’s Burke. “I don’t think it has to be the most outstanding or expensive version of hardware, but it needs to be good. Then, it’s the games themselves we give a lot of attention to. Hardware gets you to sit down. The game is what keeps you coming. So, it’s a very good symbiotic relationship between the two.” That relationship between engineering teams has become an essential APRIL 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
part of developing product roadmaps, adds Zedell at AGS. “The development philosophy for the cabinets has evolved into a very focused long-term strategy on an overall product portfolio for AGS,” he says. “We’re not just thinking about the cabinet we’re working on today and the one that’s going to hit the market next year; we have a roadmap that’s laid out for several years into the future, and it’s very detailed—specific types of cabinets, configurations, monitor sizes, even mechanical and electrical architecture.” “One of my biggest initiatives at IGT involved looking at hardware, content and commercial strategy,” says Baerlocher. “Working with a great team, we spent many months looking into this topic and discovered the content roadmap and hardware strategy were disconnected. This independence didn’t hurt the games, but it created inefficiencies in our development process. We have modified our strategy so that content and hardware are now developed in concert, and we build hardware to best present the games.”
advancing technology One reason hardware and software development are in a constant state of advancement is that outside consumer technology has continued to advance at a rapid pace. Where once the gaming industry consistently lagged behind other consumer industries in technology, there is now an emphasis among slot suppliers to stay closely attuned to outside developments. “Go back to something as simple as a touch-screen button display,” comments Mike Trask, director of product marketing and strategy at Ainsworth. “Ten years ago, it was hugely innovative that all the buttons were being replaced by these touch-screen button decks. Here we are 10 years later, and the touch-screen button deck is fairly standard on new slot cabinets. “In the same way, the audio has improved over the years. Now, we’ve seen over the past few years the advent of everyone working on curved-screen monitors. Certainly, all of these improvements you see on slot hardware are reflective of just the general increase in technology.” “Consumer product technology drives innovation across many entertainment mediums, including gaming,” says Aristocrat’s Hanlin. “4K screens, bent screens, Gorilla Glass, and improved processing power all factor into the evolution of the gaming cabinet. We utilize technological advances that will enrich the slot player experience.” “Advancements in consumer technology are a huge part of video slot hardware development,” says IT’s Harte. “You cannot expect players to go from watching their 4K television or using their touch-screen smartphone to sitting down at a low-res, sub-par gaming experience.” “Advancements in outside consumer technology have a considerable im20
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ies pact on hardware development,” says Wayne Ellard, executive director of product management at Scientific Games. “From the size and clarity of screens, to expectations for cashless gaming options and the need for charging stations at each gaming terminal, all of our new cabinets will offer mobile phone charging stations. The ability for the player to charge their devices at the EGM to enable other property-level amenities is now a requirement on all new products.” IGT’s Baerlocher adds that the iPhone charger is one of many advancements from consumer technology that have become requirements in new slot cabinetry. “There are consumer standards that have become the norm,” Baerlocher says. “For example, high-resolution 4K video is the expectation of everyone. Therefore, as we develop cabinets, the displays need to be crisp and clear. Another important area is sound. With the advancement in digitized sound, players are expecting clean audio with more dimensions and surround elements. “Separately, there are new consumer technologies that help the casino suppliers which consumers never adopted. The best examples are curved displays. The gaming industry drove the mass production of curved displays to enable a consumer-acceptable price point. But due to exogenous factors like viewing angles and room dimensions, curved displays have been rejected by home consumers. Despite this, curved LCD displays truly have enhanced slot games and offer a unique experience for consumers at a casino.” Zedell at AGS adds that the evolution of slot monitors is by no means finished. “We’ve gone from HD to 4K, which is pretty much a standard,” he says. “In the TV industry, they’re displaying 8K monitors, and now we’re even moving away from LCDs into the micro-LED technology.” Bluberi’s Burke reports similar movement. “Our guys in R&D are constantly showing me cool new uses of micro-LED technology, or LED technology, and we’re constantly asking, is this good with what we’re doing?” he says, emphasizing that new technologies need to provide a logical fit with gaming. “I think where you get some weird outcomes is when people find a cool technology, and just try to sort of fit it into the gaming business. It ends up being a cool technology that just doesn’t have any use to us. So, we try to make sure you have something that’s got purpose.” “We’re looking at other other industries all the time for technology, and that’s one of the most exciting things about the job,” says Zedell at AGS. “And when you see that new technology, you try to come up with a plan on how you can leverage that technology to strategic advantage within our own industry.” “Advancement in consumer technology is constantly monitored in line
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with the manufacturers’ future product requirements,” says Bruzzese at Ainsworth. “But it has to be weighed up against its cost, availability, life cycle and contribution to game performance.” “As technology evolves, there are shifts in consumer entertainment preferences,” says Konami’s Duarte. “This impacts what slot hardware looks like now and in the future.”
Comfort and Size One of the most prominent requirements in any new slot cabinet is that it must be comfortable for the player. Twenty years ago, when slot floors were crammed with cookie-cutter cabinets, players often found it uncomfortable to position themselves for extended play. That has changed, as developments in ergonomics have risen to the top of the checklist in cabinet development. “Player experience and comfort are paramount for hardware design,” says Everi’s Bussey. “We have specific requirements when it comes to ergonomics of the machine. For resolution, most players have a smartphone with the highest level of clarity, and they expect that level of technology to exist on all devices they interact with, particularly those they are putting money into.” “Ergonomics is key,” says Aristocrat’s Hanlin. “Having the reel basket sit
perfectly in the player’s vision is paramount to success. All the fancy lighting and packaging attracts the players off the aisleway and onto your game, but when they get there they have to feel comfortable playing your game.” “IGT’s two primary areas of focus when it comes to ergonomics are player hand position and viewing angles,” says Baerlocher. “IGT strives to make the player as comfortable as possible to enable extended play sessions.”
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King Cabinets Suppliers identify their best in the way of hardware advancements
lot suppliers have been rolling out new cabinets more frequently than perhaps any time in the history of the industry. Here are the products they identify as their latest heavy hitters.
As these considerations in ergonomics have grown, so has the size of the typical premium slot monitor. Where the typical cabinet lineup once consisted of a standard-sized core cabinet and perhaps a Bertha-style giant, many of today’s hottest new cabinets are in between those two, with monitors anywhere from 40 inches to 85 inches. Most of these fit onto a standard-size slot base, and thanks to the increased attention to ergonomics, those big screens are easy for players to look at. Aristocrat, for instance, has replaced its former Arc Double cabinet, which featured stacked 43-inch monitors, with the new Neptune Double, which stacks 49-inch monitors, configured in a way that a player can look up from a custom chair and directly view the progressive meters on the top monitor. That cabinet is just one example of a trend among all manufacturers toward that larger-format form factor. “There’s a definite performance lift for large-format games—in between the standard core and the big oversized machines,” says Konami’s Duarte. “The growth of large-screen displays and portrait-oriented game cabinets has given players entirely new kinds of jackpot events and bonus mechanics. And depending on the type of entertainment, these machines can capture a crossover appeal, to both core and more casual-style audiences.” “The trend is that cabinets are definitely getting larger,” says Zedell at AGS. “The technology allows this because the monitors have come down in cost, as well as the backlighting and the weight of the monitor. It’s at a point where it’s easier now to implement that into the cabinet sizes.” “Players vote with their wallets, and it seems the larger, more prominent cabinets are quite popular with players,” says Venneman at Gaming Arts. “I believe we can give the player a larger-scale experience but keep within the bounds of the general footprint.” Bluberi’s Burke predicts more uniquely sized cabinets are on the way. “I think somebody will do something beyond what we see today,” he says, “but I really do think that 49-inch screen has become the new standard product.” As suppliers keep up the parade of new cabinets, many feel the hardware arms race will continue indefinitely. “I think it will,” says Bluberi’s Burke. “I don’t think there’s some tipping point that pushes it over. I do feel like things are becoming a little homogenized, but I’m hoping it veers off where people are trying things a little differently. “You remember the days of the old Barcrest. There are some cool concepts out there that feel more like a carnival than a current casino game that I think there’s still an opportunity for.” “The advancements that matter most are those that drive enduring engagement for players and enduring asset value for operators,” says Konami’s Duarte. “Konami is currently doubling down on development to serve changing needs, in ways that help ensure superior results, reliability, and ROI for our casino customers.”
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AGS The sweet spot for AGS these days is the unique merchandising package created by the Starwall, the giant, freestanding video backdrop display for Orion Portrait cabinets that frames three or six Orion games in a stunning 4K video display with colors and features drawn from the game content. Measuring 8.5 feet tall by 5 feet deep, the merchandising display can frame a three-pack along a wall or a freestanding two-sided six-pack bank of games. “Merchandising is a very important part of the hardware business now, and AGS did a tremendous job with the Starwall package,” says AGS Hardware Engineering VP Karl Zedell, Jr.
Ainsworth Game Technology Ainsworth released its first curved cabinet, the A-STAR Curve, just before the industry shutdowns last year. The new offering is quickly gaining traction this year. It is a sleek 13-foot cabinet featuring a 43-inch floating infinity monitor under a 27-inch high-definition topper, with dynamic LED lighting and a state-of-the-art LCD button deck. “For us, the A-STAR Curve was a pretty big step. It was our first cabinet release since 2017, and it was our first curved-screen monitor,” says Mike Trask, Ainsworth’s director of product marketing and strategy. “We certainly know it’s necessary to create a more and more innovative and strong experience on a cabinet in order to compete on today’s casino floors.”
Aristocrat Technologies Aristocrat has followed up the launch of the Neptune Dual premium cabinet with the MarsX Portrait, its 42-inch flat-screen monitor providing the perfect complement to its workhorse MarsX core cabinet, which was named the industry’s top-performing cabinet by Eilers & Krejcik in 2019. “Portrait cabinets have been a hot cabinet style for years now, and we feel the MarsX Portrait is a top-tier entry into that market,” says Aristocrat Senior VP Jon Hanlin. “The design is elegant and builds on the highly successful dual-screen MarsX.”
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Bluberi According to Bluberi CEO Andrew Burke, in the fall, the company plans to introduce G-Force, a new 49-inch curved-screen cabinet that is the first new form factor for the company since Burke arrived. “We’re also working on a game with Steve Weiss’ company we call ‘Big Mech;’ it is a hybrid mechanical-reel oversized cabinet,” Burke says. “It has really big, stenciled-out mechanical reels, with a 7inch LCD behind each symbol, and a 55-inch monitor on top.”
Everi Everi launched the Empire Flex, featuring a 49-inch curved monitor and curved LED light bars, with the successful Wicked Wheel slot series. The cabinet, ranked No. 1 among portrait cabinets for seven straight months in the Eilers-Fantini Cabinet Performance Report, is on tap for a parade of new content going forward. “In February 2021, we leveraged the success of Empire Flex and introduced the fully featured banked product Flex Fusion with 4K game content, incredible lighting features, and an expanded button deck,” says Everi Hardware Engineering VP Travis Bussey. “The platform is available in multiple configurations for flexibility in placement including socially distanced configurations with integrated panels for player safety.”
IGT IGT recently released the latest entries in its “Peak” group of cabinets, the PeakSlant32 in the core segment and the PeakSlant49 as a premium offering for new multi-level progressive titles and the Wheel of Fortune brand. “Both of these cabinets include the latest technology and really cater to the player, while making the content the star of the show,” says Anthony Baerlocher, IGT’s vice president of product content and innovation. “The PeakSlant32 was the first triple 32-inch monitor cabinet into the marketplace highlighting IGT’s leadership in hardware and innovation. The PeakSlant49 has a signature double progressive curve to create a sleek, modern flow to the cabinet which also enhances the viewing angle.”
