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GGB Global Gaming Business Magazine
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January 2021 • Vol. 20 • No. 1 • $10
Ready for Recovery
BRITISH BUST Why the U.K. gaming industry is falling apart
MGM’s Bill Hornbuckle and the
People to Watch for 2021
Esports & Casinos
Path to success for gaming enterprises
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©2020 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. 1
Global Gaming Business Magazine
18 COVER STORY
People to Watch 2021
10 AGA New Year, New Outlook Trevor Croker
12 Fantini’s Finance Looking Ahead
Our annual profiles of 25 People to Watch showcase the executives who will lead the industry out of the Covid crisis this year, and set the industry up for complete recovery.
By Dave Bontempo, Roger Gros, Frank Legato, Patrick Roberts, Bill Sokolic, Michael Soll, Erica Sweeney, and Michael Zhu
58 Making My Point Value Added
On the Cover: Bill Hornbuckle, President & CEO, MGM Resorts International, in the Mayfair Supper Club at the Bellagio. Photo by Erin O’Boyle Photographics
By the Numbers
14 Capturing Esports
As casinos look for new revenue streams, operators zero in on the benefits of esports attractions.
13 AGEM 52 New Game Review
By Seth Schorr
54 Emerging Leaders
44 New Challenges in Britain As casinos and bookmakers in the U.K. struggle to emerge from the pandemic, the government examines potential revisions to the Gambling Act and the group in Parliament charged with applying it. By Andrew Tottenham
48 Social Casino Tech As online social casinos gain importance as a way to keep customers engaged with their favorite casinos, the suppliers of social gaming platforms continue to innovate.
With Mystic Lake’s Sam Rook, Niagara Casinos’ Nav Sandhawalia, and Wind Creek Hospitality’s Olena Nall
56 Frankly Speaking 60 Cutting Edge 62 Goods & Services 65 People 66 Casino Communications With Jorge Perez, President and Chief Operating Officer, MGM National Harbor Casino and Hotel
By Dave Bontempo
JANUARY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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Vol. 20 • No. 1 • JANUARY 2021 Roger Gros, Publisher | firstname.lastname@example.org twitter: @GlobalGamingBiz Frank Legato, Editor | email@example.com twitter: @FranklySpeakn
By Roger Gros, Publisher
arly last month, I found out that the main competitor to GGB in the U.S., Casino Journal, has gone out of business with the publication of its December issue. Some might assume I should be happy, or at least hopeful, but I’m definitely not. It’s like losing someone with whom you had a complicated relationship, but it still was someone who played a big role in your life. First of all, competition makes us all better. When we started Global Gaming Business in 2002, there were already three major U.S. gaming trade publications. To get accepted and earn the trust of the industry, we had to be better than all of them. Even once we emerged as the leading trade publication in gaming, we had to stay on our game to make sure that we stayed in front. Without any U.S. competitors in the commercial gaming field now, however, we will not relent. The fact that there are several European magazines with eyes on the U.S. will keep us on top of our game. We will continue to strive for excellence. Secondly, I mourn for the journalists who lost their jobs in this closure. This is a small community, gaming journalists. We all know each other and understand how difficult this business is. We see each other at trade shows and press conferences, and we all commiserate about the realities of our business. So I sincerely hope that good guys like Charles Anderer and Paul Doocey will land on their feet. And finally, I was one of the founders of Casino Journal, along with the late Glenn Fine and his brother Adam, also deceased. To say it was a labor of love in the early days is to underestimate the commitment we all had to the success of the magazine and the entire enterprise. Along with Lisa Robertson Dziedzic, Frank Legato, and many others, we were a solid team who punched above our weight class. We also founded Casino Player Publishing in 1988 and got into the B2C space with Casino Player and Strictly Slots magazines. Lisa still owns those publications, which are also the only two B2C gam-
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
ing magazines left in existence. We entered the conference business and became a very successful meetings organization. We went public with an IPO for a while, but even that didn’t stop us until Glenn sold the B2B Casino Journal to our main competitor at that time, IGWB magazine. IGWB had been founded by trade magazine publisher Irv Babson, Howard Jay Klein, one of the best business minds in the casino business, and Gary Selesner, now Caesars Palace CEO. I left Casino Journal when the sale was made to work as a consultant for the new trade show, Global Gaming Expo. IGWB made the purchase to assure that Casino Journal would not take advertising from G2E to protect their own gaming trade show, the World Gaming Congress. It was all for naught, however, as the WGC hung on for only a year or two after that. When Frank Fahrenkopf, president of the American Gaming Association at that time, asked me to start a new publication for the AGA and G2E, I jumped at the chance. But Casino Journal was always out there pushing us to be better. When the new owners of Casino Journal folded IGWB and kept Casino Journal, I was happy that my original magazine was still in existence, but curious about why they didn’t keep the brand of IGWB. It certainly was the brand everyone trusted, so the reason for the decision to scrap it always eluded me. Along with the demise of Casino Journal, the last whispers of IGWB disappear as well. So there, in a nutshell, is the history of gaming publications—both trade and consumer—in America. Now that the pandemic has devastated the gaming publication field, we feel like survivors, battered and bashed, but still swinging. It’s been a tough year, and sad to see it end with the demise of Casino Journal. At GGB, we will redouble our commitment to reporting on the important news of the gaming industry on a daily basis.
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 Trevor Croker | Frank Fantini | Roger Snow Contributing Editors Dave Bontempo twitter: @bontempomedia Krista McPherson | Patrick Roberts | Seth Schorr Bill Sokolic twitter: @downbeachfilm Michael Soll | Erica Sweeney Andrew Tottenham | Michael Zhu | Tom Zitt __________________
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
If it makes you look good, we’re already working on it. We’re a team of can-doer’s, problem solvers, and proactive partners looking at the gaming industry from every possible angle. We take pride in providing customized solutions for the front of the house, the back of the house and even your customer’s house. The world has changed. Our purpose hasn’t. FINTECH • GAMES • DIGITAL • LOYALTY
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KACY DRURY Operations
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DARREN SIMMONS FinTech
MIKE RUMBOLZ CEO
RANDY TAYLOR President / COO
DAVID LUCCHESE Sales / Mkt / Digital
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LAS VeGAS HiTS BoTTom T
he pandemic has been bad for all gaming jurisdictions, but Las Vegas has been hit particularly hard. Not only were the casinos closed for several months, but when they reopened, the visitor volume continued to drag. As a city that depends on air traffic, the woes of the airlines have been extended to Las Vegas. In its weekly Southern Nevada-Las Vegas Metrics, RCG Economics published two charts that demonstrate the impact that the pandemic has had on Las Vegas, primarily the Strip. The first chart indicates the sharp decline in visitors when the casinos closed in mid-March. It also demonstrates that visitors have not returned in any substantial volume since then. The lower chart is the RevPAR chart or revenue per available room. Prior to the pandemic, hotels in Southern Nevada were averaging about $110 a night, but since that time it has leveled out at less than $40. To see these charts and many others related to Nevada economic conditions, visit RCGEcon.com.
Annualized Visitor Volume: Sep-10—Sep-20 Las Vegas Valley
Hotel revenue per Available Room (RevPAR): Sep-10—Sep-20 Las Vegas Valley
he National Indian Gaming Commission last month issued its annual revenue report for tribal gaming in the U.S. in 2019, and it showed the highest gaming revenue total since Indian gaming commenced in 1988, $34.6 billion, an increase of 2.5 percent over 2018, based on financial reports from 522 gaming enterprises operated by 245 federally recognized tribes. An operation’s GGR is the total amount of money wagered less any amounts paid out as prizes and before deducting operating expenses. “Heathy tribal economies are important to promoting the tribal self-sufficiency envisioned in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The growth reflected in the 2019 gaming revenue demonstrates the strength of tribal economies in recent years. The Indian gaming industry is a vital component to many tribal economies across the country,” said NIGC Chairman E. Sequoyah Simermeyer. It’s likely the be the last record for a while, since many tribal casinos remain closed as a result of Covid-19, which has hit Native American communities particularly hard. “It is important to recognize the pandemic’s impact on tribes,” Simermeyer went on to say. “Tribes’ dedication to a safe and sustainable Indian gaming industry is demonstrated in the preventative measures tribes continue to take during the challenging economic times brought on by the pandemic. This same dedication has fostered a successful and responsibly regulated Indian gaming industry over several decades.” To obtain a full copy of the report, visit the agency’s website at NIGC.org.
Global Gaming Business
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5QueStionS Scott Winzeler Chairman & CEO, Sega Sammy Creation USA Sammy is primarily a Japanese pachinko company, but began looking seriously at the casino indusSgameegatrymanufacturing when gaming first was mentioned for Japan. Almost a decade ago, Sega Sammy tried to break into with some very large—and very expensive—multi-position games. Now, Sega Sammy Creation is back with smaller and more manageable slot games. Scott Winzeler, a veteran of IGT and other slot companies, has taken the reins and explains the Sega Sammy strategy. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros at the Sega Sammy offices in Las Vegas in November. To hear a full podcast of this interview, visit GGBMagazine.com. GGB: Sega Sammy is a multi-national company that plays in a lot of spaces. How does it relate to gaming? Winzeler: Probably the most recognizable part of our company is the Sega brand. We celebrated the 60th
1 2 3 4 5
anniversary this year. In 2004, Sammy, which was the No. 1 pachinko manufacturer in Japan, acquired Sega. The company has a history of developing gaming products, whether it’s arcade products, console products, pachinko products, or since a few years ago, casino gaming-style games.
Because they made great pachinko and pachisuro machines, was that the reason Sega Sammy thought they could make gaming machines?
I think that’s part of it. They knew how to make great spinning-reel games, even though the regulations and mechanics are different. Also that was about the time they began discussions about integrated resorts in Japan, so I believe it was a combination of things that focused their attention on gaming. And one of the resumé builders, I guess you would say, to make an application to run a casino in Japan was to say we’re a licensed entity. Many people told us you don’t go after the Nevada license as your first step into the U.S. There are many easier ways to get into the market, but they wanted to have that flagship license. At the end of 2017, we got our manufacturer license, and last year we got our product license. In terms of R&D, how much has the pachinko/pachisuro business influenced game design for the slot machines?
We have about 70 engineers in Japan, and the majority of those come from the Sega side of the business. We also used a few third-party content developers, some of them here in the U.S. And, another facet of our game design comes from the Sammy side, even though we’re totally separate entities under the same umbrella. Explain where Sega Sammy is now in the market.
When we started Sega Sammy Creation four years ago, the first thing we had to do was design a product, which took a couple of years, and then the approval took a couple of years. So when we finally rolled out a product we could sell, it was basically a 4-year-old game and cabinet. So we knew we had to refresh, and last year we designed a new product that we had planned to launch at G2E 2020. What we are showing clients now is a new cabinet called the Genesis Crest, and we have a suite of great games we can install. We think it’s a game changer for our company. We have 300 percent more visible display space than the original cabinet. There’s a 13-inch player interface, a 49-inch display, which we believe is the largest “for sale” display in the business, and a 27-inch topper above that, which can present game content or just be an attractor. Where would you like to see Sega Sammy Creation going over the next five years?
I have a directive from the parent company to grow this company to be a stand-alone entity so over time we’d bring more of our development resources here in the U.S., be licensed everywhere in North America and placing products in all of those jurisdictions. After that was accomplished, we’d look to South America and Europe. World domination is the ultimate goal (laughing).
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
“What I tell you today is when we get into a post-Covid world, the pent-up demand you’re going to see for gaming in general and Las Vegas in particular is going to be beyond your wildest dreams.” —Tom Reeg, president and chief executive officer of Caesars Entertainment, on the recovery of the industry once Covid-19 is no longer a factor
CALENDAR February 16-18: SIGMA Europe. Produced by SIGMA. For more information, visit SIGMA.com. DIGITAL February 24-25: Ukrainian Gaming Week 2021, IEC Pavilion, Kyiv, Ukraine. Produced by Smile Expos. For more information, visit ugw.com.ua/en. LIVE March 22-24: CasinoBeats Summit, InterContinental, St. Julian’s, Malta. Produced by SBC. For more information, visit SBCEvents.com. LIVE March 23-25: SPICE India, Goa Marriott Resort & Spa, Goa, India. Produced by Eventus International. For more information, visit sportsbettingevents.com. LIVE March 30: Prague Gaming Summit, Vienna House Andel’s Prague, Czech Republic. Produced by European Gaming Media and Events. For more information, visit PragueGamingSummit.com. HYBRID May 13-14: ICE North America, New Orleans, Louisiana. Produced by Clarion Gaming. For more information, visit ICENorthAmerica.com. LIVE May 27-28: SIGMA Asia, SMX Convention Centre, Manila, Philippines. Produced by SIGMA. For more information, visit SIGMA.com. LIVE June 8-10: Canadian Gaming Summit, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Toronto, Ontario. Produced by the Canadian Gaming Association. For more information, visit CanadianGamingSummit.com. LIVE June 7-10: ICE North America, Hyatt New Orleans. Produced by Clarion Gaming. For more information, visit ICENorthAmerica.com. LIVE June 14-16: 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 29-July 1: ICE London, ExCeL Centre, London. Produced by Clarion Gaming. For more information, visit ICELondon.UK.com. LIVE
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AMERICAN GAMING ASSOCIATION
New Year, New Outlook During a very difficult year, the AGA responded admirably
s we close the book on 2020, it will undoubtedly be remembered as the most challenging year in our industry’s history. Our strong start in January and February quickly evaporated as the pandemic halted the global gaming industry overnight—shutting down all 989 U.S. casinos, freezing sportsbooks, and disrupting supplier pipelines. Our industry responded with resilience, creativity, optimism and care. In tough times, we have come together and achieved much. Through the American Gaming Association (AGA), we secured historic recognition and support for our industry in 2020, and advanced our shared interests across a range of critical issues. I’m proud to say that—in a year in which it really mattered—we have never had a more effective advocate in the AGA. Highlights of the AGA’s work include: Historic Relief in the CARES Act In the lead-up to 2020, the AGA successfully worked with members of Congress to relaunch the Congressional Gaming Caucus. This groundwork to build congressional champions, combined with united efforts from the AGA, its members and the broader gaming industry, resulted in crucial federal economic relief being made available for the first time in our industry’s history. The inclusion of the gaming industry in the CARES Act saved countless jobs, and supported our businesses and the communities who rely on us right across the country. Now, as our industry fights for much-needed additional relief from Congress, we can be confident that our collective voice will be heard in our nation’s capital. Responsible Reopening I sincerely believe this year’s global health crisis brought out the best in our industry. Our collaboration and innovation on health and safety products and measures led the way for many American businesses to responsibly reopen. And our robust recovery since reopening proves that we are problem solvers that can find new ways to responsibly entertain and delight patrons. Moreover, we demonstrated our values and the care we feel for our communities, by donating millions of dollars’
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
by Trevor Croker
worth of meals and Personal Protective Equipment to first responders and those in need, setting up testing sites at our properties and supporting our industry’s employees, who include commercial and tribal operators, as well as suppliers, through extended benefits and relief funds. Modernizing Payment Options Payment choice on the casino floor is long overdue and essential for sustained industry growth. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, AGA members worked together to finalize and publish new Payments Modernization Policy Principles with an emphasis on contactless safety. These principles serve as a guide for regulators to build effective and responsible digital payment frameworks. Commercial and tribal regulators—in states like California, Indiana, Iowa, Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania—are already taking action to adopt progressive payments modernization regulations, while suppliers are introducing digital solutions to properties like Boyd Gaming’s Blue Chip Casino Resort Spa, Chickasaw Nation’s WinStar World, and many other locations across the country.
ous concern for the industry. This year, AGA partnered with the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM) to bring to light the lack of testing, consumer protections, and responsible gaming measures, which underscore the need for states with gray market and illegal machines to make this a priority area of focus. In partnership with AGEM, AGA will continue to educate state and local policymakers, law enforcement and regulatory agencies by providing new resources and tools to stop the proliferation of unregulated gaming machines.
Protecting the Legal Sports Betting Market The growth of sports betting continued in 2020, with legalization in five states and another six legal markets going live. Americans continue to embrace sports betting with almost $20 billion legally wagered on sports in 2020. This is a far cry from the $4.9 billion bet on sports in the last full year under PASPA in 2017. The AGA continues to focus on protecting this opportunity by advancing responsible gaming, defending against efforts to limit competition, and informing and educating policymakers. This includes updated Sports Betting Principles, which provide a framework for sustainably advancing the industry as it continues to mature, as well as continued work to represent our interests—whether on Capitol Hill or in state houses—to combat the illegal market and protect the integrity of competitions.
Prioritizing Responsible Gaming Promoting responsible gaming is core to our social license to operate, and this year, our industry made important progress to uphold this commitment. In January, the AGA, advocacy groups, academics and other stakeholders set the agenda for the future of responsible gaming with the introduction of the Responsible Gambling Collaborative’s effectiveness principles. Key to our future success is extending our RG commitment to new gaming formats, like sports betting. This year, the AGA welcomed NASCAR and the NHL as its first “Have A Game Plan. Bet Responsibly” league partners. Engaging sports leagues, media and other new gaming industry entrants in responsible gaming will prove essential to maintaining our reputation for responsibility as the market evolves. AGA members also worked together to launch the enforcement process for AGA’s Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Wagering, setting a standard for responsible advertising across the sports betting ecosystem. The unprecedented need for collaboration over the past year is why the AGA has never been more valuable to our industry. The association exists because of a realization 25 years ago that together we are greater than the sum of our parts. It is imperative—at this historic juncture—that we continue to band together and renew our collective commitment to the AGA. Our industry’s reputation and recovery depend on it.
Combating Unregulated Gaming Machines The unchecked spread of unregulated gaming machines throughout the United States remains a seri-
Trevor Croker is managing director and CEO of Aristocrat Technologies and chairman of the American Gaming Association.
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Looking Ahead Let’s forget 2020 and look ahead to the New Roaring ’20s
hat a difference a year makes. Last December, we looked into 2020 with almost universal bullishness. The American economy was humming along and taking with it all demographic groups, all regions, all industries. One of those industries, gaming, appeared especially poised for a bang-up 2020. Casinos expected to ride the economic wave as consumer confidence and growing discretionary income are the sustenance of slot machines and gaming tables. Plus, casinos had kickers: the growing willingness of management to cut marketing costs by focusing on profitable players and the proliferation of sports and online wagering creating new revenue streams that promised to be more than material. Nowhere was the optimism greater than on the Las Vegas Strip. The year would begin, as it always does, with the world’s greatest trade show—the Consumer Electronics Show—once again bringing in record numbers of attendees. More shows would follow. The new love affair between professional sports and gambling was evidenced by the NFL scheduling its annual draft of collegiate players on the Strip, an event projected to attract three-quarters of a million cheering, jersey-wearing and, most of all, free-spending fans. The Las Vegas Raiders were to literally kick off a permanent new attraction in September, drawing tens of thousands of football fans from California and around the country on at least eight weekends a year. It was all brilliantly sunny blue skies ahead. Then Covid struck. Today we look back at shattered expectations, a flashing-by economic depression and, perhaps most bizarrely, a stock market that is hitting record highs. We now look into a new year that has as many questions as 2020 last December appeared to have answers. The biggest question somewhat ironically might have the easiest to answer: When will people feel safe to congregate and to fly?
By Frank Fantini
With vaccines rolling out, people will begin to truly return to normal by spring or the second quarter or summer, depending on choice of expert. But the important answer is that return to normal behavior is within sight. Those of a bearish bent say the world is changed forever. We will Zoom more and travel less. Hotels, airlines and resorts will simply have to lower their expectations. To which, I say: Hogwash. Human nature has not changed in a matter of months. In fact, the millions of people socializing in the midst of the pandemic suggests the post-pandemic world will be met by a flood of pent-up demand for socializing and entertainment. Remember, the double horrors of World War I and the Spanish Flu were followed by the Roaring Twenties. That does not mean there will not be long-term or even permanent changes. Safe health practices will stay for those who operate businesses of public accommodation. We will Zoom more. But we will meet face-to-face, too. As with any period of economic stress, there are changes that make companies stronger. Today, we see new technologies accelerated, such as Zoom. In gaming, the two trends mentioned above of cost cutting and proliferation of sports betting and iGaming have both accelerated and promise bigger rewards than could have been anticipated a dozen months ago. Perhaps the more worrisome questions are, where will the American economy and stock prices go in 2021? The desire to protect people from the economic impact of Covid and government-ordered lockdowns is conflicted. On one hand, employees and owners of, say, restaurants are not to blame for their plight and deserve some level of protection. And Covid relief has doubtlessly helped avert a longterm economic depression. However, there comes a point where too much is counterproductive. And there is increasingly expressed concern that pouring more trillions of dollars into the economy might lead to short-term relief but long-term pain. Already, there are signs of nascent inflation and
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
accompanying higher interest rates. We should not blithely pile up debt by the trillions. It was, in fact, stunning to hear a senior economic adviser to President-elect Biden say that we can afford to spend trillions because interest rates are low. Inflate the economy and those rates won’t stay low. American households already pay $2,900 a year funding the interest on the national debt. Throw trillions more on top of that and see interest rates rise from under 1 percent to 5 or 6 percent or more, and debt service will be unmanageable. Of course, the government could go the Venezuelan route and simply issue orders as to what banks can charge or what employers must pay, but then we’d get Venezuelan results. Politicians cannot repeal the laws of economics. That gets us back to stock prices. In many cases, they are astronomical. That is no secret. We all know about the rocket rides taken by Tesla, Peloton, Zoom and their ilk. We see in gaming where some sports betting company stocks are selling at 20 and 30 times future sales, no less earnings. And that is sales three and four and five years down the road. If we should have learned anything by the unpredictable events of 2020 it is that we cannot, with assurance or specificity, forecast three and five years out. One common expression this year is that business has been pulled forward. That is, people would have spent money eventually, anyway, on, say, renovating the house. But now, stuck at home, they are renovating earlier than would have been the case. That leads to the question of whether spending on items like appliances and new kitchen cabinets will slow next year and help slow the economy with it. In the stock market, the question might be whether stock prices are being pulled forward. Many stocks are selling at valuations based on business expected in 2022 or 2023 or later. Let’s hope this does not lead us a year from now, as we reflect on 2021, dwelling on the day the bubble burst. Frank Fantini is the editor and publisher of Fantini’s Gaming Report. For a free 30-day trial subscription email email@example.com.
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AGEMupdate AGEM MEMBER PROFILE House Advantage, with offices in Las Vegas,
Memphis and Macau, offers loyalty and gaming operations consultancy design, engineering, and the most comprehensive, automated omnichannel loyalty stack of technology through its HALo platform. HALo, the most widely deployed loyalty framework in the gaming industry (U.S., Canada, Asia), delivers demonstrable value to casino operators by providing a centralized platform integrating all patron spending and behavioral data across enterprise touchpoints: gaming, hospitality, retail, entertainment, online, social, mobile, sports, and more. The HALo suite of loyalty solutions enables realtime delivery of highly tailored, branded programs and incentives across these multiple disparate systems, creating a frictionless and engaging universal guest experience. Gamingâ€™s biggest brands, including multiple Fortune 500 companies and prominent Native American tribes, trust House Advantage as a loyalty thought leader and technical innovator for their most critical projects and initiatives. For over 15 years, HA has played crucial roles in the industryâ€™s M&A activity as operators achieved their footprint through rapid expansion. By integrating diverse technologies, disparate systems and various infrastructure throughout multiple jurisdictions, House Advantage understands the complexities of adding new properties and removing others through acquisitions while managing significant complexity and speed. These corporations need to launch robust loyalty programs within a cost-effective yet aggressive time frame while providing a consistent customer experience and where â€œrip and replaceâ€? is not a viable option. Offering a comprehensive unifying technology layer bridging disparate technologies like casino management, point-of-sale, property management, sports betting, mobile platforms, promotional kiosks, and digital channels, HALo provides a single â€œsource-oftruthâ€? for an actionable, measurable and consistent customer experience across the enterprise: gaming, retail, hospitality, social casino, sportsbook and affiliated partners. House Advantage is a Bronze member of AGEM, a recognized company within the Inc. 5000, and a certified integration partner with many AGEM members. For more information about House Advantage, visit houseadv.com.
