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ggB Global Gaming Business Magazine
May 2021 • Vol. 20 • no. 5 • $10
geolocAtion, locAtion, locAtion sPoRts Betting in cAliFoRniA ADDing tRiBAl AMenities hARD RocK’s JiM Allen
how chairman soo Kim is building a new paradigm for a gaming company
Psyching the slots How to create a game that will appeal subliminally to players
Going public just got easier for gaming companies
Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers
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Vol. 20 • No. 5
Global Gaming Business Magazine
20 COVER STORY The Bally’s Bounce
10 AGA The Root of the Problem
The rise of what is now Bally’s Corporation continues, as the owners of the former Twin River Worldwide Holdings craft a new company that’s a unique combination of land-based, iGaming and sports betting operator, as well as a tech company and a media company.
12 Fantini’s Finance The New Normal Frank Fantini
30 Making My Point Ch... Ch... Changes
By Roger Gros
FEATURES 14 The Psychology of Slots
DEPARTMENTS 36 Toward Tribal IRs
Slot manufacturers and data analysts continue to research just what it is that makes a slot game “sticky”—one with which players stick, and return to again.
The nature of tribal casinos has evolved along with the rest of the industry, to the point where Indian casinos resemble the industry’s best integrated resorts.
By Frank Legato
By Bill Sokolic
26 The SPAC Phenomenon
By the Numbers
13 AGEM 42 Emerging Leaders
The use of special-purpose acquisition companies is a new and growing way for companies to go public, and it is on the rise in the gaming industry.
With AGS’ Eduardo Alvarez, Bally’s Corporation’s Paul Juliano, and Marina Bay Sands’ Tiffany Tay
By Adam Steinberg
44 Cutting Edge
30 Golden State Sportsbooks?
46 New Game Review
The rapid growth of sports betting across the U.S. has so far passed over one of the largest gaming markets, California, where gaming tribes are the key to progress.
48 Frankly Speaking 50 Goods & Services 53 People
By Marjorie Preston
32 Recognizing the Best The third annual Eilers & Krejcik Gaming Slot Awards went virtual this year, but the result was the same— Aristocrat dominated.
40 Location, Location The meteoric growth of online gaming and sports betting in the U.S. couldn’t take place without one essential technology—geolocation.
54 Casino Communications With Jim Allen, Chairman, Hard Rock International
By Dave Bontempo
By Frank Legato
MAY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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Following Procedures By Roger Gros, Publisher
K, I have to admit it, I’m lousy at following rules and regulations. During the pandemic lockdown, I refused to stay locked down. Early on, I took a ride to the Las Vegas Strip to take pictures of the empty roads, sidewalks and hotels. To see the chains on the doors of casinos that were never meant to be closed was eerie. I live near the desert so every day, the dog and I took long walks with no mask on either of us. Yes, I wore a mask when inside any stores or businesses, and I tried to stay 6 feet away from anyone I encountered. I tried to carry on business as usual by going to the office most every day (only my wife and I were in there, so it wasn’t like we were exposing anyone else). But yes, I got Covid, as did my entire family. Luckily they were very mild cases and we all recovered quickly. (Not to minimize anyone who lost loved ones or who suffered extreme cases.) No doubt the consequence of failing to follow procedures. But my resistance to rules goes way back. I went to a Catholic high school that required shirts and ties on all students. Well, my shirts were either bright yellow or purple and my ties were pretty wild, as well. When I became a dealer in Atlantic City, I learned all the processes and procedures and promptly broke most of them, even though for the most part I was an excellent dealer. As a blackjack dealer, I had to entertain myself because in those days speaking to the players was frowned upon. I was pretty good with handling chips, so I’d wait for specific situations where I could make moves that would impress the players—and drive the supervisors crazy. For example, if I had two winners in a row, one with a $20 bet (four red chips) and the next one a $5 bet (one red chip), I’d take a green $25 chip from the rack, slide it into the $20 stack, knocking the bottom chip out of the pile, sliding that chip over to the next spot. I’d paid two bets with one move. I thought it was slick but the supervisor just shook his head. As a baccarat dealer, we used the big tables, now rarely seen, with seven spots on each side and three dealers handling the game. As the “stick” dealer, you were supposed to slide the players’ cards to the high bet on the table, where he or she would
Global Gaming Business MAY 2021
squeeze the cards and return them to the stick dealer. Now, I was something of a showman on stick, and I’d sail the cards high into the air so they’d drop directly in front of the hands of the high bettor. Again, the players loved it but more than once I’d hear the pit boss scream “Cards on the table, Gros!!” And still I wondered why I never got promoted! Of course, later I learned how important procedures were. I’ve recognized that everyone needs to do something the exact same way or the “eye in the sky” will not recognize the move and the supervisors won’t get distracted by my wild style of dealing. I’ve also learned that the casino isn’t the only department with processes and procedures. Housekeepers are directed to clean rooms in a certain manner to make sure that all the rooms and suites look the same for the guests and take the same time to clean. Waiters and waitresses are taught to take and deliver orders in the same manner, whether it’s in the individual restaurants or the massive public functions that have food service. With the arrival of Covid and the need to make guests feel safe and secure, there are many additional procedures. We’ve erected Plexiglas dividers that need to be cleaned frequently. Gaming surfaces must be wiped down between players. Masks must be worn properly by both customers and employees. This sometimes puts employees in the uncomfortable position of asking guests to comply, so procedures must be worked out to explain that in a non-confrontational manner. So the emphasis on procedures has increased substantially over the last year. My dealing years are long gone, as is hopefully my style of dealing. But employees—or team members—can still bring courtesy and assistance to guests in a friendly and respectful way so that the hospitality that we provide to our customers shines through. And employers have to value their workers and respect their positions. Remember, front-line employees give the first and last impressions of the property to every guest, so companies that recognize that fact and reward their employees for jobs well done will find that their well-thought-out and considerate procedures are the way to the hearts of both their employees and their guests.
Vol. 20 • No. 5 • MAY 2021 Roger Gros, Publisher | firstname.lastname@example.org twitter: @GlobalGamingBiz Frank Legato, Editor | email@example.com twitter: @FranklySpeakn Marjorie Preston, Managing Editor firstname.lastname@example.org Monica Cooley, Art Director email@example.com Terri Brady, Sales & Marketing Director firstname.lastname@example.org Becky Kingman-Gros, Chief Operating Officer email@example.com Lisa Johnson, Communications Advisor firstname.lastname@example.org twitter: @LisaJohnsonPR Columnists Frank Fantini | Jess Feil | Roger Snow Contributing Editors Alex Blaszczynski Dave Bontempo twitter: @bontempomedia Bill Sokolic twitter: @downbeachfilm Michael Vanaskie | Thomas 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
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FindinG the ValUe W
hen Pennsylvania rolled out legal sports betting last year with a tax rate of more than 34 percent and a hefty license fee, most companies bit the bullet and paid up. But the real reason these companies agreed to play was because it also gave them entrée into real-money online casino gaming, with lower tax rates and higher profits resulting in more tax revenue. Even before the widespread legalization of sports betting, it was recognized that sports bettors are a much lower value than either land-based or online casino gamblers. In March, Jefferies analyst David Katz issued a report outlining just how much more valuable those gamblers are, and the results were astonishing. Online casino gamblers are more than seven times as valuable, and many of those customers sign up as sports bettors first and migrate to the iGaming side of the site. So operating a loss-leader sportsbook in Pennsylvania could lead to much more profitable casino players.
BiG BUckS FoR eSpoRtS
he buzz surrounding esports has been growing for years. And not surprisingly, the gaming industry has been watching. A new report from Juniper Research has estimated the value of the esports industry by 2025 and its penetration into markets around the world. The report includes esports development and trend analysis; streaming of live events often involving professional esports players, either live or pre-recorded for casual viewers; vendor strategy analysis; and benchmark industry forecasts covering 19 country-level splits. What the report doesn’t examine, however, is the value of wagering on esports, so the $3.6 billion valuation could be just a fraction of the potential if you including betting. To obtain a copy of the study, visit www.juniperresearch.com/researchstore/content-digitalmedia/esports-games-streaming-research-report.
Global Gaming Business
Relative Value for U.S. Gamblers
Technology and Expertise to Drive Your Sportsbook Success IGT’s PlaySports solution is playing a pivotal role in shaping the U.S. sports betting market. Its capacity to support a wide range of operators and move the player experience forward are driving growth for customers. Our next-generation betting engine and high-performing omnichannel platform are quickly becoming the industry’s preferred technology stack, processing the largest share of legal U.S. sports wagers placed in 2020. Backed by scalable technology, turnkey services, and dedicated experts, operators get the inside edge with IGT’s comprehensive market-ready solutions, designed to increase ROI and enhance customer success.
Leading U.S. B2B sports betting provider. GLI-approved solutions deployed in 50 locations in 16 U.S. states. Trading, content, training, and operational expertise for your growing business needs.
Contact your IGT representative today. www.IGT.com/PlaySports
© 2021 IGT Global Solutions Corporation. The trademarks used herein are owned by IGT or its affiliates, may not be used without permission, and where indicated with a ®, are registered in the U.S. IGT is committed to socially responsible gaming. Our business solutions empower customers to choose parameters and practices that become the foundation of their Responsible Gaming programs.
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Questions Lori Lightfoot Mayor of Chicago
n the early 1990s, a young attorney named Lori Lightfoot was part of a blue-ribbon panel exploring the benefits of a casino in Chicago. “That was almost 30 years ago,” yet the project is still in the planning stages, says Lightfoot, now mayor of the Windy City. A 2019 plan by Governor J.B. Pritzker included an effective tax rate of 72 percent, which drove off investors. Lightfoot campaigned for a lower tax rate (now about 40 percent), and in December, 11 companies responded to the city’s request for information, including MGM Resorts International, Wynn Resorts, Illinois-based Rush Street Gaming and Hard Rock International. Lightfoot is determined to move the project forward and get shovels in the ground. Lightfoot spoke with GGB Managing Editor Marjorie Preston at a March press conference announcing the next step in the process, a request for proposals.
GGB: Several Chicago mayors before you also wanted to bring a casino to the city. How did you get it this close to the finish line? Lori Lightfoot: Mayor (Richard) Daley tried to muster a lot of political support for a Chicago casino that
1 2 3 4 5
unfortunately didn’t come to fruition during his tenure. Mayor (Rahm) Emmanuel was a little more agnostic. But I really saw the potential for tremendous opportunity. Obviously, the revenue will be tied to shoring up pensions, which is desperately needed. But we’re thinking broadly about a real entertainment district. This could have such a catalytic effect on the economy of our city. Believe me, I worked the phones, I really pitched folks to get this over the threshold. I certainly expended my own personal political capital, because I knew how important it was. Other casinos in major metro areas—Detroit, Baltimore, New Orleans—have been less successful than anticipated. Why will Chicago be different?
Number one, we have an incredibly diverse and robust economy that’s different from almost every other city in the country. Year after year, we’re identified as one of the key destination points for tourists from across the country and the world. That gives us a head start. Chicago is a world-class city at the crossroads of a lot of different intersections—within a five-hour drive of a lot of destination points in the Midwest and Upper Midwest, the heartland and the border states. Chicago is a fertile ground (with) a built-in class of customers. We’re not generating that from scratch; we already have it, and this will just amplify existing strengths. A Chicago casino has been a long, long time coming. What non-gaming amenities are you looking for? A luxury hotel? Pools and spas? Meetings and convention space? Entertainment?
If you look at casinos that have come online in the last 10 years, the ones that have been really successful aren’t just a box; they’re really the whole package. We’ve followed the shifting change of their revenue streams, and particularly in Las Vegas, there’s a significant amount of revenue generated by the ancillary businesses—whether it’s a singer who does a residency or a hotel and restaurants. It’s not just people putting coins in a machine or gathered around a table. Gaming has evolved significantly over the last few decades, and we want to take full advantage of that trend. Do you have one location that you favor over others?
Well, I have some ideas about where we can maximize the opportunity, but we’re going to give flexibility to the developers to pitch us on where they think would be the greatest opportunity. Some big names have expressed interest in the project. Do you have a personal preference?
We’re not putting our thumb on the scale for anyone. We want someone who really shares our vision about how great an opportunity this is, who is going to think about this not just as building or a box but part of a very exciting entertainment complex. The bottom line for us—we want to set up the chosen operator for success, and we’re committed to partnering in a way that makes that happen.
Global Gaming Business MAY 2021
“There’s something true about smiling eyes when people are happy. Even underneath a mask, you can look at those eyes, and you can tell that they’re happy and excited. It’s just great to be back.” —Frank Neborsky, general manager, Downs Casino and Racetrack in New Mexico, on the return of guests after a yearlong shutdown
CALENDAR May 25: G2E Asia Online Expo & Conference. Produced by Reed Exhibitions and the American Gaming Association. For more information, visit G2EAsia.com. DIGITAL May 28: Prague Gaming Summit 2021. For more information, visit PragueGamingSummit.com. DIGITAL June 9-10: Canadian Gaming Summit. For more information, visit CanadianGamingSummit.com. DIGITAL 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 21-25: ICE Connect Virtual Summit Europe, ExCeL London. Produced by Clarion Gaming. For more information, visit quartzevents.com/events/virtual/ice-connectvirtual-summit-summer-2021-uk. DIGITAL July 13-15: National Council of Legislators from Gaming States (NCLGS) 2021 Summer Meeting, InterContinental Magnificent Mile, Chicago, Illinois. For more information, visit NGLGS.org. LIVE July 19-22, NIGA Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention, Caesars Forum, Las Vegas. For more information, visit indiangamingtradeshow.com. LIVE August 10-12: Australasian Gaming Expo, ICC Sydney, Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia. For more information, visit austgamingexpo.com. LIVE August 17-19: G2E Asia, the Venetian Macao. Produced by Reed Exhibitions and the American Gaming Association. For more information, visit G2EAsia.com. LIVE August 16-18: OIGA Conference & Trade Show, Oklahoma City Convention Center. For more information, visit OIGA.org/tradeshow. LIVE
DESIGNING EXPERIENCES THAT ARE
T R A N S F O R M A T I V E
Caesars Southern Indiana Elizabeth, Indiana
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AMERICAN GAMING ASSOCIATION
The Root of the Problem
Illegal slot games take advantage of players, states and communities
n normal times, one of the most exciting parts of the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) is walking the trade show floor and seeing all the new gaming machines that suppliers have developed. It’s thrilling to see the newest products that will soon make their debut on casino floors. The road to create them reflects years of hard work, including technological innovation, research into consumer preferences and negotiating intellectual property rights. But creating games is only part of the story. Before these machines ever reach the floor, they must undergo rigorous testing and secure approvals from gaming regulators. Regulators are notified when machines are shipped to casino properties, and qualified individuals must receive the secured shipments once they are delivered. In some cases, suppliers even have to ship machines in separate parts to protect against tampering. Once these machines are installed on the casino floor, they are continuously monitored and maintained to ensure fair game play. Although game approval is a lengthy process, it is central to ensuring patrons have confidence they are treated fairly when visiting our properties. However, illegal and unregulated gaming machines continue to proliferate across the country, flouting regulations, undermining consumer confidence and compromising the value of casino gaming. Unregulated machines skirt the law by calling themselves “skill-based,” “nudge,” or any number of euphemisms to operate in gray areas of the law to avoid regulation, licensing and taxation. What’s worse is that some machines simply operate in violation of the law, taking the risk of operating openly—and illegally. These machines continue to operate across the country in illegal slot parlors, convenience stores, truck stops, bars and more, putting consumers at risk while also failing to provide any meaningful tax revenue to our communities. The AGA recently added new resources to aid in the fight against these machines. In mid-April, we released a new white paper and infographic outlining the rigorous standards the regulated casino gaming industry upholds. The paper further illustrates how unregulated and illegal gaming machines deplete the value of the casino license privilege, con-
Global Gaming Business
By Jess Feil By Jess Feil
fuse and endanger customers and deprive states of key tax revenue. This white paper will be the basis of ongoing and sustained efforts to educate our partners and allies in law enforcement and other industries, all of whom will be critical in the fight against illegal machines. In many states, our partners in law enforcement understand the seriousness of this issue. Law enforcement agencies regularly investigate complaints of illegal and unregulated gaming machines, often seizing machines and filing criminal charges for manufacturers and operators that put communities at risk. This year alone, law enforcement units have conducted raids in Arkansas, California, Hawaii and New Jersey. While these raids are focused on illegal machines, they also uncover other forms of contraband, such as drugs, weapons and illicit funds tied to organized crime, underscoring the expanded danger of illegal gambling to our communities. Unfortunately, while many law enforcement officials understand the importance of rooting out these machines, others continue to look the other way. Education is central to this effort—and our industry must tell our story about gaming regulation, including the necessary testing and approvals to ensure fairness and foster consumer confidence. We must also further educate law enforcement and policymakers about the difference between our regulated industry and unregulated machines that take advantage of legal loopholes. Beyond policymakers, businesses and companies allowing their licensees and franchisees to circumvent the law must be held accountable. By working with policy leaders, law enforcement and other businesses, we can root out illegal gaming machines once and for all. Other industries can also be our allies in fighting against illegal machines— but only if we educate them. With this cooperation, we will make meaningful progress in removing illegal and unregulated machines, which will protect consumers and communities while ensuring the gaming industry can continue to generate the jobs, local business and tax revenue that communities rely on nationwide. Jess Feil is vice president, government relations and gaming policy counsel for the American Gaming Association.