Incredible Technologies IT has achieved great success with the Infinity line of cabinets, this year emphasizing the largerformat Infinity Pilot, Infinity V55 and Infinity Summit. The Infinity Pilot is designed to give the player an immersive experience by flanking the main 55-inch vertical monitor with two 29-inch displays for a cinematic effect. The Summit is designed as a new “premium core” cabinet, with a 4K high-definition monitor on top of the main 55-inch display, angled down toward the player. “We believe players will continue to seek out playing spaces where they do not feel crowded or cramped,” comments IT Product Marketing Director Caitlin Harte. “Larger-format cabinets like our Infinity Pilot promote extra space with wing monitors to encapsulate players sitting at the game. Our Infinity V55 and Summit cabinets occupy a standard footprint but have the capability to add Edge displays between them to create space in many unique configurations.”
Gaming Arts Among Gaming Arts hardware highlights have been the Phocus U104 upright and Phocus S104 hybrid cabinets. The company is planning on releasing a 49inch, single-screen portrait cabinet this summer called the VertX Grand. “Using all of that uninterrupted real estate allows for several innovative game concepts that we are excited to see in the field,” says Gaming Arts Chief Commercial Officer Jean Venneman. Last year, the company stepped up R&D efforts to promote player safety amid the Covid19 pandemic, developing a Player Guard Antivirus System that uses UVC lighting to decontaminate, disinfect and sanitize gaming machines and gaming equipment. “The goal is to disinfect and sanitize virtually any piece of equipment or object that possesses a risk to the gaming public or casino staff,” Venneman says.
Last fall, Konami expanded the Dimension series of slot cabinets. Dimension 49J, the J-shaped curved-monitor cabinet, debuted with All Aboard, which is one of the company’s highest-preforming slots. Konami is making other titles available on the 49J, as well as the core tri-monitor Dimension 27 and the Dimension 49 portrait cabinet. “All three Dimension cabinets are available now, and certainly with the proven success of the Dimension 49J machine we anticipate strong player reception for the for-sale versions—each with an incredible pipeline of original content and comprehensive merchandising options,” says Konami Senior VP Victor Duarte. “Our latest Dimension slot product line has been designed from the ground up to focus on the player, and features some of the best available content from Konami development teams.”
Scientific Games Last fall, Scientific Games released Kascada, billed as the next generation of the groundbreaking TwinStar J43. Kascada features an ultra-high-definition 4K graphics display on a 43-inch, innovative double curved monitor. This spring, the company is launching the massive Mural cabinet, featuring dual 55-inch curved displays designed to host premium content with game mechanics designed specifically to take advantage of the dramatic layout. “Powering this cabinet is a next-generation processor that provides lightning-fast game play, smooth animation, and crystal-clear graphics,” says Randy Hedrick, SG’s vice president of development engineering. “Further enhancing the player’s experience is an upgraded larger iDeck featuring dual bash buttons for increased player interaction and an embedded inductive charger for convenient mobile phone charging.”
APRIL 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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AGolden Age For Downtown
The 50th anniversary of the Plaza brings back memories of a time when the Strip was luring visitors from Downtown Las Vegas By Oliver Lovat
The Union Plaza when it first opened 50 years ago
n its 50th anniversary, the story of the Plaza offers a timely reminder of the early pioneers of Downtown Las Vegas, their business strategies and how future generations built on their legacy to enable an unlikely revival of Downtown Las Vegas. At the midway point between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, the relatively verdant Las Vegas seemed the most suitable location for a station on the Union Pacific Railroad. Opening in 1906, the station was to be the cornerstone of the city, with customers alighting to what was to become Fremont Street. The modern station was built in 1940, servicing rail passengers to and from Las Vegas. The Art Deco architectural treat was demolished in 1969 to make way for the Union Plaza Hotel and Casino at No. 1 Main Street. After years of negotiations, by the late 1960s, Las Vegas businessman Frank Scott had persuaded the Union Pacific Corporation to develop the station at the gateway to Fremont Street. With Upland Industries, a subsidiary of Union Pacific, funding $9.8 million of the $10.5 million construction for the initial 22-story, 504-room property, the Union Plaza Hotel and Casino opened on June 2, 1971, with the grand opening a month later. It was an ambitious project for the area. A new train station was integrated in the resort (only closing in 1997 when train services ceased) and with a casino floor at 66,000 square feet, it was the largest in the world. Scott brought in a stellar group of experienced and aligned equity investors, selected to enable success. 24
Global Gaming Business APRIL 2021
J.K. Houssels of the Tropicana, who had previously owned the El Cortez, was in. As was Jackie Gaughan, who had bought the iconic hotel from Houssels. Nevada U.S. Senator Howard Cannon was an original investor, as were fatherand-son team Sam and Bill Boyd, who took 12.5 percent of the equity ownership with responsibility to operate. Together, the Boyds had already bought and operated the Eldorado in nearby Henderson to great success.
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Jonathan Jossel has been president of the Plaza since 2010
On Track The Union Plaza opened at a formative time for Las Vegas. In 1971, Downtown casinos were still operated by many of the World War II veterans that had set up home in the Silver State, or the remnants of the mob that had yet to be purged. A few miles away on the Strip, a new generation of resorts was redefining the discipline, with themed Caesars Palace dominating. The center of gravity was already moving south. The Union Plaza was positioned to compete not just against the Strip, but Fremont rivals and the locals’ casinos, but was neither a fully integrated resort with the full range of amenities seen on the Strip, nor a traditional gaming saloon. With over 150 more rooms than any other property Downtown, continually filling the rooms of Union Plaza was to be a challenge. As many of the key investors were active in the gaming industry, there was no shortage of contributions to the proposed strategy of the property. The influence of Gaughan was evident, with the Omaha bar featuring the Sun Spots as the social hub. As the hotel was located on the site of the train station, there was a nod to that history as a theme, with uniforms evoking those worn by rail workers. Sam Boyd was able to implement many of the operating
ideas that had been successful in Henderson, such as the revolutionary move to have women dealers—a move that was as controversial with other executives as it was overdue. Boyd also brought entertainment to the property’s showroom in the shape of musical theater, which, despite initial skepticism, also proved successful in attracting locals for nights out. The divergent opinions on strategy among the ownership group came to fore, despite the financial success of the young property. With a wide range of business interests in the city it was Sam and Bill Boyd that were first to amicably alight in 1973. They parlayed the profits locally, opening the California in 1975, followed by Sam’s Town in 1979. After the Boyds’ departure, operations were assumed by innovative operator and investor Gaughan, already an established figure in Downtown Las Vegas, known for his hands-on approach and customer engagement. Gaughan had a clear vision of who his customer was and who the Union Plaza customer should be; Gaughan was the man for Middle America. During his initial stewardship, the property took a pivot, taking the innovative and revolutionary step to open the first casino sportsbook in Las Vegas. Gaughan, in line with the collegiate spirit, backed a young Steve Wynn to acquire an ownership interest in the Golden Nugget, only yards from the front door of the Union Plaza. Within a couple of years, the Golden Nugget was to surpass the Union Plaza as the largest property in the locale. Avoiding the temptation to compete with the Nugget for high-end customers, in 1983 the Union Plaza added another tower and convention facilities to capture the emerging midweek convention business, bringing the total room count to over 1,000. In 1990, Gaughan acquired the holdings of Union Plaza initiator Frank Scott, followed by Upland Industrial’s participation in 1993, becoming the majority shareholder and ending the relationship with Union Pacific. With the “Union” link terminated, and initially against his instinct, the property was renamed “Jackie Gaughan’s Plaza.” Customers would reflect on the friendliness and family feel of the property, plus the good value. It really was Jackie Gaughan’s Plaza.
Changing Direction Surprisingly, gaming in Downtown Las Vegas remained unaffected by the various crises on the Strip during the 1980s, as the market for their gambling-centric hospitality offering remained robust. However, by the end of the decade, Wynn’s focus was on opening the Mirage, which prompted generational development on the Strip and the beginning of Fremont Street’s decline. As an attempt to improve its fortunes, 1995 saw the opening of the Fremont Street Experience and the pedestrianization of Fremont Street. However, there seemed to be no apparent benefits to casino revenues and the attraction was certainly not to the benefit of the Plaza, as it was located outside the perimeter of the canopy and across Main Street from the pedestrian precinct. Gaughan was to keep the property out of the Fremont Street Experience for the duration of his ownership. The effects of Strip development and proliferation of regional gaming were to shock operators’ business models. Downtown Las Vegas was particularly vulnerable to systemic movements in the expansion of gaming, losing business to APRIL 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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local and regional casinos and to nearby Laughlin, which had a similar value offering on a larger scale. At year end 2004, it was evident that the model that had been successful for decades was broken. Due to the high levels of vagrancy and perceived levels of crime, locals avoided the area. Bill Boyd, Michael Gaughan (son of Jackie) and the Fertitta family built well-regarded locals casinos in the Las Vegas suburbs to meet the growing population across the valley. For many tourists, Downtown was not an attractive place to spend valuable leisure time, thus leaving patrons as aging and less affluent, predominantly from the Midwest and Hawaii. These were the customers that had been targeted in the 1970s and ’80s heyday. In 2004, aged 84, Gaughan sold the Plaza, Gold Spike, Vegas Club and Western casinos, plus over 60 acres of land to Barrick Gaming and Tamares Real Estate for $82 million. Tamares was to acquire Barrick’s interest in the portfolio the following year.
All Change London-based Tamares seemed an unlikely owner for a portfolio of legacy assets in what seemed a moribund gaming market. Led by Finnish native Chaim “Poju” Zabludowicz, the group had invested widely from telecoms to real estate but had no track record in Las Vegas and no experience operating casinos. Tamares was not interested in the casino business, but having witnessed and benefited from urban regeneration in other cities, such as New York, Washington, D.C. and London, Zabludowicz believed that Downtown Las Vegas was ripe for such a transformation. As part of Tamares’ London-based real estate investment team, Jonathan Jossel had studied gaming and casinos as part of his college degree, something that none of the previous owners of the Plaza had done. Charged with implementing Tamares’ real estate strategy, the young executive relocated to Las Vegas to survey the possibilities. Zabludowicz’s investment was early, but others were soon to follow. With an ambitious mayor in Oscar Goodman at the helm, there was a desire to drive business and commerce Downtown. Shortly after Tamares’ investment, the Epsteins were active in investing and refurbishing the El Cortez and other assets on Fremont East, real estate group CIM acquired the shuttered Lady Luck in 2007 to become the Downtown Grand, Derek Stevens made an initial investment in the Golden Gate in 2008 (which was a precursor to acquiring Fitzgerald’s in 2011 to form the D, and Circa, which opened in 2020), and lastly with the arrival of the late Tony Hsieh in 2012 and his Downtown Project, there was a concerted effort, and capital, to reinvent Downtown Las Vegas. With an external casino operator engaged to manage the Plaza, Tamares’ focus was primarily on real estate. However, as the Great Recession of 20072009 hit, Las Vegas was affected worse than any other city in the U.S., and both gaming revenues and visitation across the city went into freefall; between 2005 and 2010, gaming revenues fell 25 percent in Downtown Las Vegas. The Plaza had to take radical steps. At the age of 29, Jossel applied and was awarded an unrestricted gaming 26
Global Gaming Business APRIL 2021
DOWNTOWN LAS VEGAS GAMING REVENUES, 1984 - 2019 Year
Table Revenue ($m)
Slot Revenue ($m)
Total Revenue ($m)
1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
$ 201,185 $ 214,163 $ 209,212 $ 232,836 $ 245,550 $ 265,047 $ 211,374 $ 217,332 $ 214,547 $ 196,325 $ 200,136 $ 204,309 $ 193,582 $ 192,063 $ 176,070 $ 165,301 $ 160,159 $ 165,971 $ 161,693 $ 167,373 $ 178,145 $ 159,679 $ 150,947 $ 150,204 $ 139,437 $ 120,262 $ 116,589 $ 116,827 $ 118,257 $ 126,628 $ 138,221 $ 154,402 $ 163,894 $ 199,860 $ 200,834 $ 217,173
$ 247,023 $ 276,999 $ 296,469 $ 350,577 $ 371,061 $ 406,660 $ 360,955 $ 448,812 $ 475,184 $ 481,036 $ 473,023 $ 430,326 $ 477,925 $ 479,027 $ 496,433 $ 496,186 $ 507,586 $ 511,524 $ 488,806 $ 483,563 $ 478,343 $ 486,817 $ 472,356 $ 476,098 $ 437,244 $ 397,642 $ 371,597 $ 374,914 $ 386,612 $ 369,978 $ 369,034 $ 387,398 $ 400,737 $ 431,394 $ 449,107 $ 467,749
$ 448,208 $ 491,162 $ 505,681 $ 583,413 $ 616,611 $ 671,707 $ 572,329 $ 666,144 $ 689,731 $ 677,361 $ 673,159 $ 634,635 $ 671,507 $ 671,090 $ 672,503 $ 661,487 $ 667,745 $ 677,495 $ 650,499 $ 650,936 $ 656,488 $ 646,496 $ 623,303 $ 626,302 $ 576,681 $ 517,904 $ 488,186 $ 491,741 $ 504,869 $ 496,606 $ 507,255 $ 541,800 $ 564,631 $ 631,254 $ 649,941 $ 684,922
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Between 2011 and 2019 gaming revenue Downtown increased by 39.3 percent, outpacing the Strip, which posted an 8.9 percent increase over the period. The Union railroad station was built in 1940 and demolished 1971 when it was replaced by the Union Plaza hotel and casino.