AGEM Board of Directors Actions for December 2020 â€˘ AGEM members received the news that Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak recently appointed J. Brin Gibson, his former general counsel, to serve as the new chairman of the Nevada Gaming Control Board following the resignation of former Chairwoman Sandra Douglass Morgan. He has previously served as chief legal counsel to Nevadaâ€™s gaming regulatory agencies as well as the Nevada Gaming Policy Committee. Chairman Gibson has accepted an invitation to address the January AGEM Board Meeting to give a brief introduction and forecast some of the items the GCB will be working on going forward under his leadership. â€˘ In advance of the 2021 election of AGEM officers, a slate was presented to members at the December meeting. The new board will be confirmed at the January meeting consisting of a new president, who will replace Luke Orchard as his two-year term has come to an end. The other seven officers all have one-year terms. â€˘ The new Clarion management team gave a short presentation to AGEM members at the recent board meeting providing a general update and latest news for the ICE London and NIGA shows. Group Managing Director Alex Pratt and Managing Director Stuart Hunter were joined by Non-Executive Chairwoman Kate Chambers. They spoke about the new show dates for ICE (June 29-July 1) and outlined plans for making the event safe and secure for visitors. Exhibitors remain supportive of the event, with currently 85 percent of the 2020 event already contracted. News of the vaccine has provided positivity and Clarion is planning to invest in a host of new features which will be unveiled in the coming months. The dates for NIGA are provisionally set for April in San Diego. If restrictions are not lifted at that time, there are secondary dates of June 7-10 in New Orleans. â€˘ AGEM members were urged to use and share the Nevada Covid Trace App with their teams due to the number of Covid-19 cases trending upwards. Developed by the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, the contact tracing mobile app has been designed to help Nevadans protect each other and slow the spread by notifying if youâ€™ve likely been exposed to Covid-19, empowering individuals to quarantine effectively, seek timely medical attention and reduce risk to friends and family. The app can be downloaded for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play. â€˘ AGEM members were told the introduction of sports betting and iGaming in Michigan has been delayed slightly and will not go live by the end of the year, but now in January. The Michigan Gaming Control Board is waiting for the green light while the rules and regulations go through the final review process before the official launch, but in the meantime is being flooded by companies making applications. The Michigan legislature is also considering two bills that may provide expansion opportunities for suppliersâ€”one focused on multi-jurisdictional poker and one targeting historical horse racing machines. â€˘ Two new Associate members were welcomed to AGEM in December, taking the membership to yet another all-time high of 187 members. The Innovation Group, based in Littleton, Colorado, provides consulting and management services in gaming, hospitality, leisure and entertainment. USI Insurance Services based in Las Vegas is one of the largest insurance brokerage and consulting firms in the world, providing comprehensive insurance and risk management solutions for all sectors of the gaming industry.
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The AGEM Index increased 136.41 points in November 2020 to 631.72 points, a 27.5 percent gain from October 2020. Overall, the majority of AGEM Index companies reported rises in stock price during the month, with 12 trending positively moving The price grew and one negatively. stock of Konami Corp. (TYO.9766) 37.6 percent and contributed 39.45 points to the AGEM Indexâ€™s November gain. Additionally, the stock price for Aristocrat (ALL.AX) 11.6 percent, Leisure Limited increased which led to an index contribution of 35.65 points. The major stock indices advanced sharply in November, as well. The NASDAQ and the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed by 12.2 percent and 11.3 percent, respectively, while the S&P 500 grew by 10.9 percent.
JANUARY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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Thousands of fans will show up for esports tournaments in showrooms and arenas
ESPORTS EXPLOSION W
How the casino industry can tap into the esports phenomenon today BY SETH SCHORR
hat do Arthur Ashe, Evander Holyfield, Randy Couture and Richard Tyler Bevins (aka “Ninja”) all have in common? They are all athletes that casinos partnered with to drive traffic to their properties. Las Vegas and sports have gone hand-in-hand for decades. This relationship has evolved from dating (sponsoring one-off boxing or UFC matches) to marriage (sponsoring full seasons of NHL and NFL). When thinking about how to monetize esports, it is best to first think about esports as another sport. Then we can see a clear path forward: tested, trusted and proven. With a loyal, rabid and large fan base, esports has complemented, and in many instances, replaced traditional sports fandom. Esports fans spend time, money and wagers on their favorite teams and players, just like traditional sports fans. Of course, esports has advantages over its “stick-and-ball” brethren. First, the fan is also the player. This gives the casino an opportunity to create a truly interactive experience: an esports fan makes a trip to a property to watch an esports tournament, bet on a match, participate in an amateur tournament, go to the nightclub to meet the pros, then play the esports-themed skill-based slot machine on the casino floor. Far-fetched? Not at all. Is any casino executing this vision on a regular basis? Definitely not. Esports is intriguing to casinos due to its large, young 14
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
fan base. But, two issues have stopped efforts from showing results. First, executing an esports strategy takes a multi-year commitment of time and resources. Second, casinos must change their understanding of how to monetize the esports fan, a younger demographic whose revenue channels are different—and potentially more lucrative—than traditional casino guests.
Getting Authentic Many casino operators (and this is controversial) believe the generation of video gamers will eventually evolve into slot customers enjoying pure games of chance just like their parents and grandparents. There is a chance that some do… but, as an industry, do we want to miss the mark like our counterparts did in retail and media? While movie theaters and shopping malls have fallen victim to Covid19, it is safe to say they were dying well before the pandemic. Will traditional brick-and-mortar casinos follow the same path? YouTube, Twitch and Netflix have dominated much older and established media companies in viewership and valuation because of their understanding of this up-andcoming generation. Why will the casino industry be any different? A major accelerator of change is the digital marketplace. Esports was born and lives online. So esports fans are uniquely positioned to digital
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Recently retired esports League of Legends superstar Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng
products and services. Casinos must redouble their focus on their digital efforts to reach the esports demographic. Casinos can leverage their current digital expansions due to Covid-19, legalized online sports betting and mobile iGaming, using these efforts to expand into esports. The idea is simple: Go to where your target market is already gathering and bring them to your core products. We are seeing this play out in the traditional sports industry, with Penn National Gaming acquiring an online sports property, Barstool Sports, to build its online and brick-and-mortar sportsbook. Other partnerships that are unlocking the sports fan are Bally/Sinclair Broadcasting and MGM/Yahoo!. These are three major examples from 2020 of casino operators making a multi-year commitments to bring sports fans into their marketplace. If we apply this same strategy for esports, we will see success. It’s the operator who strikes a deal with Twitch that will have the greatest advantage. Today there are no fewer than a dozen international sports betting operators who take wagers on esports matches and tournaments, and many that now take wagers on Twitch streamers. If this isn’t evidence enough that there is a rapidly growing audience of esports bettors, then the fact that the Twitch platform itself recently (November 2020) launched a feature that looks and smells a lot like gambling should certainly get your attention. The “Predictions” feature on Twitch enables viewers to bet on various outcomes during a stream using their channel points. While this isn’t full-on real-money wagering, it certainly is a step in that direction by Twitch and its
parent Amazon. Further, if securing a leading position as the esports betting platform by partnering with Twitch isn’t compelling enough, then the fact Twitch is now streaming NFL Thursday Night Football should make investing in this type of partnership a real win for any sportsbook operator. While there are a dozen operators taking esports wagers in Europe, we can count the number of events where U.S. sportsbook operators took wagers on both hands. Is this because the market doesn’t exist in the U.S. or because sportsbook operators haven’t yet figured out how to market to this audience?
The “Predictions” feature on Twitch enables viewers to bet on various outcomes during a stream using their channel points. While this isn’t full-on real-money wagering, it certainly is a step in that Making the Commitment direction by Twitch The casino operator who is willing to time, energy and resources to and its parent Amazon. commit building an online esports audience will
benefit by having a large database of young adults who they can encourage to wager online and ultimately drive to their properties. For nearly two years (2016-2018), the Downtown Grand held a series of esports events. These included cash tournaments, viewing parties around tent pole events such as LCS (League of Legends) Finals and Intel Extreme Masters, to “meet-and-greets” with professional esports teams including Team Liquid. While each activation had varying levels of financial success, the learnings and experience were invaluable. For example, food-and-beverage spend was tracked in the point-ofsale system and analyzed by game type or genre. The data was undisputable that sports games (Madden and FIFA) and fighting games JANUARY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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(Mortal Kombat and Tekken) attracted a gamer that spent more money on alcohol and food than MOBA (multi-player online battle arena) games such as League of Legends or Dota 2. There was also success in “old-school” games from the 1990s such as Nintendo 64 Mario Kart and GoldenEye, which attracted gamers in their late 30s and early 40s. Using casino marketing tactics such as midnight raffles and having loser brackets during tournaments kept the gamers on property longer and spending more money while also maintaining a fun and active atmosphere. Other larger Strip resorts have held various esports events over the years such as the EVO Finals at Mandalay Bay or Call of Duty World League at Hard Rock in late 2018. Based on who you ask, these events did not yield revenues that met property expectations, but instead of disqualifying these events as not having value altogether, we may want to question whether current operators had strategies in place to optimally monetize this audience. In April 2016, Mandalay Bay hosted a League of Legends tournament and sold over 10,000 tickets. While much credit is owed to the event sales team that got Riot (publisher of League of Legends) to bring this important tournament to Las Vegas, the property was not activated to take advantage of the event. There were no meet-andgreets, parties or tournaments that interested the gamer. On the contrary, Downtown Grand partnered with Team Liquid (arguably the most popular team playing in the tournament) to come to its rooftop pool deck to meet fans. Over 1,500 fans showed up and waited in line for hours to meet their favorite athletes. The pool generated excellent F&B sales and the event was an overwhelming success. If this same event was held at the property where the tournament took place, surely the attendance and revenue numbers would have been exponentially greater. It has been hard for many to justify the long-term time and expense required to build and nurture this new segment. During a global crisis when we are simply trying to keep the doors open, focusing on a nascent business segment does seem hard to justify. But I would argue it is exactly this crisis that we are all facing in the casino industry that should encourage those with a long-term view of our industry to allocate some time, thought, energy and a bit of capital to esports. If the behemoths in our industry don’t develop an esports strategy, an outsider will. We recently saw what happened when casino industry leaders did not have a strong mobile sports wagering strategy. The “newcomers” from
the daily fantasy sports space garnished market share in a way that most would not have expected. And now the biggest operators in the gaming space are playing catch-up.
City Strategy Figuring out the secret sauce in catering to this demographic should not rest on the shoulders of one operator, but initially should be a collaborative industry effort, and may have to be done on a regional or city level. There are a few cities today that are establishing themselves as esports meccas. The Atlanta Esports Alliance is a private division of the Atlanta Sports Council, and is comprised of business and community leaders in the esports ecosystem. Atlanta is home to major esports events including Dreamhack, which attracts nearly 40,000 gaming enthusiasts to Atlanta annually. Atlanta has professional esports teams such as the Atlanta Reign, the Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta United. Both have created esports teams around NBA 2K and FIFA. To further sweeten the pot, the state of Georgia offers tax incentives for game developers and esports businesses. Georgia doesn’t have sports betting (yet), so we won’t see any in-venue wagers happening. But that is likely just a matter of time. Is there a city better equipped to pull off a similar strategy than Las Vegas? For the record, the Nevada Esports Alliance (NVEA) pre-dated the Atlanta Esports Alliance, and while the founders (of which I am an one) get some credit for having an early vision, I cannot say we have had the same success as Atlanta. But it is not too late. As Las Vegas is finding itself in a place where we need to come up with new ways of attracting visitors, esports tournaments and events can be one of them. The Nevada Esports Alliance members include the Las Vegas Convention Visitors Authority (LVCVA), and plans are now in the works to recruit major tournaments and professional leagues and teams to Las Vegas in 2021. Working with the LVCVA to incentivize established conventions such as Activision Blizzard’s BlizzCon or Amazon Twitch’s TwitchCon to come
If the behemoths in our industry don’t develop an esports strategy, an outsider will.
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
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to Vegas is no different than some of our industry’s veteran leaders bringing the National Finals Rodeo to Vegas back in 1984—which for the past 30 years has been a huge boost to our city during early December, which is a terribly slow time of year. Replace the image of casino legend Benny Binion riding his horse to kick off the rodeo with Matt Maddox playing esports superstar Ninja in a friendly game of Fortnite, and we are talking front-page national news. Over the past five years, I had the opportunity of catering to this esports demographic. Not all our endeavors were tremendous financial successes, but we learned a lot. And we know there is much more to learn. Marketing to a generation that lives and plays online is simply different than other generations. The casino industry is not alone in trying to figure out this demographic. Brands from Mastercard to Audi all have esports partnerships. In 2019, Honda became the exclusive automotive sponsor for Team Liquid (that team we brought to the Downtown Grand four years ago). If Honda finds value in selling this demographic cars, then there must be value to our resorts. And if Honda’s marketing choices aren’t convincing enough, let’s look at some numbers. In 2019, the League of Legends Championship Series was the third most popular major professional sports league in the U.S. among 18- to 34-year-olds (behind only NBA and NFL). Brands that have become sponsors of esports are not limited to Honda, but are now including ultra
high-end luxury brands as well. Recently, Louis Vuitton announced a strategic partnership with Riot Games during their Worlds tournament in Paris. And while this may seem like a mismatched partnership, it was reported that Louis Vuitton saw tremendous social post engagement when the championship trophy was carried out in a Louis Vuitton case. Visualize that for a moment. One of the world’s most valuable luxury brands sees value in esports. Just a few years ago, the idea of video game tournaments brought images of nerdy kids in their parents’ basements to the minds of most people over the age of 40. Today, most admit (even if they don’t understand it) that esports is a force to be reckoned with. While many have yet to unlock the financial value from this growing market segment, I am confident that if there is an industry that has the chops to figure it out, it’s the gambling industry. Mark my words, we are in the first inning. And no… There are no innings in esports. Seth Schorr is a hospitality and gaming expert with over 20 years of experience, specializing in building strategic alliances with organization leaders to align and drive key business strategies. He is currently the CEO of Fifth Street Gaming, owning and operating five casinos and multiple food and beverage concepts. He also serves as the chairman of Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino.
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Excellence Amid Adversity 25 People to Watch for 2021
elcome to our 19th showcase of the 25 people our Editorial Advisory Board has identified as the executives most likely to make a difference in
the coming year. The previous 18 groups of movers and shakers highlighted in this annual feature constitute a parade of professionals who have made a mark on this industry, from Penn National CEO Peter Carlino and former Scientific Games CEO Gavin Isaacs in early years through last year, when Poarch Creek Tribal Chairwoman Stephanie Bryan related the strength of that Alabama tribe’s acquisition of Wind Creek Bethlehem from Las Vegas Sands. But as we all know, the past year has been like no other, which means the executives highlighting this year’s list face challenges faced by none of the other professionals who have graced these pages. The Covid-19 crisis—in the middle of an aggressive second wave of infections as this is being written—has affected the gaming and hospitality business as bad as or worse than any other industry. The nominees submitted to the Editorial Advisory Board throughout 2020 reflect a unique group of gaming executives who have effectively dealt with Covid-19 shutdowns, furloughs and capacity restrictions, guiding their customers, clients and shareholders through months of idleness while formulating a plan that ensures their own survival as businesses, the health of their employees, and their readiness to serve customers safely and efficiently as casinos slowly reopened with often harsh restrictions. Operating executives have shed costs and maintained liquidity that will ensure their comeback; manufacturers have doggedly continued research and development to guarantee that when operators are ready to buy, they will have the newest innovations from which to choose. But these 25 People to Watch will distinguish themselves, their companies and the industry in general not by what they have done to help the industry through 2020, but by what they will continue to do as the crisis stretches through the early months of this year. These are the people who will carry our industry through the challenges of this year and into a promising future. By all indications, 2021 will constitute their finest hour.
Bill Hornbuckle President & CEO, MGM Resorts International PHOTO BY ERIN O’BOYLE PHOTOGRAPHICS
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25 PeoPle to Watch 2021 At Long Last a Leader Bill Hornbuckle • President & CEO, MGM Resorts International
hen Bill Hornbuckle was named acting CEO of MGM Resorts in March upon the abrupt resignation of his predecessor Jim Murren, he stepped into a role that he had been preparing for his entire career. Hornbuckle had been president of MGM Resorts since 2012 and led a variety of the company’s properties including MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay before that. As chief marketing officer, he directed the design of the structure and benefits of the now omnipresent M life Rewards program. Hornbuckle joined what is now known as MGM Resorts in 2000, when it purchased Mirage Resorts. Prior to that, he was president and COO of Caesars Palace and helped open The Mirage in 1989 as its vice president of hotel operations. As a result, Hornbuckle has learned his craft from three of arguably the most important CEOs in gaming over the past 30 years, Murren, Steve Wynn and the late Terry Lanni. Hornbuckle says he learned something from each man. From Wynn: “Focus, focus, focus. And passion,” says Hornbuckle. “At MGM Resorts, we are becoming more customer-centric as an organization like Mirage always was. We have grown quickly and made lots of financial decisions, but customer centricity, and programming for our customers’ desires, are where we are now. Steve Wynn is the mantle that we’re after from a customer-service perspective. Flat-out, full stop. That’s what we learned, and that’s what we’re focused on. “From Terry, I learned discipline. Stay disciplined, but again, it’s about focus. He always had a famous line: ‘If it ends up in the cover of the Wall Street Journal, we should be happy with it.’ And so, if you monitor your behavior and the behavior of your company with that mindset, it does keep you focused. “And Jim, well, Jim’s an entrepreneur. Jim was a ‘yes’ guy, meaning, ‘Let’s do it.’ And so, as we emerge out of this pandemic—and we will—there’s a lot to do set up by Jim’s vision. I think we’ll be in great shape. I think there will be opportunity, both within this industry, and the digital sector, as well.”
and beverage, or gaming. Entertainment’s down to zero. Conventions and meetings are down 99 percent. “Thankfully for the company, we went on an assetlight strategy, starting back in 2017. We created our REIT in 2016. And so, as we are sitting here consolidated, we have over $7 billion of cash in liquidity, and here at MGM Resorts, over $5 billion. Not only does this give us the confidence that we will survive all of this, but it also gives us the opportunity to think about the future and think about it relatively aggressively. We’re excited to be thinking in those terms.” While Hornbuckle explains the company has installed a “Seven Point Safety Plan” that includes masks, Plexiglas, temperature checks and the other requisite safety requirements the public has gotten used to, they’ve gone above and beyond that. “We’ve also pushed out testing,” he says. “We tested 5,000 employees leading into the Thanksgiving holiday. And so, we’re constantly vigilant about all of that.” Screening and testing are the centerpieces of a partnership between MGM Resorts and CLEAR in a program called “Convene with Confidence,” which was developed using best practices and advice from experts in the public health community, medical device and health care companies and the NBA and NHL bubbles. Participants in trade shows and conferences get tested for Covid-19, using CUE Health’s highly accurate and sensitive molecular test, and receive results within 20 minutes. With a negative result, participants will receive a green health pass in the CLEAR app on their phones, which allows them access to all the conference has to offer. “It’s created an environment where, at least for those groups who want to come, through a screening and testing regimen, they can enjoy the property and feel safer about it, all things considered,” he says. The pandemic has also accelerated the company’s digital offerings. Hornbuckle says at least 35 percent of hotel guests now check in on their mobile phones and receive digital “keys” on the phones that can open the doors to their rooms. “Not only is it convenient; it’s simpler,” he says. “Our ability to communicate with customers, both here and frankly, at home, is a significant upside.” The digital program also focuses on payments. “We are pushing heavy on all things digital, including an e-wallet. Once we have you in a digital platform we get into preference marketing, we can offer you the kinds of experiences you want. And if there’s a digital wallet, not only can you do it here in the brick-and-mortar casinos, but we can use that for BetMGM wagers wherever you are.”
“We have grown quickly and made lots of financial decisions, but customer centricity, and programming for our customers’ desires, are where we are now.”
Pandemic Problems As we enter 2021, Hornbuckle is focused on leading the company to a full recovery from the pandemic. His first concern is for the employees. “They’ve been the hardest hit through all of this,” he says. “Before this, including Macau, we had 83,000 employees. At the bottom, we ended up with 14,000, mostly essential, corporate and security, obviously protecting the assets. Come May, we began to reopen, both regionally first in Mississippi and then ultimately in the rest of the country, including Las Vegas. At this point (early December) we’ve brought back the majority of those employees. But, there is still a large portion that is not back to work, and over the next several months, it’s still going to be touch and go.” That concern also extends to the customers. “Safety has continued to be job one,” he says. “We’ve not opened up every flood gate to ensure that we protect not only our employees, but our customers. The impact to the company has been pretty significant. Like all gaming companies, we’re down substantially. Pick your favorite line of business: 60 percent to 80 percent down in top-line revenue, whether it’s hospitality, food
Asian Focus If any jurisdiction was harder hit than Macau during this pandemic, we have yet to discover it. The casinos in Macau shut down for a month in late January and when they reopened in February, most of their market had disappeared. It wasn’t until late summer when revenues began to inch up from the 90 percent month-on-month declines. And like all other companies, MGM Resorts’ two properties were impacted severely. JANUARY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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25 PeoPle to Watch 2021 “Remember, this was a $37 billion market heading into 2020,” Hornbuckle says. “Back in 2014 we thought it would eventually get to $65 billon. Hence our Cotai project, and like all of us in the industry, we continued to try to build, to the extent the government would allow us. But the reality is we all got hit.” As Macau rebounds, by early this year, it should be back to $25 billion, he explains, which is still four times the size of the Las Vegas market. But Hornbuckle is most enamored with the demographics of the Macau market. “That’s the key differentiator between Macau and Las Vegas,” he says. “There the younger Chinese clientele love the notion of gaming, and the spirit of it. That’s very compelling.” He says the economics are starting to come back in Macau. “We’re not only not bleeding money in terms of just operating, but we’re now covering our expenses,” he explains. “The government has mandated 20,000 visas a day and we’re doing OK. It won’t raise that until there’s a vaccine. And so, by this time next year, I think we’ll see the pent-up demand, and we’ll be back to the new norm, given the Chinese government’s oversight on capital flowing in and out of that market.” Hornbuckle also reinforced MGM Resorts’ interest in Japan, where the company is the last bidder standing for an Osaka integrated resort. With a partnership with the powerful Japanese company Orix, he says he “can’t imagine the government wouldn’t say ‘yes’ to Osaka.” “There’s a process and there are some things to tackle, in terms of taxation and how Japan views the opportunity, given post-Covid. All that being said, look… our future is all about Asia.”