Strength in Numbers
More than 170 member companies from 22 countries Nearly $21 billion in direct revenue • 61,700 employees 13 publicly traded companies • ONE POWERFUL VOICE Address worldwide industry regulatory and legislative issues • Discounts on major trade show booth space Promote responsible gaming initiatives • Updates from influential global industry leaders Advertising discounts in leading industry publications • Educational partnerships benefiting students and members Visibility in AGEM’s print advertisements • Exposure for publicly traded companies in the monthly AGEM Index Join AGEM today and work together with the world’s leading gaming suppliers. Marcus Prater, Executive Director +1 702 812 6932 • email@example.com Tracy Cohen, Director of Europe + 44 (0) 7970 833 543 • firstname.lastname@example.org Connie Jones, Director of Responsible Gaming +1 702 528 4374 • email@example.com Design & photo-illustration by Jeff Farrell.com • AGEM and charter ESP member since 2007.
©2021 Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM). Membership list current as of April 2021.
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The New Normal Looking forward means understanding where we’ve been and how we view the future
ith a quarter of 2021 experience in hand and first-quarter earnings season about to launch, now is an appropriate time to check in on some interesting trends. • Forget about last year and next year. Thanks to Covid-19, and maybe the pressure on analysts to justify high target prices, we aren’t comparing financial results to last year or valuing companies on next year’s forecasts. Instead, historic comparisons now come against 2019, the last normal year, and valuations are often based on 2023, which some might suspect will be the next fully normal year, though 2022 strikes me as more appropriate. • And so far, so good. Gaming revenues from states that have reported March results as of this writing are encouraging that casinos not only are on the rebound, but already are beating 2019, the last year of normal operations before Covid. Iowa legacy gaming revenues rose 16.8 percent and Ohio 17.2 percent as examples. There also have been down states, such as Illinois at minus 16.3 percent. But it appears regional gaming revenues, at least, are back. • As for digital, what the heck? Let’s value companies at 30 times revenues or 60 times EBITDA five years out. Investors buying stocks like DraftKings at such astronomical valuations will be rewarded long-term by growth. That may prove true. The classic case is Amazon, which was way too expensive for years, and now that it is highly profitable, those prices were very cheap. But it is a bet. We’ll see how it plays out. • There ain’t no such thing as bad news. Profits fall. Guidance is abandoned or lowered. No problem. Stock prices rise as investing in many companies becomes more a leap of faith than a mathematical calculation. So, the classic question: Are we in the early or middle stages of a great bull market, or are many stock prices seemingly unattached to fundamentals proof that the bear is about to pounce?
Global Gaming Business MAY 2021
By Frank Fantini
• Margins, margins and more margins. The reason for so many U.S. casino operators to report higher profits on lower revenues is their bigtime cost-cutting and the belief they can maintain that cost discipline even when business volumes return to normal. Perhaps the starkest example of this phenomenon at work was presented by Golden Entertainment, which fell somewhat short of fourthquarter expectations. CFO Charles Protell gave a simple illustration to investors on the company’s investor call: Retain five percentage points of the margin improvement on $600 million in casino revenue to generate $30 million in free cash flow and, at 28 million shares, that’s better than a dollar a share in free cash flow. The next day, analysts
we in the early “orAremiddle stages of a
great bull market, or are many stock prices seemingly unattached to fundamentals proof that the bear is about to pounce?
produced big jumps in their target prices and the stock shot up over 15 percent in the next several trading sessions. • Market share or profitability. Take your pick. Investors have two nearly opposite choices in the proliferating world of online sports betting and iGaming. On one side are the big operators grabbing 25, 30, even 40 percent and more market share— FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM, Barstool and to a lesser extent so far, William Hill. These operators, or so the theory goes, will be the survivors once the industry matures and consolidates, and
then they will make tons of money. On the other side are the smaller operators who say that, rather than spend wildly to buy market share, they focus on profitability—Rush Street Interactive, Golden Nugget Online, Churchill Downs, Score Media. We tend to lean toward those that emphasize profitability, though none are profitable yet as even they have to make upfront investments in all of the new markets. We would add Caesars to this list. While a large company about to get larger with the acquisition of William Hill, CEO Tom Reeg is laser-focused on profitability. • How REIT they are. Unquestionable winners in brick-and-mortar gaming during Covid have been the three REITs—Gaming and Leisure Properties, VICI Properties and MGM Growth Properties. Pre-Covid, many REIT investors preferred companies with diverse tenants. But as shopping malls and office buildings got slammed by the pandemic, casinos paid rents steadily and reliably. Now, the gaming REITs have not only proven themselves in a stressful time, they all are positioned to continue growing their portfolios, rents and, importantly to investors, their dividends. • We’re all grown up now. The recent addition of Caesars and Penn National to the S&P 500 was a well-earned achievement by two companies of modest beginnings—Caesars from Bill Harrah’s Bingo Hall and Don Carano’s Eldorado casino, both in Reno, and Penn National from a single minor-league racetrack outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. But it also is a tribute to the growth of the U.S. casino industry. Caesars and PENN join Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts in listing among America’s blue chips. Given the small size of the gaming industry, that’s pretty good representation. Frank Fantini is the editor and publisher of Fantini’s Gaming Report. For a free 30-day trial subscription email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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AGEMupdate AGEM MEMBER PROFILE Philadelphia-based Sparks Marketing is a total solution experiential marketing partner. As a live + digital brand experience agency, Sparks specializes in creating connections on-site and online. Regardless of the delivery, the company creates powerful brand experiences that resonate on a deeply human level. Sparks assists clients on navigating a new normal. Live, virtual, or somewhere in-between, Sparks’ humancentered solutions build brands, businesses and bottom lines: • Digital interactives and virtual events • Trade show exhibits and expos • Conferences and events • Road shows and mobile tours • Brand activations and sponsorships • Executive briefing centers, customer experience centers, and corporate environments • Retail fixtures and experiences Virtual Virtu is a robust, customizable, virtual event platform with three unique engagement offerings to meet all of a client’s virtual program needs. • Virtu - Full-featured event platform that emulates a live experience with dedicated event spaces, sponsorship integration, sessions, breakouts, engagement tools, etc. • Virtu3D - Customized website experience that leverages a static environment backdrop overlaid with interactive content hotspots. • Virtu 360 - An immersive real-time 360-degree experience that allows attendees to explore various content offerings in self-guided or client-guided tours. Content The right content connects people to the world’s top brands. As an agency that values connection over everything, Sparks believes that great content isn’t just powerful, it’s totally necessary—no matter the platform. Sparks develops core messaging that’s audience-appropriate, extends the customer’s brand strategy, and carries it through the entire experience. Its content teams work with the customer to make sure content creates maximum attendee engagement. Sparks helps with the entire content creation process—concept development, creative direction, storyboarding, scripting, location sourcing, video production and editing. Sparks recently acquired two leaders in the industry, Group Delphi and 3D Exhibits. These acquisitions reinforce the company’s financial strength and advance its strategic goal of emerging a stronger, more complete company than it was pre-pandemic. For more information, visit wearesparks.com or contact Vice President New Business Development Dale Beyer, 847-636-8498 or email@example.com.
AGEM Board of Directors Actions for April 2021 • Activity in Mexico continues to be positive for AGEM members and the industry. The recent three-day virtual Gaming Symposium hosted by Olga Sánchez Cordero, the Mexican government secretary for the interior, along with SEGOB Director Alma Itzec De Lira Castillo, was a great success. Olga Sánchez Cordero spoke of the need for a new federal law and the importance that its evolution reflects today’s technology, economics and culture and that bad practices of old be eradicated. She also called for the cancellation of the proposed Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM) certification that would add a further layer of certification to gaming machines. AGEM Mexico Committee Chair Carlos Carrión of Aristocrat represented all suppliers at the event and also spoke and adjudicated on some panels. The event, along with the positive discussions, signals a new change for Mexico and is welcomed by AGEM as it continues to work with all the parties involved to ensure its members get the best representation. • AGEM’s unregulated gaming machine campaign received some good news recently when Virginia Governor Ralph Northam confirmed that the one-year provision he granted for unregulated machines to operate would not be extended past July when it expires. Last year, even though the Virginia legislature passed a bill to ban the machines, Northam vetoed the bill due to Covid-19 so a $1,200-per-machine monthly fee could be used for a pandemic relief fund. There was concern the operators were lobbying for an extension, but the governor has kept to his word and plans to enforce the one-year-only timeline. • Fifteen months after it was first established, the Japan Regulatory Gaming Commission has recently issued its framework for both operators and suppliers and opened up a public comment period, which AGEM is very pleased about, having previously suggested to the commission that comment be allowed on the draft regulations. AGEM is working with GLI on reviewing the wording and will make a decision whether to submit comments if there are any red flags, although early indications are promising. • The new date for this year’s AGEM/AGA 22nd Annual Golf Classic presented by JCM Global was recently confirmed as September 28, and will be held at Cascata, Boulder City, Nevada. The event usually takes place in April or May but has been postponed due to the pandemic. AGEM members approved a $10,000 contribution request that will provide joint title sponsorship with the AGA. The event provides a fundraiser for the International Center for Responsible Gaming (ICRG) and it is hoped, this year as all others, AGEM members will ensure it is well supported. • The AGEM Board approved the application of High 5 Games as a Bronze member. Founded in 1995 and based in Mahwah, New Jersey, High 5 Games is one of the industry’s largest independent casino games providers, developing content for the land-based, mobile, online and social markets, both B2B and B2C.
Forthcoming Events • AGEM members approved a $5,000 sponsorship request for the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention, which is now taking place in in Las Vegas at the new Caesars Forum July 19-22. Clarion, the event organizer, has reported 306 exhibitors are planning to return to the show this year, compared to 325 exhibitors that were going to exhibit at the 2020 event in San Diego before it was canceled due to the pandemic. In addition, seven new companies have contracted to exhibit. Registration to the show opened April 15, and all indications are the show is being supported well and attendance will be positive.
The AGEM Index increased by 12.33 points to 764.13 points in March 2021, a 1.6 percent gain from February 2021. Over the month, the majority of AGEM Index companies reported decreases in stock price, with five trending positively and eight moving negatively. The AGEM Index’s March 2021 growth was driven by a 13.1 percent increase in the stock price of Aristocrat Leisure Limited (ASX: ALL), which rose from $30.36 to $34.35. The stock was responsible for 35.77 points of the AGEM Index’s monthly growth. The other significant index contributor was Crane Co. (NYSE: CR), which added 12.21 points due to a 12 percent stock price gain from $83.86 to $93.91. The major stock indices also performed strongly over the month as the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 experienced monthly gains of 6.6 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively, while the NASDAQ grew by 0.4 percent.
MAY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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‘Sticky’ Slot developers and consultants look into the psychology of slot play to see what makes a player stick with—and return to—a game BY FRANK LEGATO
or nearly four decades, slot machines have maintained their role as the most important revenue-generator for casinos. From when microprocessors were first applied to simple three-reel steppers through all the various incarnations and styles of slot machines, operators and suppliers alike have endeavored to understand what it is that makes a particular slot game successful. ReelMetrics, a data analytics firm that has helped slot operators and manufacturers solve the game puzzle, calls the effort a quest to create “sticky” slots—programs that cause players to stick with a particular game over others. “Sticky slots are inherently productive assets with the proven ability to capture and captivate players,” says Nick Hogan, co-founder and CEO of ReelMetrics, which is the world’s largest aggregator of gaming data. ReelMetrics uses data to show operators how game configurations can lead to slots being sticky as opposed to “slippery,” and to minimize what the company calls the “ricochet effect.” “Slippery slots are inherently unproductive assets that discourage and deflect players,” Hogan says. “And ricochet is a footfall effect where players spend an inordinate amount of time pinballing from slippery slot to slippery slot until something sticky snags them.” The quest to solve the puzzle of what makes games stick is ongoing, and confounding to many. New features and game mechanics have rolled
Global Gaming Business MAY 2021
out from manufacturers for decades, but according to ReelMetrics chairman and co-founder John Boushy, the number of those innovations that have translated into hit games is relatively small. “One of the biggest problems we’ve had in our industry is that a lot of development in product has really been performed without a great deal of empirical data on the people and behaviors,” Boushy says. “So, we are really trying to change that. “When you look at the results of what is actually succeeding that’s come out, it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 percent or less... These are failure rates that are way too high.” The major slot manufacturers have responded by increasingly turning to research
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“Sticky slots are inherently productive assets with the proven ability to capture and captivate players.” —Nick Hogan, co-founder and CEO, ReelMetrics
and data collection to cull the most from those features and games that do succeed, and use that information to replicate the success. “The prior behavioral trends of slot players are something that our game designers constantly track,” says Michael Mastropietro, senior vice president of game development for Scientific Games. “Like any form of entertainment, what appeals to players is constantly changing and evolving. “When making decisions on what mechanics to leverage, we look at what is gaining traction on casino floors regarding our own games and competitors. We leverage proven performers, such as Quick Hit, Dancing Drums, and Lock It Link, as well as evolve ideas that have resonated with players.” Research into player preferences also involves hands-on experience playing the actual games, says Ian Arrowsmith, senior director of game development for Konami Gaming, Inc. “I lead a team of game designers at Konami who are all students of the slot industry,” Arrowsmith says. “There isn’t a game in the field our team hasn’t played. They pore over game performance reports, track trends, visit casino sites, and observe what and how players play. Konami also utilizes data gathered from player focus group testing and test banks. In addition, we consider trends and observation from adjacent industries where our parent company actively participates, including amusement, online gaming, and mobile gaming.” Cody Herrick, director of game design for Ainsworth Game Technology, says scrutiny of games already in the field is among the best ways to discern what features are making players stay at games longer. “We do conduct player focus groups and internal reviews as well, but a lot of our information about new product development comes from previ-
ous product,” Herrick says. “A lot of our research is done on games in the field, how they’re performing now, and trying to learn from that. A lot of our development goes into the behaviors, good or bad, with past products, and researching competitors’ products as well.” Whether or not the player returns to a specific game, Herrick says, often involves the simplicity of the game. “How easy is it for the player to understand that game?” he says. “We want to learn from that.” While perhaps not digging as deep as a firm like ReelMetrics, slot developers are leaning on data more and more in determining what makes a successful game. “Data analytics have been something that game designers have been craving since the beginning,” says Mastropietro at Scientific Games. “Historically, it has been challenging to get a good read on how games are performing. The gaming industry is unusual because the product designers do not interact with the end user but depend on an intermediary, casinos, for feedback. Game designers love any data we can get our hands on, and things are getting better.” SG just launched SG Connect, a new reporting system that will provide the supplier and its operator customers with valuable player behavioral insights. “These insights will aid us in creating superior games, resulting in increased casino profitability,” says Mastropietro. “The industry as a whole is now employing more data analytics as well. Casinos want to know not only what is going on in their market but industrywide so they can spot player trends.”
POPULAR TRENDS Game designers and analysts agree that making games simple to understand is one of the most important trends shown to draw players to games. “There has been a trend which has been occurring for a while now towards increasing immediacy and simplifying wins,” says Mastropietro. “That’s not to say games are simpler. There are numerous ways to present wins to players, but what they won and how they won is much more obvious.” “Konami designers have a holistic approach to game design, where every component of the game is deemed important to the performance of the game,” says Arrowsmith. “A solid game mechanic with a well-balanced math model provides the bedrock to the game, coupled with stunning graphics and fine-tuned audio to communicate a path to riches for the player. This creates a thrill and anticipation, even when they don’t win big. “These games communicate some consistent expectations on how the reward experience is delivered, and give repeat players the chance to relive it, or even gain something greater.” As far as individual slot mechanics, none is more ubiquitous these days than the “hold-and-re-spin” feature first created by Aristocrat for the Light-
MAY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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“Progressives, and specifically progressive machines with the cashon-reels and hold-and-re-spin game mechanics, have taken over the premium leased market on casino floors.” —Rick Eckert, Managing Director, Slot Performance & Analytics, Eilers & Krejcic Gaming
ning Link series, but emulated by just about every other manufacturer. Herrick at Ainsworth, which has created several popular persistent-state titles like Lucky Empress, says players respond to such persistent games because they create a sense of goal-chasing and, when successful, accomplishment. “The common aspect is anticipation of that big win,” Herrick says. “We’re making sure we’re conveying to the player that anticipation, that moment, that buildup, to when they’re going to get it. Whether we talk about that being a high-volatility game or a low-volatility game, you still want to have that anticipation. That gives the player that feel, that big accomplishment when they win—they earned it.” “Progressives, and specifically progressive machines with the cash-on-reels and hold-and-re-spin game mechanics, have taken over the premium leased market on casino floors,” comments Rick Eckert, managing director, slot performance & analytics for Eilers & Krejcic Gaming. “This is the popular combination of mechanics that Aristocrat’s Lightning Link skyrocketed into the U.S. market with and continues with Dragon Link and many competitor titles. “I believe it comes down to the clarity between the games’ payout, or potential payout, to a customer with a simple-to-see-and-follow game mechanic. Persistent play features let the player know that there is an exciting bonus or more wilds waiting for them if they can just play a bit longer, often leading to players digging deeper into their wallet share on that specific game, rather than bouncing around with their gambling budget.” “These mechanics have become so popular with players because it is very clear what needs to be achieved to win, and what will be won,” says SG’s Mastropietro. “Persistent play,” adds Konami’s Arrowsmith, “suggests a personal investment into an increasing pool of jackpot cash or prizes. This is popular because it allows players to experience and observe some graphic representation of the jackpot cycle, and their part in it. “Credit collect bonuses like hold-and-spin and stay-and-spin are often easy to understand, with credit amounts displayed directly on the symbols. It’s also common for the prizes to be tallied one-by-one, allowing players to really experience the weight of what they’ve won.”