Final Destination license, becoming the youngest unaffiliated person to do so in the history of the city. In a move that was as opportunistic as it was bold, the Plaza acquired furnishings from recently bankrupt Fontainebleau, a casualty of the Great Recession, and closed the property for a full renovation. Reopening in 2011, Jossel retained the name the Plaza, when others were promoting a rebrand. “With the Great Recession in full force, we saw the renovation as an opportunity to make the Plaza ready for a new generation,” says Jossell. “We didn’t want to implode, rebuild or even rename the property, as others did, as we understood the importance of the brand and legacy. We invested in the rooms, the casino and all the amenities, but tried to retain the culture that our customers had experienced over decades.” An astute student of Downtown operators, Jossel sought to modify the property for a new age, lifting from history and retaining the ethos that had been inculcated over decades Downtown. Where Binion focused on poker, Jossel saw bingo. Not sexy, but for the thousands of annual bingo players coming from across the U.S. to play the game, tournaments at the Plaza have become a pilgrimage. The hotel has also become home to an annual pickleball tournament, the hottest fad among seniors.
Back on Track At the time of the Great Recession, several commentators were ready to write off Downtown as moribund, and the stunning return of Downtown Las Vegas was far from inevitable. Between 2011 and 2019 gaming revenue Downtown increased by 39.3 percent, outpacing the Strip, which posted an 8.9 percent increase over the period. As mentioned, the exit of the old guard and new ownership provided an injection of capital, with almost all major properties undergoing some form of modernization. The city of Las Vegas supplemented this by implementing a gentrification program, complemented by opening and improving a significant range of non-casino-related additions, such as the Mob Museum, Neon Museum, formation of the Fremont East Entertainment District and the various investments of the Downtown Project, driving younger patrons in particular. This reinforced Wynn’s adage that amenity is the cause and revenue is the consequence. The promotion of Downtown as a value-driven authentic experience chimed with the visitation trends; as Las Vegas became less a gaming center and more a tourist destination, a visit to Downtown was a tourist activity. The demographics began to skew younger—in 2011 the average age of the Las Vegas visitor was 49, but by 2018 this was 45.1. In 2011, 34 percent of Las Vegas tourists visited Downtown, but by 2018, this was 46 percent. In real numbers, this equates to an increase of 6.1 million to over 19.3 million visitors. For context, in 2018, double the number of people visited Downtown Las Vegas as Barcelona. 28
Global Gaming Business APRIL 2021
The cooperation that existed with past generations of owners is also present, to an extent. The Boyds and Gaughans did business on a handshake, which has left future generations to untangle issues like property rights and easements, usually amicably. The principle that guided this cooperation is that something that is good for one of the operators, is good for all. However, the notable exemption is with the Slotzilla zipline. Opening in 2014, as part of the construction, a decision was made to build a concrete wall which would obstruct the view from Main Street down Fremont Street for the first time since 1906. The action was taken to apparently disadvantage the Plaza, as it was not part of the Fremont Street Experience. On a commercial level, it appears unnecessarily churlish and contrary to the spirit of community cooperation. Moreover, for those with an eye to Las Vegas history, it is cultural vandalism of the highest order, denying the continuity of a rare historic aspect to visitors and locals alike. For those that honor the legacy of Las Vegas, the zipline is a shameful reminder of the small-mindedness that can arise on occasion. Nonetheless, 50 years on, the Plaza is now neighbor to the first new, groundup resort in Circa, and within short order Symphony Park will be connected to Main Street via a pedestrian park, opening up the property to increased footfall and local access to residential and commercial tenants. Fremont East, once a no-go area, has become an alternative hangout for locals and tourists, much of which was instigated by Jossel, as Tamares is a major real estate owner in that part of the street. Farther south, the Arts District has new restaurants opening weekly, despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Jossel has built on the foundations set by the early generation of owners. Resembling Jackie Gaughan’s iteration of a family atmosphere, the property today meets the needs and expectations of the customers. They know that other places have newer facilities with greater amenities, but the Plaza is genuine and honest. Gaughan was there with a handshake, as is Jossel, a social media star, with a podcast and thousands of Twitter followers—a 2021 barometer of customer engagement. In Jossel, the Plaza has a steward worthy of comparison with his august predecessors. As the Plaza celebrates her golden anniversary, the iconic entrance glitters brighter than ever, marking the intersection between Main Street and Fremont Street. No longer towering over its rivals in height, as younger challengers have emerged, it stands poised with maturity and a renewed confidence, comfortable with its place in a highly competitive market—a market that it helped build not just once, but twice. As appropriate to the property, martini glasses should be raised high to toast the efforts of all those involved in this remarkable story, past, present and future. Oliver Lovat leads the Denstone Group, which offers strategic consultancy on customer-facing, asset-backed investments, including casinos. He is Visiting Faculty at City University of London Business School.
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MAKING MY POINT
How to Rob a Bank Put together your team and hope for the best
hink of it* like robbing a bank. Let’s say you’ve decided to snatch and grab $1 million from your friendly neighborhood credit union. (Don’t worry, it’s a write-off… and they’re the ones writing it off.) How would you do it? Where would you start? Who is going to help you? Well, the second thing you need—the first is a goal, which you already have—is a plan. Sit down, chillax, take your time and plot it out step by step. And, as you are a disciple of the great American philosopher Michael Gerard Tyson, you know that “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Therefore, you will have contingencies, and those contingencies will have contingencies and those contingencies will… OK, you get the idea. Step One: Determine if this bank will indeed have $1 million on the day and time you rock up. Boy, would you have egg on your face if, after breeching the alarm, subduing the guards and holding a dozen men, women and children hostage at gunpoint, you crack open the safe only to find it’s emptier than King Tut’s sarcophagus or Chicken Little’s anxieties. The lesson: Before starting, you must be 100 percent certain that executing your plan will result in achieving your objective. Step Two: Figure out how many people you need. The key word is “need.” Find inspiration in the advice of William Strunk, who, along with E.B. White, wrote this about writing in The Elements of Style, a book that terrorized generations of high-school English students: “A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.” And a conspiracy no unnecessary accomplices. The lesson: Keep your team small. Step Three: Right up front, tell your, uh, co-workers, what their individual responsibilities are. You’ve got to communicate, motivate and delegate. You can’t have two people trying
Global Gaming Business APRIL 2021
By Roger Snow
to drive the getaway car and no one monitoring the scanner to see if the po-po is on the way. It’s about division of labor. Each member of the team has a particular skill and an even more particular responsibility. Be careful not to micromanage, not to shoulder-surf, not to hover and interfere. You picked the best peeps available, didn’t you? Then let him crack the safe the way he wants. Let her pick the caliber of bullets to load in the guns. Let him pick the disguises. WTF do you care if you’re Richard Nixon or Guy Fawkes? People crave ownership, agency, especially in their areas of expertise. All you’ve got to do it give it to ‘em. The lesson: Tell your team what to do, not how to do it. Step Four: Let your team know what’s in it for them. As there should be no ambiguity in responsibility, there should be none in terms of payoff. If we’re successful, here’s your cut. And yours, and yours and yours. Nobody should need a slide rule and an abacus to calculate his or her share of the score. The lesson: Don’t complicate compensation. Step Five: Just do it. There’s only so much practice and preparation you can undertake. Most plans, be they vile or virtuous, grow stale over time. And how would you feel if you hemmed and hawed so long that when you finally pull into the parking lot with your posse, you see Butch and Sundance or Bonnie and Clyde ducking out the back door with your stash of cash? Exactly. The lesson: If you’ve identified an opportunity, it’s not long before someone else does as well. Once you ready and aim, then damn it, fire away. Step Six: Expect the unexpected. Take it from poet Robert Burns (and the aforementioned Mr. Tyson), the best-laid plans of mice and men—with or without that punch in the puss—oft go awry. There are simply too many variables to consider them all. Were this music, it wouldn’t be classical,
but jazz. Were this sport, it wouldn’t be football, but rugby. Were this theater, it wouldn’t be Shakespeare—where the lines are recited exactly the same tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow— but improv. In your premeditations, try to anticipate everything that could go wrong. What if the cops show up while you’re still inside? What if one of your crew bails on you at the last second? What if one of the hostages decides to Die Hard on your ass? What if the teller slips an exploding canister of paint dye into one of the money bags? Wait, that’s from Raising Arizona. The lesson: Hope for the best, but plan for the worst. And finally, Step Seven: Accept that, just as the captain goes down with the ship, you, as the (ring) leader, must take the fall in the event of failure. No diming out. No snitching. No scapegoating. When the $#@% hits the fan, you’re the one getting spattered. The corollary to this is that when the plan succeeds, defer credit—and maybe even a bit more of the loot—to your team. Don’t thump your chest like King Kong; rather, STFU, exit stage left, and let others bask in the spotlight. Couple of reasons for this. First is that’s just how these things work. Your plan, your team, your strategy, your tactics. Even if one of your cohorts totally screws up, pulls a brain-dead boner, like forgetting to load the weapons or leaving behind a big fat fingerprint, it doesn’t matter. You. Take. The. Blame. Second, unless you get sent away for life, you’ll be back at it again someday. And how hard will it be to lead a new crew when you sold the last crew down the river? The lesson: Inhale blame, exhale credit. * What, you thought this was an allegory for business? Pfft. This is Bank Robbing 101, baby! Who wants in? Roger Snow is a senior vice president with Scientific Games. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Scientific Games Corporation or its affiliates.