Online Outline As optimistic as Hornbuckle is about Asia, it often dwarfs the way he feels about sports betting and online gaming. A partnership with one of the biggest European online operators, Entain (formerly GVC Holdings), has resulted in the formation of BetMGM. While BetMGM has taken some time to ramp up, he’s confident BetMGM will be a major player in the U.S. “DraftKings and FanDuel took a lot of the New Jersey share,” he admits. “But I will tell you within the last year, we have a full steam of momentum. There’s a new CEO at Entain. We talk multiple times a week about how the business is progressing, where are we going, and how do we help. The relationship has never been stronger. The business has matured from not being first to market, to being a major force in the last three markets we’ve been first to enter—Tennessee of note. And it’s paying dividends when you’re first in.” Hornbuckle says it won’t be easy because it’s a very competitive market. “The trajectory of that business is very promising,” he says. “It’s going to exceed our expectations this year and I’m hoping next year. But it’s not for the faint of heart. We will spend hundreds of millions chasing this down because it is all about acquiring players now. In the end, I believe there will be three or four really key players, and then everybody else because the cost of entry is so high at this point.” Sports betting is generally considered to be a narrow-margin business, so unless there’s a massive move toward in-game betting, it’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint. On the other hand, online gaming—casino games—are much more profitable, as the land-based casinos have already proven. “We don’t go anywhere we’re not wanted,” he says. “It’s just too hard to make that case. But having said that, you know, whether it’s sports betting or iGaming, not every state’s going to want iGaming. But there are some states that already have bricks-and-mortar games, so it makes sense for them to add iGaming to their menu.” In the end, however, Hornbuckle believes that iGaming is the answer. “It is the economic engine behind all of this,” he says. “It’s a much more efficient engine than sports betting.” 20
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
Strip Poker For MGM Resorts, it often comes down to the Las Vegas Strip where most of their iconic resorts are located. With the sale of the main competitor, Caesars Entertainment, to Eldorado Resorts, Hornbuckle doesn’t see much changing, despite the promises of Caesars executives that they’ll ramp up their offerings. “Time will tell,” he says. “They’ve made some substantive promises, in terms of margin enhancement and synergies. I would say this. When you have 58 properties that are pumping players into the seven or eight they have on the Strip, that’s a good engine. “Their (Caesars Rewards) programming will be even more important. It does reach out into some of the regional properties and changes some of those landscapes, and hopefully it drives enough business to Las Vegas that they don’t do some of the pricing things that we’ve seen them do. I’m not anxious to replicate what I saw in Atlantic City a while back—nobody wins. It’s a net-zero-sum game—a race to the bottom.” Hornbuckle acknowledges Caesars’ desire to sell at least one Strip property and believes that may not be a bad thing. “Getting another property and reducing the amount of ownership of Caesars, and expanding it by one or two or three, I think it’s good for the community and good for the town. I expect it would mean more entrepreneurism, hopefully more capital, and a better product in the long run. A decade from now, we’d like to be able to look back and say, ‘How did we leave Las Vegas? Did we leave it better, in terms of product and offering and appeal?’” With Las Vegas overflowing with recently added meetings and conventions space—MGM Resorts’ existing space across its properties, Caesars’ new Forum convention center on the east side of the Strip, and the expanded Las Vegas Convention Center—Hornbuckle believes that the return of this market to Vegas is essential. He thinks the decentralization of corporate offices could be a benefit for Las Vegas. “People are closing offices because working from home has been so productive,” he says. “But once a quarter, they’re going to want to get together. You’ve got to see people and understand who your people are. We’re positioning ourselves to have some of that turned on. When we redid Park MGM, we created a ‘meeting lab’ that has technology to bring together people working from home and those in person. Two-thirds of the delegates might want to come, but a third may not. So we can broadcast it, and we can do the kinds of things that make it efficient for someone sitting in their living room, or in their office. And yeah, we’ll be prepared to do that.”
Future Shock As Hornbuckle looks toward the future, he sees a mix of in-person and interactive activities for MGM Resorts. “I’d like to see us more diversified, in terms of geography, and in terms of lines of business,” he says. “Maybe not as much brick and mortar. If we could make digital revenues 20 percent to 25 percent of our earnings, that would be a big push. We wouldn’t be relying as much on Las Vegas. Covid is clearly the example. When Covid hit, our stock went to $7. We got hit worse than anybody because of the nature of our location. And so diversification led by Asia, generally, would be a good thing. “I’m a little more guarded in what we do on a regional perspective. Just by realigning here, relaunching here, getting everything back to work should be a great start. Letting our 2020 plans go into play, and our operational margins, I think we’ve realigned ourselves to really blossom in those properties. The Asia expansion, a Japan property and the renewal of our license in Macau is critical. And then ultimately, taking our digital business to the next step, and making it make a real difference could be the game changer.” —Roger Gros To hear a full podcast of this interview, visit GGBMagazine.com.
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25 PeoPle to Watch 2021
Cristina Romero de Alba • Partner, Loyra Abogados
Tan Sri Dr. Chen Lip Keong • Founder,
n many ways, the European market is a paradise for gaming attorneys. With all kinds of gaming active across the continent—betting shops, landbased casinos, sports betting, iGaming, lotteries and more—the issues are many and varied. And when you add the complications of dealing with the European Union and its layers of regulation on top of the rules in each individual country, a good gaming lawyer could retire before they’re 30. Cristina Romero de Alba is definitely a good gaming lawyer, but with her passion and expertise, it’s hard to see her considering retirement. She is sought after by many of the companies doing business in her native Spain, but her experience crosses all jurisdictions. She has degrees in law and business management from the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid. She serves on the board of the International Association of Gaming Advisors and International Masters of Gaming Law. And she was honored as an Emerging Leader of Gaming/40 Under 40 in GGB Magazine in 2014. As a partner with Madrid’s Loyra Abogados, de Alba specializes in gaming law and technology, and believes that technology is going to lead the European industry forward. Ironically, she says, the Covid-19 plague that has swept the world is spurring this rapid advance in technology. “The pandemic already pushed many of our clients that were at the very beginning of technological transformation to get on the digital track,” she says. “I believe it has accelerated change in an unprecedented way and will continue to do so.” Recovery from the pandemic for European casinos will be complicated, de Alba believes. “To me, the biggest issue they are currently fac22
ing is to gain back trust from consumers and get them back into the premises feeling safe and reassured,” she says. “At the same time, I believe that casinos are doing an amazing job in implementing a full set of measures to make that happen, and reopening metrics are starting to go up in response.” Spain has had lots of proposals for integrated resorts. Companies like Las Vegas Sands, Caesars, Hard Rock, Cordish, Melco and others have been involved in setting up IRs in Madrid, Barcelona and elsewhere. But political roadblocks have stymied every attempt. Now, however, Melco is developing an integrated resort in Cyprus and Mohegan Gaming has been approved to build a facility on the land that was once the international airport in Athens. But de Alba says that might be it for a while. “Like any major investment project, there will inevitably be delays even if only to be able to have more visibility on trends of the tourism industry and generally the economy,” she says. Relationships with clients are important to de Alba, and she believes that the pandemic will only deepen that connection. “I believe our role is already very close to our clients,” she explains. “We helped them navigate all sorts of challenging situations during lockdown and the toughest times (even helping them source alternative financing), and now we expect to accompany them in pursuing new opportunities. I think clients rely on us as more than just legal counsel, which has always been one of our differentiating features, and I expect that to become even more of a trend.” —Patrick Roberts
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
Controlling Shareholder and Chief Executive Officer, NagaCorp Ltd.
agaCorp Ltd. is the first gaming IPO on the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong and perhaps one of the world’s most profitable gaming companies. NagaWorld, its wholly owned subsidiary, operates the only integrated resort complex in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with a 70-year license (through 2065) and a 51-year monopoly (through 2045) within a 200 km radius from its current location in Phnom Penh. Since its listing in 2006, NagaCorp has achieved much success in private-public sector cooperation, significantly contributing to local tourism GDP and attracting foreign direct investments, through the guidance of Tan Sri Dr. Chen Lip Keong, its founder, controlling shareholder and chief executive officer. Chen, an entrepreneur with many years of business administration experience, has been focusing on creating a “first-world company in a developing nation” with transparency and compliance aligned to the industry’s best practices. Within the five-year period of 2015 to 2019, NagaCorp’s gross gaming revenue increased by more than 450 percent to US$1.72 billion and EBITDA nearly quadrupled to US$671 million, driven mainly by VIP and premium patronage especially after Naga2 (Phase 2 of the IR complex) opened in late 2017. More recently during 3Q20, a truly challenging time for the industry, NagaCorp saw its mass market segment leading the recovery of business volume with VIP market following closely behind. The company achieved a GGR level representing over 90 percent of pre-Covid levels through Sep-
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25 PeoPle to Watch 2021
tember 2020, arguably the most prominent large-scale casino resort in the world that has staged such a solid recovery. But Chen is envisioning something beyond. NagaCorp has declared that it remains fully committed to US$3.5 billion for Naga3, its next phase of the NagaWorld IR complex, to deliver Cambodia’s tallest building, sky-high swimming and landmark VIP venues among others, despite Covid-19 and corresponding impacts. Naga3 is scheduled to be completed in 2025, bringing in another 3,500 rooms, 700 gaming tables and more than 2,000 electronic gaming machines to the existing amenities, and making the NagaWorld IR complex more appealing to a wider base of patrons across all gaming segments. While some people in the industry may question the scale of the expansion, Chen has increased more than 28 million NagaCorp shares to his holding this year and has pledged to finance half of Naga3 on his own. Furthermore, in November, NagaCorp was granted a 50-year lease on a plot of land adjacent to the UNESCO World Heritage site Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The company plans to develop a non-gaming resort on the plot, the first phase of which has a development budget of US$350 million and is anticipated to open in 2025. Travel strategies and infrastructure improvements also will
be implemented to connect Siem Reap and Phnom Penh by air, river and road “to promote the concept of NagaWorld and Angkor Wat as the twin tourism icons of Cambodia.” On balance, Cambodia remains one of the most appealing destination markets for junkets operators and premium players, in that it provides nearly all the elements that would be wishful thinking in other major gaming markets in the Asia Pacific region, such as the business-friendly gaming tax regime (even with what is specified in the recently passed Law on the Management of Integrated Resorts and Commercial Gambling), skilled workforce at reasonable labor cost, and a lenient regulatory environment. The major business drivers and competitive advantages will continue to keep the gaming industry growing in a sustainable manner, capitalizing on the booming and increasingly wealthy middle class in the region, and better stimulating tourism and related economic impacts that benefit the country. Additionally, NagaCorp has seamlessly avoided the pitfalls of online gambling and has managed to extend its casino monopoly in Phnom Penh for another 10 years (through 2045), all of which contributes to a bright outlook of the company. — Michael Zhu is senior vice president, international operations planning and analysis for the The Innovation Group.
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High Flyer Mike Bean • Chief Executive Officer, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe Gaming Enterprises
Sibling Dynasties in Macau Daisy Ho • Chairwoman, SJM
nyone who believes that the influence of Stanley Ho would slowly wane when he died at 98 in May 2020 would be sadly underestimating his progeny. Of the four major concessions in Macau, three of them are controlled by his children. Lawrence Ho is chairman of Melco Entertainment, which operates the City of Dreams, Studio City and StarWorld. Pansy Ho is chairwoman of MGM China, which operates MGM Macau in the Peninsula area of the city, and MGM Cotai. And in 2018, when Stanley Ho retired as chairman of his original gaming company, SJM, his daughter—Pansy’s sister, Daisy Ho Chiu Fung—was named to succeed him. Unlike Pansy and Lawrence, who had actively followed Stanley into the business, Daisy had little gaming experience prior to being appointed chairwoman. Daisy Ho wasn’t just along for the ride, however. Stanley’s fourth wife, Angela Leong, and the son of his longtime business partner, Timothy Fok Tsun Ting, also joined at the same time. Soon afterwards, Daisy and Pansy came together to consolidate family control over STDM, the parent company of SJM, that also has interest in shipping, transportation and real estate. Pansy is chairwoman and Daisy is vice chair. The arrangement seems to have settled any family disagreements between wives, ex-wives and siblings as there was no opposition to the shuffling at the top. At issue for SJM in 2021 is the ramp-up to the concession renewals that are due to come up a year later. SJM, which owns the Lisboa and Grand Lisboa in the Peninsula, is scheduled to open the Lisboa Palace in the Cotai region in ’21. The government’s insistence on non-gaming attractions will be on display at Lisboa Palace, likely giving SJM the inside track toward a concession renewal. Ho didn’t waste much time shaking up the management of SJM. Previously described as “dysfunctional,” Ho brought in several seasoned Macau gaming executives to move the company forward, at the same time releasing longtime Stanley Ho colleague Louis Ng. Frank McFadden, a former executive with Las Vegas Sands, was named COO for gaming and hospitality and Bernard Yip became president of business development. And to keep it in the family, she also named Arnaldo Ho, son of Angela Leong, to become president of international business development. A new Macau government took office in December 2020, led by Ho Iat Seng. Ho says she’s ready to work with the government as 2022 approaches. “We’re very much looking forward to the new term of government taking office and seeing what new policies and guidelines the new chief executive and his team have for us,” she says, adding, “So we’re waiting; once (the new government) takes office and makes any announcements, we’ll be able to immediately work on it, and the new round of bidding for the concessions is something we pay great attention to.” —Patrick Roberts 24
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
t’s fitting for Mike Bean to run a gaming entity named Soaring Eagle. His career has been one long ascent. The Norwich, Connecticut native and gaming veteran has served in senior management positions at the largest and most reputable gaming operations in the country, including Mohegan Sun, Foxwoods Resort Casino, Harrah’s Entertainment, Boyd Gaming and currently as chief executive officer of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe Gaming Enterprises’ Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort, Saganing Eagles Landing Casino & Hotel, and the Slot Palace & Bingo Hall in Michigan. Bean displays pragmatic optimism, enhancing properties on the strength of core principles. One involves recruiting talent. “You are really doing your best to find really good people to work with and hiring other people who are better than you are in as many things as you possibly can,” Bean says. “You want smart people, experienced people and those who have good social intelligence so that we all can work together. “The high tide really does raise all the boats.” Bean spreads that intelligence across several fronts. They range from walking the casino floor to monitor the heartbeat of employees and customers to publishing his perspective in an internal newsletter, expanding the geographic radius from which to lure customers and being attuned to the thinking of a group. “We always ask ourselves if we’re getting the best use of existing brick and mortar with what we have right here,” he says. “Do we have the right mix of gaming and non-gaming amenities, do we use the best brands? I believe brands are powerful. We want to drive visitation by providing so much that we avoid the veto vote in the group. If you just have slots and table games, that may not be enough for the entire group. But if you can satisfy everyone, with restaurants, entertainment, etc., you compel a visit from the entire group.” Bean, who guides the direction of nearly 3,000 employees, grew steadily into this role. Starting in 1992, Bean was part of the team that grew Foxwoods from its modest beginnings with 1,200 team members to more than 12,000 team members, including accelerated construction of the resort complex to meet the demands of the then-underserved gaming market in the Northeastern region of the United States. At Harrah’s Entertainment, he worked in Shreveport, Louisiana as part of the team that integrated the acquired Louisiana Downs racetrack into the Harrah’s Shreveport gaming operation, adding a new slots casino to the Harrah’s Shreveport portfolio. Thereafter, as part of the acquisition of Caesars Entertainment by Harrah’s, Mike was part of the team that integrated the two companies as one. For more than a decade, Bean played an integral leadership role in the successful opening, operation and development of Mohegan Sun Pocono, Pennsylvania’s first casino and Mohegan Sun’s first commercial casino. As president of Mohegan Sun Pocono, Bean developed and executed an intricate company strategy, establishing a guest experience-centric organization while maintaining focus on financial performance, leadership and positive mentoring of team members. Originally an aged racetrack, Mohegan Sun Pocono became a dynamic casino and hotel operation including over 2,300 slot machines, 91 table games, 21 bars and restaurants, shopping, entertainment and conventions with more than 2,000 team members. Bean grew up in the shadow of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, recalling that as a youth “I didn’t even know what a casino was.” Ironically, Bean has spent much of his adult life running one. —Dave Bontempo
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Back Stronger Adam Whitehurst • Senior Vice President, Slot Sales, AGS
dam Whitehurst is no novice when it comes to slot machine sales. Whitehurst, senior vice president of sales for slot supplier AGS, spent nearly a dozen years in sales for Scientific Games and its legacy company Bally Technologies, half of that time as vice president of sales before joining AGS as vice president of strategic accounts in April 2019—after which he was quickly elevated to senior VP. Of course, the challenges of 2020 have made drawing on pre-Covid experience tough for everyone. However, the fact that AGS didn’t miss a beat in game development while operators were idle last spring means he has a top-flight pipeline of new games and cabinets to offer customers as the industry recovers. Whitehurst made sure his own sales team did not miss a beat last year either, which is one reason AGS beat all revenue expectations in the third quarter. “The results in Q3 reflect the things that we worked on as a group, in terms of the way we focused on our customers’ business and how their business has changed,” he says. “Number two, we’re flexible. So we’re trying to figure out, as the market dynamics change, where to make adjustments, and how to position our team in the right place with our customers.” That flexibility allowed Whitehurst and his team to respond to customer needs that varied widely during the crisis. “Different states and different tribal gaming operators had specific rules or regulations that were unique to them,” he says, “and that’s where we exercised flexibility in understanding what their dynamic was and how we could be a good partner.” As the industry looks ahead to 2021, Whitehurst agrees with AGS CEO David Lopez, who recently told investors that AGS will come out of the Covid-19 crisis stronger than ever. “What David was saying is that AGS really focuses on the company culture, and that really means empowering and developing our team,” Whitehurst says. “During the pandemic, while our customers at times were closed, we spent our energy, attention and time on our employees, and developing their skills. And I think we’re stronger for that.” Moves like enrolling the entire sales team in online Coursera training from Yale was one of the skill-building activities, sharpening business analytics abilities in various areas. Whitehurst’s sales leadership team, along with AGS top executives, participated in “Compete to Create” online coaching developed by Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and Dr. Michael Cervais, designed to develop the team skills and mindset to succeed and innovate. Those skills will be utilized in 2021 to serve customers who are ready to renew their capital budgets. “It’s a fluid situation,” says Whitehurst. “We’re staying close to our customers so we can understand how they’re approaching the business and working with our team and adjusting our model to reflect the changing industry.” Whitehurst is confident that the strength of the AGS product pipeline will carry the company forward as the industry moves toward normalcy. “AGS invested heavily in R&D over the past couple years, and the timing of that takes a little while to come to fruition,” he says. “So, by having studios in Reno and Austin, then multiple studios in Atlanta and two studios growing in Australia—the fruits of that labor are coming forward now. “So, as we look at 2021, the buildup of those game themes and slot platforms will hit the market full stride, and we’re really excited about that. We will have the most diverse and deep library that we’ve ever had.” —Frank Legato 26
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
Busy Days Joe Carlon • Director of Engineering, Digital, Gaming Laboratories International
hen Joe Carlon joined Gaming Laboratories International in 2006 as an entry-level test engineer, the gaming landscape was much different than it is today. With a fresh bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado in electrical engineering, he went to work at GLI’s Colorado office, learning the craft of gaming testing. However, Carlon’s future at GLI would be solidified when he moved to the company’s Digital Division in 2013. There, he would hone his craft serving clients in Europe, Canada, Australia and other jurisdictions where GLI had pioneered independent testing services for online gaming. When those services came to the U.S. thanks to the 2012 Justice Department reinterpretation of the federal Wire Act, Carlon was ready, performing testing in nascent markets Delaware and Nevada. Carlon’s career progression would evolve further with the 2018 repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act and as mobile sports betting would come to dominate that new business. These days, of course, Carlon, now GLI’s director of engineering, digital, is busier than ever in both areas. “While my team had sports as a minor role, focused on Nevada and some international jurisdictions, it’s now a leading factor,” Carlon says. “Sports betting has proliferated across the U.S., and it’s driving companies to enter the marketplace that weren’t there before: Startups. Companies that were daily fantasy previously. And as that expansion happened, offering a new type of gaming product to the marketplace, we’ve seen interactive come behind that, with Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and Michigan soon
25 PeoPle to Watch 2021
to launch. And we expect more upcoming.” The rapid growth of GLI Digital that resulted from the emergence of the new U.S. markets went into overdrive as a result of the 2020 pandemic shutdowns, as U.S. jurisdictions looked to iGaming and sports betting to fill revenue holes left by idle casinos. “There has been huge growth,” Carlon says. “We’ve seen that growth occurring over the last several years, and our division has continued to expand, and then this year, it’s been exponential.” Carlon says his team has added 20 direct positions and counting, with more expected by January. “And, we expect to continue to grow into next year,” he says, “and that’s just directly; we have indirect adds from our compliance teams, our math teams, and our cybersecurity teams are growing.” He adds that there is not likely to be any contraction when the pandemic is over. “We’re looking for an end to the pandemic. But even with that factor, and the ability to go back and spend your entertainment dollar at casinos, we don’t see that (causing) a significant drop-off on the digital side.” Carlon says the biggest priority for the coming year is to continue to make digital operations smooth for clients. “One of our biggest challenges today is
being able to support the industry to allow them to offer a product that’s no different than any other e-commerce platforms, like Amazon,” he says. “We need to be on top of those concepts, see how they’re evolving and changing, and be out in front of that.” That also means ensuring digital operations are secure. Carlon says he works closely with Bulletproof, GLI’s cybersecurity division. “I’m speaking with that division, coordinating efforts and needs, and making sure our clients are covered,” he says. Meanwhile, GLI Digital is following legislation in several U.S. states to stay ahead of what surely will be an influx of new clients for the company’s services. “Our vice president of government affairs, Kevin Mullally, is out talking with legislative groups as they’re writing bills, planning for this,” says Carlon. “I’ve been a part of those discussions, as well as our director of compliance, Peter Wolff, and many other team members. “And we’re out there helping them prepare, so that as the developments occur on the legislative side, they’re not racing to catch up; they’re already there, and can push their markets forward.” —Frank Legato
JANUARY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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25 PeoPle to Watch 2021
Draft Queen Sarah Koch • Senior Director for Legal and Government Affairs, DraftKings
arah Koch grew up New England. Though she lives in Virginia these days, she still has pride in her Yankee roots. So it’s no wonder, she had a soft spot for her Boston-based employer, DraftKings. As senior director for legal and government affairs, Koch represents the company in its legislative and legal side of the business. Koch chose a career in law before she chose a career in gaming. “A law degree could be used in pretty much every field imaginable,” she says. Armed with a degree from Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Koch took a position adjudicating passport applications for the State Department. “I loved getting complex citizenship cases and determining whether the applicant satisfied the legal requirements for citizenship and provided sufficient documentation to support their claim.” In 2010, Koch joined the influential Washington firm Ifrah Law, which specializes in iGaming. “I got to work on something new and different every day, and it was exactly the kind of challenge I was looking for when I went to law school,” she says. Ifrah has a significant division devoted to gaming, and she gravitated towards the online gaming practice. “I experienced the entire cycle of the gaming industry through our clients—the great success of these innovative businesses, the abrupt and seismic challenges brought on by headline-making legal scrutiny, and ultimately passage of laws and regulations providing legal certainty for the industry,” Koch says. As an associate, Koch’s work for online gaming clients focused on litigation. She also became involved in some of the early legislative and regulatory aspects, including working with clients on their applications in New Jersey’s new iGaming space. In addition, daily fantasy sports made inroads in the gambling marketplace. 28
Tribal Diversification “I liked the idea of jumping in while the market was really getting off the ground and getting to help build and shape the legal structure from inside the business,” she explains. That led Koch to DraftKings in 2015 at the peak of a major DFS national advertising campaign. At the time, the New York attorney general had issued cease-and-desist letters to both DraftKings and his competitor FanDuel. “I admired them then—and still do—the never-give-up nature of the company and its employees. They don’t back down from obstacles.” Koch sees her role as guiding states through the regulatory and legal challenges of iGaming to optimize the potential. “This means passing legislation that provides abundant consumer choice as well as ample protections, within a framework that makes it possible for operators to provide innovative products with competitive pricing,” she says. In addition to DFS, Koch focuses on opening new markets for sports betting and iGaming, both enjoying demand from the marketplace while offering a new source of revenue for the states themselves. “Every state has a unique political landscape and different ideas for an appropriate legislative framework. It’s a lot of fun to work through the individualized issues of each state to help craft the right tailored solution,” Koch says. DraftKings is live in 10 states, more than any other operator. Those states represent 20 percent of the U.S. population. “I believe that the best product and technology combined with innovation focused on the U.S. sports fan will be a winning combination for DraftKings.” While the emphasis is on sports betting and iGaming, DFS remains a growth industry, operated in more than 40 states and eight countries. “There’s always going to be an appetite and audience for that product,” she says. —Bill Sokolic
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
Arthur Mothershed • Vice President of Business Development, Wind Creek Hospitality
rthur Mothershed exemplifies the professional qualities, skills and leadership associated with top gaming industry executives we have been following and expect to see so much more from in the future. As his path includes quintessential milestones, having cut his teeth outside of gaming then entering the industry at the behest of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, where he is a member. And while Mothershed has emerged from very modest upbringings, he would contest being identified as “self-made,” owing his success to the people around him, his team. Mothershed ’s career is now inextricably linked to the enormously successful progress of the Poarch Creek’s Wind Creek Hospitality and its growing portfolio of leisure properties in the U.S. and Caribbean. As vice president of business development with Wind Creek, Mothershed is responsible for identifying strategic development and acquisition targets and seeing through the process of analyzing and determining which projects will be sought, and subsequent transactions. In this role Mothershed has led Wind Creek through the expansion of its asset base in Alabama, the $264 million acquisition of Renaissance Resorts in Aruba and Curacao, the development of the Wa She Shu Casino in Nevada, and the $1.2 billion purchase of the Wind Creek Bethlehem casino and resort in Pennsylvania purchased from Las Vegas Sands Corp. in 2019. How did Mothershed get involved in Poarch Creek operations and management? While climbing the ladder in the grocery industry—with management stints at Bruno’s and Winn Dixie— Mothershed was asked to return by his uncle, who served on the tribe’s gaming board. This led to a
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25 PeoPle to Watch 2021 series of positions beginning with service as the CFO of PCIGA, the tribe’s gaming arm, in 2003. In 2006 Mothershed moved on to the role of CFO for the Creek Indian Enterprises Development Authority (CIEDA), which oversees a non-gaming enterprises and investments held by the tribe. From there, in 2009 Mothershed began focusing on Wind Creek Hospitality, as general manager of the tribe’s Atmore property until he assumed his current role in 2014. As Mothershed has transitioned from management to finance and now business development, his professional path included a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Alabama. While Mothershed clearly embraces the commercial business culture of the Poarch Creek, he also acknowledges that tribal business is like family business. He has taken on multiple tribal leadership responsibilities including treasurer of the tribal council, where he was credited with streamlining financial reporting. He has also served on various boards and committees both internal and external to the tribe, and as an at-large tribal council member and chair of the budget and finance committee. As an “ambassador,” Mothershed also represents the tribe and its gaming interests to the public, working with political and community leaders and members of the media. Mothershed ’s desire to improve the lives of tribal members resonates through his interest in cultural awareness, assisted living
for tribal elders, and universal health care for members. Between Mothershed ’s early years growing up within the tribal community, where he recalls biking through the cotton fields where Wind Creek Atmore is located, and achieving professional success, Mothershed credits those who have helped show him the way. In particular, he values his relationships with the executive team of PCI Gaming, as well as the PCI Gaming board and his fellow tribal council members, Mothershed also recalls the mentorship he received from his boss at Winn Dixie, Mike Aaron, who encouraged Mothershed to return to school to continue his education. What stands out most to Mothershed in Poarch Creek history was gaining federal recognition in 1984. Initial steps into gaming in the 1990s were small, including bingo and Class II operations. Since then the tribe’s expansion into gaming has been monumental, with its current portfolio of assets and side investments to assist other tribes transformative. What does the future of gaming hold for Poarch Creek? Mothershed believes gaming is a strong industry, but as demonstrated through adapting to Covid-19, “it can’t be your only game.” While Mothershed believes the pandemic will pass, it shapes his thinking about the future. Online gaming is attractive and a good basis for social and for money relationships with players. And he expects the global pipeline of potential acquisitions to only expand. —Michael Soll is president of The Innovation Group.