Global Gaming Business MAY 2021
PLAYING THE CROWD As slot game mechanics have evolved, game designers have become cognizant of which features appeal to a universal audience, and which appeal to certain groups of players. “There are certain demographics that like certain kinds of games,” says Ainsworth’s Herrick. “The persistent state-style games coming on maybe draw a different type of player, somebody looking for an advantage. And that goes back to the simplicity of the games, too. You could have a really complicated persistent-state game, and no one’s going to sit there and do math to figure out what state it’s in. “At the end if the day, it’s good math that’s going to make a good game. And when you have a good game, it works in pretty much all markets across all player segments.” “The success of a game is ultimately measured by the amount of money a game makes,” says SG’s Mastropietro. “Therefore, high-stakes and core gamblers have more influence on trends than any other demographic by driving performance on casino floors. As a result, the industry is mainly focused on the types of games these repeat players like to play. “Casual players are drawn to games featuring familiar licensed brands that tend to be less volatile and more geared towards entertainment, such as The Wizard of Oz and Willy Wonka games. Great success is achieved if you can find that sweet spot where the game appeals to both types of players.”
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“The best games are the ones that are configured properly with the right line counts, the right hold percentages, put in the right spots.” —Don Retzlaf, Head of Professional Services, ReelMetrics
“All of these play mechanics go in a cycle,” comments Mike Trask, director of product marketing and strategy for Ainsworth. “Everyone remembers when different styles of games were the hottest thing in gaming. And here we are, and they’re not. But I’ll bet you go to the casino floor or the trade show later this year, and you’ll start to see that people will find a new twist on them. “Most stuff in our industry goes in a cycle, and different things get hot for different reasons.” “It’s like fashion,” says Herrick. “It all comes back around again and gets reinvented for the market today. You could have done a pick feature five years ago and it was low volatility, and maybe it worked then but the players’ tastes have changed. You can still do a pick feature, but you’re going to have to add more volatility now.” Volatility, in fact, is one of the key factors appealing to another important slot demographic, the traditional slot player—the classic gambler looking for high denominations and high volatility. “Traditional games will be a steady staple on the casino floor for many years to come,” says Konami’s Arrowsmith. “They may not get as much talk or attention, but there is an enduring appeal.” Herrick notes that a big portion of Ainsworth’s success has come from the high-denomination, high-volatility game style. “Especially out of our Sydney studio, we have a lot of these game mechanics that are well-known to the player,” he says. “Even though it’s a new game, it still has that feel, that higher volatility, simpler math styles, the free games, concepts like sticky wilds... That player segment is still a big part of the market, and obviously a big part of our game portfolio.”
THE COMMON DENOMINATOR The variety of game styles, game mechanics and appealing slot features may not be as important in creating a “sticky” game as how the game—whatever the style—is configured, and located, according to Don Retzlaf, head of professional services for ReelMetrics. “The best games are the ones that are configured properly with the right line counts, the right hold percentages, put in the right spots,” Retzlaf says. “Even for the games featuring the top play mechanics, the games have a wide range of performance due to these controllable variables. “The operator can place some games on the floor that they’re expecting to do two and three times house average, and they have no shot just because of how they’re being set up. These games have a very narrow band for success. And I think the manufacturers are starting to realize that, and they’re starting to want to make configuration recommendations. They just don’t have the data yet, but fortunately, we’ve been able to come up with some configuration op-
Global Gaming Business MAY 2021
tions for our clients that take these low-performing games and turn them around, for no cost. “It’s not as much on the features, whether it’s persistent or hold-and-respin. A lot of it is how the games are set up.” Adds ReelMetrics co-founder and Chairman John Boushy, “There’s been a huge amount of discussion throughout the industry of, ‘should I have a higher hold percentage, lower hold percentage, higher return to player, lower return to player...’ At the end of the day, what the answer is depends upon the overall way the game plays. Because in some situations the best setting is a lower return to player; in other situations, it’s a higher return to player.” “I just looked at one of the most popular leased games on the floor, where every casino has it,” says Retzlaf. “And the range of outcomes was from less than house average to four times house average. For this one, it was all location-based. A lot of people put these games into poor locations trying to drive traffic, but in this case, the leased game, if you put it in a location that was average or below average, it was barely doing house average.” Besides configuration and location, the biggest factor in making a game sticky is its winning percentage—not RTP, but the percentage of all play that results in a winning play session. According to Retzlaf, 20 percent is the sweet spot. “I just finished looking at over 43 million player sessions, taken over a one-year period, and a couple of things jumped out,” Retzlaf says. “Volatility and configuration are the key components of success, and the best games have a player winning session of around 20 percent. “If they get much higher, then they become a time-on-device game, and it doesn’t resonate very well with the customers. If they get below 12 percent, the games just have too much volatility, and that leads to multiple poor experiences, and the game loses traction with all those high-frequency players the casinos thrive on. There are some really good games out there, but with a win percentage of 10-12 percent, it just creates a lot of negative experiences. If you lose on that game nine times out of 10,
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seven times out of eight, you have a lot of negative experiences on those games.” ReelMetrics has cited research in the past it says demonstrates that most slot floors have too much variety—too many choices equals too many slippery games, the research says. “We’ve yet to see a single slot floor anywhere in the industry that we would not describe as grossly over-diversified,” says ReelMetrics’ Hogan. “There’s simply too much variety out on the floors, and then to make matters worse, the floors are ridiculously slippery with unproductive assets, outnumbering productive games... What’s happening is that players are spending far too much time transitioning from lousy experience to lousy experience.” Hogan points to the fact that many casinos have already equaled pre-pandemic slot revenues despite reduced capacity. “Despite the 30-to-50 percent reduction in the total number of active units, we saw unit level revenue gains that were wildly disproportionate—200 to 400 percent lift was by no means unusual.” He says the company’s research shows “dramatic increases in session duration and far fewer game samplings per trip. Effectively, players found those sticky games very quickly, and they stayed put.” Slot manufacturers agree that there may be too much variety for players, but some disagree that this fact is causing players to “ricochet” from game to game. “I do agree that players are being bombarded with too much variety,” says SG’s Mastropietro. “Currently, several hundred games are released each year, with a new game released almost daily. In my first year working at WMS, we released five games a year. Now we are releasing 60-plus, just in Class III. “I disagree that too much variety is causing players to drift from game to game. I feel the opposite is true. It used to be that five new games would release,
and players would play all five. Now, in this game-saturated environment, players are drawn to and focusing on what they know and what is familiar. Because of this, slot brands are becoming more important and powerful. Slot brands, such as 88 Fortunes, Dancing Drums, Lock It Link and Zeus, have huge, loyal followings. Players know what to expect when they play a new title in the Dancing Drums family.” “The options to the player are vast, but the communication from the game to the player has greatly evolved from five years ago,” says EKG’s Eckert. “Progressives and game mechanics are basically yelling at players from across the casino floor, and once they sit down, the LED button decks have now even evolved to letting players know what they might be getting in return for placing a higher bet, or inversely, what features they lose when betting down.” “One of the benefits of this new, highly competitive market is that quality is incredibly high, and players’ expectations are rising,” says Mastropietro. “Game hardware, graphics and signage have to be superior to the competition to get noticed.” “More manufacturers than ever before making more games than ever before,” says Ainsworth’s Trask. “At the same time, though, our 10-year-old high-denom games continue to be the most popular in the country, month after month, year after year. Certainly there’s a competitive market, but when a game sticks, it has its audience. “Because of the variety and the amount of product being released, and the limited capacity in casinos over the last year, it’s even harder to make something that sticks out. But when you do, I believe the results remain the same. It’s a more competitive market than ever, and it’s hard to get your game played on a casino floor. The sticky games will be there.”
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This Year’s Model
Why the restoration of Bally’s as a brand spells out a new way to build a gaming company By RogeR gRos
V We are a gaming company, we’re a technology company, we’re a media company. We’re actually all three. And I think you can make the assumption that we’re going to continue to expand our expertise, our breadth, our offerings, on all three.” —Soo Kim, Managing Director, Standard General
Global Gaming Business MAY 2021
irtually all casino companies now have a digital arm. Whether it’s social casinos, mobile sports betting or realmoney online gaming, a casino company would have to be operating with blinders on to ignore the potential for these digital tools. But so far, these tools have just been an add-on to a land-based casino, whether the company has one or more than 100. But the connections are tenuous at best. A truly expansive experience connecting all channels of delivery has yet to be established by any traditional gaming company. That may change now that Soo Kim has added a brand name to his vision.
Bally Blockbuster The Bally’s brand has been around for almost 90 years, dating back to when, as Bally Manufacturing, it launched a pinball game known as Ballyhoo in 1932. The company soon began to manufacture slot machines and later got into casino operations. But the company that represents the brand today has only been around since 2004, when a group that included Sol Kerzner and Len Wolman, two of the principals behind the original Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, paid more than $400 million for a small Rhode Island racetrack, Lincoln Park, which it renovated for an additional $200 million and renamed Twin River Casino. But the 2007-08 recession forced that group to default to a group of lenders that included Bank of America and Wells Fargo, and Twin River Worldwide Holdings was born, now majority-owned by Standard General, a New York-based hedge fund. Kim, the managing director of Standard General, had been a director of Twin River since 2016 and was named chairman in November 2020. He had help to cement decisions made by Twin River for several
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The birthplace of the current Bally’s Corp. can be traced to the Twin River casino in Lincoln, Rhode Island
years, starting with the purchase of Rhode Island’s only other casino, the Newport Grand. The license was moved to Tiverton on the Massachusetts border and a new $140 million casino hotel was built. In 2019, Twin River purchased Dover Downs Gaming & Entertainment, whose main asset was a racetrack and casino in Delaware, but the real attraction was a reverse merger where Twin River went public under the Dover Downs shell. Kim says it was a defining moment for the company. In addition to being the vehicle for the company to go public, he talks about improved cash flow, upgraded facilities and added marketing capabilities. And the addition of former Dover Downs controlling shareholder Jeff Rollins has been a big benefit to the Bally’s board. “When you do one good deal, it helps you do future deals,” says Kim, “because it gives you more capacity and more confidence. So actually Dover was a very important deal, even though it was a small deal, because it worked out so well in such a short period of time, that it allowed that snowball effect to keep rolling down the hill.” In early 2020, Twin River bought three Colorado casinos from Affinity Gaming and then in April took advantage of the Caesars-Eldorado merger, picking up Bally’s Atlantic City for a mere $25 million, plus Eldorado Shreveport and Montbleu in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. In July, another Eldorado casualty was scooped up, the Isle of Capri in Kansas City. But Kim says the true identity of the company was cemented when it bought the Bally’s brand from Caesars in November, a thought that germinated when Twin River bought the Atlantic City property. “We asked the Caesars folks that were selling it at the time, then in the middle of the merger with Eldorado, if they were will-
Bally’s started off as Bally Manufacturing, a pinball company in the 1930s, and expanded to building slot machines and later operating casinos
Almost 20 regional sports networks are now branded Bally Sports as a result of a deal with Sinclair Broadcasting
ing to sell it, they said ‘no.’ But when Eldorado ultimately closed on the purchase of Caesars, they agreed to sell it. So, we’re really thankful to Eldorado for entrusting us with what I believe is one of the iconic names in gaming.” Practically, it saved the company the money from having to rebrand Atlantic City, but Kim says it was bigger than that. It tied into his vision for the future of the company. “We have a plan,” he explains. “We’ve been operating with a plan to figure out what do we do in this world of online gaming. It’s massively disruptive to the industry as a whole, so how do we choose to face this disruption? We’ve chosen to face it in a positive way and embrace it, embrace the change, and not be scared of it. We needed to decide what we need to do to be relevant in an online future—an omnichannel future. We frankly wanted a unified identity because regional identity makes sense in the physical world, but online, across the nation, having one brand makes a lot more sense.” Kim says the brand was once very important in gaming and he hopes to extend that reach, and recounts its history that extended far beyond gaming. “It’s an iconic name that’s been around for almost 100 years,” he says. “Actually, I loved the roots as a pinball company—the Midway games. I love that entertainment, and engaging audience roots, because frankly as gambling goes online, in some ways it becomes more ever-present. You can’t hit people with gambling all the time. We want to position ourselves as the interactive entertainment brand. Bally’s started as an entertainment brand. At one point, (Bally) owned amusement parks and sports clubs and gyms. I love the history of the name.”
MAY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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Bally’s announced that it is buying the operations of the Tropicana in Las Vegas from the REIT Gaming and Leisure Properties Inc.
Even when it comes to gaming, Bally’s holds a special place, according to Kim. “It was the center of East Coast gaming for years,” he says. “Can you get more exclusive than Boardwalk and Park Place (the Monopoly location of Bally’s AC)?” More exclusive could be the intersection of the Las Vegas Strip and Flamingo, where the current Bally’s Las Vegas stands. When Kim reached the deal to acquire the Bally’s brand from Caesars, he gave them rights to the Bally’s name on this building as long as they wanted it. Even with Caesars previously stating that the company would sell one of its Las Vegas Strip properties following the Eldorado merger, Kim doesn’t believe that property will be Bally’s, simply because of its location. “It’s at the heart of the action,” he says. Right before press time, however, Bally’s announced that it is buying the operations of the Tropicana in Las Vegas from the gaming REIT Gaming and Leisure Properties Inc. (GLPI) for $150 million plus a yearly lease of $10.5 million for 50 years. In addition, Bally’s would sell the properties occupied by the Bally’s Black Hawk and Bally’s Rock Island (formerly Jumer’s) to GLPI for $150 million, with a $12 million annual lease payment for Bally’s to operate both properties. Therefore, when the deal closes in early 2022, no cash will change hands. Kim says his company needed to be in Las Vegas. “If we have aspirations of being a national brand, we had to have a presence on the Strip,” he explains. “Now we have a place to send our customers who want to make that annual trip to Vegas.” He believes Bally’s got in at a reasonable price, but time was of the essence. “The Tropicana is 36 acres at the beginning of the Strip,” he says. “It only has 600 slots and in some instances it feels like it hasn’t been touched since 1960. We truly believe that Las Vegas is going to recover quickly, and this gives us a chance to be there, invest a little money, and decide later what would be the best fit as a real attraction.” Kim didn’t comment about whether the Tropicana would be rebranded as a Bally’s. But with Bally’s Las Vegas being the only Bally’s brand left in the Caesars’ portfolio, one has to wonder whether it would make more sense for that property to be rebranded a “Horseshoe” casino, the third powerful mark behind Caesars and Harrah’s, a valuable asset for the company. Judging by how quickly Bally’s has been making deals, and given the good relationship Bally’s has with the management team at Caesars Entertainment, Tropicana may be Bally’s by the time this article is published.
Sports Focus Following 2020’s property buys, Kim’s next step was to arrange a deal with Sinclair Broadcasting to brand the sports channels in Sinclair’s network of channels as Bally Sports. In a previous business dealing, Kim had built a broadcasting company featuring 77 television stations making $450 million a year and then sold it to Sinclair’s main competitor. So his familiarity with the company was apparent, and his interest in working with them was piqued. 22
Global Gaming Business MAY 2021
The purchase of Bally’s Atlantic City from Caesars Entertainment in 2020 opened the door to buying the brand for $20 million
“There was a lot of mutual respect,” says Kim. In sports, Sinclair has the largest portfolio of “local rights” versus ESPN, which has the largest national rights. Kim says the local rights were more important than the national rights because sports betting is a localized action, rather than national. As a result, Bally Sports is now branded in 19 different regional sports networks (RSNs), serving some of the most densely populated regions of the nation, many of them with legal sports betting. The Sinclair sports channels were branded as Fox Sports, and Kim convinced them to rebrand. Then the next purchase was a technology company called Bet.Works, which he believes has superior sports betting technology compared to some of the other national brands, and he says it was proven during the Super Bowl, when several of the platforms of the national brands went down, but the Bet.Works technology stood up. “It was our access footprint, it was our technical capacity, our branding, all coming together to work with Sinclair’s amazing footprint of rights,” he says. “If we can bring this together in the right way, it’s going to be huge.” In April, Kim announced that Bally’s would collaborate with Sinclair to facilitate the production and broadcast of Bally’s-produced content during the current non-game windows on Sinclair’s 19 RSNs recently rebranded Bally Sports. “We continue to seek innovative ways to allow fans to further engage with the Bally’s brand, and are confident that the engagement opportunities we will create will elevate the live viewing experience in a manner not seen before,” he says. “The gamification of live sports is the next phase of interac-
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Four strategic acquisitions have transformed Bally’s into a technology company
tive gaming, and we look forward to continuing to create lean-in experiences for sports fans across the nation as our content strategy continues to expand.” The company’s sports betting app, Bally Bet, will play a huge role in the development of the Bally’s-Sinclair content, says Kim. Other Bally’s acquisitions include SportCaller, a B2B free-to-play (F2P) game provider for sports betting and media companies across North America, the U.K., Europe, Asia, Australia, LATAM and Africa, and Monkey Knife Fight, the fastest-growing gaming platform and third-largest daily fantasy sports (DFS) operator in North America. These deals, says Kim, will broaden the appeal of the Bally’s experience. “They know who their customers are, and they bring them through a journey,” he explains. “In a physical world, I think that might be less important, because it’s about who owns what and on what corner. But online, everyone is equal, so it’s important that you offer a better software, a better product, and then also to keep better control over who your customers are, and keep them loyal. So with Sinclair’s media rights, our technology access footprint, and brand, we really have the potential to put together a very differentiated product that really can not only give a customer a great experience at a physical casino, but also pull them along online, and give them products that are really important to them.” In some ways, Kim believes a change of how viewers consume sports is already under way, and he believes that the direction he’s leading Bally’s will de-emphasize betting. “What we’re trying to do is deliver more entertainment,” he says. “We think that watching a game should be more interactive, should be more engaging, should be more entertaining. As the audience starts to fragment, they’re disengaging from traditional media, because meanwhile there’s millions of people that watch other people play video games on the internet. “Is it really that much more engaging to watch some video feeds, versus an actual player hitting a ball or running, something like that? I think that’s pretty clear that’s not the advantage. The advantage is it’s more interactive. Kids are watching video games, playing video games, talking to others about playing video games, talking to the people playing video games.”