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The opportunities are plentiful but challenges lie ahead By Brendan D. Bussmann
atin America continues to present itself as one of the greatest opportunities for gaming expansion. While it is home to a number of existing markets, there continue to be more opportunities for existing and new market players as expansion and reform take place in the Southern Hemisphere. One of the greatest opportunities in Latin America remains in Brazil, due to its size, scope and potential offerings from both an expansion and reform perspective. However, the market still has its challenges as it considers next steps for lottery, sports betting, integrated resorts, and other potential forms of gaming. As the world pushes forward past the Great Shutdown, gaming continues to be one of the avenues that markets across the globe are looking towards to be an economic engine for investment, job growth and tourism growth. To that end, Brazil continues to be one of the most discussed jurisdictions. Stakeholders continue to drive the gaming conversation in this market due to changes that have occurred legally over the last year with the lottery as well as an expressed desire for regulated sports betting. Furthermore, Brazil tends to get the utmost attention from outside stakeholders because of the long-rumored movement toward integrated resort legalization. Latin America is not always an easy place to do business, and requires interested parties that understand the local environment and have existing relationships in the market. While this can be said for any new or emerging jurisdiction, the region also provides several other interesting challenges. There is no one-size-fits-all model that will work from country to country. Brazil is entirely different from less proximate countries like Mexico, and is even different from neighboring countries like Uruguay. Understanding local cultures, the existing legal and gray market footprints, key stakeholders and other challenges, like an unbanked community, are all key parts of understanding what may or may not be the right regulatory and development fit for a new gaming opportunity in Latin America. This certainly holds very true for markets like Brazil. While the gray market continues to play a significant role in Brazil, there are certain parties that want to shift to a legal framework, allowing 32
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them to offer a regulated product and conform to a strong regulatory regiment. The greatest opportunity for the long-term success of gaming in Brazil likely lies in three main areas: the lottery, sports and online gaming, and integrated resorts.
Flipping the Script on Lotteries In 2020, the lottery market in Brazil decided to shift its course as focus on the lottery shifted from the national government to the states. Back in October 2019, Scientific Games and IGT teamed up to jointly run the national instant lottery from the LOTEX Concession. The combined effort was granted in partnership CAIXA Econômica, the country’s largest lottery network. The partnership fell apart in October 2020 when IGT and Scientific Games failed to authorize a contract by the deadline. CAIXA failed to execute on the contract, which left 13,000 lottery retailers at the time without a distribution network. At roughly the same time last year, the Supreme Court of Brazil issued a ruling stating that the federal government’s monopoly on the lottery was unconstitutional. This allowed Brazil’s 26 states to consider their own individual lottery offerings, adding further layers to an already complicated playing field. While the opportunity for state-run lotteries probably provides a greater opportunity for multiple operators to enter the market, it creates its own challenges as the nation pulls away from its previous monopoly-based federal model, which was in place only six months ago. This Supreme Court ruling was in response to a challenge by the state of Rio de Janeiro, which challenged the federal government’s ability to shut down its state-run lottery. The court ruled that lotteries were a form of “public service” and were allowed to continue to operate under the constitution. It is now up to each state to decide whether to allow its own form of lottery, which throws the national lottery into flux since it no longer holds the monopoly.
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A court decision has placed the future of the national lottery up in the air, giving more power to Brazil’s 26 states
Betting on Sports Sports betting and online gaming continues to be one of the biggest gaming expansion opportunities for current operators and potential new market entrants. While most of the buzz surrounding sports betting has focused on the United States with the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act by a Supreme Court decision, LatAm and Asia remain other strong long-term opportunities. Brazil is currently getting ready to go through the regulatory phase of sports betting. While this topic has been discussed in the market for the past couple of years, BNDES (Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social) recently released an RFP to hire a technical and legal consultant to assist in the regulatory process for sports betting. With a decision expected in the near term, BNDES, along with their consulting partner, will develop the sports betting market’s regulations, number of concessions, licensure process, and administration and enforcement components before the end of the year. As noted previously, this would be considered a public service in the
same way that lotteries are structured and operators must follow the protocols established by the PPI (Programa de Alanazas de Inversión) and the PND (Programa Nacional de Privatización). BNDES will have the opportunity to select which model they believe is best for Brazil as they evaluate the best way to privatize. They will evaluate the best legal and regulatory framework for the market, an appropriate general structure for regulation, and the best method to address the market opportunity in terms of number of operators. This process will also try to establish a competitive market that details how operators may address the market in terms of land-based and mobile offerings. Assuming everything stays on track, it is viewed that sports betting could be legally operational in 2022 through the federal government. Sports betting in Brazil has undergone a long process since the law was originally passed in December 2018. It will likely be three years since the original law was passed before a legal wager is made in the country. Brazil wants to make sure that it has everything running on all cylinders by 2022 as it does not want to miss the betting opportunity associated with the World Cup. As
APRIL 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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Jogo do bicho, a popular animal betting game, is part of the gray market in Brazil that officials are trying to regulate
such, this process will unfold at the same time as states work toward their lottery legalization models as they seek to capture additional gaming revenue.
IRs Remain a Goal Integrated resorts (IR) have been discussed for years in Brazil. Like Japan, Brazil’s stakeholders have viewed the IR opportunity as a mechanism to ensure post-Olympic boosts to tourism. At one point or another, many of the major global gaming companies have shown interest in the market, with Las Vegas Sands largely driving some of the most recent conversations in the market prior to the Great Shutdown. Over the years, one of the main challenges for IR implementation has been how to create an ideal market for integrated resorts. In previous sessions of the National Congress, there have been two camps for legalization. One proposal has always centered around a comprehensive package for all of gaming that would legalize the gray market as well as a limited number of integrated resorts. This approach would yield a significant revenue stream for the state and generate tens of thousands of jobs. The other proposal would solely rely on integrated resorts with a limited number of locations, thus keeping the rest of the gaming market operating illegally and without regulation. The second proposal becomes the tougher model to enforce because the gray and black markets exist today. While IRs have proven to be solid economic and tourism engines, they do nothing to address the local gray market that will continue to operate unless a regulatory structure is developed that can capture that revenue and bring operators into compliance. As mentioned previously, some of these operators have indicated that they would desire this level of legalization. Some interested international operators believe this is the best approach, but have not fully thought through how to appropriately combat the entrenched, existing gray market. Regardless of the approach ultimately chosen for IR legalization in Brazil, international operators need to know that they have a legal framework in place that will allow them to develop large-scale facilities in a wellregulated and fair environment. The chosen regulatory model must include a reasonable tax rate with strict regulations, a rational licensing fee, and license term and roadmap that shows that each operator’s investment will pay off in the long term. Should Brazil open up to integrated resorts in the short or long term and develop a sound regulatory structure, it will likely be one of the most sought-after land-based gaming opportunities. Brazil will continue to make a strong case for IR development until it passes legislation, but the nation must address the existing markets in the same legislative action. While there continues to be a debate among legislators and stakeholders interested in the market, there is one common theme that gaming prohibition is no longer an option. The gray market seeks to have their machines allowed and operated in an open, regulated environment. The online market is currently rampant in Brazil, and it remains un34
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regulated and dominated by offshore operators. Through proper regulations, Brazil could generate large levels of tax dollars for the state and protect its population from rogue operators.
Moving Forward Regulation ramains one of the biggest hurdles in the development of the long-term gaming market in Brazil. The chosen regulatory model must address the fact that numerous gray- and black-market operators are participating in the market. This effort will require strong support from legislators, as it will be a tough issue to tackle. Additionally, legalization will also face the age-old anti-gaming arguments that occur in any new jurisdiction which say that if you legalize gaming you will bring crime, money laundering, drugs, prostitution and other ills to communities. While none of this is the case, the social ills argument continues to plague any gaming debate whether it is in Brazil, the United States, or a market in Asia. The last challenge that exists for Brazil is that there continues to be diverse opinions and lack of consensus on how best to regulate the market. The development of gaming policy takes time, and there is only one chance for a market to get it right. This challenge is almost greater in Brazil because of the existing stakeholders in the market and current climate. Within Brazil’s Congress, there continue to be calls for gaming legalization and legislation. One of the more vocal proponents in this effort comes from the Tourism Commission and the Finance and Tax Commission, which believe the greatest chance for revenue and economic benefit stems from integrated resorts. These parties recognize that IRs will provide great levels of gaming revenue as well direct, indirect and induced jobs, spending, and tax revenue. They also recognize that these impacts would come from locals as well as tourists to the country. If the market is crafted properly, Brazil still has the opportunity to be one of the largest gaming markets in the world. The greatest and most immediate opportunity is on the sports betting and online gaming front. This is not solely because of the existing process to construct the regulatory framework for sports betting, but also because of the opportunity to recapture dollars that are lost within the borders of Brazil from those residents that gamble with unregulated providers. Brazil is a sports-driven culture that should seek out this gaming revenue source in short order and not delay the creation of a legal market further. At the same time, states will continue to try and reap the benefits of newly created state-run lotteries. While the rest of the gaming market should be legislated and regulated as well, the legalization and implementation of these two forms of gaming might help serve as a catalyst to end the tired myths surrounding other forms of gaming, allowing the country to develop a robust gaming market with a variety of offerings. Brendan D. Bussmann is a partner and director of government affairs with Global Market Advisors (GMA).
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Covid,Cash and Finance
Covid-19 has created an immediate market for cashless, contact-free gaming funding solutions, and new challenges for compliance auditing By Dave Bontempo
asino cages face a difficult, Covid-19-induced juggling act. Reduce the paperwork, but maintain accuracy. Enhance anti-laundering efforts but encourage more time on device. Upgrade tax information collection systems and comply with Title 31 antimoney laundering audit rules without halting robust pace-of-play linked to precious revenue. How can casinos do it all, safely? They enlist companies that help them balance the difficult priorities.
The Versatile Wallet Everi brings the multi-dimensional CashClub Wallet to this space. It has become a game-changing product, according to Darren Simmons, the company’s executive vice president and fintech business leader. “We are not selling an app; we are enabling the digital transformation of your patron experience,” Simmons says. “We understand that complexity around the gaming customer is increasing every day, and operators are looking for continued engagement by creating integrated handoffs to create a seamless experience.” Everi offers frictionless integration with CashClub Wallet and creates a unified experience by providing a community of products in compliance, AML and loyalty with ease and friendliness, he adds. CashClub Wallet is a direct extension of products and services offered by Everi, which has the industry-leading kiosk and ATM security elements and compliance with PCI standards, Simmons asserts. There is no reliance on downstream payment providers for critical compliance needs. “This digital solution leverages all casino operations with the added benefit of utilizing an existing footprint of cage software and full-service kiosk hardware,” Simmons says. “We have shown the ability to drive more
Global Gaming Business APRIL 2021
funds to gaming floors efficiently and responsibly, while providing all users with a premium gaming experience. Simmons provides a comprehensive assessment of the CashClub Wallet. “With all the complexity with available data in today’s casino operation, Everi’s goal is to provide a digital transformation with the following core aspects in place—security, trust, ubiquity, and ease of use,” he says. “Since the CashClub Wallet delivers a private account that is controlled by Everi (rather than by a payment network sponsor bank), we are able to control funds for the benefit of the operator as well as delivering them to the patron where, how, and when they want them. This, on top of our industryleading and cross-integrated products, means that we can deliver new experiences within a trusted, reliable, familiar, scalable, flexible and secure environment.” What does that mean? “A mobile web page, a mobile app, a kiosk, cage, the point of sale, a table game, a slot machine... All are accessible by the wallet,” he says. “How are funds accessed? Patron’s choice. Player card and PIN, money-to-go code, tap of your phone. “There are multiple forms of payments and patron payment access points that casino operators can provide for a consistent spending experience across an enterprise. Our solutions offer the ability to drive greater adoption of wallet use by offering a user experience customers are already accustomed to.” The Everi CashClub Wallet enables operators to deliver integrated digital patron experiences alongside current solutions by leveraging their existing investments in infrastructure and operations with the addition of its “Casino BaaS” (Banking as a Service) capabilities and advanced financial technology. Simmons says Everi empowers operators to deliver on all aspects of the emerging mobile ecosystem, including funding at the gaming device, payments at point of sale, or funding additional wallets for sports betting or social gaming. Combined, the company provides a true cashless experience all while still providing customers with multiple options to access funds while on the casino floor, he says. Existing controls, processes and favorite guest interactions are extending to include—but not mandate—new digital ones. “From touchless TITO (ticket in, ticket out) dispense to moving funds from your personal account to retail, gaming or online endpoints, Everi makes it easy,” he asserts. Simmons says the CashClub Wallet benefits both the casino and the gamblers. The operator can prioritize investments to deliver the patron experience
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most important to them without having to change everything at once. Everi can provide operators a frictionless payment experience with the true omnichannel payments solutions, whether it’s on the casino floor, sports betting, mobile or retail. How a patron utilizes it: “When the wallet is fully integrated to slot systems, each customer segment is free to interact the way they want,” Simmons says. “Player card at slot to load funds, mobile app at kiosk for a ticket or cash, mobile web page to enroll or load funds, scan a QR code at the gift shop, and many more. How you want, where you want, when you want. Customers can accurately track gambling history, including all deposits, all from one source.” Regarding the online sector, Simmons attributes Everi’s footprint in landbased gaming as a bridge between the two entities. Everi also delivers its legacy of payments innovation along to the digital landscape, curating experiences and functionality through innovation, Simmons says. From new transaction types such as OCT (“push payments”), Real Time Payments (RTP), and fiat deposits from crypto currencies (via regulated third parties) to classic solutions like self-service check cashing, Everi continues to deliver new products and services.