JANUARY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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25 PeoPle to Watch 2021
Australasian Recovery Mitsuhiro Miyazaki • Managing Director, Konami Australia Pty. Ltd.
itsuhiro Miyazaki has filled many roles in his 12 years with Konami Holdings Corporation. Most of that time has been with Konami Gaming, Inc., in diverse roles ranging from market development to international games research and development. Miyazaki was senior director of international sales and operations for Konami Gaming when he was tapped to head the Japan-based company’s Australasian operations in 2017. As managing director of Konami Australia Pty. Ltd., Miyazaki has used that diversity of expertise to build a strong base of operations for Konami Australia in Sydney, where he can work closely with the R&D game studios while serving markets from Australia’s casinos to the New South Wales club market to other markets throughout the region like New Zealand, Macau and Southeast Asia. Miyazaki recharged sales for Konami in Australasian markets, which were soaring early last year when the industry came to a standstill with the Covid-19 pandemic. “Konami’s slot and system sales had been on the upswing in the Australasia region until we faced the unprecedented event,” Miyazaki says. “Konami’s focus on product development with persistence and enthusiasm has continuously generated great results, particularly with our successful game series All Aboard, in the Australasian region. In addition, Konami’s award-winning casino management system, Synkros, contributed to our business with the proven and advanced solution for the market.” Once Covid-19 shutdowns began, Konami Australia proceeded like much of the industry, temporarily closing offices, instituting cost measures including furloughs, and expanding remote work. Also, like much of the supply sector, Konami kept research and development going through the industry shutdowns. Consequently, Konami Australia was ready with 30
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
the complete slate of new product when regional markets began to reopen. Australasian markets reopened last summer with restrictions, and the last Australian state, Victoria, reopened in November. “The positive news is that the gaming turnover in the markets quickly recovered after reopening,” Miyazaki says, “and confidence in the entire Australasian market seems to be coming back now. “As Konami products continue to show strong performance and contribute to the customers’ business during the recovery phase, our national sales have resumed since June and are steadily recovering.” Asia and Africa markets, however, were more damaged by the pandemic and travel restrictions, and will take longer to recover. “We strategically put more effort into fast recovery and promising markets within Australasia to compensate for the shortfall of slow-recovery markets during this challenging time,” says Miyazaki. Konami’s recovery plan to emerge from the 2020 crisis is centered on the strength of the company’s product pipeline. “Our biggest priorities for the coming year will be to implement our recovery plan,” Miyazaki says. “We provide evolved products from continual improvement for the markets and support our customers. Also, as one of Konami’s main R&D studios, we expand our proven game content further to the global markets and iGaming space by collaborating with our sister company Konami Gaming, Inc.” Driving success in 2021 will be All Aboard, the monster hit progressive slot on the company’s new Dimension 49J cabinet. “The number of installations is growing, with initial strong performance,” says Miyazaki, “Furthermore, the All Aboard series has already been introduced in several social online casinos. We will continue to put our effort into quality products and drive Konami’s gaming and systems business. Due to the Covid-19 crisis, we have updated our slot product roadmap to address the impact of reduced machines in the markets and re-prioritized our products for a recovery plan.” Meanwhile, with the Covid situation in Asia and Africa far from over, he says complete recovery may take a while. “However,” says Miyazaki, “supposing that Covid-19 infections are contained and all our markets recover smoothly, I foresee that Konami Australia will be on a rapid recovery trend in 2021.” —Frank Legato
Diversification Bryan Newland • Chairman, Bay Mills Indian Community Executive Council
ince becoming chairman of the Bay Mills Indian Community Executive Council in 2017, Bryan Newland has worked to streamline the tribe’s casino operations and diversify its revenue sources. Recently, he spearheaded the tribe’s entry into internet gaming and the cannabis business. But what Newland loves most is public service, which he says runs deep in his family. His parents worked as public servants, and his grandparents were school administrators and tribal council members. “It has been really fun to help build a team in our tribal government and our tribal enterprises of talented people and getting out of their way and seeing what they can accomplish,” he says. Newland grew up in Bay Mills, located in Michigan’s upper peninsula. He attended Michigan State University and earned a law degree in 2007. He then moved to Washington, D.C., where from 2009 to 2012, he worked in the Obama administration as senior policy adviser to the Assistant Secretary of the Interior-Indian Affairs. He always hoped to find his way back home, so in 2013, Newland moved to Lansing, Michigan, to start a law firm, and was elected tribal court judge for Bay Mills, and later, chairman. He’s retained ownership in his law firm, but devotes most of his time to tribal affairs. Bay Mills operates two casinos: Kings Club Casino and the flagship property Bay Mills Resort & Casino. Newland was instrumental in forming a tribal gaming authority with a board and its own management structure to insulate the casinos from the council’s political management. In 2018, Bay Mills began a deep dive into its casino operations to understand its challenges and why it didn’t rebound as quickly as others in Michigan after the 2008 recession. “We’re laying the groundwork to reinvent ourselves,” Newland says, but once they began to address the issues, the pandemic hit. Despite the
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coronavirus, Bay Mills launched two new business endeavors in 2020 and completed construction on a new health center. Working with other tribes, Bay Mills helped enact Michigan state legislation authorizing internet gaming and partnered with DraftKings to offer mobile sports betting. Newland says the tribe is one of the first in the U.S. to run a statewide online gambling operation. Bay Mills also launched the first tribally owned cannabis business in November 2020, called Northern Light Cannabis. Newland emphasizes that the casino and cannabis businesses, both highly regulated industries, are separate entities. “While they’re very different products, the process for establishing them and regulating them was very similar, and our experience with the gaming industry made it easier,” he says. The biggest lesson learned from all the unprecedented events of 2020: being able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, Newland says, “And, making decisions very quickly in an environment where you don’t have all the information you need. It’s just been a very valuable lesson as to how to operate in a high-stakes environment.” The goal for 2021 is coming out of the pandemic with the community safe and healthy, he says. Bay Mills also is working on economic development by re-investing its new revenue sources into programs that will benefit the tribe long-term. Newland enjoys spending his down time with his wife and two high school-age children. He’s also a nature lover, especially nature photography, hiking, kayaking and enjoying the woods and near Lake Superior. He encourages anyone new to the gaming industry to set goals and speak them into existence. “Set your goals, be humble, trust yourself and just do it,” Newland says. —Erica Sweeney
No Gain Without Pain Michael Olujic • General Manager, Tachi Palace Casino Resort
ichael Olujic’s vision has been rewarded at Tachi Palace Casino Resort. Olujic embraced the realities of the pandemic last spring and gambled on investing to accommodate them at the California property. The result was a spacious, comfortable environment, prompting business exceeding pre-pandemic levels, he says. How is that possible? “We used the bingo area and entertainment areas as gaming spaces,” says Olujic, the property’s general manager. “We spaced out the slot and table game experience, brought in the best PPE and infrared cameras. We had hand-washing stations, excessive amounts of hand sanitizer, the Plexiglas, and others, and we made the tough decisions right away, going non-smoking and stopping the booze.” Olujic spearheaded casino renovations during the down time, including adding more slot space for social distancing, outlining a fluid plan to responsibly open in phases, and implementing safe return-to-work procedures for associates. These changes allowed the property to safely reopen in late May, less than three months after the pandemic shut down most of the gambling industry. Olujic says the gaming public has been enamored with the comfort of playing in safe conditions. He has already extended this concept to the post-pandemic scenario, saying the new condi-
tions will remain intact. That means the casino won’t suddenly become uncomfortably crowded. “We bit the bullet, especially with the nonsmoking idea,” he says. “But we have successfully redesigned the gaming model and the experience. Customers like having all this space and being socially distanced. Despite decreased occupation, we have increased our revenues.” The 41-year-old, who has more than 15 years of expertise in the casino gaming and hospitality industry, jokingly calls himself “the youngest old dog in the business.” He is a strategic planner with a history of delivering significant, sustainable revenue growth even in challenging markets. In less than two years, Olujic has marketed and rebranded the property from Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino to Tachi Palace Casino Resort. He has brought more competitive promotions and improved the overall guest loyalty and play. In table games, he added bet enhancements that have driven increased carded play. He has effectively reconfigured the slot floor and changed the product mix to make the overall gaming floor produce at an all-time high. Olujic has remodeled the gaming floor and bingo hall, added quick-service restaurants, and created third-floor gaming space to include a new bar. In the food and beverage department, his reconfiguration of the quick-service restaurants improved food product and efficiencies. Prior to joining Tachi Palace, his tenure in the gaming industry included serving as CEO of Kewadin Casinos, general manager of Gila River Gaming Enterprises, general manager and CEO of North Star Mohican Casino Resort and CFO of Oneida Nation of Indians of Wisconsin. He also has been an executive at IBM. Olujic earned an MBA from Marquette University and bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University. Olujic is an enrolled member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and grew up on a cattle farm in Iowa. That taught him to work hard and appreciate everything one has in life, he says. Those assets, in his case, included vision. Olujic’s policy helped Tachi Palace turn short-term pain into long-term gain. —Dave Bontempo
JANUARY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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Gaming Law 101 Karen Wells • Executive Director, Massachusetts Gaming Commission
aren Wells knew as a high school student that her future would be in the law. She envisioned herself as an assistant district attorney after obtaining a law degree from Boston University. “I could do something to help other people and also have a really interesting and exciting job,” she says. Wells got her wish in 1994 when she began a career in the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office. Gaming was not even a blip on her radar screen when she moved to the Criminal Bureau of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office, assigned to the Special Investigations and Narcotics Division. In 2007, she returned to Middlesex as deputy chief of the public protection, anti-terrorism, corruption and technology unit, prosecuting high-level crimes. Gaming finally edged into the picture during her tenure as undersecretary for law enforcement at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety. Of the many items on her plate, Wells oversaw gaming-related issues. In 2013, she joined the Massachusetts Gaming Commission as director of the investigations and enforcement bureau. In that role, Wells led the regulatory enforcement of the Expanded Gaming Act, which included the State Police, the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission, the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and other local, state and federal law enforcement partners. “It was a unique opportunity to join a newly formed state agency and be in on the ground floor, building a team and developing policies and procedures. My original position at the commission had elements of law enforcement as well as business analysis, which I thought would be an interesting mix,” she says. Wells’ experience in law enforcement taught her to conduct complex investigations and also to interact with different types of people. With the commission, she handled three major issues: investigations into applicants for the three casino licenses; the investigation into what Wynn Resorts knew about Steve Wynn’s alleged sexual conduct; and the pandemic response. None of these issues came as a surprise to someone trained in dealing with crises and investigations. What amazed Wells was the level of media scrutiny and interest in the industry in general and the commission in particular. The commission tapped her twice to be interim executive director, most recently overseeing the closing and reopening of the casinos due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The commissioners voted to appoint her as executive director in September. “The pandemic has proved challenging with everyone physically separated, but the team has been very cooperative and supportive of our efforts,” she says. Wells and the commission have a deep interest in responsible gaming issues. Indeed, the statute which created legalized gaming mandated research into responsible gambling and on-site programs. “We take that mitigation responsibility very seriously, and are proactive and innovative in ways to address the very real harm that problem gambling inflicts on individuals and families,” she says. One of the hallmarks of the Massachusetts approach involves a budgeting tool known as PlayMyWay by GameSense. Launched at Plainridge Park Casino in 2016, PlayMyWay is an optin software system that allows electronic gaming machine users to self-select daily, weekly, and/or monthly gambling spending budgets. The system will send budget notifications as the players approach, reach or exceed those budgets. PlayMyWay enrollment has led to less gambling activity in several parameters. “I expect that the most important issues over the next five years will include the economic recovery of the casino industry after the pandemic, developing and using technology for more sophisticated regulatory efforts, and maintaining a balance of appropriately rigorous regulatory requirements while maximizing economic benefits for the people of Massachusetts.” —Bill Sokolic 32
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
Expanding Americas Hector Fernandez • President, Americas, Aristocrat Technologies
ost of the career of Hector Fernandez, president for the Americas at slot supplier Aristocrat Technologies, has been in the field of finance, including eight months as Aristocrat CFO before being tapped to head the Americas division in June 2019. But it is the sheer diversity of the companies for which he has served as a financial executive that really prepared him to take on the role of the Americas division president. Prior to Aristocrat, he held financial roles at Western Digital, Cydcor and Amgen. His first job out of the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business was as finance manager for consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble. “Obviously, strong finance background and training allows you to really look at numbers, dig in and understand trends,” Fernandez says. “But more importantly than my finance background was some of the broad-based experience that I’ve had across different industries.” Fernandez dealt with his share of economic crises in those diverse industries as well, experience he says has helped him deal with the Covid-19 crisis that hit less than eight months into his time as president. “All of those experiences really allowed us and the team to focus,” he says. “And so when we looked at the pandemic and the impacts of the pandemic, we said we needed to keep things very simple. “We needed to keep things simple and we needed to focus. Every decision we would make would be around three principles—around our people, our customers, and our business. And we pick those not only on purpose, but we pick those in the exact order. So every decision we made, we first thought about the impact that it would have for people, and then secondary are the impact it would have to our customers, and to be quite frank, we worried about our business last, which is not typical for a finance person. In broader terms, if we can get our people and our customers right, the business will be there.”
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25 PeoPle to Watch 2021 Fernandez says it was an easy decision to keep product R&D going during the shutdown. “It was not even a debate early on,” he says. “We knew that slowing down any content development would just hurt the company in the long run, because innovation is almost like a train. It’s on a track, and when you slow it down, you have to restart it back up, and you lose all of that momentum.” Being in charge of the Americas, of course, involves a lot more than just the U.S. Fernandez is in charge of overseeing Aristocrat’s operations in Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean as well. With respect to the pandemic, he says, it adds that many more individual situations into the mix. “Even in the U.S., each state and almost down to the jurisdiction has had a different impact and different reaction (to the pandemic),” he says, noting that each region in the rest of the Americas also is in a different state of recovery. “The nice thing about Aristocrat is that, because we’re truly a global company, it allowed us to actually leverage some of our co-workers and fellow employees across the world.” Fernandez says his team used early experiences in the Asia Pacific market as a guide in the Americas. “We learned a lot from our Asia Pacific colleagues,” he says. “The other thing that’s happened since the pandemic is the European business has also come under my purview, which is fantastic because there are a lot of similarities we can leverage from Latin America across Europe.” The continuation of R&D through the crisis has meant the company’s game library—now available to operators via a six-room “Virtual Trade Show” hosted by an account executive—is stronger than ever as casinos resume capital spending. “Through the pandemic, we focused on having the best content across the
globe, and then depending on the jurisdiction, customizing it for that specific jurisdiction, whether it’s a route market, a destination casino or a casino in Argentina,” Fernandez says. “We’ve never lost that focus around content, and we’ve leveraged our Australian roots to ensure that we have the best content in the industry.” That content is spread over several markets, including video lottery terminals, Class II and interactive businesses. “The VLT market is a great business, and there’s really a number of VLT markets starting,” says Fernandez. “It is absolutely a growing market.” Class II is another business sector Aristocrat pursues aggressively. “The Class II market has rebounded very nicely,” Fernandez says. “In fact, compared to some of the Class III markets, it’s actually recovering even faster.” Target areas for 2021 will be getting Aristocrat content online and into the growing sports betting business. With sports betting, Aristocrat is approaching the new market cautiously. “We don’t want to just follow the shiny new toy,” Fernandez says. “At the end of the day, does it complement our businesses? And does it drive value for our customers and shareholders?” All developments circle back to the incredible range of Aristocrat’s content. “We didn’t slow the investment at all, so we will actually launch more games this year than we did the prior year,” Fernandez says. “Because of innovation taking 12 to 18 months, you’ll continue to see what, in my personal opinion, is the strongest pipeline of content out of any manufacturer.” —Frank Legato
JANUARY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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Premium Pipeline Dean Ehrlich • Executive Vice President and Games Business Leader, Everi Holdings Inc.