iGaming Future Another acquisition by Bally’s recently was the purchase of the British-based iGaming company Gamesys, an early entry into the U.S. market in New Jersey. The platform has been used by the Tropicana and Virgin Games in New Jersey and other B2C companies in the U.S. “As you know, iGaming is where the money really is,” says Kim. “And in Gamesys, we found the company that has been doing it for a long time, has built a really unique product set, and owns it. They’re very profitable. They operate in relatively mature markets. We decided we can pay mature market 24
Global Gaming Business MAY 2021
prices, and then bring them to the growth market, which is the U.S. “Gamesys has very good market share in Europe, leading with bingo versus leading with sports, which gives them a really interesting, differentiated skill set. We can add our sports on top of that, and so to essentially hit both demographics, and bring all that knowledge and expertise. I’ve always told people that we want to be a tech company. And with the merger with Gamesys, we will be a tech company.” Kim is cagey about the future for Bally’s Corp., but clearly he’s not done yet. He admits that he’s doing things differently than other casino companies have done them. Most companies hire technology partners to provide their products to generate business, but Kim wants Bally’s to own the technology so the company can control the journey of the player from the land-based casino, to viewing sports, to playing online for real money. But how’s he going to get there? Well, he’s keeping those cards close to his vest. “I don’t want to read from the framework, because we have it and we’re still executing parts of it,” he says. “I’m happy to tell you about the parts that we’ve executed, but the parts we haven’t, not quite yet. But it’s common sense. Once you see the whiteboard, it won’t be a mystery.” Being considered a technology and an operating company is tricky, something few have been able to accomplish. Kim outlines the challenge. “Some of the tech is not profitable, right? So you must be careful about that,” he says. “With a company like Gamesys, it is a profitable tech company, and so we’re trying to balance the ability to fund and grow. Look, we are a gaming company, we’re a technology company, we’re a media company. We’re actually all three. And I think you can make the assumption that we’re going to continue to expand our expertise, our breadth, our offerings, on all three. On the gaming side, it’s obvious we are bidding on new projects. I’m sure we’ll participate in additional M&A activities. That stuff will continually happen. “On the technology side, I would say that Gamesys is a very important anchor, and it helps us complete the major pillars of what we think we need to own. But there are many other interesting technologies and businesses that we believe will fit really well into an online future, and especially the engaging and entertaining online future that we’ve talked about. So we’ll continue to make acquisitions there. And stay tuned on the media side. We think the integration to media is our competitive advantage.” With the rapid growth and development of Bally’s, competitors wouldn’t be wise to dismiss Kim’s plan. And for new entries into the business, well, now you’ve got a new blueprint for success.
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What the SPAC!? Understanding the emergence of a new route to going public in the gaming industry BY ADAM STEINBERG, CFA
ince around 2019, there has been an increasing number of gaming companies combining with special-purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) to expeditiously go public and acquire an additional form of currency— public equities—to fund new growth opportunities. It is important to note that SPACs have existed since the early 1990s, but for a variety of reasons, they did not gain favor within the gaming industry until recently. SPAC issuance thus far in 2021 exceeds the prior year, as privately held, high-growth industries appreciate the SPAC as a more cost-effective and less time-intensive process to go public than the traditional initial public offering (IPO) route. Since the end of 2019, there have been several examples of gaming companies using SPACs to go public instead of doing an IPO. The most notable of these was DraftKings, which went public roughly a year ago and has been one of the best-performing stocks during this time period. Other reported SPACs that appear on the horizon include Sportradar, reportedly valued as high as $10 billion. While most of the focus has been on sports betting and online gaming and their associated suppliers, SPACs have been used for land-based opportunities as well. One of the most recent of these transactions was the creation of Gaming & Hospitality Acquisition Company (GHAC), which was sponsored by Affinity Gaming. For those unfamiliar, a SPAC has raised proceeds through a public offering, but does not have current operations of its own. Instead, the SPAC has 18 months to agree to acquire a company and 24 months to complete the acquisition. Based on available information, there are believed to currently be approximately 430 SPACs that have completed their IPO but have not yet announced an acquisition. In other words, there are 430 SPACs searching for a target to acquire. For the year to date ended March 31, 2021, approximately 297 SPACs have completed their IPO, raising over $97 billion in proceeds. For comparative purposes, there was a record 248 SPAC IPOs with $83 billion in proceeds for the entire year 2020. Thus, through one quarter of 2021, the number of SPAC IPOs and proceeds has exceeded all of 2020. In fact, the 2021 YTD SPAC issuance has exceeded the number of IPOs and proceeds for the 11 years from 2009 through 2019 combined.
Global Gaming Business MAY 2021
Figure 1: SPAC IPO Transactions by Year (2009-2021 YTD) Source: SPAC Insider
Strict Rules In a gaming blog post on SPACs in August, we highlighted that a SPAC has not identified, or begun discussions with, its acquisition target at the time of its IPO. If it had done so, the SPAC must disclose the target in its Form S-1 initial registration form. Other items to consider during the IPO process include the following: 100 percent of the IPO proceeds are placed into a trust account. The trust funds cannot be disbursed until either i) an M&A transaction is completed; or ii) the SPAC is dissolved and the public shares are redeemed if the SPAC does not complete a transaction in the appropriate time frame. The fair value of the target must be equal to at least 80 percent of the cash in the SPAC trust fund. • More typically, the target is acquired for three to four times the initial SPAC proceeds with the additional capital raised by issuing either debt or equity. SPACs offer units, which consist of shares and rights or warrants to purchase additional common stock.
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• The SPAC units become separable after the IPO and both the shares and warrants freely trade. The SPAC sponsors acquire “founder” shares. • With some variation, the founder shares will ensure the sponsors own approximately 20 percent of the outstanding common stock of the post-transaction company. • Similar to a post-IPO lockup in a typical initial public offering, the founder shares are usually subject to a one-year lockup, but in this case, it is for one year after the M&A transaction. At the time of the IPO the sponsor commits to voting its founder shares, as well as subsequent purchases of public shares, in favor of the transaction. • Thus, at the time of announcement at least 20 percent of the SPAC’s shares are committed to voting for the transaction. • To achieve shareholder approval from 50 percent of the SPACs shareholders, it is only necessary to get approval from less than 38 percent of the remaining shareholders. As noted above, the SPAC must announce and complete a transaction within a specified time frame, typically 24 months. If no transaction is identified and consummated, one of two things will occur: all public shares are redeemed on a pro rata basis for the cash remaining in the trust fund; or, the sponsors can request a shareholders’ vote to extend the deadline. In terms of process, after an acquisition has been announced, the SPAC will file the required information disclosures, including three years of audited financial statements plus unaudited interim financial statements. After the SEC has completed its review and signed off on the documents, the SPAC sets a date for a mandatory shareholder vote to approve the transaction or redeem the shares for a pro rata portion of the trust proceeds.
New to Gaming While SPACs have been around since the early 1990s, they have typically not been active in the gaming industry. This is true for myriad reasons, but two reasons, in particular, are highlighted, because they are the most important reasons SPACs have not acquired gaming companies. Further, these reasons stress why SPACs have become increasingly more interested in the gaming industry in the present times due to certain structural changes to the industry. Primarily, the regulatory requirements of the gaming industry, notably
the investigation and obtaining of gaming licenses in each jurisdiction in which the company operates, has kept many SPACs away from the industry. This is especially true for some of the slot machine manufacturers and large casino operators that are licensed in a large number of jurisdictions. As it relates to the slot machine manufacturers, some of the larger companies have over 300 international, domestic and Native American gaming licenses. Likewise, some of the smaller, privately held slot manufacturers with a niche focus or capacity constraints can have over 100 gaming licenses. This total includes each Native American tribe as they investigate and license the company, its executives and large shareholders. These investigations can take significant time to complete; it would be longer when there are a large number of jurisdictions conducting the investigations. For example, Penn National Gaming agreed to acquire Argosy Gaming in November 2004 with the acquisition closing nearly one year later in October 2005. Even more recently, Twin River Holdings announced the acquisition of two casinos (Isle Kansas City and Lady Luck Vicksburg) from Eldorado Resorts in July 2019 and completed the transaction in July 2020. This time frame necessary to obtain the regulatory approvals would have been inconsistent with the time frame to complete a SPAC transaction, and would have necessitated the additional expense and risk of a shareholder vote to approve the delay. Additionally, the brick-and-mortar legacy gaming industry is in the mature phase of its industry life cycle with declining margins and consolidation. Thus, this segment is, in our opinion, unattractive to most SPAC issuers and investors. However, there have been two significant changes to the gaming industry that have created a new vertical in the U.S. with substantial growth potential and, by extension, returns for investors. In 2018, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. This was in addition to the 2011 reinterpretation of the Wire Act by the Justice Department under President Barack Obama. The 2018 SCOTUS opinion enabled sports betting to become legal in all 50 states. The Obama-era Wire Act interpretation made it possible to create the intrastate real-money gaming industry, i.e. online casinos, poker and/or lottery. The importance of these two decisions has been the evolution of a highgrowth industry in the infancy stage of its development. But, because online gaming and sports betting have been legalized in only a handful of states, it substantially reduced the number of jurisdictions in which the new owners need to get licensed, thereby reducing the friction cost for a SPAC to make an acquisition in the gaming industry. This has led to several companies going public via the SPAC route.
Figure 2: Recent SPAC Transactions in the Gaming Industry
MAY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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Figure 3: Relative Performance of SPAC – Gaming Company Combinations Since Transaction Announcement
The combination of realmoney, online gaming companies and SPACs has been effective, thus far, in realizing the goal of creating a publicly traded gaming company. In turn, this has been delivering economic returns to SPAC and company founders, as well as the public shareholders.
One aspect of an acquisition of a company by a SPAC relative to pursuing the traditional IPO route is in terms of control or influence. As noted above, the SPAC “founders” own around 20 percent of the public company and are usually the largest shareholder of the new company. Meanwhile, in an IPO, the company founder likely, but not always, remains the largest shareholder of the company. Thus, some company founders are reluctant to sell to a SPAC because of a fear of losing control of operational and strategic decisions, and the SPAC, recognizing the importance of retaining the founder’s vision and drive, seeks to incentivize the owner’s continued involvement and motivation. As has been seen in the gaming industry, SPACs employ certain strategies to mitigate the concerns of the company founder as it relates to loss of control. In particular, many company founders have negotiated a dualclass equity structure with Class B—supervoting—shares issued to the company founder. These Class B shares are exchangeable on a one-for-one basis into Class A shares of the company with forced conversions based on achieving certain benchmarks. For example, Skillz CEO Andrew Paradise received Class B shares as consideration in that company’s merger with Flying Eagle Acquisition Corp., entitling him to 20 votes per share, effectively giving Paradise over 80 percent of the voting power of Skillz shareholders. It should be noted, the super-voting dual-class structure previously existed at Skillz. However, under the previous structure, the Class B shares entitled Paradise to 10 votes per share. Additionally, Jason Robins, CEO of DraftKings, was issued Class B 28
Global Gaming Business MAY 2021
shares with 10 votes per share. Far less frequently, because it affects the return decision of the SPAC owners, some owners have agreed to forfeit some of the founder shares. Many of the SPAC-gaming industry combinations, from a stock market performance perspective, have outperformed the S&P 500 benchmark index. Notably, each of the combinations involving realmoney online gaming or sports betting companies has exceeded the benchmark. Meanwhile, the two combinations that have underperformed the benchmark were involved in brick-and-mortar retail gaming or free-to-play social casinos. Arguably, the combination of real-money, online gaming companies and SPACs has been effective, thus far, in realizing the goal of creating a publicly traded gaming company. In turn, this has been delivering economic returns to SPAC and company founders, as well as the public shareholders. This is likely only the beginning of SPACs being used in the gaming sector. With rumors of additional SPACs on the horizon to take other online, sports betting, land-based and other affiliated companies to the market space, it provides a vehicle to raise additional capital, raise the profile of the entity, and deliver returns to those involved. Gaming is just beginning to see the rewards of this vehicle, while other industries have been using it for some time. It highlights how gaming has become both more Main Street and Wall Street in our economy. Adam Steinberg is founder and CEO of AM Steinberg Advisors, an international consultancy with experience in Asia, Europe and North America. During his over 20-year career in the gaming industry, Steinberg has analyzed and opined on over 70 M&A transactions valued at over $100 billion.
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California Sports Betting:
A Game of Inches
In the wake of a failed attempt to legalize sports betting, work quietly continues on a proposal that favors the state’s 62 gaming tribes By Marjorie Preston
hen it comes to gaming in California, not much happens without the consent of the state’s powerful gaming tribes— and that includes sports betting. Last year, state Senator Bill Dodd and Assemblyman Adam Gray pushed identical sports betting bills they said would capture millions of dollars “currently bolstering the profits of illegal, out-of-state sports wagering operators.” But the tribes balked, because the measure cut in the state’s commercial card rooms. The two sides have long warred over banked card games and other forms of betting that the tribes feel are exclusively theirs. And opposition from gaming tribes—who generate a total economic impact approaching $20 billion a year, and contribute billions in taxes—was enough to push the issue onto the back burner. Without sports betting, everyone is leaving money on the table. But the tribes won’t be rushed into a deal—and they won’t say much about efforts behind the scenes, either. “Tribes are being tight-lipped” about the subject, said a source who spoke to GGB on condition of anonymity. “But they have a lot of incentive to get it done, and done right the first time. They hold the key to the kingdom.” The demise of the Dodd-Gray legislation acknowledged “the power the tribes have gained over the last 20 years,” Reno-based consultant Ken Adams told the Sacramento Bee last year. “Anybody who wants to get a bill through the legislature is going to have to face that.”
High Stakes Since 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court repealed the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the legal sports betting industry has grown from a single state to 25, with 21 markets up and running and legisla30
Global Gaming Business MAY 2021
tion pending in more than a dozen more. D.C. is also in the game. That rapid-fire growth is driven in part by Covid-19, which has caused even holdout states (Hawaii, Texas, Florida) to reconsider sports betting as a budget stopgap. With a $54 billion budget deficit—the worst in its history—California is equally motivated. And though sports betting is a low-margin industry, the Golden State, with a nation-leading population of almost 40 million, could be the biggest untapped market of all. The left coast has 16 teams in North America’s Big 4 leagues: Major League Baseball (the L.A. Dodgers, Oakland A’s, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants and L.A. Angels); the NFL (L.A. Rams, L.A. Chargers and San Francisco 49ers); the NBA (the L.A Lakers, L.A. Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings); the NHL (Anaheim Ducks, L.A. Kings, San Jose Sharks); and Major League Soccer (L.A. Galaxy, L.A. FC and San Jose Earthquakes). The Dodd-Gray plan would also allow wagers on professional and college sports; the tribal version would ban betting on college games played by teams from California. According to estimates from Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, sports betting in this sports-crazy state could pull in $502 million in state taxes per year at maturity. Of course, the cardrooms flex some muscle of their own. The website PlayCA.com notes that the Commerce Casino in Los Angeles County contributes 70 percent of that county’s total tax revenues. Cheryl Schmit, director of the gaming watchdog group Stand Up California, speaks in defense of the card rooms, calling the tribes’ plan “self-serving.” “I supported the Dodd bill, which would benefit the entire state and everyone who participated would be taxed, which is different from the
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It’s been argued that tribes cannot legally offer mobile betting because many of the bets would take place off the reservation, all across the state (the counterargument is that if the server is based on the reservation, so are the bets). tribes’ legislation,” she says. “The citizens are on the sidelines looking for a crumb of bread to be thrown to us.” As Eilers & Krejcik analyst Chris Grove told the Los Angeles Times last year, “The bottom line in California is that too many stakeholders in the state’s gambling industry have too many existing high-stakes conflicts to allow sports betting to move forward.” At the same time, a coalition called the United Tribes of California launched a petition pushing their own proposal, which would bring sports betting to tribal casinos and the state’s five racetracks, but edge out card rooms. The result was impressive; even at the height of Covid-19 shutdowns, they collected 1.4 million signatures—at in-person signup centers. The passage of either version, which could go to voters in November 2022, means the first bets would follow in 2023. And that, presumably, will start the money train.