The Core Focus CasinoSoft, a Nevada-based software development firm, has built a first-in-class, scalable compliance and taxation software package using the Mendix low-code platform. The package, ComplianceCore, digitizes and automates the extensive data collection and reporting required of casinos and card clubs operating under Title 31. These federal regulations were put in place by Congress and strengthened after 9/11 to prevent criminal money laundering, terrorist financing, and other suspicious behaviors that would otherwise be obscured by the high volume of casino-based currency transactions. Fines for businesses not complying with FinCEN’s daily data collection and annual auditing requirements can add up to tens of millions of dollars and, in extreme cases, imprisonment. CasinoSoft aims its Taxforms product right at Title 31 compliance. CasinoSoft installed its Title 31 and Taxforms software in Cordish Companies’ new Live! Casino Pittsburgh and Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia properties, according to company CEO Matt Montano. Live! Maryland is next, he says. “Tablet Taxforms is an iOS-driven product designed to run on the iPad platform so a casino is able to take the tax form process to the customer and radically reduce the time it takes to get the player paid and the game back in play,” says Montano. “Successfully cutting down jackpot payout times (the time the game is locked up for a hand pay) is a key metric in most casinos,” he says. “Moving the jackpot payout time from 16 minutes to 6 minutes represents an increase of time on device of 10 minutes.” Ten additional minutes on device over the course of a day where a highvalue player may win six jackpots represents an additional hour of play, according to Montano. An additional hour of time per high-value player per day can represent a significant increase in revenue for any casino. It’s also important for a significant industry requirement—accuracy. “Taxforms will capture and process patrons’ data and signatures, scan and upload IDs, photos and much more,” says Montano. “It will also process and complete tax forms such as 1099s, W-2Gs and 1042s right at the gaming de-
vice or table. With real-time verification, instant communication across departments and data syncing to one database, Taxforms is user-friendly and accessible on a tablet. “Taxforms is a game changer for the gaming industry. Pair Taxforms with our Document Automation module and the ability for a casino to digitize and archive their critical documentation on a modern and scalable platform is second to none.” But it’s not easy to keep the information straight. “The majority of casinos are paper factories that generate massive piles of paperwork on a daily basis,” Montano contends. “There is simply too much financial data coming from too many sources on the casino floor for employees to aggregate by hand and review. “Regarding the casinos that do have enterprise financial systems, they’re often tied into back-end legacy systems that are hard to update when technology improves or regulations change. Resource-stretched IT teams usually limit their upgrades of a casino’s work stations to once every two years.” CasinoSoft built the three ComplianceCore modules in just six months, from scratch, using the Mendix low-code software development platform. Low-code is a visual approach to application development that enables users of varied experience levels to create applications for web and mobile, using drag-and-drop components and model-driven logic through a graphical user interface. ComplianceCore dramatically reduces the amount of time casino staff spends on data collection.
Reaching the Tribal Market The Tribal Practice of Wipfli, formerly Joseph Eve CPAs, has been working in Indian Country for 35 years. The company has met a burgeoning market that features Covid-19 compliance and the intent for less paperwork. Company partner Grant Eve says that as tribal casinos have rebounded, this new wave of patrons increases Title 31/AML risk. The large markets see many properties experiencing increased reporting of suspicious activity and new customer profiles. Many properties are analyzed and their risk assessments updated in a proactive effort to get ahead of the changes. The company’s propriety CasinoEdge platform intakes post-revenue audit data at the department and transaction level, and delivers it in an easy-to-read format for non-accounting team members, according to Eve. The engine that CasinoEdge feeds is the top-rated financial management and accounting system in the market, Sage Intacct. Sage Intacct is the only financial application endorsed by the American Institute of Public Accountants (AICPA), the governing body of CPAs. The solution’s mobile application delivers a real-time health check to all department heads via a smartphone or tablet. Multi-entity consolidation for multiple locations is seamless. Furthermore, Sage Intacct offers the highest levels of internal controls and custom workflow automation of accounting processes and detailed audit trail behind every action in the system. Wipfli’s tribal-world functionality will likely spread throughout the entire gaming industry, mirroring its response to unprecedented times. This is one more achievement for an industry that has set new social-distancing, safety and cleanliness standards via innovation. Casinos enlist companies which help them balance compliance and revenue. If they hit the sweet spot in this equation, properties can satisfy regulators and monitor their patrons. APRIL 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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FRANKLY SPEAKING by Frank Legato
Virtual Worlds and Real Zombies
was flipping through my issue of Decrypt magazine last month, and I came across this article about legendary video game pioneer Atari opening a casino. Reading further, I realized it’s not a real casino. It’s not even an online casino as we understand online casinos. It’s a virtual casino that takes cryptocurrency, for gambling games based on Atari classics. Not only that, this virtual casino is in “Decentraland,” a virtual world which, according to Decrypt, will “emulate the real-life gambling metropolis.” What, you don’t read Decrypt? I make sure I virtually read it every month. (Which is to say, I imagine myself reading it.) That last sentence is actually not too much farther from reality than Decentraland, a virtual world you can explore for nothing. But if you want to own part of it, you’ve got to pay for it with Etherium, an evolution of the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. In Decentraland, they call the cyber-money “mana.” The Decrypt reporter says he bought 67 mana for £5, which works out to around 13 mana to the pound. So, at 13 mana for $1.39 in Yankee dollars, I can get a man, or manus, for around 11 cents, as of this writing. An “estate,” which is two or more parcels of virtual land, goes for 18,000 mana. So, for just under $2,000, I can become a Decentraland country squire. Of course, I’m guessing the casino-zoned land that Atari bought went for many, many more mana, man. (Sorry.) Decentraland is split into 90,000 units of land—or “digital assets,” which they call “non-fungible tokens,” or NFTs. Does anyone else have a headache yet? To enter this virtual world, you create your own avatar. You can name the avatar, and dress it up with outfits you buy with mana. Then, you, as the avatar, can stroll through Decentraland and go into stores, and you don’t even have to wear a mask. I’m going to call my avatar “Frank.” He’ll look just like the cartoon on this page, dressed in the same suit from 20 years ago, so I don’t have to spend all my mana on clothes. I’m imagining myself in the Atari casino now. I won a bucketload of mana at the Space Invaders table, and now, I’m heading over to the Asteroids table. I don’t like the looks of the Asteroids dealer. I think he just palmed a couple of mana. I just finished dinner at the Atari Virtual Buffet, but somehow, I’m still hungry. If I leave Decentraland to get a non-virtual tuna sandwich,
Global Gaming Business APRIL 2021
will my mana still be there when I get back? For that matter, how long do people spend exploring these virtual worlds spending their cryptocurrency? I feel I’m behind the times. I’m still buying food and clothes with credit cards and cash, like some loser. I think I’ll return to the real, physical world, where there are now zombies in two former Atlantic City casinos. Seriously. There’s a Netflix film in production called Army of the Dead, set to premiere May 21. For the “set,” they placed actual slots and tables on the former casino floors at the Showboat Hotel and the shuttered Atlantic Club casino. The film depicts zombies in Las Vegas. According to a film synopsis, “Following a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, a group of mercenaries take the ultimate gamble, venturing into the quarantine zone to pull off the greatest heist ever attempted.” So, it’s like Ocean’s Eleven, only George Clooney and Brad Pitt have to dodge zombies, in addition to Andy Garcia. (Or if you prefer, Sinatra and Sammy have to look out for zombies, in addition to Cesar Romero.) I’m glad they’re resurrecting the Showboat and Atlantic Club casino floors. I spent a lot of time at both of those places back in the day. (I would normally have to be cast as one of the zombies.) Looking back on the final days of the Atlantic Club, I can see where that place would fit in perfectly as a post-zombieapocalypse location. The George Clooney character could use bare wiring that was hanging from the ceiling to catch the zombies before, you know, blowing their heads off. But as I understand it, the Netflix production will depict these casino floors not as Atlantic City casinos, but as modern Las Vegas gambling houses. Do you think the zombies will have to wear masks? Will they get comped? Will they have the buffets open, and if so, will zombies be allowed in? I wonder if they’re going to convert the casinos into non-fungible tokens. In any event, I hope the heist lands George Clooney a ton of mana.
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AN ANNUAL INDUSTRY REPORT
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NEW GAME REVIEW by Frank Legato
Gorilla Hits AGS
his new game on the Orion Portrait cabinet is part of the Dollar Blast game family, which features jungle themes—in this one, a gorilla’s eyes stare out under a massive video bonus wheel on the large flat monitor. The base game is a 243-ways-to-win video slot in the PowerXStream series. The main features are free spins and the large top wheel, which can lead to one of two progressive jackpots—a Major jackpot resetting at $500, and the top Grand progressive, resetting at $10,000 on the penny version of the game. Three scattered “Wheel Bonus” symbols trigger a spin on the big Dollar Blast bonus wheel, which includes slices granting five free spins, 10 free spins, 30 free spins, and the two progressive jackpots. During free spins, the bonus trigger symbols are re-
placed by “More Free Spins” symbols that award an additional three spins. Any five Dollar Blast symbols trigger the Dollar Blast Bonus. The Dollar Blast symbols explode to reveal credit prizes ranging up to 20,000 credits. Manufacturer: AGS Platform: Orion Portrait Format: Five-reel, 243-ways-to-win slot Denomination: .01, .02, .05, .10, .25, .50, 1.00 (operator selectable) Max Bet: 800 Top Award: Progressive; resets at 1 million times denomination Hit Frequency: 31.83% Theoretical Hold: 8%-13%
Gems of Egypt: King of the Valley Bluberi
his new video slot on Bluberi’s Novus Series b49 portrait cabinet features two different ways to trigger free spins, and a collecting feature that can lead to one of five progressive jackpots. The base game is a five-reel, 50-line video slot. “Spins” symbols on the three middle reels trigger eight free spins. Randomly, two of the symbols, on reels 2 and 3, can also trigger the eight free spins. During free spins, the top symbol of the game, a sparkling scarab, reveals gems when landing, which correspond to the five progressives. Matching three of the gems during the free-spin round wins the corresponding jackpot, which means more than one jackpot can be one in a free-spin session. There also is a Mystery Wild feature during the primary game. Randomly, the reel array will fill with only high-paying symbols, and up to nine extra wild symbols can appear on the center reels, for huge credit wins.