veri Holdings’ slot business has been over the same rough terrain as that of every other gaming supplier this past year. What will set slot-makers apart as the industry slowly reopens is how the time of industry shutdowns last spring was used in preparing for the time the Covid-19 pandemic ultimately, inevitably, passes. Everi is one of those manufacturers. While their customers were idle, Dean Ehrlich, executive vice president and games business leader, kept the overall product vision moving forward while helping customers through the mini-crises that have sprouted during the pandemic. “The big words are adaptable and partnering,” Ehrlich says. One thing Everi is ready with is product. Much of what was poised for great success early in the year before the shutdowns is hitting the market in force now, often with multiple versions of a new game series, thanks to the continuation of R&D during the shutdown. The industry may not be back to normal yet, but customers are again buying, says Ehrlich. “If you look at the number of games that were bought, just even in Q3, it was a greater surprise than what the industry ever expected,” he says. “There was still in excess of 10,000 games that were purchased in North America. From our standpoint, we had several tent-pole product approvals before the shutdown, including a brand-new standard portrait cabinet. When the industry opened back up, we had new product that only a few customers had installed.” One of those products is the new Empire Flex cabinet, a premium package featuring a 49-inch curved monitor, curved LED light bars and a high-quality sound system. “We had two different sets of (game) families to deliver with Empire Flex upon cabinet approval. Today, we’re at double digits, all because the game theme queue was still in its prepandemic development cadence,” Ehrlich says. Other highlights in Everi’s pipeline include the company’s three-reel steppers, which regularly score high among the top 25 earners in industry surveys; and new games for The Vault series on the Empire Arena platform. “We have a robust roadmap with current product approvals to get us through spring of 2021,” Ehrlich says. Yielding that pipeline in an optimal way, he says, will take aggressive planning and nimble reactions to industry bumps along the way. “As we come out of the pandemic and determine our strategic goals, we need to attain the plan very aggressively,” says Ehrlich. “The acceptable outcome for us is to be able to execute at the highest level and significantly increase our ship share better than we’ve done before as a company, especially given the amount of current performance success we’re seeing in most product categories.” That success over the past year, particularly during shutdowns, has applied to Everi’s Digital Division, as the company has expanded the number of its land-based hits to the iGaming world. “The beauty of it is there’s so much content for us to port, and we haven’t yet scratched the surface of our better themes,” comments Ehrlich. For the coming year, Everi will continue to exploit the top products coming out of the R&D pipeline. “Moving ahead, we will be laser-focused on the basics,” says Ehrlich. “For the Games Division, we will continue to remain committed to making great games, increasing customers’ access to our products, and delivering with excellence. We will create the same amount of original content as we’ve done in the past, and have an extensive theme portfolio. If we do all of the above, we believe this will position us for continued growth.” —Frank Legato
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
Whole New Game Erika Nardini • Chief Executive Officer, Barstool Sports
arstool Sports bears little resemblance today to the digital media company Erika Nardini joined as CEO in 2016. Back then, Barstool was known for its online sports and pop-culture content dominated by its founder, Bostonian David Portnoy, a colorful character whose blogs, podcasts and video feeds are edgy and iconoclastic, challenging the establishment (notably, the NFL and the New England Patriots) in normally hilarious and sometimes controversial fashion. Portnoy is a bona fide celebrity blogger, with millions of fans following through Barstool Sports. Nardini became CEO shortly after Portnoy sold a majority stake in Barstool Sports to media investors, the Chernin Group, moving the company’s headquarters from Boston to New York. At the beginning of 2020, Penn National Gaming signed an agreement to acquire 36 percent of Barstool’s stock from Chernin Group for $163 million. The agreement gives Penn the option to assume control of Barstool with a 51 percent stake after three years, and to eventually buy the entire company. Penn has already launched the Barstool Sportsbook app in Pennsylvania and Colorado, and is planning Barstool retail sportsbooks in Penn National casinos across the country. The popularity of Barstool has evolved right along with Nardini’s tenure as CEO. “In 2016 when I joined Barstool, it was a blog,” recalls Nardini. “There were 12 people. There were three podcasts that probably had two episodes each under their belts... Flash forward to 2020. We are one of the biggest media publishers in the country. We have a top-five podcast network. We have 116 million followers across 1,500 social accounts. We have about 40 brands that we own and operate across the company.” And now, Barstool is in the thick of the exploding sports betting market. “I remember when Dave Portnoy and I sat down the day PASPA was repealed,” Nardini recalls. “Dave walked into my office and we said, this is it. This is what our path looks like... Sports betting has been a very big part of this company’s DNA from the earliest of moments, and what we’ve done is to actually take what we do every day around sports news entertainment and the internet culture, and put
that muscle behind sports betting.” This is the main reason combining with Penn National made such sense, she says. “We knew this was our future. We knew that the way we connected with our audience was radically different than anyone else. And we’ve proven our ability to transact and convert audience in a way that nobody else can. “We met (Penn National CEO) Jay Snowden and his team last year, and it was pretty obvious from the get-go that this was a great fit. Penn had all the things we didn’t have. They had betting licenses, they had a regional casino network. They had a well-respected B2B brand in the betting space. They had a footprint that we could really make our own, and they were looking for exactly what we had, which was a brand, a media partnership and a way to connect with a young consumer.” The Barstool Sportsbook app is a top-three player in Pennsylvania. “We did it without any marketing investment,” Nardini notes. “We did it organically through Barstool Sports.” In Colorado, the company has established a Barstool Sportsbook at Penn’s Ameristar in Black Hawk, and next up is Michigan. “You will see a Barstool Sportsbook at the Greektown casino in Michigan,” says Nardini. “Then, not only will we bring the brand to Penn’s other regional casino locations; we’re also bringing our talent and personality. So as we do live events, we’ll do them at Penn casinos.” Penn’s own casinos are just the start. “We’re looking closely with Penn to roll out to every other market,” Nardini says. “By the end of 2021, New Jersey is obviously a very big focus. Illinois is a very big focus. Indiana is a big focus. West Virginia is a home-run market for us. We’re excited to bring our brand to these markets, to bring our personalities, to create things that are unique and different, and to get people jazzed up about sports betting.” Asked how the periodic controversy that Barstool’s blogs generate will play with regulators in new states, Nardini says when it comes to regulations, Barstool and Penn National are all business. “Most accounts of our controversy are, sadly, grossly overstated,” she says. “We understand and take gaming regulations very seriously.” She adds that the very edgy vibe that has created controversy will be what will allow the Penn/Barstool combination to flourish. “We’re irreverent and highly creative, and we are not traditional— and sometimes, that means controversial. But what I really think it means is that we’re interesting, and we’re connecting with young people, and we’re connecting with people in a way that feels relatable and resonates. “In a way that’s fun.” —Frank Legato
People to Watch
on being selected as one of the Top 25 People to Watch in 2021! Your friends in the gaming industry. JANUARY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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25 PeoPle to Watch 2021
Chief Bottle Washer Jose Flores • Vice President and General Manager, Gun Lake Casino
ose Flores can be equally proud of his journey, along with his destination. The vice president and general manager at Gun Lake Casino in Michigan achieved a lofty perch with small, methodical steps. “I started my career as a prep cook,” he recalls. “I was peeling potatoes for other cooks entrusted to make food. Here I was, a kid with a high school diploma. I went from making $4.25 an hour at McDonald’s to getting $6.25 an hour at a new casino in the Midwest, and I thought it was the greatest thing to get that raise. “Never in my wildest dreams would I think I would be entrusted to run the place.” His carefully orchestrated progression is inspiring. Flores parlayed casino reimbursement programs with a full-time work schedule, creating a huge professional payoff. He obtained a bachelor’s and an MBA at Robert Morris University and has enrolled in law school. Step by step, the nuggets ensuring his prosperous future accumulated. Flores began his career in 1994 at Empress Casino in Joliet, Illinois. During his tenure in Illinois, he held several positions of increasing responsibility in food and beverage and operations, leading up to his position as vice president of facility operations. He later assumed the role of assistant general manager for Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia. Most recently, Flores served as the vice president and general manager of Hollywood Casino Hotel & Raceway located in Bangor, Maine. Flores attributes his rise to a couple of significant factors. “One is that somebody has to take a chance on you,” he says. “Somebody has to look at and believe you are going to be effective. When I first looked at a food and beverage job, I said I didn’t know the difference between a Scotch and a rye,” he laughs. “But the people in that department said, ‘We can teach you the technical stuff. What we can’t teach is how to treat people well,’ which they believed I did.” Flores cites “being naturally inquisitive” as another benefit. “One thing you see is that the person right ahead of you is willing to let you do his/her work for them,” Flores says. “They will show you how to do their job. They are getting help and you are learning skills.” Flores arrived at Gun Lake in time to assist in the property’s $100 million expansion, set for 2021 completion. It will contain three new restaurants, and a substantial hike in slots and table games. “When we finish, we’ll have 2,700 slots and almost 60 table games,” he says. “We feel very good about the market and where we are in it.” Gun Lake Casino is located halfway between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. The casino features over 2,000 slot machines, 42 table games, a high-limit room, a food court, a 225-seat café, and a 300-seat buffet, along with bars, lounges and live entertainment. The property is owned by the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Potawatomi Indians and is operated by the tribe’s management partner, MPM Enterprises, LLC, owned by an affiliate of Red Rock Casinos, Inc. and private investors from Michigan. This is Flores’ first foray into tribal gaming. “It is very rewarding to see how that process has gone,” he indicates. “You can go across the street, look at the clinics and you can see firsthand the beneficiaries of what we do on the gaming side. “In non-tribal gaming, the beneficiaries are institutional investors for the most part. Here, in this environment, we see actual people who benefit from the diabetes program, heart and health programs, etc. It is gratifying.” —Dave Bontempo
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
Tough Love Melonie Johnson • President & COO, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa
hen Melonie Johnson was named president and chief operating officer of Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in May 2020, she made history. She’s the first black woman to lead an Atlantic City casino, and she took the helm during an unprecedented time, when the casino was closed because of Covid-19. But, she counts the pandemic as one of the biggest challenges and achievements of her gaming career, as her first major task was safely reopening the casino. Borgata, owned by MGM Resorts International, officially reopened in late July after implementing MGM’s Seven-Point Safety Plan, a set of procedures designed with medical and scientific experts. “For me, the pandemic has provided the opportunity to be more visible and involved than ever,” Johnson says. “Whether walking the casino floor or dining with employees, I stay closely informed about what is working and what is not.” Before joining Borgata, Johnson was president and COO of MGM National Harbor in Maryland and Gold Strike Casino Resort in Mississippi. She’s also worked in gaming jurisdictions such as Illinois, West Virginia and Louisiana. Though she’s spent most of her career in gaming, Johnson says it wasn’t her first calling. A Louisiana native, she graduated from the University of New Orleans with an accounting degree and started in the banking sector as a commercial loan teller. She then moved to the oil and gas industry as an accountant, but when the company she worked for filed for bankruptcy, she knew she needed to look for new opportunities. At the time, she says land-based gaming had just been introduced in Louisiana, and she applied for a role as manager of financial accounting and reporting at a gaming company and was hired in 1993. The rest is history. “I’ve had some amazing mentors and leaders, and I’ve absolutely had to work extremely hard to get where I am today,” Johnson says, adding that she’s most grateful for the love and support of her parents. “Tough love” and leading by example is her own mentoring philosophy. “It is of the utmost importance to be an individual worthy of being exemplified on a daily basis,” she says. “I like to be thorough and ask lots of questions, as well as not being afraid to have tough but courageous conversations. Forcing your opinion down someone’s throat is not effective; it’s best to have thoughtful discussions and then come to a resolution.” Hard work and tenacity make anything possible, Johnson says, and those qualities are essential for a successful gaming career. She urges anyone just starting out in the industry to find what they’re passionate about. “That’s what will make you content in the end, and also, more money does not always equate to more happiness,” she says. In her leadership role at Borgata, Johnson will provide strategic direction and oversee the property’s daily operations. She says the continued presence of Covid-19 will drive Borgata’s 2021 strategy. “Priority one is constantly evolving our protocols to ensure employee and guest safety, while maintaining our market share,” Johnson says. “How we message and listen to our guests is also critical. Adhering to the current 25 percent occupancy requirements will be an ongoing process balanced around managing visitor volume, our promotional calendar and other considerations.” Johnson enjoys spending time with her husband, children and five grandchildren in her down time. And, she focuses on living by the best piece of advice she’s ever received: “Don’t forget where you came from, and family is for a lifetime.” —Erica Sweeney
EXCELLENCE PLAYS BEST ON THE GLOBAL STAGE. Congratulations to Mitsuhiro Miyazaki for being named in Global
Gaming Businessâ€™s 25 People to Watch in 2021. His leadership as
Managing Director of Konami Australia Pty Ltd. has brought a rush
of high-performing, innovative entertainment to players and operators around the globe.
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25 PeoPle to Watch 2021
Making Sports Betting Work Kris Saw • Chief Technology Officer, Kambi
ris Saw enjoys the race of his life. Kambi’s chief technology officer thrives amid the explosive growth of legalized sports betting in the United States. He’s a catalyst for a company that helps operators quickly launch sportsbooks after receiving legal approval. The timing is everything. American operators turn to experienced outfits like Kambi to become sports-betting enterprises at the earliest possible moment. No time-consuming infrastructure decisions, no delays just before the start of the lucrative NFL season. Call a company like Kambi, headlined by someone like Saw, and let the pros do it. Saw helped provide the magic touch for DraftKings in New Jersey before the 2018 campaign, enabling it to open less than three months after repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. “We are in an exciting time for the industry, and it’s great when we are the first to market,” says the native of Western Australia, now living in Stockholm and a frequent visitor to the U.S. to be close to Kambi’s partners there. “The summer of 2018 was an intense one in Atlantic City. Resorts (via DraftKings) wanted to launch before the NFL season. And on August 1, we took the first legal online bet,” he says. “What we had to do was ensure the hardware and the software was in place and that compliance was right with the Division of Gaming Enforcement. That all had to be made ready.” 38
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
Multiply this scenario by countless others as operators rush to scoop up revenue. New Jersey exceeded $800 million in sports wagering in October, more than 90 percent from sports apps. Operators are extending the brick-andmortar betting menu right onto the phone, tablets and computers. The invitation for similar stories exists throughout the United States. Saw cites anticipated legislation in California and New York as monumental for the industry. “Those states are going to be enormous,” he says. “Each state could become the equivalent of one European country. A major difference in the market comes from the idea that if you open in Europe, it’s a crowded space. But if you open up online in Michigan, for example, you can go from zero to 100 (mph) overnight.” Saw is highly skilled in technical architecture, building and scaling software systems for many years. He joined Kambi in 2010 as head of IT operations. His technical expertise and leadership have played a key role in helping to establish Kambi’s scalable sportsbook platform as the leading option for sports betting operators in regulated markets globally. He has held a variety of senior roles in the betting and gaming industry, but few have produced the adrenaline rush of this position. Kambi, meanwhile, is an early post-PASPA powerhouse. The company takes bets on six continents and has been trading sports for more than two decades, providing a wealth of expertise. Its partners include Penn National Gaming, Rush Street Interactive and Seneca Gaming Corporation. One of Kambi’s difference-makers is its price differentiation tool, which now enables operators to adjust the odds on one specific outcome (rather than total vig), giving them greater control over their competitiveness in the market, to take into account regional bias if they wish and to better control risk. Kambi gives operators the option to differentiate on price in-game just as they can pre-match. It is even possible for an operator to offer different odds in different jurisdictions, granting Kambi’s multi-regional partners even greater control over their strategy. Kambi opened a fast-growing Philadelphia office in 2019, which now houses close to 50 employees with half that number in trading and risk, and keeps its finger on the pulse of a now multibillion-dollar industry. Saw is a prime player in the picture of regulated sports betting. —Dave Bontempo
Switching Sides Eileen Moore Johnson • Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, Scientific Games
aming is gaming, according to many people in the business. It doesn’t matter whether you work for an operator or a supplier, it’s all the same game. So when Eileen Moore Johnson left Caesars Entertainment in 2020, where she had spent more than 20 years in a variety of positions, to join Scientific Games as executive vice president and chief human resources officer, she brought a wealth of experience to the table. But it wasn’t as if she was unfamiliar with Scientific Games. “Over the last 20 years I had purchased countless products from Scientific Games, so I have that customer orientation,” says Johnson. “But I really didn’t understand the inner workings of the company or how these great products get put together. So coming to the B2B side from the B2C side has really been eye-opening for me.” During the last seven years, Johnson was in charge of the Caesars properties on the east side of the Las Vegas Strip—the Flamingo, the Linq and the Cromwell. She says it was tough to leave that position. “But it was very gratifying to hear from so many of my former colleagues telling me how much I helped and supported them,” she says. “That was very meaningful to me.” Johnson says she went out on top at Caesars. “My dream when I joined the company was to eventually run a casino as a single-property GM,” she says, “so with the opportunity to run a billiondollar division that was also a tourist destination, I really outkicked my coverage on that one!” While the number of employees she oversees at Scientific Games—about 9,500—is similar to
the number she had at the Las Vegas properties, Johnson says there are some major differences. “First of all, we’re a global corporation with operations all around the world,” she says. “During the pandemic I got to know them very well because we had daily video conferences, so I made some great connections to my colleagues in this and other countries.” Scientific Games has three divisions—gaming, lottery and interactive. Johnson says that diversification served it well during the pandemic. “The lottery business has continued to be very strong,” she explains. “And our online businesses—social and casino—have also been doing well, so that diversification has really paid off.” One of the successes attributed to Johnson at Caesars was her dedication to elevating women and minorities in the company. For the women, she established “Lean In” programs where she and other senior-level female executives would mentor young women coming up in the business. She plans to continue that at Scientific Games. “Diversity and inclusion are things that are very important to me, and I’m very proud to have them line up,” she says. “Scientific Games had already been on a good trajectory with regards to diversity and inclusion, and I have the support of our board to ramp that up even more. Our board is very diverse, and they are committed to supporting our journey. Our goal is pretty simple. We know that diverse teams outperform non-diverse teams.” As one of the founders and original members of Global Gaming Women, Johnson wants to continue to encourage membership at Scientific Games. “GGW has done a tremendous job of empowering and educating women in our industry,” she says. “When I look back on my career to date, the initiative we launched with my co-chair Holly Gagnon is one of the things I’m most proud of. We’ve helped hundreds of women through a peer-to-peer mentoring process. The stories that we hear from them of getting through tough times and having that circle to lean on in a confidential manner are very gratifying.” The first thing Johnson had to deal with when coming on with Scientific Games was the pandemic, but she says she’s used to that kind of crisis management. “I’ve been through hurricanes, natural disasters, unfortunate security instances,” she says. “I naturally gravitate toward these things because I know that as a team we can handle it in a caring and compassionate manner, we can pull together and put our employees first and get to the other side.” She also credits her HR employees that were there when she arrived. “I’m so fortunate that I have a rock-star team that I inherited,” says Johnson. “They are phenomenal, and have done a great job during this difficult time.” —Roger Gros
People to Watch
on being selected as one of the Top 25 People to Watch in 2021! Your friends in the gaming industry. JANUARY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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25 PeoPle to Watch 2021
The Future of Payment
Game Pedigree Keith Kruczynski • Vice President, Game Development and Design, Gaming Arts, LLC
Joe Pappano • CEO, Sightline Payments
hen David Colvin, founder and CEO of Las Vegas-based Gaming Arts, decided to add Class III slot machines to the company’s long-established library of bingo products, he looked to build a team of slot-sector veterans up to the task. The first of those veterans hired was Keith Kruczynski, the former director of game development for Bally Technologies. During his 12-plus years at Bally, Kruczynski oversaw four different design studios and worked with many of the industry’s legends of game design. Since joining Gaming Arts three years ago, Kruczynski, vice president of game development and design, has been instrumental in creating an enviable Class III game library from scratch. His team created three distinct game groups by the time of Gaming Arts’ official Class III launch at Global Gaming Expo 2018, raising eyebrows with the fun Pop’n Pays series, the Dice Seeker series of games featuring dice-rolling bonuses, and the Da Fa Ba Series of Asian-themed games. By the time the pandemic shutdowns hit last year, the first performance numbers of Gaming Arts in Class III had proven the company— headed by veterans like company President Mike Dreitzer and Chief Commercial Officer Jean Venneman—was here to stay. With Pop ‘N Pays and the Asian games already in the market, the first Dice Seeker games were installed a week before the Covid-19 shutdowns began. Game design barely missed a beat due to the pandemic, which Kruczynski credits to Colvin, Dreitzer and Venneman. “They really made a commitment to R&D throughout all this, and we really didn’t stop,” Kruczynski says. “We worked from home and had Microsoft Teams meetings every day. I came to find out that my team actually worked more efficiently and better remotely.” The quality of the work has reflected the team leader, and the experience of years creating Bally games that he was able to put to use at Gaming Arts. Kruczynski says that in addition to 40
honing his own game design skills (he also spent a year as a game producer at IGT before joining Gaming Arts), his years at Bally taught him the art of team-building. “The most important thing I learned is that I don’t know everything,” he laughs. “I don’t have all the answers, and that’s OK, because I can rely on the experts, and people that I trust. It’s important to surround yourself with people who are really good at their jobs. I’ve always believed that as a manager, I work for my employees, not the other way around.” For 2021, that game design expertise will be on display as Gaming Arts’ product pipeline continues to roll out. Kruczynski says Gaming Arts is on track to have 25 titles in the field going into 2021, and will launch a new portrait cabinet next year as well. “The HALOtop has been great for us so far,” he says. “Inferno Wheel has been great performance-wise. We’re really excited about the dual-screen cabinet with the HALOtop (which adds a persistent bonus to any base game), but also about adding a portrait cabinet to our repertoire.” Kruczynski is confident that his customers will be opening up their collective wallets in 2021 to renew their floors. “I think that certain markets are thriving, especially where there’s more demand than supply.” In the end, the priority for 2021 is simple, says Kruczynski: “Keep moving forward. Just keep swimming. At the end of the day, the company is made of people—not software titles, or hardware, or anything else. The people are what make the company. The priority is keeping that company culture alive, and keeping team members happy. Because happy people make happy games.” —Frank Legato
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
oe Pappano has been in the business of payments and payment technology for his entire 30-year career, most recently as a senior vice president of Worldpay Gaming. This year, all that experience comes to roost at a critical moment for the industry, and for Pappano, it comes with a new level of leadership in a field suddenly made much more important because of the Covid-19 crisis. Pappano was named president of the Americas Division of Las Vegas-based fintech and payment technology supplier Sightline Payments only last July, ending his run of 29-plus years at Worldpay and its predecessor companies. Last month, the company announced a new injection of investment from private equity firm Searchlight Capital Partners. Along with the announcement of the investment was the news that Kirk Sanford, co-founder and CEO of Sightline, was retiring and resigning from the company’s board. Pappano was named the company’s CEO. The company also got a strategic investment from Searchlight Capital Partners that values the business at $525 million. Pappano takes charge of Sightline as casinos and regulators around the world are fueling new demand for cashless, contactless payment technology. While the industry overall has been exploring cashless systems for years—the casino business is clearly behind most consumer businesses in its reliance on cash—reluctance to handle cash, or even use kiosks to obtain that cash, due to coronavirus fears has pushed that demand into high gear. “I’ve dedicated my entire career of 29-plus years solely to the payments industry,” Pappano says. “Throughout my career, I’ve held a number of leadership positions, and really focused on building out all of our emerging markets.” One of Pappano’s missions was the drive to bring cashless payment technology to casinos. “I’ve been very passionate about seeing the convergence of two highly complex, highly regulated industries, and payments and gaming are inevitably going to convert.” After working with gaming operators on introducing new payment technology for nearly 10 years
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25 PeoPle to Watch 2021 at Worldpay, Pappano joined Sightline in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, which means he was already well-equipped to handle the surging demand for cashless technology. “I did sit on the board of Sightline, and when you look at the depth and the expertise and the leadership position that they had, the board and the executive team had asked me to come on board and really focus on what the transformation and the evolution of this industry is going to look like from a cashless perspective.” Pappano comments that Covid-9 has “reset the market.” Casinos, he says, are moving to “truly understand how they are going to evolve and adapt to their new environment, whether it’s from a health perspective, or just to accommodate the next generation.... The pandemic has sped up the process.” Sightline will be one of the industry’s leaders in providing the bones for this new payment ecosystem, and Pappano says operators, suppliers and regulators are working together to effect the enactment of digital wallets, mobile funding methods and other technology to make transition to cashless pay seamless for the customer. He notes that Sightline is working with the major slot and system providers to provide the funding mechanism that will fuel the various digital wallets being introduced as part of casino management systems. “Everyone in the industry has rallied, which has created a tremendous amount of confidence and trust in the ecosystem that’s being rolled out,” Pappano says, “whether it be internet gaming, sports betting, or what’s happening within the integrated casino resorts—that it gives the issuers a comfort level, that they have a great pulse on the industry. “And when you can create an environment based on what this next generation wants to do, think about how we conduct our activity in commerce on an everyday basis. It’s seamless, it’s instant. We live in a world of instant gratification, but you can do so because payments have finally infiltrated the integrated casino resort operators.” The efforts of Pappano and Sightline to provide technology will only accelerate in 2021. “Our goal, along with others in the industry, is creating that framework that ultimately protects the integrity of the operators, the networks, key ancillary service providers, and most importantly, that patron,” he says. “And if you can provide a seamless experience that allows me to move money in and out of a wagering account, and it gives me a seamless way to have access to my funds... It’s going to take time, but the industry in the macro environment is setting itself up very well for the future. “We collectively have a lot of heavy lifting to continue to do, but this industry has never been in a position to experience more success on how we can all revolutionize and transform what this ecosystem will look like over time. I love where we’re going. We’re very bullish on the industry, and it’s an exciting time.” —Frank Legato