The Trouble with Tribal The tribal plan excludes mobile sports betting, for a couple of reasons. Some tribes worry that, by definition, mobile betting will siphon off visitation at brick-and-mortar locations. Smaller tribes, especially, in out-of-the-way locations rely on foot traffic to support their economies and keep their people working. In a March webcast on the subject, Aurene Martin, attorney with Virginia-based Spirit Rock Consulting, said, “They want to protect their brickand-mortar facilities, and as a community we have to have those discussions.” In addition, it’s been argued that tribes cannot legally offer mobile betting because many of the bets would take place off the reservation, all across the state (the counterargument is that if the server is based on the reservation, so are the bets). Both of those issues must be worked out before mobile betting comes to California, but clearly the nationwide trend is toward mobile—by one estimate, in 2030, 90 percent of all sports bets will be online. Certainly California’s sports leagues want mobile sportsbooks. In a letter last June, before the Dodd-Gray proposal was shelved, the NBA, Major League Baseball, the PGA and a group of pro teams came out in support of the measure. Mega-operators DraftKings and FanDuel are already in California with daily fantasy sports, and according to the World Sports Network, Cali is currently the biggest market for DFS in the U.S. When sports betting becomes legal, the so-called Coke and Pepsi of online sportsbooks will be ready to jump, and may already be in conversations with tribal operators. “The tribes are not going to give away their advantage,” a source told GGB, “but don’t think those deals aren’t being made.” Gaming tribes across the country are wrestling with similar issues. Legal sports betting and especially mobile betting weren’t around when Congress
passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) in 1988; they weren’t around when original tribal-state compacts were signed back in 1999 and the early 2000s. While it’s generally acknowledged that sports betting falls into the category of Class III gaming, confusion remains about whether tribal-state compacts must be amended to include it. In 2020, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) released an advisory listing potential restrictions tribes may face under IGRA when adding sports betting. Mostly, it looked at nuts-and-bolts considerations: whether tribes should manage all aspects of a sportsbook or bring in outsiders, how these partnerships should be structured, and how much tribes should legally pay their partners. In a webcast in 2020, James Siva, chairman of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, said that having online betting “dictated to (tribes) is unacceptable. “Whether online gaming is three years down the line, five years down the line, if it’s 10 years down the line or if it’s not even in the conversation... it needs to be a tribal decision,” he said. Siva is a member of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, which owns the Morongo Casino Resort near Palm Springs. Clearly, “there’s an appetite out there” among tribal operators for sports betting, said Martin. “But it’s still taking a little time in states where they have complicated questions to deal with regarding compacts and sometimes, underlying state laws and the state constitution.”
‘First Things First’ As California lawmakers, tribal operators and other gaming entities continue to hash out their differences, sports betting across the country is going off like a skyrocket. Gamblers placed $4.3 billion in bets on Super Bowl LV, for “the largest single-event legal handle in American sports betting history,” according to the American Gaming Association. Forty-seven million Americans bet on March Madness, so many that some online sportsbooks in newly opened jurisdictions crashed. Almost 18 million placed their bets online, up 206 percent from 2019. Before Californians can join them, voters must OK a constitutional amendment on the 2022 ballot. If that happens and a sports betting bill is pushed through, fans could start rooting for (and betting on) their favorite home teams by the following year. The constitutional amendment is Job 1, said a tribal source. “Compacts can be revisited by the state and tribes, but first things first. The voters must approve the amendment to the constitution. That is the first and only priority.” Asked why tribal leaders have declined to openly comment on the subject, the source replied, “They’re holding all the cards, and playing them close to the vest. There’s so much money involved. “We know it’s a game-changer.” MAY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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Aristocrat Dominates EKG Slot Awards Aristocrat collects nine awards in the 2020 EKG Slot Awards, including Best Overall Supplier; Scott Olive and Charlie Lombardo were inducted into the EKG Slot Awards Hall of Fame BY FRANK LEGATO
ilers & Krejcik Gaming (EKG) last month announced the winners of the third annual EKG Slot Awards, with Aristocrat Technologies once again dominating the field. The EKG Slot Awards were created by EKG, a top slot industry consultancy, to recognize excellence in slot machine gaming development. Winners in 17 land-based categories are determined by votes from more than 100 qualified slot directors representing over 300 casinos from across North America. Interactive gaming winners in four categories are determined by a vote of a distinguished panel of industry experts. For the third year in a row, Aristocrat Technologies took the top award of Best Overall Supplier of Slot Content. It was one of nine awards logged by Aristocrat in the competition. Coming in second as far as winning companies was Everi Holdings, which claimed four EKG awards. Aristocrat’s dominance of the awards covered a wealth of different slot categories. In addition to the top prize, the company won Top Performing New Video Reel Core Game for Buffalo Chief; Top Performing New Premium Game for Cash Express Luxury Line Buffalo; Top Performing New Premium Cabinet for Mars X; Top Performing Core Video Reel Game for Buffalo Gold Revolution; and two awards, Top Performing Premium Game and Top Performing Proprietary Branded Game, for Dragon Link: Happy and Prosperous. Aristocrat also got the nods for Most Improved Supplier-Premium and Top Social Casino Company. Everi, for the second year in a row, took the award for Top Performing Core Mechanical Reel Game for the unique Cash Machine. Everi also won the award for Top Performing New Cabinet for Empire Flex, Top Performing Third Party IP Branded Game for Smokin’ Hot Stuff Wicked Wheel, and Most Improved Supplier-Core.
Global Gaming Business MAY 2021
GAMING LEGENDS In the other main result of the competition, slot legends Scott Olive and Charlie Lombardo were announced as the new inductees to the EKG Slot Awards Hall of Fame. Olive, founder and principal of content supplier HRG Studios, created some of Aristocrat’s most storied titles when he worked for the supplier from the late 1990s until 2007—including the groundbreaking Hyperlink progressive jackpot system with games such as Cash Express and Penny Train. He co-founded True Blue Gaming in
2007 with former Aristocrat colleague Kent Young. After Aruze Gaming acquired True Blue Gaming in 2009, Olive founded HRG Studios and went back to creating hits for Aristocrat under an exclusive contract. Among the most notable success stories of his second stint with Aristocrat is the mega-hit Dragon Link, with its Hold & Spin mechanic that is arguably today’s most copied game mechanic. Olive was inducted via video by Aristocrat CEO Trevor Croker. Lombardo, the first gaming operations executive to be inducted into the EKG Slot Awards Hall of Fame, is one of the deans of the U.S. slot business. He started his career in the 1970s as a slot mechanic at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, and worked his way up the slot operations ranks, eventually becoming senior vice president of slot operations at Bally’s Las Vegas. One of the first operators to open his slot floor to new suppliers, Lombardo worked with slot manufacturers on proprietary games for the Bally’s floor, and designed the slot floor for Bally’s new sister property Paris Las Vegas. Caesars Entertainment ultimately made Lombardo vice president of slot operations for Bally’s, Paris and Caesars Palace, before he accepted a position as senior vice president of gaming operations for the Seminole Tribe in Florida. While with the Seminoles, he developed the slot floors of the two Hard Rock casinos and significantly expanded the slot floors of all the Seminole casinos. Lombardo serves the tribe as a consultant to this day. “On behalf of everyone at Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, I would like to congratulate all of the individual award winners as well as this year’s Hall of Fame Class,” said Todd Eilers, principal at Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, LLC. “I would also like to thank our Board of Advisors, official voters, and our event sponsors.” A complete listing of the winners of the 2020 EKG Slot Awards is on the following page.
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Land-based Awards – 2020 Top Performing NEW Video Reel Core Game
Top Performing 3rd Party IP Branded Game
Most Improved Supplier – Premium
Buffalo Chief – Aristocrat
Smokin’ Hot Stuff Wicked Wheel – Everi Holdings
Top Performing NEW Mechanical Reel Core Game Dancing Drums Reels – Scientific Games
Top Performing NEW Premium Game Cash Express Luxury Line Buffalo – Aristocrat
Top Performing NEW Cabinet – Core Empire Flex - Everi Holdings
Top Performing NEW Cabinet – Premium Mars X – Aristocrat
Top Performing Core Video Reel Game Buffalo Gold Revolution – Aristocrat
Top Performing Core Mechanical Reel Game Cash Machine – Everi Holdings
Top Performing Premium Game Dragon Link - Happy And Prosperous – Aristocrat
Top Performing Proprietary Branded Game
Best Overall Supplier of Slot Content Aristocrat
Dragon Link - Happy And Prosperous – Aristocrat
Social Casino Awards
Top Performing Electronic Table Game (ETG) Roulette – Interblock
Best Use of Land-Based Content in a Social Slot Game
Top Performing Video Poker Game
DoubleDown Casino featuring IGT content – published by Double Down Interactive
All Star Poker 2 – IGT
Top Performing Interactive Electronic Gaming Machine (EGM)/Skill Cannon Beards Treasure – Gamblit Gaming
Top Performing Game from an Emerging Supplier
Top Social Casino Company Aristocrat
iGaming Awards (Real-Money Online Gaming) Best New Online Slot
Dice Seekers Heroes and Villains - Gaming Arts
Extra Chili — Big Time Gaming
Most Improved Supplier – Core
Top Performing Online Slot
88 Fortunes – SG Digital
MAY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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Team Player Eduardo Alvarez Director of Sales, Latin America, AGS ike many other current and past Emerging Leaders of Gaming 40 Under 40 honorees, Eduardo Alvarez did not have his sights set on a career in gaming at the start of his professional career. With degrees in finance and economics, Alvarez, the director of sales, Latin America for AGS, is an economist by academic standards. When Alvarez embarked on his professional journey, he expected his career to follow his academic trajectory, progressing him through the banking or finance industries. However, just like many in the gaming industry, once Alvarez was introduced to a career in gaming, he was hooked. His introduction to the industry came in the form of an interview for a data analyst position at Codere Mexico. “I was attracted by so many things during that interview,” explains Alvarez. “Codere’s atmosphere was like magic. The energy of the office, the fact that gaming was an emerging industry in Mexico (at the time), all those things made me want to join the gaming industry.” Alvarez has continued to surprise himself throughout his career in gaming. From transitioning from an analytics role to marketing and eventually sales, to moving from an industry operator at Codere to an industry supplier at Cadillac Jack and eventually AGS through acquisition, Alvarez’s career trajectory has been anything but linear. Alvarez recalls his first meeting with a casino manager as a business development representative at Cadillac Jack as one of his biggest challenges. “I remember thinking, can I handle this?” recounts Alvarez. “I pushed myself to do it, knowing I had a strong company and team supporting me, which
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made it easier.” Ultimately, Alvarez proved to himself that he could thrive in a selling role on the supplier side of the industry, climbing the ranks to his role today. Alvarez’s humble, team-oriented and honest attitude has very likely propelled him forward throughout his career. He is quick to credit his team and the company he works for. When asked whether he’s had any influential mentors within the industry, Alvarez can think of many but mentions two in particular. The first is Leonardo Desentis, whom Alvarez worked with at Codere. Alvarez credits Desentis, director of marketing for Mexico, Panama and Colombia, for opening his eyes to more aspects of the business of business—persuading him to move out of data analytics and onto the marketing team. On top of this, Alvarez loved witnessing Desentis’ leadership style. “Desentis always gave exposure and credit to his whole team,” explains Alvarez. “He always prioritized the human aspects of business, and I like to do the same thing.” The second mentor Alvarez highlights is Drew Pawlak, AGS’ vice president and general manager, Latin America. “Drew has a very quick mind, a huge personality, and has supported me from the start of our relationship,” says Alvarez. “He has become a good friend and I have learned so much from him.” Young professionals looking to advance their careers in the gaming industry would be wise to learn from Alvarez’s example. When asked to impart advice for the industry’s next emerging leaders, two of Alvarez’s points seamlessly exemplify his career to date. “This industry is dynamic, and you need to be learning and open to change at all times,” says Alvarez. “Find a good team to be a part of and make sure to always be a good team member yourself.” —Michael Vanaskie is vice president of international development for The Innovation Group.
Chasing Excellence Hui Min Tiffany Bernadette Tay Associate Director, Strategic Planning, Marina Bay Sands Pte. Ltd. iffany Tay has gravitated from medical tourism to real estate to entertainment tourism to a popular casino resort during her career. These positions share a common ground, she says: all related to business, all offered a learning experience. As she moved from industry to industry, location to location, Tay—a Singapore native—kept an eye on the prize, her focus on education and expanding her knowledge. But she admits the trajectory has been more than that. “For me, it has been a combination of timing, luck and opportunity,” says Tay, the oldest of four children. “Overall, what excites me is the opportunity to sell a product, deliver excellent service or create unforgettable experiences and the right value for the customer.” Tay graduated from Singapore Management University with a bachelor of business management and accountancy. She worked for the Singapore Tourism Board, dealing with medical travel. Tay made the transition to private equity real estate with Columbia Investment, a company with assets of $500 million. She led a team of 30 in both Singapore and New York. After five years with Columbia, Tay returned to the Singapore Tourism Board in 2018. Then came Marina Bay Sands, where Tay assumed various roles. The casino resort introduced her to the term CHASE. “In its most original form, it stands for Committed, Hardworking, Ambitious, Smart and Execute, which resonated with how I have approached life in general.”
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CHASE can take on various meanings and combinations under various circumstances, she says. Take obstacles. Tay relies on curiosity and clarity to understand the obstacle, humility and honesty when approaching the obstacle, and sensitivity and empathy when solving the obstacle. While Covid-19 left a toll, Tay felt fortunate on two fronts. “I worked with a small group in supporting the two joint chiefs in government engagement efforts towards reopening Marina Bay Sands in a smart and safe manner.” This included demonstrating how various business units reassessed their operations, implemented capacity limits and new safe management measures, and on a property-wide level, developed a holistic health and sanitization plan. “I was given another occasion to transition into an area that has been challenged by the Covid-19 situation: the international marketing segment.” Amid crisis there are always prospects, Tay says. “I am grateful to be able to learn and contribute in ways that will value-add and ready the team in heading for recovery in the short run and growth in the long run,” says Tay, who loves to binge-watch Netflix when she isn’t with friends and family. Through all this, Tay credits a number of mentors at Marina Bay Sands for her success. These include Andrew MacDonald, corporate senior vice president and chief casino officer; Jeremy Bach, senior vice president, chief marketing officer and global marketing; Anne Chen, senior vice president, premium mass market development; Qian Peilai, senior vice president, marketing and global events; Suzie Tan, senior vice president, finance; and William Ang, vice president, human resources, partnering and engagement. Tay has advice for those who might follow in her footsteps. “Have CHASE, be CHASE. Above all, remain grounded in your values and principles, stay relevant, be agile and adapt to the everchanging environment.” —Bill Sokolic
“Holding leadership positions in competitive sports taught me how to manage complex human relationships, take care of my mind and body, think critically in high-pressure situations, and find ways to win.”
A Born Natural Paul Juliano Vice President of Operations, Bally’s Corporation aul Juliano’s career may have begun with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts at five-star, fivediamond rated resorts in Jackson Hole, Palm Beach and Bora Bora, but his exposure to the hospitality industry traces way back, literally back to his birth in Atlantic City into a gaming and hospitality family. Both of his parents work in the gaming and hospitality industry to this day. “I learned at a young age that I enjoyed the special, shared experiences that occur in hotels and casinos. By watching my mother, father, aunts, uncles, brothers and sister in the hospitality industry, I also learned that curating memorable experiences for guests you have not met takes focus, determination, and sacrifice.” Juliano acknowledges that the hospitality industry is not for everyone. It is grueling and competitive, 24/7/365. He blames his competitive nature on his background in athletics, where he lettered in three high school sports and earned a football state championship title. In college, he was an All-Colonial Athletic Association outfielder and team captain for the NCAA Division 1 William & Mary Tribe baseball team. “Holding leadership positions in competitive sports taught me how to manage complex human relationships, take care of my mind and body, think critically in high-pressure situations, and find ways to win,” says Juliano. Today, Juliano is responsible for the oversight of corporate capital projects, hotel operations, and food and beverage for Bally’s Corporation, formerly Twin River Worldwide Holdings, Inc. “Our company is in a rapid growth pattern, and every day is exciting,” he says. “I am constantly presented with new challenges that come with tight deadlines. I am applying lessons imparted by my mother and father, my background in athletics, and my professional experience within the hospitality industry. I am truly fortunate to work with exceptional people on our corporate and property teams, and I am inspired by those who continuously offer innovation in the industry.” Being a part of the gaming industry has strengthened his appreciation for the universal language of hospitality that exists in one of the most diverse workforces in the world. “I continue to be motivated by the thought of providing a special experience to a friend, guest, or employee in any form—from the best cup of coffee to the most memorable hotel stay, to a first-class casino experience,” he says. Juliano acknowledges all the great mentors who have inspired his quest for knowledge and continuous improvement. He also delivers a sincere thank-you to all the front-line employees who continue to provide world-class service through the pandemic. “When my morning alarm goes off, I thank God that I have the opportunity to give 100 percent of myself to the day ahead as a father, husband, student and leader—then it’s easy to get to work.” —Thomas Zitt, Ph.D. is a partner in The Innovation Group.
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The Next Level Tribal casinos can no longer get by with gambling alone, so non-gaming amenities help them compete with other commercial and tribal properties By BiLL SokoLic
ache Creek Casino Resort, located in the Capay Valley region of Northern California, upped the ante on amenities in its new upscale hotel development. Additions include an outdoor pool along with a 12-seat pool bar, and a 12,000-square-foot spa and salon. The inclusion speaks to what sells in a casino resort these days. But what sells also speaks in part to the land beyond the hotel tower, in part to the ownership of the resort by the Yoche Dehe Wintun Nation, says Dike Bacon III, planning and business development leader for Memphis-based HBG Design. “Our design for the expansion draws inspiration from the surrounding landscape that includes elegant vineyards and orchards and capitalizes on extraordinary views,” he says. “The land around the resort is rooted in the tribe’s own farmland and ranches and the Cache Creek River.” Think about that. You’ll find pool complexes everywhere. Elegant and casual dining, too. Spas to soothe every part of the body. But the connection with the land takes resorts to another level. It’s a level places like Atlantic City have tried to adapt to after years of ignoring the natural beauty of the beach and Boardwalk that houses six of the current casinos. “The design at both commercial and tribal facilities should be chic, durable, and have timeless appeal,” Bacon says. “Where the differences are found is sometimes how said design is expressed. Those for tribal facilities are often ingrained in culture and can include the celebration of that culture in subtle and abstract ways if the client wishes.” Some of the most successful and inspired work for tribes has a connection to land in some way, Bacon says. “This sense of place is what can make it unique.”