Global Gaming Business APRIL 2021
Manufacturer: Bluberi Platform: Novus Series b49 2.0 Format: Five-reel, 50-line video slot Denomination: .01, .02, .05 Max Bet: 1,000 Top Award: Progressive; $3,000 reset Hit Frequency: 27.03% Theoretical Hold: 4%-13%
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Ainsworth Game Technology free games are triggered for each bonus token collected. After a multiplier is used on a pay, it is removed and any remaining collected token multipliers move down and will apply to the next paid game on the row. The feature for a row ends when all collected tokens are used on that row. The other collected tokens remain in place, even when the player cashes out. Collected tokens remain on the bet multiplier that collected it.
his game on Ainsworth’s new A-STAR Curve portrait cabinet features a persistent-style bonus involving collected tokens bearing multiplier values. The base game is a 243-ways-to-win video slot. During primary game play, tokens are collected which, when the main feature is activated, reveal multiplier values of 2X, 3X, 8X, 10X or 20X. Every time a token lands on the reels, it reveals one of the multipliers to the left of the reels, which apply to a free-spin bonus. During the free games, the tokens activate and are used to multiply all pays on a row that start when the multiplier touches the first symbol in that row. Up to 15 collected tokens will be used in succession with the other activated tokens. The multiplier that applies to the next pay beginning with that row moves to the first column of that row. Eight free spins are awarded with three scattered “Wild/Bonus” symbols. During the feature, two additional
Manufacturer: Ainsworth Game Technology Platform: A-STAR Curve Format: Five-reel, 243-ways-to-win slot Denomination: .01-100.00 Max Bet: 680 Top Award: 25,000 Hit Frequency: Approximately 50% Theoretical Hold: 4%-15%
Wheel of Fortune Gold Spin: Deluxe Double Gold IGT
his latest entry in IGT’s storied Wheel of Fortune franchise has a feature addition to the familiar bonus wheel that allows players to win multiple credit slices on a single spin. The base game is a three-reel, five-line stepper on IGT’s new CrystalWheel mechanical reel-spinning cabinet. Betting the maximum 15 credits increases the player’s chances of being awarded the Wheel of Fortune jackpot and activates the Gold Spin Deluxe feature. The Gold Spin Deluxe Wheel, activated with a 10-credit bet, is a video wheel in the corner of the top display that spins concurrently with the physical reels, and can land on slices that activate the main bonus wheel spin with one or two extra pointers at the top of the wheel, along with a multiplier that applies to the spin of the physical wheel. When three spin symbols land on any played line, or when the video wheel lands on one of the symbols, the physical wheel is triggered. Players get one spin on the physical wheel. When the bonus is initiated from the Gold Spin Deluxe Wheel, players are awarded up to three pointers and can receive up to a 5X multiplier. Available in certain jurisdictions, a wide-area progressive jackpot re-
wards players who have placed a bet of five to 10 credits. The non-progressive version features a $1 million jackpot. The jackpot can be won during the Wheel of Fortune bonus or the Gold Spin Deluxe bonus. Manufacturer: IGT Platform: CrystalWheel Stepper Format: Three-reel, five-line stepper Denomination: .25, 1.00, 5.00 Max Bet: 15 Top Award: $1 million Hit Frequency: Approximately 15% Theoretical Hold: 8%-13%
APRIL 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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EMERGING LEADERS The Art of Finance Matthew Heyerdahl Chief Financial Officer, Gaming Arts hen Matthew Heyerdahl graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2008, he followed the old mantra: go west, young man. He chose Las Vegas, the polar opposite of Wisconsin winters, where he landed a position with the Las Vegas Sands Corporation as an internal auditor. “There wasn’t really anything in particular about gaming that drew me in; I was looking to get away from the Midwest,” he says. “Gaming just kind of made sense due to the availability of jobs for me.” As fate would have it, Heyerdahl returned to Wisconsin after three years as a senior risk consultant, but returned to Las Vegas in 2014 with Aruze Gaming America, where he ended up as global chief accounting officer. He moved to Gaming Arts in early February last year as chief accounting officer and director of finance. In January 2021, the company named Heyerdahl CFO. “I was attracted to the Gaming Arts story. GA is in a unique spot as almost a startup in the slots arena. I wanted to be part of that growth. 2020 was supposed to be an explosive year for us in terms of new games to the market,” he says. That was before Covid-19. Still, company owner David Colvin supported research and development all through the pandemic to set the stage for a rebound in 2021. “We’ve also taken the opportunity to really streamline costs and become a more efficient company with some headcount reduction, shifting of roles, new tools to monitor expense, and of course, we’ve shifted our work model to accommodate more work from home,” says Heyerdahl, who relaxes in the great outdoors: hiking, camping and boating, often with his 4-year-old son, Jameson Thor. Covid certainly created an obstacle, but not the only one Heyerdahl has dealt with. “I am generally a pretty logical thinker, so I take each obstacle one at a time, determine my best path forward and then I take that path. We all have setbacks, and I take those opportunities as learning tools,” he says.
Global Gaming Business APRIL 2021
“It’s not how hard you hit, but how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” He quotes Rocky: “It’s not how hard you hit, but how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” None of this was possible without mentors in Heyerdahl’s corner. Bryan Coy, CFO at Cannae Holdings, Inc., took a chance when he hired Heyerdahl at Aruze Gaming. “Without him guiding me for a couple of years in that role, I would definitely not be part of this 40 Under 40 class,” he says. Another figure from Aruze, former CFO and President Rich Pennington, helped Heyerdahl develop his technical skills. “He gave me a lot of insight into how to look at things from a much higher viewpoint instead of always being so deep in the details.” If there is one pearl of wisdom Heyerdahl would impart, it’s to write down short, medium and long-term goals. Refer to them often. “One of my long-term goals was always to become a CFO, and I’ve just accomplished that,” he says. —Bill Sokolic
Betting on Himself Mohit Kansal Partner, Clairvest Group ohit Kansal, partner at the Clairvest Group, brings the firm’s quintessential gaming experience to capitalize on today’s biggest trends. Kansal’s early interest in recreational gaming coupled with an education in technology and business have prepared him not only for success professionally, but as a future leader among gaming investors. Kansal’s contribution to Clairvest’s $2.5 billion of assets is focused on technology-driven industry growth areas including innovative land-based suppliers, online gaming, and sports betting, where he has made his mark. In addition to sourcing new investment opportunities, Kansal is engaged in due diligence and ultimately takes board positions within the new ventures. His goal is supporting investment partners to typically execute an aggressive growth plan. At this time, he participates on the boards of FSB Technology, a B2B sports and casino software supplier; Meriplex Communications, a software and security services provider; Head
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Digital Works, a pan-Indian social and sports gaming and media company; and FanFight, a fantasy sports operator distinguished by its international sporting platforms such as football (soccer) and cricket. Clairvest has developed an impressive portfolio of brick-and-mortar gaming investments across North and South America over the past 20 years in 33 different assets. Joining as vice president in 2016, Kansal brought diverse technology-oriented experience to the firm. His roles as a technology consulting leader at McKinsey & Company and at several investment firms prepared him to support Clairvest as gaming technology was exploding. Brick-and-mortar casino closures during the onslaught of Covid-19 resulted in a focus on online gaming and related products and services. Kansal saw the sector exploding, having tuned into omni-channel platforms well before the pandemic. He is not surprised that cashless play and technology-driven marketing and operating efficiencies have become more prevalent, and he sees the pandemic as hyper-accelerating
these trends. How did he find a calling in gaming? Kansal explains that he was mesmerized by casinos and their inner workings ever since a young age on trips to Las Vegas, Macau, Niagara Falls and Atlantic City. In particular, he acknowledges he may have visited Atlantic City a little too frequently while in school in Philadelphia. But he credits his current success in large part to the leadership at Clairvest, including Michael Wagman, who is its president and responsible for the gaming practice. Kansal holds a degree in engineering science from the University of Toronto, where his exposure to computer and electrical engineering laid an excellent foundation. Kansal later complemented his skill set with an MBA with honors from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. On a personal note, Kansal has enjoyed traveling to all seven continents and has visited over 30 countries. While he is grounded at the moment, he values his time with his 2-year-old daughter and wife where they reside in Toronto. —Michael Soll is president of The Innovation Group.
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CUTTING EDGE by Frank Legato
Content Creator PRODUCT: Unity Gambling Platform MANUFACTURER: Unity Technologies
he Unity Gambling license enables developers to create rich gambling and casino games for land-based, online and mobile with Unity’s real-time game development platform. With the Unity platform, developers can deliver a better gambling experience to their audience no matter where they are. Whether players are on a casino floor, a mobile device or a desktop, with interactive real-time content powered by Unity, developers can reach them all. Over 80 percent of North American slot titles are now made with Unity. Unity’s rapid workflows also help developers, artists and designers create and deliver that content to their audiences fast, wherever they are. Unity is the world’s leading extensible, end-to-end platform for creating and operating interactive, real-time 2D and 3D content. Pricing models are available to fit any development team, no matter the size. Unity provides rich, out-of-the-box functionality for users to create engaging casino games and other interactive content. Its dedicated workflows for 2D and 3D include seamless integration with a wide range of content creation tools such as Photoshop, Maya and 3ds Max, so developers can import and update assets fast. Developers will be able to reach the widest audience, with Unity’s support
for 20-plus publishing platforms, including Windows, Linux, Android, iOS and WebGL. Unity partners early and deeply with device, hardware and OS providers to build once and deploy content at land-based casinos, on mobile, and on desktop. The Unity platform is highly extensible and is ready for current and evolving needs with a powerful C# scripting system, and extensive documentation. Unity also includes a robust and well-documented API with access to a complete range of features—such as physics, rendering, and communications—to enable a rich interaction model and easy integration with other systems. As a licensed gambling customer, Unity offers dedicated engineering support from Unity’s gambling-industry experts to ensure the transition to Unity is successful. Unity customers have access to hands-on, in-person training workshops, documentation, online tutorials and more—all to help teams hit the ground running. With its intuitive UI and tools, Unity makes it easy to jumpstart a working prototype and skip spending time on low-level programming. With Unity, developers can easily create both 2D and 3D gambling games, including reel spinners, poker, blackjack and roulette. For more information, visit https://unity.com/solutions/gambling.
Managing Data PRODUCT: ReelMetrics Basic MANUFACTURER: ReelMetrics
hether it’s selecting, configuring, marketing or removing machines, the number of inputs (and choices) involved in managing slot floors is seemingly endless. To compound matters, the underlying data samples are often so tiny, dirty, noisy and misleading, that they erode confidence almost as often as they strengthen it. The result—bloated, imbalanced, and uncalibrated slot inventories, which, more often than not, leave players dissatisfied and floor performance marginalized. Since 2014, data science firm ReelMetrics has been helping operators and suppliers re-calibrate their analytical infrastructures for streamlined operations, actionable insights and frame-breaking financial returns. Core to this value prop is the ReelMetrics platform—a combination of the world’s broadest, deepest, cleanest and most standardized slot data repository, as well as a suite of power-packed applications covering everything from automated data collection and reconciliation to the industry’s most targeted and reliable AIdriven recommendation engine.