Crown Prince Jeremy Weinstein • Regional Vice President of Marketing, Las Vegas, Caesars Entertainment
hen you ask Jeremy Weinstein about his mentors in the gaming industry, you don’t get what you expect. It’s not some grizzled veteran of the casino business who gave a young kid a chance. It’s people he worked shoulder-to-shoulder with who are today changing gaming for the better with a unique understanding of what gaming can be, not what is has been. “You don’t see many young guys building new casino companies, but there are lots of young minds out there doing great things for existing companies,” he says. After starting in the IT industry, Weinstein returned to college to get an MBA at Cornell University, well known for its hospitality college. When he considered what industry to join, the choice was easy, he says. “I considered a wide swath of industries,” he explains. “But the casino industry is very dynamic and exciting—a 24/7 business. I saw a spirt of innovation and change there, so it was very appealing to me. You can get immediate feedback on your promotions and marketing campaigns by walking down to the casino floor and talking to customers. It was a quick feedback loop.” His first job was as the slot marketing manager for Bellagio. He says it was an exciting time. “This was right during the time MGM was building CityCenter, so there was a promising boom on the horizon, before the housing collapse. I had a very analytical background, and was solid on the quantitative side of the business, with a deep understanding of database marketing. I knew how to extract value from a database to drive the behavior we were hoping to drive.” After several promotions at MGM Resorts, Weinstein’s next stop was with Seminole Gaming as vice president of marketing for Hard Rock Hollywood. And now as regional vice president of marketing for Caesars Entertainment’s Las Vegas properties, he can see similarities with all three of the major gaming companies. “Everyone is trying to deliver great guest experiences,” he says. “Everywhere I’ve worked we had to make sure our marketing strategy reflects that. But we would have a different strategy at Seminole than we would at Caesars because the audience is different—more local and more repeat visits. You have to fine-tune your marketing strategy to your operating environment.” At Caesars, he has a great group of properties with outstanding amenities that attract a wide variety of customers. “We want to produce campaigns that excite our guests and drive profitable bookings,” says Weinstein. “I want to develop campaigns that support events, promotions and experiences, all of which need to be aligned with the brand promise.” But he’s careful not to “over-promise” and not be able to deliver. “We want to create a unique value proposition that will drive repeat visitation,” he points out. “Most of our casino guests have a variety of choices, locally, regionally and nationally. Our job is to get them to weed through all those choices and choose our offers. If not in Las Vegas, we want them to choose a Caesars Rewards property and stay with us.” And those mentors Weinstein mentioned? “One of my bosses at Bellagio was Justin Beltram, who is now the COO of Maverick Gaming. He was always focused on innovation and how to extract more value from your existing assets. He taught me to think differently and drive value. “Joe Schatz, who was at Caesars and is now the CMO at Seminole Gaming, is one of the most brilliant database marketing minds out there. He has never forgotten a number. “And Chris Holdren, who was the Caesars CMO before the merger, was a big proponent of bringing back the heart to the marketing. While we still rely on analytics, he wants to bring the art and creativity back into marketing. They’ve all contributed to making me the marketer I am today.” —Roger Gros JANUARY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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25 PeoPle to Watch 2021 Stranger in a Strange Land
Follow the Money
Dave McDowell • CEO, FSB
Mary Beth Higgins • Chief Executive
Officer, Affinity Gaming
hen sports betting was legalized in the U.S., technology companies in the field came from Sweden, Malta, Israel and the U.K., with accompanying accents and approaches. But when FSB arrived in the U.S.—a little later than some of its competitors—its CEO felt right at home. While Dave McDowell has been laboring in England for the past 25 years, he calls Michigan home. His introduction to iGaming started during the holiday season at the turn of the century. “Christmas 1999, I was working in London as a management consultant,” he explains. “After reading the first Harry Potter book, my father commented to me that Quidditch would make a great video game. I loved the idea and spent a lot of time in 2000 researching the video games industry, and was particularly interested in the millions of people who were playing casual online games. I quit my job and started GameAccount Network, now GAN, in 2001. The original vision was to build a financial services platform to help independent game developers to monetize their content through cash-based tournaments. “Nine months later, we had built an online backgammon game and performed what we believe was the industry’s first ‘single wallet’ transaction when we integrated our game into the Cantor Sport website. The GAN CTO, Sam Lawrence, and I both left in 2007 and started FSB with the vision to modernize sports betting technology for the in-play betting market.” Being an American has its advantages when approaching U.S. operators, says McDowell. “The right accent is nice, but the product and team are so much more important,” he points out. “Sam and I received a fantastic education by building B2B gaming technology while the iGaming industry was still forming, and these lessons helped us to develop what we believe is the most advanced sports betting and iGaming technology in the market today. Modern software underpins our flexible service model. We help each client find the right balance between internal control and outsourced efficiency. Great products, a great team and a flexible business model are what will get us into the U.S. market in 2021.” While FSB has a powerful sports betting platform, it’s the iGaming segment of online wagering that really attracts McDowell. “We could see the business model around casino, bingo and poker all had a service supply business where the supplier was proving a turnkey solution,” he says. “But nobody could do that in sports betting because the technology was too complex and you needed 250 traders to run your sportsbook. We felt there was a market for what we know of today as an MTS or managed trading system. We sat down and built an MTS for sports betting, but the vast majority of casino, bingo and poker sites were run with that business model. Our strategy was to take the biggest sector and reinvent the business model using our technology.” For operators looking for a technology platform, McDowell says FSB is a one-stop shop. “Today we offer a full turnkey service, which covers both retail and online sports betting, and it also includes our entire iGaming suite—the player account management and casino aggregation tools,” he says. “It also includes the user interface—the customer experience, fully responsive website and the various apps that go with it. We back that up with employee-manager training service, AML and responsible gaming tools, and marketing support.” —Roger Gros 42
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
ary Beth Higgins spent the first few decades of her career in chief financial officer positions, roles she describes as “being a wingman” and “working behind the scenes.” But in 2019, she took the reins of Affinity Gaming as chief executive officer. “Taking the helm, I was really ready for it,” she says. “To say, ‘Somebody should do X, or something should Y,’ and getting the ability to lead, that’s really fun.” Higgins didn’t necessarily plan on a career in the gaming industry, but her love of numbers and finance and slew of CFO roles led her there. “The industry grew at a time where my career was growing, and it just presented a lot of opportunities,” she says, and since there were few women in CFO roles, it helped her stand out. She majored in international relations and political science at the University of Southern California, but enjoyed her business classes and later earned an MBA from Memphis State University. Higgins spent her early career in banking and then served as CFO at Global Cash Access Holdings, Herbst Gaming, Camco Inc. and Caesars Entertainment, where she oversaw finances for 38 casinos in 14 states and five countries, and helped establish the company’s REIT spinoff, VICI Properties. She initially joined Affinity Gaming as CFO in 2018. During her first full year as CEO in 2020, Higgins dealt with a number of unexpected challenges brought by Covid-19. “It’s forced us to do a lot of tactical,” she adds. Though headquartered in Las Vegas, Affinity Gaming’s portfolio spans eight properties in Nevada, Missouri and Iowa, and the regional casinos have fared well despite the pandemic. “Drive-in business is doing really well,” Higgins says. “People are willing to drive, but they’re not willing to get on a plane.” Because of the uncertainty of 2020, the company held off on taking on too many new projects. That’s changing in 2021. Renovations are in the works for a few properties, and Higgins is eyeing some new acquisitions, though she’s not ready to provide details. When she’s not working on “capital and strategy” as a CEO, Higgins enjoys spending time with her husband and four children. The family also enjoys skiing and has a second home in Sun Valley, Idaho. She starts her day with a two-and-ahalf-mile walk with her husband, a ritual they adopted during the coronavirus quarantine. Higgins attributes her success to the strong leadership skills she garnered growing up as one of the oldest of 10 kids. Hard work, tenacity and confidence helped, too. “I was always a person who if someone asked me to do something, I always just thought I could do it,” she says. “I think that confidence builds confidence in others, and you just sort of wing it. You just go and get it done.” The ability to see opportunities as they come and jump on them is essential for a successful gaming career, Higgins adds. Also, having the emotional IQ to read people and motivate them, and devoting an extra five minutes to any task to make sure it’s right. “Be open and don’t try and guess where your career is going because you have no idea,” she says. “Take the opportunity when it shows itself. Get a breadth of exposure as much as you can, and you find a way to do what you’re good at.” —Erica Sweeney
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From Bad to Worse The gaming industry in the United Kingdom has endured operational ineptitude, regulatory overreaction and political grandstanding, so what’s the next shoe to drop? By Andrew Tottenham The limits on U.K. fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) were lowered from £100 to £2
f 2019 wasn’t bad enough for Great Britain’s gambling industry, 2020 is turning out to be annus horribilis. I am not only talking about the impact of Covid-19. Yes, the pandemic has been disastrous for the land-based industry, but not so for the online industry. Within the U.K., we have a devolved system of government, whereby certain areas are the competence of the countries—i.e. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Health is one such area, whereby each country in the union has the right to determine its own health policies. This also includes the response to the pandemic. You might think that as England, Scotland and Wales are an island (Great Britain) that there would be a degree of cooperation between the countries where the pandemic was concerned. Sadly not. Each country took a slightly different approach, which has meant that Scotland went into complete lockdown and in England retail gambling businesses were allowed to remain open—until they weren’t. Land-based gambling venues were some of the first businesses to be closed down in the first lockdown in March, and some of the last to reopen in July. For some reason, casinos were the last businesses allowed to reopen. No reason was given by the government, but perhaps it had something to do with dwell times. After a summer of fun, there followed a period of local area lockdowns that saw an increasing area of the country where land-based gambling businesses were forced to close. In November, the whole country was locked down again. On December 3, the stringent lockdown was lifted, and we found ourselves in one of three tiers based on location and infection rate. Obviously, those in areas with the highest infection rate have the highest restrictions. Sadly, casinos in tier 3, an area representing about 40 percent of England’s 44
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
population, will not be allowed to open. As I write this, there is talk that London will move into tier 3 because infection rates are staying stubbornly high. The rules of the new tiered opening do appear a little odd, but tiering is a blunt tool rather than a surgeon’s scalpel. What the government is trying to do is to reduce human interaction as far as it can. It is interaction that gives the virus the opportunity to spread, but balancing this with allowing certain businesses to remain open, albeit with some restrictions, means the economy is not entirely decimated.
Will Normal Ever Return? The good news is that there are vaccines, and that they will work. It is only a matter of time before they are distributed, and life can start to get back to normal. Whether people’s behavior will have changed, especially where social activities are concerned, remains to be seen. During the pandemic, casinos, retail betting, bingo halls and arcades had to close, which understandably had a devastating impact on their revenues. Even when they reopened, revenues were down due to some players staying away. What was noticeable was that the revenue per customer in-
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Threats to replace the U.K. Gambling Commission result in more action against alleged wrongdoing
The use of credit cards for gambling has never been approved for land-based casinos or bookmakers, but it was tolerated for online gaming—until 2020
The online sector saw betting revenue plummet, primarily caused by the lack of live events to bet on. However, online casino games saw revenues increase, which almost made up for the reduction in betting revenue. creased during this period; higher-spending customers were keener to visit. The online sector saw betting revenue plummet, primarily caused by the lack of live events to bet on. However, online casino games saw revenues increase, which almost made up for the reduction in betting revenue. If the pandemic were not enough for the industry to cope with, it has played out against a backdrop of regulatory change. Not content with the reduction in stake on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from £100 per spin to £2 in 2018, the anti-gambling lobby has tasted blood and has been looking for more scalps. Small factions in Parliament carry an inordinate amount of weight in determining gambling policy. On the fringe is the Gambling-Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group, chaired by Caroline Harris, MP. But on the fringe does not mean they are not listened to by the government, parliamentarians and the media; quite the contrary. This group has said the Gambling Act requires root and branch reform, and that the Gambling Commission is “not fit for purpose.” It should be scrapped and replaced with a new body. This threat to the future of the Gambling Commission has had the effect of making the commission show that it has teeth and is prepared to use them. As a result, 2019 and 2020 have seen ever-increasing fines issued by the Gambling Commission for both land-based casinos and online gambling operators. The offenses fall into two main areas—lack of duty of care to their customers and breaches of anti-money laundering regulations. The first was allowing customers to gamble at levels, with hindsight, that were clearly unaffordable. At least one involved a person stealing money from their employer to fund gambling. Had the operator carried out a know-your-customer (KYC) check on the client, they would have quickly found out that this could not have been their money. To make it worse, in this particular instance, the customer was treated as a VIP and
given the royal treatment. The second was mainly caused when the U.K. government changed the regulations and required all online operators wishing to target U.K.based players to become licensed and pay tax on U.K.-generated GGR. Prior to this, all that was required was that operators be licensed in an EU jurisdiction. Some operators who had been operating from Alderney or Malta, for example, duly became licensed and carried on business as usual. What they had not realized was that the Licensing Conditions and Codes of Practice imposed by the Gambling Commission meant that it was anything but business as usual. At the same time, the commission was beefing up its AML requirements. KYC processes were expanded to include source-of-wealth and source-of-funds checks for higher-spending customers. And carrying out these checks only once was deemed to be insufficient. If the relationship with the customer was ongoing, the checks had to be ongoing too. The expanded AML requirements have had a devastating impact on London’s VIP market. For the year 2017, London’s five high-end casinos generated £240 million of GGR. By year-end 2019, that figure was down to £120 million. I do not believe there was rampant money laundering going on, but the KYC requirements are very intrusive. It is not every high-net-worth individual who wants casino management to find out everything about his or her financial standing. The fines imposed by the commission played well in the media, and those that sought to constrain the gambling industry played them up too. In April 2020, the Gambling Commission banned the use of credit cards in gambling transactions. I have no doubt that pressure from their sponsoring ministry, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), played its part. Allowing the use of credit cards for online gambling was a bit of an anomJANUARY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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High Street bookmakers were closed several times during the pandemic
Due to the potential threats to the health of the U.K. gambling industry, the major gambling trade associations formed the Betting and Gaming Council to attempt to get “on the front foot.”
aly. Casinos in the U.K. are not allowed to issue credit and could not accept credit cards for gambling purposes, but online casinos could. However, betting on credit has been allowed for a very long time.
Government Inquiries This year, there have been a total of three parliamentary inquiries into gambling—the Gambling-Related Harm All Party Parliamentary Group, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, and the House of Lords Select Committee on Gambling, chaired by Lord Michael Ian Grade. Also, the National Audit Office investigated the effectiveness of the Gambling Commission and issued an uncomplimentary report early in the year. Of these reports, the report from the House of Lords is probably the one that is the most sensible and contains recommendations that, with some work, could be implemented. Due to the potential threats to the health of the U.K. gambling industry, the major gambling trade associations formed the Betting and Gaming Council to attempt to get “on the front foot.” However, industry insiders fear that they have already lost control of the political situation, and their voice is unlikely to be heard. To regain some standing in the debate around gambling, if debate is not too strong a word, the industry has agreed to a voluntary “whistle to whistle” advertising ban. There will be no advertising during broadcast matches on television. At the same time, operators put pressure on affiliates to reduce the amount of advertising that might be seen by children, and this has proved to be quite effective. Finally, probably because they knew it was coming, the online industry has announced that they will voluntarily restrict the minimum speed of game. The minimum game cycle will now be 2.5 seconds. At the same time, they will stop using game features such as turbo play, which allows players to speed up games, and will disallow multi-slot play, where a player can place multiple stakes on different games at the same time It was a manifest promise to review the 2005 Gambling Act, and this was supposed to have started already, but has been delayed due to the pandemic. Number 10—specifically the prime minister, Boris Johnson—has been said to be “taking a lead” in the review of the act, but this seems un46
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
likely. He has too much on his plate already, and Number 10’s involvement will only slow things down. Most likely, the DCMS will lead the review. So, what do I think will be the outcome of the review? Well, the following is my best guess: • Time-limited deposits—e.g., customers will not be able to deposit more than a certain amount per week. • The operator’s “duty of care” for their customers will be increased and likely become a condition of their license. • Affordability checks will become mandatory. • Introduction of a safer gambling league table and key baseline metrics from which to set targets and measure progress—naming and shaming operators who fall short of the Gambling Commission’s expectations. • Harm minimization becomes an objective of the 2005 Gambling Act; currently it is not. • Game design/game classifications based on their “addictive nature” and “potential harm.” This is not as easy as it sounds. There is no evidence as to what makes a game addictive. There are only a few criteria to work with—game volatility, speed of play and stake limit. • A review of taxation—although HM Treasury may not wait for the review and will probably jump the gun. Remember, taxes defy the laws of gravity; they often go up but rarely come down. • The imposition of a statutory levy instead of a voluntary contribution to fund research, education and training in relation to gambling-related harms. • Sponsorship restrictions—a ban on sponsorship of football (and other sports) strip and in-grounds, but with a few years to fully implement. This would allow teams to accommodate these changes; some are heavily dependent on online gambling sponsorship. Although, most of the sponsorship is not from U.K.-facing online operators, but those that target Asia and Africa. • Advertising to under-18s will be strictly forbidden, with fines for those that do not comply. • Greater powers for the regulator, especially around harm minimization and game design.
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Wheels Keep On Turning The only contentious points as far as the industry is concerned are probably the amount of the limit on deposits and whether this could be increased if the customer requests it and could show that they could afford it. Affordability checks, while they might be a nice sound bite, are going to be difficult to implement in practice. Everybody leads a different life and has different priorities. Two people might have the same income but choose to spend their money completely differently. Most of the recommended changes could be put into effect using secondary legislation or changes to the existing regulations, which are reasonably quick processes. The existing 2005 Gambling Act was designed to be quite flexible, so despite the title of the review, there will be little need for primary legislation. The government will be looking for quick wins, and they will do as much of it using these routes. How long will all this take? Well, the wheels of government grind slowly, and consider the likely steps for the review:
• The process started in early December. • A frame of reference was agreed in mid-December and a committee formed. • The committee will call for evidence and give time for responses. • The committee will hold hearings where stakeholders can provide “evidence.” • The committee will then make policy recommendations. • The committee will need to agree to policy recommendations within Number 10. • The final report will be published. • Secondary legislation and new regulations will be promulgated. Given all of this, my estimate is that it could take anywhere between 12 and 18 months for the final report, by which time this pandemic will be well and truly behind us. Andrew Tottenham is managing director of Tottehnam & Co., a consulting firm specializing in strategic planning, market assessments, feasibility studies and specialized knowledge in all sectors of the international gaming industry.
CREATIVITY, C REATIVIT Y, K KNOWLEDGE NOWLEDGE AND AND E EXPERTISE XPERTISE
ttottenhamco.com ottenhamco.com • + +44 44 204-526-4132 204-526-4132 • firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
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The Social Game Today’s social casino players are tomorrow’s online for-money and casino customers By Dave Bontempo
wards by engaging in their favorite casino games. “Players on GAN’s platform are rewarded for linking their loyalty card, spinning our free ‘Fortune Wheel’ every four hours, Daily Login Bonuses, personalizing their account, inviting friends, and participating in various other free-to-enter promotions. In addition, players have the option to purchase additional virtual credits packages in exchange for real money on desktop and mobile to extend their play while earning valuable loyalty points.” Yoder says operators add GAN’s Simulated Casino for strategic reasons, including new revenue and digital-brand establishment. Players can extend their playing time through the Simulated Casino games by purchasing packages of additional credits. “By familiarizing and educating players with a digital platform, there is a natural progression of brand extension, loyalty, 360-degree player engagement, and net new user growth, resulting in monetized play in a fun, riskfree environment,” Yoder says. “Rewarding players for online play also allows operators to increase traffic back into the casino for on-property play through distribution of comps including hotel stay, slot tournaments, buffets, gift cards and special events. “GAN’s strategic model is to emulate and simulate the on-property casino floor,” he adds. “The ability for players to experience their on-property look and feel once they leave the physical casino across any device is a very strong value proposition to a casino operator which allows them to extend their brand outside of their existing four walls. Offering product features such as leader boards, slot tournaments and free spins mimics that excitement that a player experiences on-property, now online.” Simulated Casino games also help operators hit the ground running whenever their states regulate real-money gaming (iCasino or sportsbook), he adds. This acts as a key advantage as other B2C competitors will enter into the market at the same time regulation is approved, according to Yoder. “As a B2B supplier, GAN’s all-in-one platform focuses solely on one vertical-digital online gaming, which includes social, real-money casino and sports—Marcus Yoder, Senior Vice President, book,” he says. “We offer additional services such as Sales, GAN marketing and customer services that take the opera-
aming has a lucrative on-deck circle. Waiting to hit next: patrons from social casinos. An app-driven, multibillion-dollar market surrounds this lighthearted, low-stress gambling academy. Customers play real games without risking real money, interact with friends and conduct the social-media equivalent of a live brick-and-mortar community slot tournament. Casinos wisely embrace this turnkey recruitment vehicle. The social casino, in its generic sense, is an app or website enabling players to enjoy popular casino games like roulette, video poker, slots and blackjack with online friends. One plays after downloading an app to a mobile device or computer, or by using a web browser. Even Facebook offers a social-games lineup. It’s all free, but money is spent through in-game purchases when players resupply their virtual-coin stock with real funds. It’s not true gambling, as action resembles one adding quarters to an arcade machine, but the image is vivid. These are future gaming customers, already able to sample games, sign up for an online account and become part of what a property offers. Many turn recreational activity into real gambling, and this is a burgeoning revenue source. Operators who exploit this dynamic will be well-positioned to thrive on the other side of the pandemic.
A Prominent Footprint Game Account Network (GAN) is a big player in this space. “GAN Simulated Gaming platform offers a catalog of 800-plus games, along with our patented iBridge/loyalty linking framework that takes our partners’ loyalty program to a new level with their players,” says Marcus Yoder, its senior vice president of sales. “Our operators are able to seamlessly register their players, and give them the ability to link their loyalty card number to immediately start earning on-property re48
“The ability for players to experience their on-property look and feel once they leave the physical casino across any device is a very strong value proposition to a casino operator which allows them to extend their brand outside of their existing four walls.”
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
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GAN’s loyalty linking framework allows social players to link their loyalty card number to immediately start earning on-property rewards
tional lift off of the operator, while educating them on the new digital landscape. “Unlike real-money online gaming, with a Simulated Casino, in most cases the server is not required to sit within the state or on-property. We house and manage the servers that support our Simulated Casinos from a centralized data center in Las Vegas. The operator continues to own their database; we are simply an extension of their casino.” Rob Norton, president of Cordish Gaming Group, endorses the GAN platform regarding Live! Casino Maryland and for new online casinos in Pennsylvania. “With our established relationship, GAN was the logical provider of our enterprise platform for launching real-money internet gambling, and offers Cordish the ability to extend on-property rewards into the online channel, which has been shown to increase loyalty among players of Simulated Gaming.” Yoder offers an optimistic forecast for 2021. “We are excited about the new look and feel of our product offering,” he asserts. “Moving into a fully native mobile app solution allows our players to play anytime and anywhere on any iOS or
Android device. Our game catalog continues to grow, offering custom games developed from our in-house studio and third-party partner games known for their popularity in social play and familiar to what players see on the casino floor today. “Additionally, with our new product additions like Simulated Sportsbook through JACK Entertainment’s ‘PlayJACK’ social casino, we continue to offer new product enhancements that keep players coming back for more.” The company just announced its acquisition of CoolBet, an industryleading sportsbook operator based in Tallinn, Estonia. “CoolBet has some of the industry’s best technology and user experience processes, which elevated them in our analysis of multiple sportsbooks companies during the acquisition process,” he says. “We are excited to bring the CoolBet sportsbook as a B2B supplier to the U.S. market when our acquisition looks to close in late Q1 2021.”