Spa Space Still, the line between commercial casino resorts and tribal casino resorts has blurred to the point where tribal connections don’t often enter into the frame for the average visitor, at least not on a conscious level. A multipronged spa retreat has the same impact for guests at Four Winds New Buffalo as it does at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City or the Venetian in Las Vegas. The fact that Four Winds boasts a tribal ownership does not seem to matter one iota to most guests. “The approaches between commercial and tribal are similar, since the guests generally look for a resort-type experience, wherever they go,” says Andrew Kreft, executive senior principal and director of design for Lifescapes International. “One that takes them out of their everyday lives and transports them to a world that caters to their needs, offering experiences that they would not 36
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Cache Creek Casino Resort, pool and spa
normally get. We always strive to offer the guest a variety of experiences and destinations in the landscape, whether that is a pool area, outdoor dining, or multi-function garden. However, because tribal casinos cater to specific regions, tribes, like any other client, may have particular needs or activities they would like to offer local clientele. We always work closely with them to weave that into the experience.” Guests of all types, and from various regions of the country, visit Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, and often these visits encompass multi-day stays, so having an impressive pool and terrace offering in the Sky Tower, along with a fitness center, world-class spa, golf and more, is a big differentiator, says Mohegan Sun President and General Manager Jeff Hamilton. In that regard the Mohegan tribe doesn’t seem to factor into the equation. Not true, Hamilton says.
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The Shops at Mohegan Sun
Mohegan Sun and all Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment properties operate under a “positive and inspirational culture that derives from the Mohegan tribe,” Hamilton says. “We are grounded in the Mohegan Way, also known as ‘The Spirit of Aquai,’ which stresses the importance of being welcoming, collaborative, always showing mutual respect and seeking to build relationships. Everything the Mohegan family does have these values at heart.”
jewelry, and more. Quill Boutique highlights stylish jewelry, bags and more. “All Four Winds Casino locations are filled with elements that speak to the history, traditions and culture of the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi,” Freedman says. This includes architecture that features copper, cedar wood and stone, which are utilized in many tribal events. “Each of our casino locations also features large fireplaces, which pay tribute to the Potawatomi Indians, who are known as the ‘Keepers of the Fire,’” Freedman says. The Rotunda at Four Winds New Buffalo includes murals from Native American artist Mike Larson that symbolize significant moments of Pokagon Band history. The wooden decor in the Rotunda at Four Winds South Bend is reminiscent of black ash baskets traditionally made by Pokagon citizens. Throughout the Choctaw Casinos & Resorts properties there is artwork that shows the culture as well as the sculptures, such as the Red Warrior in Durant and the Seven Ponies in Pocola. The opening of the Sky Tower later in the summer will include a gallery showcase featuring Choctaw artists. “During the month of November, we celebrate Native American Heritage Month and showcase our tribe’s culture in various ways across all the properties,” says Kristina Humenesky, director of public relations, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
For the most part, the Seminole Tribe has few links to its history and culture in the properties it owns in Florida. Since they opened in 2004, it’s been all about the Hard Rock brand in the Hollywood and Tampa properties, spokesman Gary Bitner says. But the links exist, subtle though they may be. Those subtleties, to cite an example, include the sweetgrass scent of bathroom toiletries and pool cabanas that take their inspiration from Seminole chickees. “Seminole branding is more evident at the other four casinos, and particularly at the Seminole Casino Hotel Immokalee, east of Naples,” Bitner says. The Seminoles also maintain a world-class museum (temporarily closed due to Covid-19) and its adjacent historical and cultural archives on the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, an hour west of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood. The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, accredited by the American Association of Museums, predates the development of the Seminole Hard Rock brands. “The tribe hopes the museum will reopen sometime this year,” Bitner says. Tribal customs and culture often come out in retail settings. “The variety of shops and specialty Native American items available for purchase at our flagship resort, Four Winds New Buffalo, provide a unique shopping experience for guests,” says Frank Freedman, chief operating officer, Four Winds Casinos. Four Winds Outfitters sell tribal artwork. The Promenade Shop features men and women designer clothing and outerwear, Native American-designed Rotunda at Four Winds New Buffalo
Pool Power While tribal resorts, like commercial ones, cater to adults who gamble, Bacon says a trend in certain markets speaks to family fun. “These are multi-use facilities that can include bowling, arcades, movie theaters, and grab-and-go food outlets. These centers appeal to a large, diverse demographic and often are important contributors to a staycation type of experience,” Bacon says. Mohegan Sun’s flagship property in Connecticut offers shops, bowling and an arcade, go-kart racing, a trampoline park and the Mohegan Sun Golf Club. The massive resort is in close proximity to the Mystic seaport and other quaint seashore towns. The District at Choctaw casinos offer over 70 of the newest arcade games, 20 lanes of bowling and MAY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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The Great Smokey Mountains provide a beautiful backdrop and another opportunity for guests to enjoy the wide variety of experiences nearby for those who visit Cherokee. four movie theaters, Humenesky says. Increasing competition has led various resorts to seek an advantage. The breadth of offerings at spas is one way. Rock Spa & Salon at the Seminole Hard Rock properties in Florida presents a range of treatments and healing therapies with services from Elemis, Natura Biss, Hydrafacial MD and the like. The spa boasts separate and coed dry and wet lounges, dipping pools, saunas, quiet rooms, a Himalayan salt room and three 800-square-foot couples treatment suites. The spa also features a 3,600square-foot salon and 3,300-square-foot fitness center. At the spa, in the Choctaw casinos, guests are able to choose from a collection of massages, facials and body treatment services. The space boasts nine treatment rooms, including two extravagant couples’ suites with an ultra whirlpool soaking tub for two and a couple’s rain shower. There is also a coed relaxation lounge and a coed reflection waters/waterfall mineral bath. A new 23-story hotel under construction at Four Winds South Bend will feature a “spa, convention area, meeting space, a ballroom, lounge, bar and grille, an outdoor rooftop swimming pool, and terraces with spectacular views,” Freedman says. Pools in resorts are not just places to get your laps in, not by any stretch. “In each situation, a successful pool area creates a dynamic experience for the guest that offers them a variety of moods, activities and destinations, to promote a longer guest stay,” Kreft says. “Different types of pools and activity levels allow the guest to choose their level of interaction as their interests change from day to night, as well as catering to different age groups.” VIP areas highlight swim-up bars and private cabanas for adults. But other areas welcome families with the kind of lazy river activities found in the best water parks. “We want to create pool and outdoor environments that are multi-dimensional and multi-generational spaces,” Bacon says. “If the site area is large enough, these flexible outdoor areas can serve various uses like banquets, receptions, social functions, concert entertainment, and even overflow al fresco dining,” The Choctaw’s Oasis Tropical Pools include two swim-up bars, hot tubs, fire pits, a waterslide, waterfalls and cabanas. Guests can swim in the Natatorium, year-round.
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“Pool and landscape areas are wonderful to view all year, and we think there is great opportunity to design interior spaces that capitalize on views to the pool and blur the lines between outside and in,” Bacon says. There has also been a distinct trend in casino resort design to create gaming and non-gaming spaces that are animated with natural light and celebrate outdoor views and outdoor spaces, Bacon says.
Natural Beauty Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel in the westernmost part of North Carolina benefit not only from a tribal influence, but a natural one that owes to the surrounding land. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park shapes the northern boundary of the resorts, and the North Carolina entrance to the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway is only a mile away, says Brian Saunooke, regional vice president of marketing for the resorts. Visitors can enjoy year-round activities like hiking, whitewater rafting, canoeing, and trout fishing. “Part of the resort experience is being able to take advantage of a wide variety of activities which include outdoor and local attractions serving to increase visitation,” Saunooke says. The Great Smokey Mountains provide a beautiful backdrop and another opportunity for guests to enjoy the wide variety of experiences nearby for those who visit Cherokee, he says. At the Oconaluftee Indian Village, visitors can see the challenges of Cherokee life at a time of rapid cultural change as European settlers invaded Indian lands. Tour the authentic working village with dwellings, residents and artisans right out of the 1760s. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian includes a self-guided tour that combines computer-generated imagery, special effects and audio with an extensive artifact collection. Founded in 1946, Qualla Arts and Crafts is the nation’s oldest Native American cooperative, and it continues to uphold a standard of excellence when it comes to the traditional arts and crafts of the Eastern Cherokee. One of the longest-running outdoor dramas in the U.S., Unto These Hills, has entertained more than 6 million people since 1950. Recently rewritten to better reflect the Cherokee’s true history and culture, the play is a must-see when visiting. “Our location and the fact that we are owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians give our guests an opportunity to experience not only our offerings at the resorts, but a variety of outdoor and cultural experiences,” Saunooke says. In the end, a casino hotel resort is a destination experience. It encourages a longer stay by offering numerous dining, retail, entertainment, and play options outside of just traditional gaming, so the guest always has something new to do. “A connection with the outdoors and a pool experience is crucial to this, and even more so moving forward as we consider social distancing flexibility in all designs,” Kreft says. “In markets where there are competing tribal casinos nearby, the more you can offer, the greater likelihood of attracting guests to your property, thereby ensuring your casino’s success.”
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Success by Location
The online gaming boom could not have happened without the essential element of geolocation technology By Dave Bontempo
eolocation companies pop the champagne. As the three-year anniversary of the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) dawns, they savor an unprecedented era. Geolocation outfits are the gateway to the Golden Goose of many gaming enterprises. Their penchant to monitor, detect and thwart fraud are irreplaceable, especially considering online gaming’s looming multibillion-dollar stature. While fraud protection is a permanent function of geolocation companies, that realm will grow. Spinoff areas like data collection and responsible gaming contain both marketing components and a societal benefit. In some ways, the geolocation celebration is in full swing. In others, it just began.
The Backdrop Consider this evolution in the past couple of years. New Jersey may soon exceed $1 billion in online wagering handle in a single month at least a couple of times per year. The Garden State has already been well above $900 million, and March Madness handle was expected to propel New Jersey above the milestone this year. Pennsylvania and Michigan have cleared half a billion dollars in recent months. Several others states may soon routinely exceed $250 million each month. The May14, 2018 death of PASPA, an unofficial gaming holiday, indeed created a new, unforeseen life for the industry. That’s been enhanced, dramatically, by the magnitude of mobile that few foresaw. It took geolocation compliance measures from 0-100 mph almost overnight. Servicing the resulting need is a major profit source for geolocation companies. Two shared their thoughts with us.
Taking Big Strides GeoComply, based in Vancouver with an office in Las Vegas, obtained the pole position in the security and compliance realm of iGaming several years ago. But the industry bellwether hasn’t paused to admire its perch. Last month, the company made two significant announcements. One concerned an agreement for minority investments led by funds managed by Blackstone Growth. The partnership represents the first com40
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mitment of institutional capital to the company. Two, GeoComply strengthened its management team by promoting Lindsay Slader to managing director of gaming, where she will be responsible for the success of GeoComply’s gaming business in the U.S. and worldwide. GeoComply also added GLI veteran Chad Kornett as vice president, global government relations. The changes support the exponential growth of GeoComply’s core business along with its expansion into international markets. GeoComply, which states that it blocks 100,000 unique fraudulent users per month, balances two significant priorities. One helps states determine where customers are and if they are gambling legally. The second, its responsible gaming platform, helps bettors avoid addiction. Slader, highlighted among GGB’s Emerging Leaders of Gaming in 2019, has been at the forefront of the company’s efforts. In her former capacity, Slader played a prominent role educating elected state officials about safety, security and transparency to match online gaming’s frenetic pace. In one of her testimonies before New York state officials, Slader demonstrated real-time blockages GeoComply issued to stop New Yorkers from gambling illegally. The eye-opening reality underscored the volume of revenue New York was losing by not legalizing online gaming, as well as the need for strict compliance monitoring. Slader believes one of the most remarkable aspects of the past year was seeing the company’s solutions tailored to a wide range of complex geolocation compliance challenges. “We saw Washington, D.C. not only carve out their district for both sports betting and iLottery, but then have a patchwork of exclusion zones applied across their jurisdiction,” Slader indicates. “Stadium venues and federal lands are prohibited from wagering; furthermore, individual bars/taverns/retailers will look to offer their own form of betting solely within their building footprint in the coming months.” Vivid incidents continue underscoring the public’s gambling appetite. New York residents take trains to New Jersey, wager and return home. The process often requires a couple of hours. Patrons can’t participate in the rising in-game market for live bets this way, but it beats no gambling at all. “Users traversing borders definitely keeps us on our toes and inventing new ways to build out our systems,” Slader says. “The technical demands of being able to place a mobile bet
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“One thing is for certain— location is becoming one of the primary drivers to how products and content are delivered to digital users, and this will only become more pronounced over time.” —Lindsay Slader, Managing Director of Gaming, GeoComply
from your phone, wherever you may want to wager from, requires us to constantly augment our technology to keep pace.” Perhaps every American state will ultimately legalize online gaming. That won’t be the end of the geolocation role, however. It might simply constitute Phase One. “If everyone can eventually bet on sports in every state, there will still be the individual needs of each state to uphold, primarily, their state-contained regulatory regime,” Slader indicates. “Whether there is betting in both New Jersey and New York, each state will license its own operators, who in turn pay their own licensing fees and taxes. The technical requirements of each state may also vary to require customized user experiences based on location. “One thing is for certain—location is becoming one of the primary drivers to how products and content are delivered to digital users, and this will only become more pronounced over time. GeoComply seeks to empower the future of digital trust with its data capabilities beyond the gaming industry as our company grows and expands into fintech and beyond.” Slader also touts the company’s role in rooting out fraud in the iGaming and sports-betting industry, “We are often called upon by law enforcement to help analyze data tied to financial crimes investigations,” Slader indicates. “Payment fraud and identity theft are two areas where our technology is commonly used to crunch device and location data for investigative purposes. “Our standard system has a wide range of unique controls to detect and block—not just location spoofing fraud, but other activities such as proxy betting, account sharing, and bonus abuse that operators look to us to help spot in real time. We see state regulators demanding more and more of these tools and controls by default to ensure robustness and integrity across their market.” A company geared to fraud deterrence has a lifetime role in gaming. And the duties will expand. “Hybrid geolocation systems deliver against the complex (and literal) map of sports betting opportunities—ring-fencing sports stadiums in the heart of Washington, D.C., or weaving a patchwork of virtual controls across a state like Michigan where tribal reservations and a varied taxation model call for hyper-accurate knowledge of your patron’s whereabouts,” she says. “We sometimes use a blend of proprietary hardware and software to make
this happen at venues such as casino properties or inside sports bars.” Another relevant service is the improved used of data. As that continues to drive how users interact with a product, the company has expanded its business into ID verification with IDComply, its KYC product. “It uses things like facial recognition to make it easier to verify your identity when creating an account, and builds in multiple failovers for the best ID verification rates,” Slader says. “We feel that creating a single system to pile on all possible layers when verifying a driver’s license or billing address is a must-have to make it a frictionless non-event on the player’s side.” Not all efforts address illegal gambling. Some can help people avoid getting in over their heads. The responsible gaming focus, for example, is substantial. The extremes of winning, losing and perhaps losing too much occur at lightning speed online for patrons. There is no natural pause to find a restaurant or stroll the premises. The adrenaline rush is a target of all responsible gaming initiatives. “We have spun up a nonprofit entity called Conscious Gaming to offer tools to regulators and operators, which are designed to help self-excluding users do so more effectively across state borders,” Slader asserts. “We are well acquainted with how bettors travel across state lines to wager, and this is no exception for individuals dealing with gaming-related problems such as addiction. Our tech to facilitate this is called PlayPause. “So far, we have been very fortunate to see regulators welcome PlayPause not only for self-exclusion capabilities, but also for its ability to manage impermissible bettor lists, such as sports league rosters, prohibited players, and other persons who may need to be excluded by operators from their betting pool. I think the leagues’ support for these important initiatives will help us offer this technology to anyone who may need it to protect the integrity of the betting product and its most vulnerable audiences.”