Global Gaming Business APRIL 2021
Leveraging Big Data and scientific method, ReelMetrics puts its data and algorithmic arsenals to work to provide immediately actionable purchasing, conversion, config and marketing guidance precisely when and where it’s needed. Although an exclusively paid service historically, the company recently introduced ReelMetrics Basic, a costfree/freemium subscription that provides users with an opportunity to sample the platform’s power. Like ReelMetrics Pro, Basic draws from the ReelMetrics repository, which is jammed to the rafters with comprehensive meter sets and meticulously compiled config settings and design attributes. Each subscription includes a subset of the platform’s application groupings (On Demand Analytics, Prescriptive Analytics and Predictive Analytics), as well as Pro versions of the ReelScan mobile app and CVR, the platform’s monthly push-reporting service. So, for anyone who’s been flirting with Big Data but has yet to take the plunge, here’s the chance to do so risk-free. For more information, visit reelmetrics.com.
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IGT, SCIENTIFIC GAMES PARTNER ON CASHLESS TECH
ival slot suppliers International Game Technology PLC and Scientific Games Corp. announced that they have signed a cross-licensing agreement for patents related to cashless slot gaming technologies. Under the agreement, Scientific Games and IGT will be able to offer patented cashless gaming technologies from the companies’ combined portfolios of casino management system solutions to the U.S. gaming industry. As a result of this agreement, operators will now be able to unlock the industry’s most compelling portfolio of cashless gaming technologies. By combining the strongest features of each company’s cashless gaming patent portfolio, IGT and Scientific Games are providing a solution that allows the gaming industry
to quickly increase adoption of cashless technology. “This cross-licensing agreement provides casino operators access to the gaming industry’s most compelling portfolio of cashless gaming technologies,” said Renato Ascoli, ITG’s CEO of global gaming. “We have made significant R&D investments over many years to develop this comprehensive suite of intellectual property in the cashless space. It makes revolutionary improvements to the player experience and represents the greatest advancement in cashless payments since the introduction of ticket-in, ticket-out (TITO).” “At Scientific Games, we continue to find ways to extend the benefits of our innovative cashless technology,” added Matt Wilson, CEO of Scientific Games’ gaming business unit. “This new program allows SG and IGT to combine our leading IP for the benefit of our customers, and our industry. “Consumers are increasingly comfortable using cashless technology, and they will continue to expect this option to be available on the floor. We’re excited to partner with IGT to make it easier for operators to deliver for their players.” Through the agreement, each company will have immediate access to the other party’s cashless gaming patents. Financial terms of the agreement have not been disclosed.
NRT PARTNERS WITH SIGHTLINE PAYMENTS
RT Technology, one of the largest fintech and information technology companies in the global gaming industry, announced a new strategic partnership with Sightline Payments, the industry leader in cashless payment technology solutions. The partnership will allow for the deployment and enablement of thousands of NRT touchpoints with the Play+ cashless technology across the casino floor, bringing a new level of unified user experience across the integrated casino resort. NRT has developed specific integrations into the Play+ platform with a view towards enabling cashless transactions for faster, safer and more convenient experiences for gaming and non-gaming guests. When combined with NRT’s family of products, Play+ provides a frictionless and contactless environment to provide guests secure and convenient access to their funds and the freedom to spend at restaurants, retail, hotel and more. The integration of Sightline’s flagship product, Play+, with NRT’s guest enrollment, tables, cage and kiosk solutions is a major step forward which represents the combined effort of both organizations over multiple years.
Best of iGaming Awards To Be Organized by iGamingPlayer.com
he leading U.S. affiliate marketing site, iGamingPlayer.com, announced the establishment of the “Best of iGaming” Awards to honor the top websites, bet selection and products of online sports betting, casinos and poker rooms. What makes the Best of iGaming Awards stand out from the others? The winners will be chosen by the players themselves, not by industry suppliers, operators or experts. But then again, the players are the real experts, because they’re the ones who respond to the products and services designed by the so-called experts. A Best of iGaming award from iGamingPlayer.com tells the world that players love what you’re doing and have recognized the quality of your products and services. So nominate your site, products or services and see how the players respond. The Best of iGaming Awards will be presented at the end of 2021 by iGamingPlayer.com, the leading licensed affiliate marketing site, delivering quality players to online casinos, poker rooms and sports betting websites. The nomination process will run from March 15 to June 15. Seven finalists in each category will be announced on July 1, when visitors to the iGamingPlayer.com website can begin voting for the best of the best. The voting will continue through October 31, and the winners will be announced on December 1 at a site to be determined.
Global Gaming Business APRIL 2021
The categories are: • Best Casino (Overall) • Best Casino (Tables) • Best Casino (Slots) • Best Video Poker Department • Best Slot Game • Best Table Game • Best Live-Dealer Sites • Best Video Poker Game • Best Bonuses/Promotions • Best Poker Site
• Best Sportsbook • Best Bet Selection (Sportsbooks) • Best Betting Platform (Sportsbooks) • Best Sportsbetting Promos • Best Casino App • Best Sports Betting App • Best Poker App • Best Payment System • Best Customer Service • Best Responsible Gaming Program
Becky Kingman-Gros, the president and COO of iGamingPlayer.com, says the Best of iGaming Awards will quickly become one of the most prestigious honors in the field as all eyes are on interactive options for sports betting and iGaming. “The visitors to the iGamingPlayer.com website arrive seeking the best bets, the most comprehensive platform, and quality customer service,” says KingmanGros. “These are the experts at online sports betting and iGaming, so the products they identify will be recognized as the leaders in their fields.” A badge will be issued by iGamingPlayer.com to the winners of each category that can be displayed on the websites of the winners.
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starting with Jade Wins Deluxe and Golden Wins Deluxe. The game titles offer the same proven player-favorite features that have made the classic Jade Wins and Golden Wins casinofloor top performers.
BOYD, ARISTOCRAT LAUNCH BOYDPAY DIGITAL WALLET
oyd Gaming Corp. and Aristocrat Technologies announced the launch of BoydPay, Boyd Gaming’s new digital wallet product. Through BoydPay, Boyd Gaming customers will have the ability to create a cashless digital wallet Boyd Gaming’s that can be conveniently Blake Rampmaier linked to third-party funding sources driven by Sightline Payments. BoydPay is now live at Blue Chip Casino Resort Spa in Michigan City, Indiana, Belterra Park in Cincinnati, Ohio, and in field trial at Aliante Casino + Hotel + Spa in North Las Vegas. During its initial phase, the BoydPay digital wallet is linked to a player’s B Connected player loyalty card and used to play or cash out on slots, also in partnership with Aristocrat. Pending regulatory approvals, Boyd Gaming anticipates deploying this product at all of its casino properties nationwide by this summer. During future phases, and pending regulatory approval, Boyd Gaming will utilize Aristocrat technology to link the BoydPay wallet to its B Connected Mobile app, creating a contactless experience that will allow customers to use their smartphones to play and cash out on casino games and pay for amenities throughout the property. “BoydPay is all about enhancing the guest experience,” said Blake Rampmaier, senior vice president and chief information officer for Boyd Gaming. “Through our innovative partnership with Aristocrat, we will create a unique and seamless payment experience for Boyd Gaming customers. By going cashless, our customers will be able to avoid the wait times and inconveniences associated with using cash and focus on enjoying their visit to our properties.”
GLOBAL PAYMENTS INKS IGT DEAL
spring 2020, and despite the global pandemic, the product has consistently performed above expectations and has won two innovation awards, including the Silver Medal for Best Slot Product in the 2019 GGB Gaming & Technology Awards. A first of its kind, the Starwall combines hundreds of direct-view LED tiles to create a seamless video backdrop measuring 8.5 feet wide by 5 feet deep. Fitting sleekly and securely with three-packs and six-packs of premium Orion Portrait games, the Starwall adds attraction through high-impact motion graphics and celebratory animations complementary to the game theme. AGS launched the Starwall in Class III and Class II markets with its new 88 Tian Lun family,
lobal Payments Gaming Solutions recently announced an expanded agreement with International Game Technology PLC to provide a wide range of funding solutions for cashless gaming across IGT’s full portfolio of products. The expanded agreement gives IGT customers access to the Global VIP Preferred network, which currently provides more than 3.5 million gaming patrons easy funding via bank accounts in more than 500 North American land-based, mobile and online gaming locations. The solutions via IGTPay enable patrons to transfer funds between their registered bank accounts and IGT’s Resort Wallet Cashless Wagering Accounts for land-based gaming, as well as
AGS’ STARWALL X ORION IMMERSIVE VIDEO SURPASSES 350 GAMES
GS’ Starwall x Orion immersive video canvas reached a milestone last month, surpassing 350 games at 55 casinos across North America. It delivers an affordable, premium integrated merchandising solution and Starwall-specific game content for the company’s high-performing Orion Portrait slot cabinet. AGS started taking orders for the Starwall in
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facilitating wagering for the company’s full portfolio of PlayDigital products, including its PlayCasino, PlayPoker, PlayLottery and PlaySports products. This agreement enables IGT to offer its customers and their players access to Global Payments’ VIP Preferred network, giving patrons a more seamless cashless gaming experience.
AINSWORTH SECURES CREDIT FACILITY
cember 31, the company reported that it held cash balances amounting to AUD24 million (US$18.6 million), with net debt of AUD15 million as of the same date.
IGT chief operating officer, gaming. “With IGT’s performance-tested content and proven hardware portfolio, we can offer a steady stream of new HHR experiences that engage players and elevate the profile IGT, INCREDIBLE and success of the entire HHR gaming segment.” TECHNOLOGIES “Introducing IGT’s exENTER HHR ceptional HRM content and BUSINESS cabinets to our gaming vennternational Game ues throughout Virginia has Technology and Incredible been a welcomed addition to Technologies have entered the quality of entertainment into agreements with Exacta Rosie's Grand Opening that we can offer our players,” Systems that will allow jurissaid Aaron Gomes, Peninsula Pacific Entertainment dictions with historic horse racing machines (HHR) chief operating officer. “As we look to drive growth to utilize their games. and differentiate our offering, IGT’s video slot-style Through a distribution agreement with Exacta HRM games captured our players’ attention and Systems, IGT is providing players at Peninsula Pabrought some of the gaming industry’s most popular cific Entertainment-owned Rosie’s gaming venues slot themes to our gaming floor.” throughout Virginia with HHR versions of favorite Illinois-based Incredible Technologies’ awardIGT video slot themes such as Fortune Coin, Solar winning themes and hardware have made their mark Disc and Red Hot Tamales! on the company’s in Class III markets, and now will be placed on Exproven CrystalCurve and CrystalDual 27 cabinets. acta’s HHR system in Kentucky and other HHR “IGT’s distribution agreement with Exacta Sys- markets. tems enables us to pursue exciting new growth op“HHR is an energizing segment to our industry portunities like those offered in Virginia’s expanding and we’re excited to enter it with Exacta Systems,” historical horse racing market,” said Nick Khin, said Elaine Hodgson, IT’s president and CEO.
ustralia-based slot manufacturer Ainsworth Game Technology Ltd. has secured a new fiveyear secured-credit facility worth US$35 million, with United States-based lender Western Alliance Bancorp, for the primary purpose of paying down other debt. “Proceeds of US$28 million from this new facility have been used to extinguish all company obligations under the prior revolving credit facility with Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd (ANZ),” said Ainsworth last week in a filing with the Australian Securities Exchange. The group was due to release its latest unaudited financial results on February 25. As of De-
NOTICE OF PUBLIC SALE GAMING PERMIT LOCATED IN JEFFERSON COUNTY, FLORIDA
PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that, the Jefferson County Kennel Club’s (“JCKC”) pari-mutuel permit, issued by the State of Florida, Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, shall go up for public sale in the time, place and manner described herein. Date and Time of Auction: The auction shall occur on June 16, 2021 at 2:00 p.m., or such other date and time thereafter as may be determined by JCKC in its sole and absolute discretion. Location of Auction: The auction will be held via video conference. Due to COVID-19 and security requirements, any party that wishes to attend and/or participate in the auction must register at least three (3) business days in advance by contacting counsel for JCKC at the phone number or email address provided below. Terms and Conditions of Sale: The permit will be sold to the purchaser that makes the highest bid at the sale. Parties that wish to obtain additional information about the sale procedures should contact counsel as detailed below. The party (or parties) that submit the highest overall bid (the “Successful Bidder”) shall be required to make an initial deposit of 10% of the amount bid at the sale (the “Initial Deposit”) via cash or wire transfer, and the balance shall be due and payable within one (1) business day of the conclusion of such sale via cash, wire transfer or such other manner as is deemed acceptable to JCKC in its sole discretion.