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Understanding B2B The B2B social casino of supplier Aristocrat Technologies offers operators a mobile gaming platform to keep their brand on the forefront of their player’s entertainment experiences. The solution enables Aristocrat clients to directly provide a “freemium” social game offering to their customers with the ability to purchase virtual coins to unlock games and features. The business model is to offer a managed service where Aristocrat runs the campaign and the app on behalf of the operator, working closely with the operator’s marketing team. Aristocrat previously launched and sustained a successful Heart of Vegas social gaming platform that has been running for more than eight years. The company’s B2B Social Gaming solution leverages modern technologies that consumers use daily to create new levels of interactivity for the player. Overall, Aristocrat is confident that its broad portfolio of casino business solutions in games, systems, services and experience in the B2C social casino space has offered the business the unique position to execute the operator’s digital experience plan with B2B Social Gaming. The company says this product is a state-of-the-art online and mobile gaming solution based on the Heart of Vegas gaming platform. The new B2B Social Gaming solution allows operators to directly provide a freemium (a free game where you can buy credits) social game offering to its players. B2B Social Gaming is filled with Aristocrat’s best-known and most popular proprietary titles, allowing operators to give their players a fun digital experience playing Aristocrat’s best-performing games by purchasing virtual coins. The enterprise operators can choose to brand the app to the entire enterprise or to each individual casino. B2B Social Gaming is strictly intended for entertainment and social game play, where the player is never able to redeem their winnings for anything of value or for real-world prizes. The B2B Social Gaming platform offers a comprehensive patron engagement application converging patrons’ on/off property on/offline. Aristocrat provides a strong integration layer that allows the B2B Social Gaming platform to integrate with any casino management system. The platform is a cloud-based solution hosted on Google Cloud Service, providing an extra layer of security. Aristocrat officials say this impacts the operators in several ways. One is the enhancement of patron engagement. Operator benefits include extending the brand and the ability to stay connected with patrons on and off property. The product also extends engagement through proven bonusing mechanics and enhanced marketing tools. Aristocrat touts revenue diversification and digital customer experience as further benefits to its social casino platform. 50
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
More than Just ‘4Fun’ Rush Street Interactive (RSI) operates eight Casino4Fun sites, spanning a launch period of more than five years. The first was for the former SugarHouse Casino (now Rivers) in Philadelphia in July 2015, and the most recent involves a B2B supplier partnership with Coushatta Casino Resort (Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana) in August 2020. The Coushatta Casino4Fun site is powered by RSI’s proprietary iGaming Platform. The new social site offers gaming enthusiasts a large and growing catalog of over 300 online slots, table games and live-dealer games, as well as the ability to use the platform’s virtual economy to engage with a world-class sportsbook for free, all while offering Coushatta a digital platform for customer acquisition and engagement. The RSI iGaming Platform powers Casino4Fun, the same technology driving RSI’s real-money gaming sites, as well as in its omnichannel retail sportsbooks. The product has been built for the U.S. market from the perspective of a U.S. land-based casino operator. “The inspiration for our Casino4Fun platform is to be a B2B provider of a brand extension/retention tool to help land-based casino properties make more money, and allow their customers to play free casino games on the go and at home,” says Richard Schwartz, president of Rush Street Interactive. “We also use our Casino4Fun platform as a lead generation tool in future regulated markets. Casino4Fun is also utilized as a testing environment for casino game content before launching in real-money online casino markets.” Rush Street Interactive offers free virtual currency (VC$) and other free games, allowing players to be engaged without having to make a purchase. But a good number eventually do. And then they go one step further. Schwartz says he has seen a double-digit conversion rate from social Casino4Fun players to real-money customers. A Casino4Fun site, just like low-limit electronic table games on casino floors over the years, becomes an instructional aide for customers. It provides the knowledge of how games work without the pressure of making a big bet. Schwartz says all games have help options along with pay and tutorial information. This enables customers to learn each game on the 4Fun platform, and, in turn, the real-money environment. Casino4Fun is uniquely positioned between the brick-and-mortar property and the online player.
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“We operate the platform to encourage online players to return to the property for prize redemptions and other promotions,” Schwartz says. “Similarly, we work with the properties to encourage their brick-and-mortar players to give Casino4Fun a try, especially during this time when many people are looking for at-home entertainment, and casinos are closed or operating with restrictions.” Schwartz indicates that the Casino4Fun platform can be used to acquire new players, activate lapsed players, and create engagement and strong retention from active land-based players. “A casino can use Casino4Fun as a retention tool to keep players engaged when not at the property,” he indicates. “Ideally, players will connect their land-based loyalty rewards account to their Casino4Fun account. The casino then has wider visibility into their customers’ brick-and-mortar and Casino4Fun activity. “Even without connecting the loyalty rewards program, we encourage our properties to offer special promotions, game play, and online behaviors that are rewarded with prizes that are redeemable during on-property visits. This facilitates the online/brick-and-mortar redemption cycle.” Casino4Fun also had Covid-19 implications. Several properties promoted
their social sites, engaging patrons whose customers were not able to benefit the property. This allowed players to remain connected with the brand. When it is safe to return, the customer and casino property will have maintained their connection, a key element to maintaining business. Rush Street Interactive continues aiming more resources at this area. “We have a large and ever-growing library of content from industry-leading game suppliers,” he says. “We are unique in that we offer Live Dealer table games from Evolution Gaming, slots from AGS, Everi, Konami, Incredible Technologies, Greentube/Novomatic and many more. The experience our customers have on our Casino4Fun platform is more authentic than other social casinos, as we offer content that more closely resembles the experience the customer can expect from a real casino floor.” Throughout the industry, riches mark the convenience of mobile technology. In the sports-betting world, New Jersey alone recorded a record $800 million wagered in October, more than 90 percent from mobile apps. It’s logical that the apps, tablets and computers linked with modern technology will fuel the next generation of gamblers, in all areas. The gaming customers are waiting on deck. Almost any inducement will send them to the plate.
JANUARY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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NEW GAME REVIEW by Frank Legato
China Shores Quad Spin Konami Gaming
his new game on Konami’s three-screen Dimension 27 cabinet takes the features of the hit game China Shores and multiplies them by four. The base game is a five-reel, 30-line video slot. The main game screen displays four of the five-by-three games screens, which spin simultaneously. This means there are four times as many free-game features available. Three, four or five ball symbols trigger eight, 10 or 15 free games, and landing free games and retriggers on four different reel sets can boost the number of free games exponentially. The game offers the “Quickplay” option when there are at least 50 free games remaining. The player has the option to cash out the remaining free games for a credit award. The game also offers a two-level linked progressive. The progressives are mystery events, with the increment rates of the triggering threshold levels customizable by the operator. Reset levels are 10,000 credits times the denomination (Major) and 100,000 credits times the denomination (Mega). In other words, $100 and $10,000 in the penny version.
his is a new progressive game series on Everi’s Flex Fusion premium banked platform, an enhanced format on the Empire Flex cabinet. There are two base games, Fortune Garden Pearl and Fortune Garden Gold. Both are five-reel, 576-ways-to-win scatter-style games, the main difference being the theme and reel symbols used. Both are progressive slots with five jackpots—two static prizes ($10 Mini and $100 Minor) and two local-area progressives, resetting at $400 (Major) and $10,000 (Mega). The primary game will randomly go into “Fortune Cookie Mode,” which awards a multiplier of up to 5X on any wins. Each game has a persistent-state feature. The main feature of the games is a persistent-state free-spin game, the object of which is to collect flowers that grow in
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
Manufacturer: Konami Gaming Platform: KXP; Dimension 27 Format: Five-reel, 30-line video slot Denomination: .01 to 5.00 Max Bet: 600 Top Award: Progressive; resets at 100,000 credits times denomination Hit Frequency: 78.9% Theoretical Hold: 3.9%-11.01%
value throughout the feature. Triggered by three or more flower bonus symbols on consecutive reels, random credit amounts appear on each flower as three free spins are initiated. Each time another flower lands, the meter goes back to three spins and credit amounts increase on three top bonus indicators. Landing a gold medallion collects the accumulated flower bonus amounts. Wild symbols landing on the reels during primary game play can trigger the Match 3 Progressive Pick bonus. The player picks from 12 icons on the screen until matching three jackpot icons to match that prize. Manufacturer: Everi Holdings Platform: Flex Fusion Format: Five-reel, 576-ways-towin video slot Denomination: .01, .02, .05, .10 Max Bet: 880 Top Award: Progressive; $10,000 reset Hit Frequency: Approximately 50% Theoretical Hold: 3%-15%
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Jack’s Riches AGS
his game is part of the AGS Reel Tower series, presented on the sleek Orion Curve cabinet. The game is themed around the Jack and the Beanstalk story, and offers three progressive jackpots that are won through the main free-spin bonus feature. The base game is in the AGS PowerXStream format, a scatter-pay format offering 243 ways to win on each spin. Those ways to win can increase to well over 1,000 with expanding reels in the bonus feature. A random bonus may occur at the beginning of each spin in the primary game, in which any of several reel symbols is replaced with the golden egg symbol, which creates stacks of the high-paying symbol for big wins. The main free-spin bonus event centers on the classic story, with magic bean symbols collecting to grow the beanstalk, in this case the reel set. Six or more of the bean symbols trigger the main freespins bonus, which in turn activates the “Reel Tower,” a giant set of reels on the top screen that spins to reveal the number of free spins—or one of the progressives. If a jackpot symbol lands on the middle reel, that prize is awarded.
The Mini resets at $100; the Maxi at $500; the top Mega at $5,000. When a free-spin number lands on the middle reel, the number of golden egg symbols on the reels increases. The free-spin session then centers on the magic bean bonus symbols, which accumulate during the free spins. Once 11 are collected, the reels expand by one row, with two normal reel symbols replaced by golden egg symbols. Once 22 of the bonus symbols are collected, another row is added to the reels and more golden eggs are added. Along the way, the game keeps score, alerting the player how many more magic bean symbols are needed to reach the next level to expand the reels. Manufacturer: AGS Platform: Orion Curve Format: Five-reel, 243-ways-to-win video slot Denomination: .01 Max Bet: 750 Top Award: Progressive; $5,000 reset Hit Frequency: 31.64% Theoretical Hold: 8%-18%
Timber Wolf Diamond
his new game on Aristocrat’s imposing new Neptune Double immersive cabinet utilizes proven math similar to the company’s hit Buffalo Diamond game, in a unique ways-to-win reel setup. The Neptune Double cabinet is a follow-up to Aristocrat’s popular Arc Double format, with stacked, curved 49-inch monitors replacing the dual 43-inch curved displays of the Arc Double. The screens are angled in a way that the player can look straight up and see the top progressive meter, when seated in the custom-designed chair. The base-game reel array in Timber Wolf Diamond is in the Extra Reel Power setup—a 4-5-6-5-4 layout (four symbols on the outer reels, five on reels 2 and 4, six on the middle reel), which results in 2,400 possible ways to win on each spin. (The scatter format has no paylines; wins are registered through adjacent symbols.)
The game features a cumulative free-spin feature with four levels of multipliers. Bonus symbols trigger a large “Gateway Wheel” that spins to reveal one of four possible free-spin rounds, each with a number of spins and a multiplier of 2X, 3X or 4X. The other possible stop on the wheel is the Grand Jackpot progressive, which resets at $500,000. The numbers of free games on each meter are incremented upward every time a diamond lands on the fifth reel during the primary game. According to the manufacturer, unlimited retriggers set no maximum on the number of free games. Manufacturer: Aristocrat Technologies Platform: Neptune Double Format: Five-reel, 2,400-ways-to-win video slot Denomination: .01, .02, .03, .05 Max Bet: 600 Top Award: Progressive; $500,000 reset Hit Frequency: Approximately 50% Theoretical Hold: 5.98%-11.32%
JANUARY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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EMERGING LEADERS Building the Foundation Sam Rook Director of Marketing, Mystic Lake Casino Hotel
am Rook has always been drawn to the fastmoving and experiential excitement of the gaming industry. Having been in close proximity to Mystic Lake Casino, Rook’s curiosity was sparked in his early adulthood by the sheer size of the property, which was the largest in the upper Midwest. Little did he know that one day this curiosity would lead him back to Mystic Lake Casino. Rook began his career as a marketing consultant developing SEO and digital marketing campaigns for various businesses. Pursuing a traditional career path, Rook found himself employed by a Fortune 500 financial services company. With limited creative output and the confines of a predefined work environment, Rook was unchallenged and drawn to be a part of something bigger, unique, and engaging. Shortly thereafter, Rook was drawn to the lure of immersive marketing within the gaming industry. He was intrigued by the unique aspects of gaming, it being one of the few industries people can walk out of with more money than they walked in with, and one of the only places people stand up and cheer, outside of sports. When transitioning into gaming from the mainstream corporate world, Rook was fascinated by player development and executive hosts. However, he knew he would have to broaden his skill set in order to build a versatile and transferable foundation of knowledge within the gaming industry. Equipped with a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the University of Minnesota and after several years in marketing and player development, an opportunity to expand his knowledge base opened within business intelligence. As it became abundantly clear that most leaders in any successful organization could analyze and articulate information with fluidity and certainty, this was an opportunity he could not pass up. Rook attributes pivoting into business intelligence as what ultimately catapulted his growth into elevated levels of leadership. While it was a vast leap moving from a marketing background
On a Fast Track, Enjoying the Ride
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
Olena Nall Rook believes that a broad foundation, in addition to astute knowledge on how a business runs, is crucial when trying to advance into leadership positions. into an analytical data-driven position, it taught him how to analyze information quickly and concisely. After incorporating his ground-floor knowledge of casinos with an analytical outlook, Rook was well rounded to be a functional and multifaceted leader. Rook believes that a broad foundation, in addition to astute knowledge on how a business runs, is crucial when trying to advance into leadership positions, emphasizing, “It’s tough to lead a team when you don’t know the work your team is doing.” Rook attributes employing his wide-ranging foundation and knowledge from both marketing and business intelligence as the key to being a successful leader. Currently, as director of marketing, Rook enjoys helping those who have demonstrated an ability to shine within the organization broaden their foundation and pave a path for success. Rook adds how he values all perspectives, noting how industry-changing ideas do not necessarily come from those who have been in the industry the longest. Good ideas can come from anyone of any age, so he strives to provide a platform for all professionals to succeed. The best advice Rook has for any professional is to “keep building knowledge and building experience.” —Krista McPherson is an analyst with The Innovation Group.
Director of Business Development, Wind Creek Hospitality tarting from a single humble bingo hall up the road from Mobile, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians has leveraged the tremendous success of three Class II casinos in Alabama into an international operation of four-diamond resorts under the Wind Creek brand. Olena Nall’s rise at Wind Creek Hospitality is in many respects a reflection of this exponential growth, as Nall has used her drive and skill set to take advantage of the unique opportunity created by Wind Creek’s fast-paced development. Nall spent the first nine of her 13 years with Wind Creek as corporate financial controller, a position that enabled her to learn every aspect of gaming operations and involved her in consolidations, acquisitions of racetracks, compilations of financial statements, and $300 million-plus development projects. In 2016, Nall decided to pursue a new opportunity in business development. Her timing was impeccable: After assisting in the acquisition of two Caribbean resorts in Aruba and Curacao, she took part in one of the largest single-asset acquisitions in the U.S. gaming industry, the acquisition of Sands Bethlehem, valued at $1.3 billion and completed in 2019. Assessing possible acquisition targets, negotiating multiple agreements, financing the transaction, and presenting before the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board were a part of the amazing journey that she was able to experience firsthand. Nall has thrived in the open organizational culture at Wind Creek. “Collaboration
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“Collaboration and brainstorming are a central part of Wind Creek. I am very proud to be a part of a team that gives an equal opportunity to every individual at the table to express his or her suggested solution to the problem and share feedback.” and brainstorming are a central part of Wind Creek,” she says. “I am very proud to be a part of a team that gives an equal opportunity to every individual at the table to express his or her suggested solution to the problem and share feedback.” Along with her “curiosity and genuine desire to learn,” Nall credits her social skills and “passion for sharing what I have learned” for standing out in the crowd. Her advice to young professionals is that “the desire to move quickly up the corporate ladder is never enough… It does not bring happiness and progress on its own. To be a success story, your personal goals and wishes must align with overall goals of the organization. You have to be passionate about what you are doing; otherwise, it will be a bumpy ride.” Nall also insists that career success depends upon “working for and contributing to an ethical organization with a solid value system.” Looking forward, Wind Creek and Nall are not slowing down. They are still exploring a variety of other business opportunities and expansions, along with “business adaptations” to a “new normal” in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. A CPA, Nall has master’s and bachelor’s degrees in accounting from the University of West Florida as well as a B.S. in automation and computer-integrated technologies from the Sevastopol National University of Nuclear Energy and Industry. —Tom Zitt, Ph.D. is executive vice president of The Innovation Group.
Racing to Success Nav Sandhawalia Chief Compliance and Risk Officer, Niagara Casinos (Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment) hen Nav Sandhawalia has some free time, he enjoys Formula One racing. He identifies with the velocity. “The sport is as fast-paced as my role at Niagara Casinos,” he says. At Niagara Casinos—one of Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment’s initial international acquisitions—Sandhawalia serves as chief compliance and risk officer. In that capacity, he oversees security, surveillance, legal, and internal audits for Fallsview Casino Resort and Casino Niagara. “In addition, I serve as the corporate secretary.” An accountant by trade, Sandhawalia leads a team focused on ensuring the casinos manage risk, while meeting various contractual and internal policy requirements. Born and raised in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, Sandhawalia received a bachelor of business administration degree from Wilfred Laurier University in 2005, with a focus in accounting and a minor in political science. In 2006, he landed a position with PwC—PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the big four accounting firms. He acted as lead consultant with Mohegan in 2016 in its bid to manage Niagara Casinos. Sandhawalia worked closely with the Niagara team through the operational transition in early 2019. On July 1 of that year, he joined the executive team for the two casino properties.
Since then, he’s brought his experience to bear across multiple sectors, including land-based casinos, online gaming, social gaming and lottery. “I am also a contributor in setting the broader strategic direction of the company, helping manage a diverse variety of stakeholders, including multiple government agencies, local business, and supporting service providers.” The coronavirus pandemic closed the casinos in mid-March, resulting in furloughs to a majority of the staff. “We continue to work with government and public health authorities on our reopening plans,” Sandhawalia says. During this time, the company launched an online social gaming site, PlayFallsview, that kept players connected to the properties as well as building brand loyalty. This fall, the Ontario government offered the opportunity to expand the site into the private sector with for-money online gaming, he says. Sandhawalia’s parents moved from India to Canada in the mid-1970s, where they worked difficult blue-collar jobs to put food on the table. “This helped me learn a very hard work ethic from a young age,” says the father of Lyla, 7 and Kierit, 5. But growing up in such a household failed to expose him to professional environments. “Early in my career it was challenging to understand and excel. Being a visible minority also brought some challenges, but fortunately Canada is one of the most diverse countries in the world and I have been able to overcome any obstacle.” Along the way, Sandhawalia learned from a variety of mentors, too many to mention without missing someone, he says. “I have appreciated everyone that has impacted my career, and made it a focus to connect and learn from seasoned successful executives, in both the government and private sectors.” If he can impart wisdom on others entering the industry, it’s this: “Network, do great work, and stay focused on delivering value. Success will come with time.” —Bill Sokolic
JANUARY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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FRANKLY SPEAKING by Frank Legato
Butcher Bookies and Weed
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
has been ordered to pay $1.4 million in back taxes. The IRS denied his request to pay the back taxes in the form of spare ribs. Moving on, we all know manufacturers kept up their research and development efforts while almost all casinos were shut down due to the coronavirus. Apparently, so did individual game inventors, like those in the Pickett family of San Diego, which spent their own quarantine time playing a game they’ve since registered copyrights and trademarks for, called “It’s Contagious!” They call it a “fun pandemic-inspired card game,” according to a press release. You match cards and look for “Power Cards,” resulting in “infectiously fun twists of fate.” As far as I can tell, that’s all there is to it. There are no other references to the virus, which is kind of a relief. But still, can a “pandemic-inspired slot machine” be far behind? “Mask Me.” It’s a persistent-style game in which the main feature centers around an unmasked crowd of people (of no particular political affiliation, mind you—it’s not partisan, just “infectiously fun”). Every time a mask symbol lands on the reels within three free spins, someone in the crowd becomes masked, and the free spins go back to three. If you achieve the masking of the entire crowd, it triggers the “Herd Immunity Progressive.” I’ve already submitted the copyright papers, so don’t get any ideas. Finally, it looks like New Jersey’s legalization of recreational marijuana won’t change much for Atlantic City’s casinos. My old pal Dan Heneghan, who for years was spokesman for the New Jersey Casino Control Commission and is now a consultant, commented to the Press of Atlantic City that New Jersey likely will follow Nevada’s lead with respect to legal pot—no smoking it in public places, and no reefer in casinos. You know, I’m no expert on pot (at least in the legal sense), but it seems to me that casinos hurting from last year’s revenue losses would support having stoned gamblers, particularly in games that require attention, skill and strategy: “Sir, are you sure you want to hit that 19?” “Well, you know, I didn’t think so, but I reconsidered, and, you know... umm... “What?” OK, maybe it will slow the game down, but think about the jump in gaming revenue. If I owned a casino, I’d have cocktail servers wandering around with bags of gummies. Happy New Year! VICTO R
et’s all come together and herald the arrival of the year 2021. Because movers and shakers profiled in our cover story this month will achieve amazing things in 2021. Because 2021 will reveal new advancements in payment technology, slot cabinets, patron safety and more. But most of all, 2021 will benefit from the fact it is not 2020. Of course, as you read this, it may already be 2021. But here in the past as I write this, it’s still that big, stinking dumpster fire of a year. To counter that, I’ve decided to take the futuristic vibe and look forward to cool stuff that’s a-comin.’ Like sports betting. All over the place. Assuming there are sports—and goodness, I hope so; I’m tired of watching Leave It To Beaver and Perry Mason—there will soon be a legal bookmaker within arm’s reach in wide swaths of the country. Of course, the flip side of that is, sadly, many fine corner bookies will be out of a job. Like the one in the butcher shop in Pittsburgh. Domenic Poeta was a beloved figure in Pittsburgh’s North Shore neighborhood, near the Steelers’ Heinz Field, the Pirates’ PNC Park, and of course, Rivers Casino Pittsburgh. He was the neighborhood butcher. Everyone knew him. Eventually, that “everyone” included the Internal Revenue Service, which was curious as to why a guy who reported around $30,000 on his tax returns was living in a $1.5 million house. They didn’t buy his explanation that his mortgage rate was low. Or that he had a “really good accountant.” It turns out that in addition to being the neighborhood butcher, he was the neighborhood bookie. His specials were pork ribs with odds on the side. “Hey, Domenic. I’ll take a pound of chipped ham, the Raiders and the points.” According to the government, Domenic made more than $3.7 million from his bookmaking business between 2012 and 2017. Imagine his disappointment when he found out the U.S. Supreme Court was handing him competition in the form of legal sportsbooks when they repealed the federal ban on sports betting. Domenic recently started a term of one year in prison. He also
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MAKING MY POINT
Value Added If your corporate culture does any of these things, please think again about fixing them By Roger Snow
our company is in the same company as every other company, from Aardvark Amalgamated (totally made up) to Zyxware Technologies (totally real), if it has memorialized a series of core values. These values may be hidden in a drawer somewhere—their dust bunnies breeding like, well, bunnies—or relegated to a PowerPoint presentation viewed only during new-hire orientation, but they’re there. And you’d be doing yourself a favor to track ‘em down and read ‘em up because they are, ostensibly at least, the building blocks of your company’s cultural foundation. Or they’re woefully outdated and in desperate need, like perhaps this column is, of a complete rethink and rewrite. Regardless of industry or geography, most core values tend to look alike. Overlay those of a pharmaceutical behemoth on those at a media startup and you’d be playing Hocus Focus to find any differences. It’s a standard yet palatable fare of collaboration, creativity, diligence, candor, passion, esprit de corps, etc., et al., ad infinitum. But… What about the unwritten about, unspoken about, underbelly? You know, those cultural bad habits all companies wish they could shake? Those pet peeves and toxic peccadillos? Those— and this is all in good fun, mind you—rotten-tothe-core values. For example:
repertoire. This is where you and your cohorts scapegoat whatever person or department is not represented at one of those big CTJ meetings that flare up in the wake of a crisis. The lesson of this lesson? If you’re not there to defend yourself it means you’re automatically guilty.