Advancing Industry by Industry LocationSmart provides cloud-based location services to businesses with mission-critical needs to understand where their resources or users are located, according to Mario Proietti, company founder and CEO. The Carlsbad, California-based company gradually evolved into this space. Proietti says that when the company began 25 years ago, it focused MAY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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“LocationSmart’s proprietary technology is wellsuited for the gaming industry because it provides a multisource solution to verify the integrity of a device’s location.” —Mario Proietti, Founder and CEO, LocationSmart on helping wireless carriers and public safety agencies locate mobile callers when they dial 911. The company took another step forward in 2011. “Ten years ago, we did the same for trucking and roadside assistance services, where we helped improve safety on our highways through innovative first-of-their-kind hands-free solutions,” he says. The transformation to gaming emerged two years later. “Online gaming came into the mix for us when states such as Nevada and New Jersey started allowing real-money wagering via the internet or mobile devices,” Proietti indicates. “This created an imminent need for location verification, which is a specialty of LocationSmart’s enterprise-grade services. “Gaming is a different kind of safety,” he adds. “It may not involve physical well-being, but helping stakeholders in the gaming industry operate safely and free of financial and other exploitation is right in line with our philosophy. “LocationSmart’s proprietary technology is well-suited for the gaming industry because it provides a multi-source solution to verify the integrity of a device’s location,” he asserts. “Our cloud-based technologies work for downloadable applications and also provide a compelling app-less solution for operators that prefer a more streamlined patron experience that doesn’t require them to install any special software.” The company generally works with gaming platform builders or operators, Proietti says. Those tend to be companies that offer games themselves or operate them on behalf of a brand or other provider that could include state or national lotteries. The actual technology applied for any given location verification depends on multiple factors including a device’s capabilities, its data connection, whether a browser or mobile app is being used and more. Proietti credits the smartphone with jump-starting the online gaming industry. “We’ve seen steady growth in the online gaming sector, but it is fair to say that many found the early adoption period lackluster,” he says. “This 42
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was likely due in part to the relatively small percentage of smartphone users in 2013. However, smartphone use nearly doubled by 2016 and mobile internet connectivity has quickly become ubiquitous. “This has fundamentally changed the way people want to consume services,” he adds. “They’ve come to expect on-demand access to online services like mobile gaming. Covid-19 and related events of 2020 have certainly increased that demand and led to accelerated adoption by users and new jurisdictions. The trajectory was already set in motion, and I expect it will continue to follow a healthy growth trend for the foreseeable future.” The industry is not without pitfalls. Three years ago, media outlets reported that the LocationSmart website allowed anyone to obtain the realtime location of any cellphone using any of the major U.S. wireless carriers (including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint), as well as some Canadian carriers, to within a few hundred yards, given only the phone number. Approximately 200 million customers may have been exposed, reports said. The data could be requested by anyone anonymously, with no authentication, authorization or payment required, according to published accounts. “Yes, that was a challenging period for LocationSmart, but thankfully, a third-party forensic review confirmed that no end user or customer data was breached, nor were our operational systems,” Proietti says. “We discovered unusual activity coming from a demo page on our website within 24 hours and immediately eliminated the vulnerability. We have since evolved our platform to use new technologies and are focused on those for the future.” Proietti says the company is focused on augmenting LocationSmart’s services with new location methods and increasing the multitude of inputs that it leverages for its customers. “We are also working on introducing additional machine learning analytics to help enhance the robustness of our location verification solution while streamlining the end user experience even further,” he says. The positioning tactics of GeoComply and LocationSmart are a blueprint for the geolocation sector: take advantage of current position and plan for the next boom. Because it’s coming.
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After 20 years, the GGB Gaming & Technology Awards are the most prestigious supplier awards in gaming, and now the only awards program recognizing excellence in technology. With six categories, the awards honor the most innovative and efficient products and services that address issues that operators confront each day. Winners will be announced at G2E 2021 and featured in the November issue of GGB Magazine.
NOMINATIONS OPEN IN 6 CATEGORIES:
• Best Consumer-Service Technology • Best Productivity-Enhancement Technology • Best Slot Product • Best Table-Game Product or Innovation • Best Interactive Product • Best Guest Health & Safety Product DEADLINE: August 18, 2021
For more details and entry instructions, visit:
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CUTTING EDGE by Frank Legato
Key to Security PRODUCT: KeyWatcher Touch MANUFACTURER: Morse Watchmans
orse Wathmans has designed a product to solve the problem of lost facility keys in the KeyWatcher Touch electronic key control system. KeyWatcher Touch is a modular, scalable and customizable system to manage and store secure assets such as access cards, wallets, cellphones, and even laptops and cash trays safely and efficiently. Operators can use KeyWatcher Touch to include all authorized users, assign specific keys to specific people, and add or remove users with ease when needed. All key removal and key return transactions are recorded. Automatic email transactional information and reports for any user are accessible at any time. When a key is overdue being returned, the KeyWatcher Touch sends an alert and reports which user has that specific key. The KeyFind feature locates which KeyWatcher Touch cabinet contains a specific key and determines who has it out. In addition, the KeyAnywhere feature enables the user to return a key to any KeyWatcher Touch cabinet located in the facility.
Every KeyWatcher Touch comes with a patented SmartKey system to make all key control features and technology possible. When a SmartKey is inserted into the KeyWatcher Touch, an ID microchip in the SmartKey records transactional activity with user information through a SmartKey Reader. SmartKeys come in many colors for easier identification and can also be attached to tamper-proof KeyRings to keep groups of keys organized. KeyWatcher Touch systems can be integrated with other access control systems for greater security. For instance, if a key is not returned by a certain user, that person will not be granted egress to other areas of the facility or outside the building until the key is returned. The KeyWatcher Touch comes with a bright 7-inch touchscreen to make removing and returning keys easy. The industrial-grade steel cabinets come treated with antimicrobial powder coating for health and safety. For more information, visit morsewatchmans.com.
Law for Gaming SERVICE: Gaming Law Practice FIRM: Lombino Law Studio
hen most gaming businesses think of legal services they tend to think of regulatory compliance assistance. Regulatory compliance is not the end-all for gaming businesses needs. A gaming company needs attorneys who understand business and gaming law—forming subsidiaries, entering contracts, buying services, selling their goods, and entering distributorships are just a few of the common endeavors faced by gaming companies. Lombino Law Studio is uniquely situated to handle the needs of gaming businesses. Charles Lombino is a former general counsel to Aristocrat Technologies Inc. He has over 20 years of gaming business experience. Lombino Law Studio also has intellectual property experience to help protect the property of a gaming business. Lombino is the former president of the Nevada bar intellectual property section. One example of the type of work that requires a business attorney with a
Global Gaming Business MAY 2021
gaming background is the establishment of the subsidiary, or sister company. Generally, asset protection strategies require the establishment of additional companies for certain activities. The question arises as to whether a license is required for these additional companies, or for the products of these additional companies. Another example is distributorship agreements. Gaming companies generally enter into distributorship agreements to sell more products and to have sales in other regions where sales staff doesn’t cover. With gaming devices, there are always questions of whether a license is required to sell the product into the selected market. There are also usually questions as to whether the product constitutes a gaming device. For more information, contact Lombino Law Studio at 702-623-7733 or visit lombino.com.
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MAKING MY POINT
Ch… Ch… Changes Looking back and looking ahead on how Covid-19 will impact gaming long-term
ou don’t tug on Superman’s cape. You don’t spit into the wind. You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger, and you… never get involved in a land war in Asia or go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line. Wait. That’s two different… Ah, forget it. Point is there are a lot of to-do’s that are actually to-don’ts. Take pushing your luck. Or more aptly, don’t take it. Instead, heed that Aesop fable of the dog with the bone in his mouth that looks in a stream and sees what he thinks is another dog with another bone in his mouth, so he barks to get him to drop the bone and ends up losing his in the water. Rut roh. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it’s better to—in the parlance of our profession—quit winners. But then again… What the hell? Let’s throw caution to the wind and see if the blowback blows back in our face. One year ago, as Covid came a-knocking, we predicted widespread disruption and changes to casino operations and customer service, from enforcement of mask mandates to reduced players at tables to shutting down buffets, etc. And yes, looking back, we guessed right. More often than not, anyway. And no, looking forward, we’re not leaving well enough alone. So once again—and you should do this too, as a thought exercise—let’s don our fortune-teller hat and gaze into our crystal ball and see what the future holds. • Promotional gifting is headed online. The days of players showing up and queueing up for their free beach umbrella or George Foreman Grill are over. Maybe not literally over, as the inevitable isn’t always instantaneous; however, as 2021 unfolds, you will see more and more casinos—and this is already happening among the early-adopter crowd—pivot away from ordering and the warehousing and the distributing (and the returning, oh the returning) of promotional items. They will shift instead towards what you
By Roger Snow
would call an online boutique, where players choose what they want right at their slot machine and have it shipped to their homes by a little company called Amazon.com. Ever heard of it? • Cashless is coming. Maybe not at the supersonic speed of TITO and maybe not at the melting-ice-sculpture pace of skill-based games, but it’s coming. In fact, at 100 or so casinos around the world, it’s already here. For now, cashless is available in two flavors: 1) Players use their debit cards at the gaming table to buy chips; and, 2) Players use an app to transfer funds from their phone directly to the game they’re playing. More offerings are in the offing, including another app for establishing a credit line at casinos and a debit-card reader for buying a TITO ticket right at the slot machine. And when you consider adoption of digital wallets and the like are highest among younger players, the predictions of exponential growth over the next 10 years seem attainable. • Buffets will stage an all-you-can-eat-sized comeback. It’s easy to hold your rosary beads and administer the last rites for the iconic casino gastronomical gorge-fest, but, like Lazarus or Frankenstein or Westley in The Princess Bride, buffets are only… mostly dead. They will return. Likely starting with a restriction of seating and an abundance of Plexiglas partitions, but they will return. Here are few others prognostications to chew on: more casino personnel on hand to fork over food; higher quality and higher prices; one-hour time limits on all parties; and—and this is just a personal wish—lifetime expulsion to any customer that eats so much as a crouton while still in the chow line. With no chance for parole. • Someone is going to create an in-table chip sanitizer. Imagine a roulette chipper mounted underneath a blackjack table (or a roulette table, seeing as it already exists). When losing bets are pushed down the tube and into the machine, instead of merely collating them by color or denomination, it also gives ‘em a little blast of UV light. Sure, it seems like something out of the Jetsons, but it’s either that or re-racking your joint
with anti-microbial chips. Hmmm. • The next World Series of Poker in Las Vegas—no matter when it happens—will have more entrants than 2019. OK, this seems totally crazy, but consider that first of all, people are dying for this. The pent-up demand has pent-up demand. Second, people will make the pilgrimage just to be part of the WSOP’s return. Third, poker players are typically young, typically male, and typically convinced of their own invincibility, whether they’re trying to catch an inside straight or trying not to catch a deadly virus. And fourth, what do you think a lot of people have been doing with their spare time the past year? Reading Shakespeare, Chaucer and Steinbeck? Playing Words with Friends online? No, they’ve been reading Sklansky, Brunson and Malmuth, and playing $20 sit-and-go’s online, and they’re ready to take their talents—not to mention their stimulus checks—to the biggest stage in the game. Which leads us to our final prediction... We will look back at 2021 as a historic, seismic inflection point for slot machine innovation. Think about it: Over the past 12-plus months, R&D departments among the suppliers have had the luxury—so to speak—of not having to worry about day-to-day technical and performance issues on casino floors. Instead, they’ve had the chance to reflect and regroup and refocus. It’s as if Sci Games, Aristocrat, IGT, et al got a collective standing eight-count. And what’s coming next will be a shock-andawe fusillade of content and hardware the industry has never seen. This has already started, and it will only accelerate and amplify as we barrel down on G2E Las Vegas. We hope to see you there. 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.
MAY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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NEW GAME REVIEW by Frank Legato
5 Treasures Explosion Scientific Games
his game on SG’s new Kascada premium curved-monitor portrait cabinet is a followup to the hit game Duo Fu Duo Cai. 5 Treasures Explosion features a player-selectable freespin round added to the familiar Fu Babies Bonus, in which players pick to match three Fu Babies that correspond to one of four jackpots. The base game is a five-reel, 243-ways-to-win scatter game. Randomly before the reels spin, a number of positions are replaced with Bonus Replacement and/or Wild Replacement symbols. Reels 1, 2, and 3 are replaced with Bonus Replacement symbols, a Red Door symbol, and/or a Gold Door symbol. Reels 2, 3, and 4 are replaced with Wild Replacement symbols, a Red Fu, and/or a Gold Fu symbol. One or more scattered Red Fu and/or Gold Fu symbols triggers the Fu Babies Bonus. If the bonus triggers with at least one Gold Fu symbol, the Fu Babies Gold Bonus will be activated. Players pick from 12 golden Lucky Coins until three matching Fu Babies symbols are revealed. Each Fu Babies symbol corresponds to the Mini, Minor, Major or Grand jackpot. The top prize can be placed on the Cash Connection wide-area progres-
sive link with a $400,000 reset level or the Reel Adventures link with a $200,000 top reset level. During the Fu Babies Gold Bonus, jackpots will upgrade to the Gold Jackpots. When playing 588 credits or more the Grand will transform into the “Explosion Jackpot.” The value displayed in the corresponding meter is awarded. The chances of winning a jackpot increases with higher bet levels. Three or more scattered Red Door and/or Gold Door symbols trigger six free spins. If the bonus triggers with at least one Gold Door symbol, then the Gold Free Spins Bonus will be activated. During the bonus, three or more scattered Red Door symbols award six additional free spins. Before the bonus initiates, players select one of five free game/wild symbol combinations, picking the volatility of the bonus. Manufacturer: Scientific Games Platform: Kascada, TwinStar V75 Format: Five-reel, 243-ways-to-win video slot Denomination: .01 Max Bet: 1,000 Top Award: Progressive; $400,000 or $200,000 reset Hit Frequency: 31.51% Theoretical Hold: 4%-15%
Triple Double Gems / Triple Double Patriot Everi Holdings
hese partnered three-reel mechanical offerings provide the classic reel experience, with multiplying wild symbols and a simple bay table featuring bar symbols, multiple “7” combinations and multiplying wild symbols. Both launch titles, Triple Double Patriot and Triple Double Gems, display the entire pay table, old-school, on the top box of the Skyline reel-spinning cabinet. Triple Double Gems and Triple Double Patriot are linkable progressive games with proven math models featuring frequent occurrences of the multiplying wilds. Each symbol has a multiplier version including progressive triggering wild symbols that combine to award a large range of wins. Both themes feature enhanced multiplier features and bet options with available player selectable denominations. Each game features four different-colored “7”
Global Gaming Business MAY 2021
combinations, with progressives for the top four line jackpots. Both games have 2X and 3X wild symbols that multiply the pay in winning combinations. Both games feature a top progressive resetting at $25,000, for three 3X wild symbols on the single payline. Manufacturer: Everi Holdings Platform: Player Classic, Skyline Format: Three-reel, single-line stepper Denomination: 1.00 Max Bet: 3.00 Top Award: Progressive; resets at $25,000 Hit Frequency: 30% Theoretical Hold: 4%-12%
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Shi Fu Jinbi Gaming Arts
aming Arts recently launched its Shi Fu Jinbi series on its Phocus S104 hybrid and Phocus U104 upright cabinets. The two launch games are Shi Fu Koala and Shi Fu Panda. Aside from the main character, the two titles, which both feature multiple persistent features, are basically the same. The base games are both five-reel, 243-ways-to-win formats. In the base game on each, when the Yin Yang symbol appears on the first and third reels only, it substitutes for all symbols except Gold, Silver and Bronze. When the Yin Yang symbol appears on the top or middle row, it moves down one row for each consecutive spin until it reaches the bottom. When a Gold, Silver or Bronze symbol appears on reel 5, it increments a repeat-win “Lucky Pot.” Yin Yang symbols with a Gold, Silver or Bronze symbol on reel 5 trigger free games and activate the Lucky Pot. The
Lucky Pot is rewarded each time a Collect symbol lands on a free spin, and resets after it is hit. Two or five additional free games can be retriggered. Each game is available with a three-level mystery progressive, displayed on the optional Phocus LCD topper. Each jackpot displays a “Must Hit By” amount. The “Stage 1” jackpot resets at $75 and must hit by $100. “Stage 2” resets at $400 and must hit by $500; and the top “Stage 3” prize resets at $1,500 and must hit by $2,000. Manufacturer: Gaming Arts Platform: Phocus Format: Five-reel, 243-ways-to-win video slot Denomination: .01 Max Bet: 888 Top Award: $2,000 Hit Frequency: Approximately 40% Theoretical Hold: 4%-12%
Ocean Spin Kingdom’s Treasures Konami Gaming, Inc.
his is one of the two inaugural games in Konami’s new premium linked progressive series Ocean Spin. (The other game is titled Pirate’s Treasure.) Kingdom’s Treasures features a 75-line base game, with a fixed minimum 75-credit bet and a max bet of 375. During the primary game and attract modes of a bank of two or more of the games, the main mermaid character swims across the 49-inched curved monitors of the Dimension 49J cabinets, in synchronized animation between games. When the player lands three or more scatter symbols, the top monitors of all the games in the bank synchronize into essentially a giant horizontal wheel bonus, the common Ocean Spin feature. Credit prizes, free spins and four jackpots, topped by a $10,000 progressive, flash across the tops of all the monitors until one stops at the top of the player’s screen to award that amount. Six or more coin symbols on a spin trigger the Wheel Bonus. The top of the screen displays a bonus wheel of multipliers with a base credit amount in the middle. The wheel can multiply the award up to 500X. There is a separate free-spin feature in each Ocean Spin base game. In Kingdom’s Treasures, the player can win up to 30 free games. If the Wheel Bonus is triggered on a free spin, the feature completes the remaining spins before the bonus wheel spins.