If the Successful Bidder defaults on payment of the balance due, it will, in JCKC’s sole discretion and as it may elect, forfeit the Initial Deposit, which shall be retained by the Collateral Agent as liquidated damages. If JCKC elects, the permit then may be sold to the next highest bidder at the auction, without further notice, or to another bidder at a subsequent sale on further notice. JCKC reserves the right to reject any bid or all bids at the auction or any adjournment of the auction. Further, JCKC reserves the right to cancel, postpone or adjourn the sale by announcement made at the sale, either before or after the commencement of bidding, with or without written notice or further publication. The sale may be resumed without further notice or publication at the time and place at which such sale may have been adjourned. Disclaimers: There is no warranty relating to title, possession, quiet enjoyment or the like in this disposition of the permit. The permit is being sold on an “as is, where is” basis without recourse against JCKC and without representation or warranty of any kind or nature whatsoever. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, JCKC expressly disclaims all representations or warranties with regard to the permit including without limitation, those relating to the condition of, title to, the completeness or accuracy of any description of, or the rights and liabilities that accompany, the permit.
Contact Information: Parties that wish to obtain additional information about the Collateral or the auction procedures should contact JCKC’s counsel, Dean Mead & Dunbar, Attn: Daniel Russell at (850) 425-7804 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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PEOPLE GAMECO CEO DENIED LICENSE IN NEVADA, STEPS DOWN
lthough the Nevada Gaming Control Board had recommended approval of a gaming license for Blaine Graboyes, the CEO of GameCo, a skill game maker based in Las Vegas, the final Blaine Graboyes arbiter of the decision, the state Gaming Commission, voted 4-1 to reject his bid for licensure. Graboyes had been operating on a temporary license for two years while he cleared up some tax issues and liens, and was requesting to be granted an unencumbered license. Graboyes, known as “Blaine Goldman” in the submission, did not convince the members that his ownership of intellectual property from a bankrupt company known as Beyond Gaming was above board. Graboyes spent two years as a consultant to Beyond Gaming from 2012 to 2014. Although he claims to have worked hard to make Beyond Gaming a success, he offered $50,000 to buy the technology produced by the company at a time he alleges the company was worthless. When that bid was rejected, and the company declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Graboyes acquired the IP. But a former executive with Beyond Gaming, Justin Yamek, alleged that Graboyes engineered the bankruptcy, a charge Graboyes has denied. Nonetheless, Graboyes stepped down as GameCo CEO the next day. “Consistent with its ongoing search for team members to fuel its growth, GameCo will be appointing a new CEO in due course,” the company said in a release. “Leadership responsibilities have been assumed by the existing GameCo management team… GameCo’s senior team has been instrumental in the company’s success to date in driving forward a mission to create new casino gaming experiences.”
SCIENTIFIC GAMES NAMES THROSBY TO BOARD
cientific Games Corp. has announced that Tim Tim Throsby Throsby will join the company’s board of directors as a new independent director. The Scientific Games board will comprise nine directors, the majority of whom are independent. Throsby brings decades of executive financial leadership and business growth and development
experience to Scientific Games. He most recently served as CEO of Barclays Bank PLC and president of Barclays International, where he designed and executed a comprehensive restructuring to help transform the performance and culture of the organization. Under Throsby’s leadership, Barclays Bank doubled its return on tangible equity (ROTE) over a US$20 billion top-line portfolio of businesses.
BIA WELCOMES NEWLAND
ormer Bay Mills Indian Community Chairman Bryan Newland was announced as a new member of the agency leadership team at Bryan Newland the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), as principal deputy assistant secretary. Newland accepted the position last month, marking his second stint with the BIA. Newland previously served under the Obama administration. In addition to his recent job as tribal chairman, Newland served as chief judge of the Bay Mills Tribal Court. From 2009 to 2012, he served as a counseler and policy advisor to the assistant secretary of the Department of Interior, Indian affairs. He is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Michigan State University College of Law. The BIA is under the U.S. Department of the Interior, which, pending Senate confirmation, will be under its first Native American secretary, New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland.
HORNER NAMED HARD ROCK AC GENERAL COUNSEL
ard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City has announced the appointment of Nanette L. Horner as the company’s vice president of legal and general counsel. Horner has 25 years of expeNanette Horner rience as a gaming attorney, and previously worked with Empire Resorts and the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB). Horner served as deputy chief counsel assigned to the Bureau of Licensing for the PGCB. She was then named the board’s first director of the Office of Compulsive and Problem Gambling. She also serves on the advisory board for the National Council on Problem Gambling. After PGCB, Horner held several positions at Empire, including executive vice president and chief compliance officer. A Rutgers University graduate, Horner was an adjunct professor at the Rutgers-Camden School of Law for seven years.
Throughout her career, she has earned recognition on New York city and state’s “Responsible 100” list and received the Corporate and Social Responsibility Special Award for Outstanding Achievement in Promoting Workforce Diversity & Ethical Gaming Operations.
WHITTINGDALE TO LEAD U.K. GAMBLING ACT OVERHAUL
onservative MP John Whittingdale, the U.K. minister for media and data, has assumed the top spot overseeing the 2005 Gambling Act review. The appointment of Whittingdale, who succeeds John Whittingdale Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston, has raised concerns among supporters of gambling reform, who cite his voting record on issues such as fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs). “Given the new appointee has a history of being strongly supportive of the industry, I very much hope he will be focused on the evidence and not influenced by aggressive industry lobbying,” Labor’s Carolyn Harris MP, who chairs a crossparty group investigating gambling-related harm, told the Guardian. Whittingdale voted against giving local governments the power to regulate betting shops and FOBTs. He supported permitting FOBTs at bingo halls, service stations and amusement arcades, and dismissed accusations that FOBTs are the “crack cocaine of gambling.”
April 2021 Index of Advertisers
AGEM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11 AGS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2 Aristocrat Technologies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .52 Casino Player Media . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31 Dean Meade . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .48 Everi . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5 Fantini Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .47 Fox Rothschild . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33 GAN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17 Global Gaming Business . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10 GGB Podcast . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .43 IGT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .51 IGT PlayDigital . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7 iGaming Player . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .45 Incredible Technologies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21 J Carcamo & Associates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29 Reed Expo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27 Scientific Games . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9 Tribal Government Gaming . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .39 UNLV Division of Philanthropy & Alumni Engagement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .35
APRIL 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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Matt Wilson CEO, Gaming, Scientific Games
att Wilson made his name rising up through the ranks at Aristocrat Technologies. He was involved in all aspects of the company’s success at one time or another. When he was recruited to lead the gaming division of Scientific Games, he was required to honor a non-compete of nearly a year. But when he came on finally, the pandemic hit. He explains how the company handled that challenge and why it’s poised to move forward as the crisis wanes. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros at the Scientific Games headquarters in Las Vegas in January. To hear a full podcast of this interview, visit GGBMagazine.com.
GGB: You stepped into your role as the CEO of Gaming in March 2020. What kind of plans did you have before the pandemic hit, and what was the impact? Matt Wilson: I started March 2, with a dream and a bunch of aspirations, and that quickly changed. A week later, the industry started to shut down. So, not exactly how I drew it up. I think the Mike Tyson line is, “Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth.” And we all got punched in the mouth in a pretty profound way in 2020. Like every business, we quickly went into crisis management. We had to make a bunch of big decisions, and hopefully we got the majority of those right, and I think we’re moving in the right direction. How did you stay in touch with your clients during this time?
The world’s turned pretty dramatically, I think. It used to be you had to get on a plane or a train or a car and go see a customer. Now you’ve got this rise of the video conferencing tools. It’s very easy and efficient to communicate with customers. The first thing we thought was, how do we be of service to our customers? And we came up with this idea—a thought leadership series, 50
Global Gaming Business APRIL 2021
which was really about getting all of our customers on the line, talking about the things that mattered to them. We have a big global footprint, whether it’s Australia, or Asia, or North America or the U.K. So, we got operators from all around the globe on a call. Initially talking about social distancing, and reconfiguring floors, and those types of things, we then evolved the topics over time. We tried to be of service to customers, and bring content to them that was going to be useful for them navigating their way through the pandemic. You’re kind of getting the band back together here at Scientific Games. You’ve brought in a lot of your colleagues who you worked with at Aristocrat— Siobhan Lane, Connie James, Rich Schneider and others.
I actually think it’s a new band. It’s a different band. More like a supergroup! We have superstars from all these different bands, (including) the legacy employees here that have a lineage back to Shuffle Master or Bally or WMS. And then we’re bringing some people in from the operator side, like Eileen Moore, and there’s the host of people from Aristocrat, who have been drawn to this opportunity. Rich Schneider is on the way. He’s going to lead our global R&D teams. We’ve got Ted Hase, who’s maybe one of the best designers in the industry joining. And then ultimately, at the helm, we’ve got Jamie Odell, as our chairman, and Toni Korsanos as our vice chair, who were widely regarded as the architects of Aristocrat’s success—both big believers in the intersection of strategy and culture. And then finally we’ve got Barry Cottle, who’s my boss, our CEO, and he brings a gaming perspective from Zynga and EA Sports. So, it’s kind of a melting pot of lots of different executives with lots of different perspectives. Most manufacturers have been concentrating on the established brands, rather than going out and getting the licenses that cost so much. What has your strategy been?
We have a few large tent-pole brands in-house— evergreen franchises, like The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka, James Bond, Monopoly, these types of brands. Ones that really kind of cut through social consciousness. And then we have a lot of inhouse proprietary brands. I think the part of the business that most suppliers are moving away from is that kind of middle-ground, these kind of second, third-tier licenses, that don’t have the same panache with players. I think it may be a consequence of the fragmentation of media. In the ’60s and ’70s, you’d have shows like M*A*S*H on TV, which 50 percent of the population would tune into. But now you’ve got Netflix with a million different offerings, and cable TV with 300 different channels, and so, the audience is fragmented across a ton of different brands. So, it’s hard to find those big tent-pole brands that reach the mass audience now. That’s a dynamic playing out in the industry. Another consequence of the pandemic has been the growth of online gaming. Scientific Games has a whole separate division, SciPlay, handling that. How do you interact with them?
Jordan Levin is my peer there. He’s the CEO of the digital division. And we work kind of hand in hand. There are two parts to that market. There’s a big European piece, which is a different market structure than the U.S., where it’s all about sports betting and iCasinos, all through the land-based partners. What’s unique about Scientific Games compared to every other supplier in the industry is the breadth of the portfolio. We have table games and table game systems, electronic table games, cashless solutions. We have sports betting solutions, the best in the industry. And we have iCasino as well—a very forward position there, a content aggregator, which is the best product in the market. So, we have that kind end-to-end solution, and we’re able to package all of that, go to an operator and ask, why would you buy anything from anyone else? We’re a solution to all those issues.
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