Tolstoying This is named after the Russian author of War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and other titanic tomes that American school kids have been required to read, and have pretended to do so, for generations. In this context, Tolstoying is when you write a 500-word email to a colleague, even if that colleague occupies the office or cubicle next to yours, rather than—gasp!—picking up the phone and calling him or her or—egads!—actually, you know, prying your butt from your chair and having an actual face-to-face conversation. Not only does this waste someone’s time boring through your mountain of purple prose, but it increases the probability of misunderstanding your message.
Tolstoying is when “you write a 500-word
Grave-P***ing Wait for someone to get fired and then blame everything—and we’re talking everything—on that person. Missed the quarterly revenue budget? Her fault. Product delayed? Pffft. He screwed it up. Got an angry customer, vendor, or employee? Oops, she did it again. Everything that ever went wrong in the past. Everything that is going wrong right now. And of course, for good measure, everything that will ever go wrong in the future with no discernable statute of limitations. Don’t stop until that gravestone is supersoaked. And if you love grave-p***ing, you need to add the fine art of “absentia annihilating” to your 58
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
e-mail to a colleague, even if that colleague occupies the office or cubicle next to yours.
Schedule Sabatoging Want to really mess with someone? This is a can’tmiss douche move: Invite a co-worker to a meeting without checking his or her availability; or, to make matters worse, check the scheduled and double-book ‘em anyway. And your dupe, being nice and sweet and unsuspecting, will likely accept your invitation in the blind, assuming you did what you purposely didn’t do. Then, when the dreaded hour arrives, he or she is the one that looks like a jerk for blowing off one of the commitments. Classic.
Grin F***ing Nothing stings more than being on the receiving end of an old-fashioned, 32-toothed, largemouthed, Cheshire-cat-style grin f***. Here’s how you do it: 1) Wait for a fellow employee to ask you for help with something; 2) Agree with such outsized enthusiasm that he or she walks away feeling not only relieved, but energized by the prospective collaboration; and 3) Do absolutely nothing. That’s the G to the F mic-drop moment. It’s like that scene in The Social Network, when Zuckerberg agrees to build the website for his classmates at Harvard, then plays hide-and-seek for an entire semester. Congratulations, Winkelvoss twins. You just got grin f***ed, Ivy League style.
Hot Potatoing Also known as “Tom Sawyering,” in reference to Mark Twain’s pubescent protagonist tricking his friends into whitewashing his aunt’s picket fence. But no matter what you call it, the rotten-to-thecore value is the same: If there’s something you don’t want to do, palm it off on an unsuspecting co-worker, preferably one whose nose doesn’t mind getting a little brown from time to time. Keys to this are convincing the mark—as Sawyer did—that the assignment will benefit them somehow, or at the very least, be a lot of fun. Dangle a little cheese on the trap… and let it snap.
Two-Facing This is a bulletproof technique if you’re trying to suck the oxygen out of your company’s culture. All you need to do is praise employees, especially subordinates, to their face and then rip them to ribbons when they’re not around. Works like magic. Black magic, but magic nonetheless. First off, twofacing always gets back to the victim, and second, it doesn’t take long for the people you’re lavishing with compliments to figure out that when they’re out of the room, they’re getting pilloried as well. 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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CUTTING EDGE by Frank Legato
Premium Form PRODUCT: A-STAR Curve Cabinet MANUFACTURER: Ainsworth Game Technology
insworth recently introduced its A-STAR Curve cabinet to North American casino operators. The A-STAR Curve features a 43-inch floating infinity monitor, dynamic LED lighting and a state-of-the-art LCD button deck. The new cabinet—Ainsworth’s first to launch in North America since 2017—incorporates supreme engineering and a sleek modern design into an new product for casino partners across the region. The ASTAR Curve offers an elegant design that will attract players on any casino floor. “We are incredibly excited to have launched the A-STAR Curve in several major gaming markets,” said Deron Hunsberger, Ainsworth’s chief commercial officer. “This highly anticipated release is the result of extensive R&D efforts, and brings our cabinet offerings to the next level with its modern appearance and a full suite of new game titles.” In addition to looking great, the A-STAR Curve offers several features focused on ease of use, including a built-in USD charging station and front-facing lock for easy maintenance. The cabinet can be placed on most standard gaming bases. The A-STAR Curve has been launched with a full library of approved software. Nearly a dozen games are already available. Highlights include:
• Super Charged 7s Classic and Reel Hot 7s Classic These three-reel video slots offer five- or nineline game play in denominations from 25 cents and up, and offer a classic gambler experience focused on a chase for a wheel spin. • Lucky Empress This innovative title gives payers a great high volatility gambling experience. In Lucky Empress, players collect coins to unlock huge multipliers in a “spin ‘til you win” format. • George Lopez Neighborhood Tour George Lopez Neighborhood tour brings the vibe of the iconic comedian to casino floors. • Galaga Based on one of the most successful and acclaimed arcade games of all time, Galaga comes to the slot world as part of Ainsworth’s agreement with Bandai Namco Entertainment Inc. • Path to Wealth Path to Wealth gives players the chance to traverse a game board on the path to credit awards, free games and more. The persistent-state style of game offers three levels of stand alone progressive jackpots.
Next-Generation Cabinet PRODUCT: Genesis Crest Cabinet MANUFACTURER: Sega Sammy Creation Inc.
ega Sammy Creation Inc. has released its next-generation cabinet, Genesis Crest, for the U.S. market. The Genesis Crest cabinet will provide an expansive game library composed of games and IP that will engage every generation of player, and a more immersive gaming experience to players with an ultra-high-definition 4K 49inch monitor featuring alluring LED lighting effects. The 13.3-inch LCD touch-screen deck monitor allows for easy operation and player-friendly gaming, providing a more interactive experience. It also includes a 27-inch topper for attract mode. Every Genesis Crest cabinet is built to the highest standards with Sega’s long history of developing quality and reliable gaming products.
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
“We are thrilled to introduce our new cabinet Genesis Crest to the U.S. market,” said Scott Winzeler, chairman and CEO of Sega Sammy Creation Inc. “This cabinet is the result of many intensive months of testing and development that resulted in a design that not only increased our gaming content display area by 99 percent, but also kept the player ergonomics in mind. “As Sega celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, we are proud to continue our legacy of creative products, innovative game content, and high-quality hardware.” Sega Sammy will place the Genesis Crest cabinet in new markets throughout the U.S. beginning in January 2021. For more information, visit segasammycreation.com.
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AN ANNUAL INDUSTRY REPORT
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GOODS&SERVICES to tribal members and governments.” “The National Museum of the American Indian does tremendous work bringing awareness to the non-native community about the history and contributions of Native Americans,” said AGEM Executive Director Marcus Prater. “This memorial represents yet another important contribution. AGEM enthusiastically joins our philanthropic partner GLI and tribal gaming interests across the country in supporting this important new addition to the National Mall for all the world to experience when they visit Washington.” The Lasting Impact Philanthropic Initiative is a multi-year effort aimed at identifying worthy causes that will utilize direct contributions to flourish over the long term and provide a variety of assistance to multiple beneficiaries. The new National Native American Veterans Memorial
AGEM, GLI DONATE TO NATIVE AMERICAN VETERANS MEMORIAL
he Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM) and Gaming Laboratories International (GLI) committed $120,000 to the National Museum of the American Indian’s new National Native American Veterans Memorial. The donation is part of the AGEM/GLI Lasting Impact Philanthropic Initiative, through which they collaborate to create a “lasting impact” inside the gaming industry and beyond. The National Native American Veterans Memorial is part of the Smithsonian Museum collection. The museum celebrated its opening with a virtual program on Veteran’s Day, November 11. The event can be seen at AmericanIndian.si.edu. Situated on the National Mall, which draws nearly 24 million visitors annually, the memorial will honor American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian veterans and symbolize the country’s respect for Native Americans’ service and patriotism. “We are proud to contribute to this important, poignant and lasting memorial that will be a permanent reminder on the National Mall of the commitment Native American veterans, their families and governments have made to the United States,” said James Maida, president and CEO of GLI. “Per capita, for decades, Native Americans have had the highest percentage of representation in the military, 1.7 percent of total troops both enlisted and officer, even though overall they represent only 1.4 percent of the total U.S. population—a source of great pride
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
IGT INSTALLS ADVANTAGE SYSTEM IN HANOI
nternational Game Technology PLC announced that Bao Son International Hotel Versaces Club in Hanoi City, Vietnam is replacing its existing casino management system with the IGT Advantage CMS to operate its loyalty program, monitor and optimize its casino floor, and perform a range of other essential functions.
Hotel Versaces Club in Hanoi City, Vietnam
In addition, Versaces Club has implemented the IGT Advantage Lucky Coin bonusing module to enhance the property’s player loyalty program. Offering a deep and robust range of modules in the industry, the IGT Advantage CMS drives operators’ vision for growth and provides exceptional player experiences, setting properties apart from their competition. IGT’s Lucky Coin bonusing module is a poolbased, mystery-style jackpot that can hit any time, increasing carded play and improving a casino’s brand equity. It is system-generated, which means the jackpot can hit regardless of game outcome. The operator determines a range for the award amount, and what percentage of the coin-in
amounts will increment the bonus pool. This bonus can be carded or uncarded, and can pay fixed or progressive amounts.
LAS VEGAS SANDS LAUNCHES DIVERSITY INITIATIVE
as Vegas Sands Corp. announced a $400,000 investment in community organizations working to empower minority and ethnically diverse groups through Sands Cares, the company’s community engagement and charitable giving program. Through these partnerships, LVS is focused on helping the community address systemic racism and remove inherent barriers to advancement and opportunity. The Sands Cares diversity community engagement strategy involves two priorities: education and mentorship to support youth and workforce empowerment; and advancing social justice through advocacy and awareness. Organizations receiving funding in these areas include Nevada Partners, 100 Black Men Las Vegas, the Urban Chamber of Commerce Las Vegas, Hope for Prisoners, Mastering Mindsets Las Vegas, National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc. Las Vegas, and the Las Vegas Urban League. “Since the race-related events of 2020 sparked a deeper and more passionate conversation about the impact of systemic racism in our society, we’ve taken a hard look at how our company can better address race issues and be a catalyst for positive change,” said Ron Reese, senior vice president of global communications and corporate affairs at Las Vegas Sands. “We’ve taken measured steps to listen to the needs and viewpoints of our team members and met with key leaders of organizations that empower diverse groups to better understand how we can help advance their initiatives and provide solutions.” As part of the Sands Cares diversity community engagement strategy, the company is providing Nevada Partners with $250,000 in funding, one of the organization’s largest corporate donations to date, to address education and youth development in the West Las Vegas Promise Neighborhood. Funds will support literacy programs, a variety of youth camps and mentoring programs, and the soon-to-be-
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launched Youth Empowerment Center, which will offer opportunities in technology and the arts to advance youth education.
JCM’s FUZION, the only system that enables complete peripheral management over EGM bill validators, thermal printers and other connected peripherals.
AINSWORTH INSTALLS 105 HHR MACHINES IN VIRGINIA
insworth Game Technology has successfully installed its award-winning Historical Horse Racing System and 105 gaming terminals at Rosie’s Gaming Emporium in Richmond, Virginia. Players at Rosie’s now have access to a full suite
Rosie’s Gaming Emporium
of Ainsworth’s top performing content on several unique terminals including the A640, EVO and A600 Slant Top. Games immediately available include several titles from the player-favorite QuickSpin brand, including Super Charged 7s, Super Lantern 8s and Super Hot 7s. Ainsworth also has installed classic high-denomination content like Eagle Bucks and The Enforcer. The titles and platforms have been specifically engineered for historical horse racing, certified by an independent testing lab and approved by applicable gaming and racing commissions. “Ainsworth has created an excellent historical horse racing product,” said Jeff Townsend, vice president of gaming at Colonial Downs Group, parent of Rosie’s Gaming Emporium. “We are excited to offer our players the latest games that can provide a thrilling experience and help ensure longterm success for our property.” Ainsworth Chief Commercial Officer Deron Hunsberger added, “Our historical horse racing games are now live and performing well in several properties around the United States. We’re excited to begin a partnership with Rosie’s that continues our growth and showcases a first-class wagering experience to our customers and their players.”
MORONGO TO INTRODUCE MARKER TRAX CASHLESS WAGERING
Live! Hotel & Casino Philadelphia
ers and peripheral management systems for all their gaming casino properties—Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland, Live! Hotel & Casino Philadelphia and Live! Casino Pittsburgh. JCM will upgrade the thermal printers at Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland to the standard-setting GEN5 Thermal Printer. The property is already equipped with JCM’s award-winning iVIZIONbill validator and Intelligent Cash Box System (ICB) system. The Cordish Companies recently opened the Live! Casino Pittsburgh with 750 electronic gaming machines and the new Live! Hotel & Casino Philadelphia will open in early 2021 with 2,255 EGMs. Both properties will feature the award-winning iVIZION bill validator, the GEN5 thermal printer, and the ICB system. With the solid foundation of iVIZION and GEN5, the Cordish Companies also will utilize
he Morongo Casino, Resort and Spa in Southern California announced that it will be the first tribal casino to offer cashless casino markers developed by Marker Trax through the Konami Synkros casino management system. The system, which recently underwent a successful test at the Ellis Island casino in Las Vegas, will allow Morongo guests to conveniently and securely apply, get approved, and begin using their digital marker, all in under five minutes and all electronically. Rather than retrieving physical cash for a casino marker, guests enrolled in a PIN-protected Synkros cashless wagering account can use their Marker Trax credit line to play electronically on any slot or video poker machine in the casino. Marker Trax will offer Morongo access to its players’ data analytics and access to its players’ marker tracking.
JCM GLOBAL, CORDISH COMPANIES EXECUTE SUPPLIER AGREEMENT
JCM Global has entered into a master supplier agreement with the Cordish Companies, expanding a long-term partnership between the two companies. The agreement establishes JCM as the exclusive provider for bill validators, thermal printJANUARY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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PEOPLE BRIN GIBSON TO HEAD NEVADA GAMING BOARD
. Brin Gibson, a Las Vegas attorney, has been named chairman of the Nevada GamJ. Brin Gibson ing Control Board. He was previously chief of the gaming division for the state attorney general. Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak appointed Gibson to serve out the remaining two years left in the term of former Chairwoman Sandra Douglass Morgan, who left to join the board of Fidelity National Financial Inc. Gibson also served as Sisolak’s general counsel for a year. He praised Gibson: “Brin’s extensive background and expertise in highly regulated industries, including his experience as chief of the gaming division, makes him a perfect fit for this position, and I look forward to watching him excel in this position.” Gibson said in a statement, “I am humbled and honored that Governor Sisolak would appoint me chair of the Nevada Gaming Control Board at this point in the state’s history.”
ELAINE WYNN DEPARTS COMPANY SHE CO-FOUNDED; EX-HUSBAND STEVE WYNN CLEARED
or the first time in its history, Wynn Resorts will not have someElaine and Steve Wynn one named Wynn on its board. Last month, Elaine Wynn withdrew a request to the Nevada Gaming Control Board for a waiver that would have allowed her to continue on the board. Wynn Resorts has an age limit to serve on the board, which Elaine Wynn passed earlier this year. Although no longer in management, Wynn remains the largest shareholder of Wynn Resorts stock, owning almost 9 percent of the company. She founded the company in 2002 with her then-husband Steve Wynn, who was forced out of the company, selling all his stock, in 2018 following allegations of sexual misconduct with employees. Steve Wynn denied the allegations and nothing has ever been proven in court. The couple divorced in 2010 (for the second time) in a bitter split that saw Steve marry a much younger Andrea Hissom. Also last month, a Nevada judge ruled that state
regulators could not move forward with their plans to permanently ban Wynn from the industry and impose heavy fines because they have no jurisdiction over him. When he exited the company he cofounded, he surrendered his gaming license as well. Clark County District Court Judge Adriana Escobar’s ruling said gaming regulators could not punish Wynn after his departure from the company. “Because (Wynn) has no material involvement, directly or indirectly, with a licensed gaming operation, this court finds that respondents have no jurisdiction to impose discipline or fines against him,” Escobar’s ruling said.
CEO, TWO OTHER TOP EXECS DEPART SKYCITY
EO Graeme Stephens and two other senior executives are leaving SkyCity Entertainment Group. Analysts expressed surprise Graeme Stephens at Stephens’ departure, which came with no advance notice from the New Zealand-based gaming operator. It was announced simultaneously with the planned resignations of CFO Rob Hamilton and Chief Marketing Officer Liza McNally, and appears to point to a major shift in SkyCity’s strategic direction going forward. Stephens’ successor will be COO Michael Ahearne, a 13-year industry veteran who oversees SkyCity’s operations across New Zealand and Australia and is credited with guiding the launch of an online gaming division in 2019. Hamilton is scheduled to depart the end of February and McNally in March.
HARPER KO TO LEAD LEGAL TEAM AT PENN
enn National Gaming, Inc. announced that Carl Sottosanti, the company’s executive vice president, general counsel and secretary, retired effective Harper Ko December 31. As his successor, the company has named 20-year gaming industry legal executive Harper Ko, who will serve as executive vice president, chief legal officer and secretary, effective January 1, subject to customary regulatory approvals. Ko joins Penn National from Everi Holdings Inc., where she has served as executive vice president, chief legal officer and general counsel. Throughout his 17-year career at Penn National, Sottosanti has played a critical role in helping drive the company’s growth and evolution from a small regional gaming operator into the nation’s leading omnichannel provider of retail and interactive gaming,
sports betting and entertainment. Ko brings more than 20 years of corporate legal and regulatory compliance experience on behalf of gaming equipment suppliers and casino operators to her new role at Penn National. She has served as executive vice president, chief legal officer, general counsel and secretary at Everi since 2017, and was tapped to help guide the former Global Cash Access through its ongoing transition to a full-service casino gaming equipment and payment solutions provider. Prior to joining Everi, Ko served as deputy general counsel, gaming for Scientific Games Corporation. During her time there, she led the legal integration of Bally Gaming, Inc., SHFL entertainment Inc. and WMS Gaming Inc. into the Scientific Games gaming division, and served as a strategic adviser to the gaming unit executive management team.
AFSI BIRD NAMED SAN MANUEL VP
outhern California’s San Manuel Casino has announced the hiring of Afsi Afsi Bird Bird as vice president of hotel operations for the resort expansion. Bird has been in the hotel industry, including luxury hotels and five-diamond resorts, for more than three decades. San Manuel Casino General Manager Peter Arceo praised the incoming Bird. “We are thrilled to have someone of Afsi’s caliber leading our hotel operations team,” he said.
January 2021 Index of Advertisers
AGEM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .67 AGS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2 Aristocrat Technologies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9, 25 Brill Hygienic Products . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .35, 39 Casino Player . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .64 Erin O'Boyle Photographics, LLC . . . . . . . . . . . . .51 Everi . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5, 21 Fantini . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .63 Fox Rothschild . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23 GGB Digital . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .43 Gaming Arts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33 GAN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7 i-Gaming Player . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .59 J. Carcamo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .57 Kambi . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17 Konami Gaming . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .37, 68 Reed Expo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11 Scientific Games . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27 Sightline Payments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29 Tottenham & Co . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .47 Tribal Government Gaming . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .61 UNLV Division of Philanthropy & Alumni Engagement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .49
JANUARY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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Jorge Perez President and Chief Operating Officer, MGM National Harbor Casino and Hotel
orge Perez has been with MGM Resorts for 25 years in a variety of positions, most recently president of the company’s regional resorts, a title he still holds in addition to being president and COO of MGM National Harbor. Perez joined National Harbor after a reorganization of corporate leadership in May 2020. He explains what it means to lead one of MGM’s leading regional properties during the pandemic and how it has fared since reopening in late June. He spoke with GGB Editor Frank Legato from his offices at National Harbor in November. For a full podcast of this interview, visit GGBMagazine.com.
GGB: Maryland casinos have rebounded from the Covid shutdown better than most jurisdictions. How have the state’s casinos in general, and MGM National Harbor in particular, managed to perform in these conditions? Perez: Obviously, it’s a difficult operating envi-
ronment for any leisure and travel company. But health and safety is paramount no matter what. And I think as an industry, we’re doing a really good job. Outside of gaming, the entertainment options are limited—concerts, stadium-sized sports events, even your local restaurants or bars, and the restrictions that they have. The entertainment dollar is being a little bit more limited to where it can go. So, I think the casinos generally—and we’re seeing that not only in Maryland, but all the other jurisdictions in which MGM operates—(are garnering) a larger share of the entertainment dollar. The other thing is that travel—air travel, specifically—is down considerably. So people are staying closer to home, versus making that big trip, either domestically or internationally.... So I think that’s the biggest driver. Did you also see a lot of pent-up demand when you opened?
Yes, we did, absolutely. In some markets, it was a slower ramp, in some markets it was a big pop, 66
Global Gaming Business JANUARY 2021
and then it slowly came down and then sort of stabilized. So, it’s a variation. But yes, we were quite surprised by the interest and demand shortly after opening. Headline entertainment has always been a strong point at MGM National Harbor. Obviously, you can’t do shows like Cher now, but what’s the plan to phase entertainment back into your operations?
We’re an entertainment company. So the fact that there is no headline entertainment is painful. We can’t wait to have it back. But we’ve got to be respectful of the government restrictions and executive orders that are in place. As far as mass gatherings, or gatherings of groups, we just have to wait until conditions improve. And right now, trends are not moving in the right direction. But I think we’re all hopeful, for sure, that entertainment will come back next year. And as soon as we’re ready, enabled, and allowed to do so, we’ll be back at it. What non-gaming amenities have you managed to ramp back up?
Most of our restaurants are open. From our Voltaggio Steak House to our TAP Sports Bar, to our National Market, which has multiple F&B quickservice venues. Saigon Street, Shake Shack. So, most of our F&B is open. But as far as non-gaming, that’s pretty much it. Our lounges and bars are also open. Online gaming is usually not far behind in some sports betting jurisdictions—as Maryland will soon be. Have you been involved in lobbying efforts to bring this additional gambling option to the state?
The focus right now is on sports. The legislative process will start in January specific to sports. And that’s really what we’re focused on right now, both on the retail front and online. That’s where we are focused, and that’s where our energy has been. And what comes down the road is yet to be determined.
Virginia just approved four casinos. Are any of them close enough that it’s going to affect your market?
We’ve been monitoring that for a long time. And I’d be naïve to say that it won’t have some impact. The good thing is it’s geographically further away, towards the southern part of the state of Virginia. And most of our business, just like a lot of regional casinos, comes from an hour’s drive. We’re very localized. But will there be some impact? There will be. What I will counter with that is, what we will gain with sports betting will far outweigh what we will lose from expansion of gaming in southern Virginia. As far as competition within the Baltimore/Washington corridor, you’ve always distinguished yourself to maintain the top position among the three casino properties. How have you managed to do that, coming late to the market, as you did?
Obviously, Maryland Live! is the largest competitor, if you will. They’ve got a great team there. I’ve had an opportunity to meet some of their top executives. They’ve got a great facility. So, they’re formidable competitors. But we’re extremely proud of what we’ve built here. We invested heavily—over $1 billion into National Harbor. But we’re in a great market. We’re the benefactors of a large population. But as you know, besides having a beautiful facility, it all comes down to the employees and our guest service. And that is something that you have to maintain. You have to work on it every single day. It’s not easy. The service component is big. We have a beautiful facility. We continue to invest in it. We continue to invest in the best games, so we’re constantly looking to have the best in attractive games on the floor, be it slot operations or table games. We are constantly tweaking our food and beverage offerings. We listen to our guests. We talk to them individually; we’re on the floor, and get their feedback. And to the extent that we have a lot of feedback in a certain direction, that’s where we move. We try to accommodate.
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