Manufacturer: Konami Gaming, Inc. Platform: KXP Format: Five-reel, 75-line video slot Denomination: .01, .02, .05, .10, .25, .50, 1.00, 2.00, 5.00 Max Bet: 375 Top Award: Progressive; resets at $10,000 Hit Frequency: 35.9% Theoretical Hold: 6.01%-9.93%
MAY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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FRANKLY SPEAKING by Frank Legato
Twitching and Streaming
see that the Twitch streaming platform has launched “The Slot Squad,” a “Twitch TV” channel that features six hosts culled from Michigan “streamers” who are “well versed in the gaming world and bring their own interest and entertainment to the table,” according to a press release. The Twitch channel is presented as a way for Michigan residents to familiarize themselves with online slot games available at the state’s recently legalized internet gaming sites. The distinguished streamer-hosts sit in front of a big screen that displays a streaming slot game, and they cheer on their game while consciously trying to be flashy characters. Dressed in hoodies, cowboy hats and other costumes related to the games being streamed, they go through gyrations to show you how excited they are, pumping fists, dancing, shouting “Let’s go!” or “Are you ready?” and giving a good “Woohoo!” to any win of more than a few credits. It’s the online version of the “slot influencer” culture that has caused so much excitement as the “influencers” travel around to casinos and live-stream their slot play. In all of these types of streaming shows, the hosts are trying to get me as excited as they are about the streaming slot games. I’m not. I’m not playing the games. I’m not winning money. I don’t care if the streamer-host is making money. And I’m sorry, but a lot of the “Slot Squad” members simply try too hard to be clever. When I’m in an actual casino, if someone beside me is dressing up like the game, yelling and screaming, slinging the “F” bomb, burping and making fart jokes (yes, one of the hosts actually thought that was clever), I’m going to be about a mile away from that person before you can say “Who is this nutball?” Of course, on the internet, you can’t escape the guy. He’s in your face, trying desperately to be clever while a game streams behind him. Am I a dinosaur because I’m not on board with the Slot Squad? Or because I actually don’t do Twitch? (I do twitch, but that’s a nervous condition. Brought on by people in front of streaming slot games acting like idiots.) I’m guessing only people like me who predate the internet feel like a foreigner when considering streaming services, influencers, or being even a little bit interested in following someone on Instagram as they
Global Gaming Business APRIL 2021
make a bologna sandwich at 3 in the morning. Try to understand. I’m someone who remembers factory-like rows of slot machines, populated by rather grim players who had to crack open rolls of quarters before playing, and maintained stone-faced silence as they worked to beat the big house edge on the slots—which all had physical, spinning reels. I’m still trying to get used to this as it’s translated into an internet experience with a perky host. When I think of gambling, I think of bellying up to the craps table, throwing down money and chips, cheering a hot roll... you know, actual interaction. Alternatively, I’m concentrating on a video poker game, during which I want absolutely no interaction with anyone. (Well, except the cocktail server.) So I’m a dinosaur. Let’s move on. It says here that the Venetian Macao just got slammed with a back-tax bill related to its gondolas. You know, the gondolas in the Venetian’s Canal Shoppes “canal,” where customers can enjoy a romantic ride reminiscent of the charming canals of Venice, floating along in an authentic Venice gondola captained by a hilariously stereotypical Italian gondola pusher, complete with the referee-striped shirt, widebrimmed hat and big Mario mustachio. OK, they don’t all have big Mario mustachios. I made that up. Fact is, few if any of them do. But I’ll bet some of their union brothers back in the Old Country do. (International Brotherhood of Gondola Pushers, AFL/CIO/OSOLEMIO.) (Sorry.) And before you ask, no, I was never a gondola pusher. I may look the part, but I’ve got a weak back. (Ever since about a week back.) (Sorry again.) The Macau Daily Post reported that the Venetian will have to pay MOP 18.9 million (US$2.3 million) in back taxes for gondola rides at its hotel, after the Court of Final Appeal determined that the rides are a tourism activity, and therefore, tourism taxes apply. The Post didn’t say, but if not a tourist attraction, what did the Venetian claim the gondola rides were? Transportation between Hugo Boss and Foot Locker? You know, I can never seem to flag down a gondola when I need one. Especially in Central Park West during rush hour. At least I can always find the Slot Squad.
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GOODS&SERVICES CANNAE HOLDINGS INVESTS IN SIGHTLINE PAYMENTS
annae Holdings, Inc. announced a $32 million investment in Sightline Payments, a dynamic fintech company that is enabling the next generation of cashless, mobile and omnichannel payment solutions for the gaming, lottery, sports betting, entertainCannae Chairman ment and hospitality Bill Foley ecosystems, as part of a completed $100 million funding round. “Sightline Payments’ seasoned leadership team has a proven track record and a vision to capitalize on many of the highest growth sectors in the entertainment industry, and Sightline CEO I look forward to working sideJoe Pappano by-side with them to achieve their goals,” said William P. Foley II, chairman of Cannae. “Sightline is the only fintech company specializing in the gaming industry. Their solutions will provide the first true omnichannel solution for gaming—connecting a customer’s sports betting account, online casino accounts, and integrated casino resort loyalty accounts together for use across any and all of those verticals.” Foley, who also owns the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, says that the advantage Sightline has is its simplicity. “Sightline’s Play+ solution is the only platform that spans the entirety of the gaming operation, from digital to the casino floor and across the essential non-gaming activity of the modern integrated casino resort,” he says. “When an account is created, patrons receive a single, FDIC-insured account that can work seamlessly across all channels, verticals, properties, and jurisdictions.” Sightline CEO Joe Pappano says that Play+ will encourage customer loyalty. “Research by both the AGA and Paysafe indicates that a consumer’s top priority when choosing a sportsbook is the ease of payments and quick and easy deposits,” he points out. “Through our discussions with operators nationally, we stress to them the importance of payments in loyalty and retention, particularly given the high cost of player acquisition for them.” With more than five years of experience on the
Global Gaming Business MAY 2021
casino floor, Pappano says Play+ is now a mature system, accepted by players. “Play+ was designed from the beginning as an omnichannel solution, with integrations in place with the top digital platform and all of the key CMS providers,” he says. “We first brought slots live in the market over five years ago, then the Supreme Court invalidated PASPA and the rapid expansion of mobile sports led to our explosive growth in the digital channel. Now we are supporting our casino partners to bring these channels and verticals together and extend the cashless experience across the entire digital and integrated casino resort experience.”
stack migration including data from OGaming’s previous platform provider to FSB and built the requisite regulatory features for German compliance including dual-wallet integration. “This demonstrates the agility and flexibility of our next-generation technology and the deep reservoirs of committed talent we have.”
SCIENTIFIC GAMES LAUNCHES MURAL CABINET
cientific Games Corp. has officially unveiled its new “Mural” cabinet, which the company calls “the most visually dramatic gaming cabinet in the company’s range of industry-leading products.”
FSB REACHES AGREEMENT WITH GERMAN iGAMING GROUP
eading sports betting and iGaming technology provider FSB has further extended its jurisdictional footprint after announcing that it Dave McDowell, has reached an agreement to CEO of FSB be the platform provider for the German iGaming group OGaming. The landmark deal further widens FSB’s sportsbook and PAM presence on dot-com and regional platforms and means that OGaming’s international and local properties, previously supported by a major Tier 1 provider, are now fully powered by FSB’s full tech-stack platform. The full onboarding of the OGaming network from their original supplier to FSB was completed a mere two months after an agreement was reached between the multi-brand organization and awardwinning platform. This rapid and challenging migration was only possible due to the agile and contemporary nature of the FSB technology stack. With full data transfer and regulatory compliance also achieved within this condensed time frame, FSB continues to expand its global footprint in regulated territories within various continents. “This partnership with OGaming is significant for FSB as it further grows our global jurisdictional presence, marks our arrival as a major platform provider across Europe and proves that we can win significant business from our key competitors,” said Dave McDowell, CEO of FSB. “What I’m particularly proud of is the incredibly fast turnaround of this operation. Within just two months we’ve managed to complete the full-
The Mural cabinet features dual 55-inch, 4Kresolution curved monitors, creating an eye-catching attraction for casino floors. The new cabinet launch comes on the heels of the company’s introduction of Kascada, the next generation of its topselling TwinStar J43 cabinet. “Our mission is to create unparalleled player experiences,” said Matt Wilson, executive vice president and CEO, gaming, for Scientific Games. “The Mural cabinet is a new form factor for us. Its name is a nod to not just the size of the display, but to the beauty of the imagery you see in the game. “The cabinet’s design required our teams to work collaboratively to get every element right. Our cabinet design has evolved into a much more holistic process where we’re taking insights from players, inputs from our partners and working across our teams to ensure nothing is left to chance. The Mural cabinet is the evolution of the gaming floor, and we could not be more excited to unveil it.” The company’s engineering team, with members working across offices in Chicago, Las Vegas, Reno and the United Kingdom, led the cabinet’s design with coordination from game design, commercial teams, field service and support teams. It is the company’s first cabinet to be designed almost solely through virtual collaboration, with a select few engineers in the Las Vegas office building the first prototypes in person.
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IGT COMPLETES SALE OF SENIOR NOTES
EXACTA, SG SIGN HHR AGREEMENT
aming and lottery supplier International Game Technology PLC has reported that it has satisfied all conditions for the redemption of its 6.25 percent senior secured notes due 2022 after completing the sale of new US$750 million 4.125 percent senior secured notes due 2026. The new notes will now be listed on the Official List of Euronext Dublin and admitted to trading on the Global Exchange Market of Euronext Dublin. IGT reported when announcing the notes that it intends to use the net proceeds of the sale of the notes to redeem its 6.25 percent senior secured notes due 2022, with the redemption expected to take place immediately.
AINSWORTH COMPLETES DEBT RESTRUCTURING
ustralian slot supplier Ainsworth Game Technology announced the completion of a loan restructuring to refinance existing debt, and better position the company for its continued recovery and growth strategy. Ainsworth COO The $35 million credit Ryan Comstock structure was facilitated by Western Alliance Bank, marking the first time Ainsworth has chosen a U.S.-based banking institution to manage its credit needs. The company says the decision demonstrates Ainsworth’s commitment to the important American market and its valued customer partners in the region. Ainsworth has been focused on growth in the U.S. and Latin America over the past decade, highlighted by the establishment in 2016 of its North American headquarters in Las Vegas. Over the past several years, more than 70 percent of the company’s revenue has been generated in the Americas, and Ainsworth has successfully entered a number of new North American markets including Class II tribal gaming and historical horse racing. “The refinancing provides certainty and flexibility to achieve our expected growth plans and rollout of the group’s innovative and new gaming products,” said Ainsworth Chief Operating Officer Ryan Comstock. “The new credit arrangements are expected to assist to create stronger banking relationships, in Las Vegas, to support the key North and Latin American markets.”
xacta Systems announced that it signed an agreement with supplier Scientific Games Corporation to bring SG game content, featured on the company’s game cabinets, onto the Exacta historical horse racing (HHR) system. “Exacta Systems is thrilled to partner with Scientific Games for the historical horse racing market,” said Jeremy Stein, CEO of Exacta Systems. “Given that their games are top performers in casinos throughout North America, we expect them to be very popular with our customers in HHR.” Bob Parente, executive vice president and chief revenue officer at Scientific Games, commented, “We are excited about our integration with Exacta Systems. It is a terrific opportunity to bring Scientific Games’ worldclass content to historical horse racing in Virginia.”
US THRILLRIDES PRESENTS UNICOASTER ROULETTE
S Thrillrides, an entertainment design and consulting company based in Orlando, Florida, is now taking orders for its unique amusement park ride, Unicoaster Roulette, “the game you can ride.” As entertainment options continue to reopen around the world, customers should be intrigued by the one-of-a-kind attraction, which resembles a giant roulette wheel. US Thrillrides describes the ride as “an irresistible combination of cutting-edge thrills and the exhilaration of winning the jackpot.” In 2020, the Covid-19 crisis crippled the gaming industry, changed the rules and delayed the release of untold big-name projects. During that unwelcome pause, longtime innovator Bill Kitchen of US Thrillrides was fine-tuning the Unicoaster concept into the next musthave for casino resorts. Unicoaster Roulette is a patented ride that combines the tried and tested concepts seen in places like the Mall of America (Nickelodeon’s Brain Surge) and the American Dream (Jimmy Neutron’s Atom Smasher) with a gaming theme.
MAY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
iGAMING PLAYER IS YOUR HOUSE ADVANTAGE
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As one of the first licensed affiliate marketing sites in the U.S., iGamingPlayer.com has the experience, expertise and content to attract quality players to your gambling website. Whether it’s sports betting, casino or poker, iGamingPlayer understands the U.S. player like no other affiliate marketing site. It’s all about winning and players who want to win visit iGamingPlayer to find the best odds, biggest bonuses and promotions, and expert advice to get the best of it online. To learn more about how iGamingPlayer.com can help to boost your business, contact Becky Kingman-Gros, COO email@example.com. Bet with your head, not over it. Call 1-800-GAMBLER if you have a gambling problem.
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PEOPLE AGA PROMOTES THREE TO VICE PRESIDENT POSITIONS
he American Gaming Association (AGA) announced the promotion of three senior leaders across the organization to drive industry priorities including responsibility, advocacy and gaming regulation, and the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) franchise: • Cait DeBaun has been promoted to vice president, strategic communications and responsibility. • Jessica Feil has been promoted to vice president, government relations and gaming policy counsel. • Meredith Pallante has been promoted to vice president, Jessica Feil global events. All three joined the AGA in 2019 and previously held senior director titles. DeBaun joined the AGA to focus on advancing the industry’s commitment to responsibility. She has been instrumental in activating the Responsible Marketing Code for Sports Wagering, creating the Have a Game Plan. Bet Responsibly. public service campaign, and leading both the Responsible Gambling Collaborative and the association’s Responsibility Committee. Feil is an attorney with a history in gaming policy. She manages state policy and regulatory engagement for the association, contributing to core government relations efforts including the advancement of legal sports wagering. Feil leads the association working groups on payments modernization, state affairs and NextGen gaming policy. Pallante joined the AGA to manage G2E, the world’s leading gaming trade show, and extensions of that portfolio including G2E Asia. She will oversee all global industry events for the association, leveraging her experience as an organizer of the Las Vegas-based trade show CES.
LOTTERY.COM NAMES KATIE LEVER AS CHIEF LEGAL OFFICER
ottery.com, a leading platform that allows its users to Katie Lever play the lottery online, announced that Katie Lever has been appointed the company’s first chief legal officer. Lever will be supported by gaming compliance experts on the board of advisors, Mark Lipparelli and Ron Hopkinson. The company is seeking to continue its expansion efforts and will leverage the
combined legal and compliance expertise of these industry professionals to build the future of digital gaming. Lever previously served as general counsel to some of the gaming industry’s largest global suppliers, including through the mergers of SHFL entertainment, Inc., Bally Technologies, Inc., Scientific Games Corp. and, most recently, as chief legal counsel to Drew Las Vegas, a planned $4 billion integrated resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip. She is a recognized gaming law specialist and an expert in compliance and government relations. Lever is a board member of Global Gaming Women and a director and audit chair of Bank of George. Her track record also includes serving as the first executive vice president and general counsel for Everi Holdings Inc.
MGM NAMES SENIOR VP OF CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS
GM Resorts International announced that Jeff Mochal has joined the company as senior vice president of corporate communications. Mochal will oversee the company’s corporate Jeff Mochal communications and strategic positioning, leading issues management strategy and proactive media relations, internal communications and social impact and sustainability messaging strategies for issues affecting MGM Resorts on a global scale. With decades of experience in corporate communications, Mochal joins MGM Resorts from LPL Financial, where, as senior vice president of marketing and communication, he led public and media relations, employee and adviser communication, corporate social responsibility, research marketing, new store sales marketing, and crisis and issues management.
EVERI’S KILBURN TO RETIRE; CEO RUMBOLZ NAMED CHAIRMAN
veri Holdings Inc. announced that E. Miles Kilburn, chairman of the board of directors of Everi, has informed the company he will retire from the board and will Mike Rumbolz not stand for reelection at the company’s 2021 Annual Meeting of Stockholders, which will be held on May 19. The board has appointed Everi CEO Michael D. Rumbolz to become chairman upon Kilburn’s retirement. The board also named Ronald V. Congemi, a member of the board for the last eight years, as lead independent director, effective immediately. The board intends to review the opportunity to
fill the open director position created by Kilburn’s retirement through the addition of a new director that would continue to advance the gender, cultural and professional diversity of its current composition and that would bring additional gaming, financial technology, digital and leadership experience to the board. Upon Kilburn’s retirement in May, Rumbolz will jointly serve as chairman of the board and chief executive officer. Rumbolz has served as Everi’s CEO since April 1, 2020, having previously served as president and CEO from May 2016 through March 2020. Previously, he served as the chairman and chief executive officer of Cash Systems, Inc., a provider of cash access services to the gaming industry, acquired by Everi in 2008.
GLI NAMES BUNEVITH DIRECTOR OF CLIENT SOLUTIONS
eading gaming testing company Gaming Laboratories International has named iGaming innovator and leader Joe Bunevith as the company’s director of Joe Bunevith client solutions. In this role, he will work closely with GLI’s sales, compliance and engineering teams on issues relating to new technologies, client onboarding, new jurisdictions and business solutions. Bunevith has extensive experience in developing fantasy sports online game platforms. Most recently, he served as director of interactive gaming for Synergy Blue in Las Vegas.
May 2021 Index of Advertisers
AGEM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11 AGS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2 Analog Way . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19 Aristocrat Technologies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .56 Casino Player Media . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29 Emerging Leaders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .33 Everi . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5 Fantini Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .51 Gaming Tech Awards . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .43 GAN . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17 Global Gaming Business . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10, 49 iGaming Player . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .52 HBG Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9 IGT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .55 IGT PlayDigital . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7 J Carcamo & Associates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25 NIGA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .39 Reed Expo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .23
MAY 2021 www.ggbmagazine.com
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ard Rock International has been on a roll lately. After opening the Guitar Hotel in Hollywood, Florida in 2019, the company has opened or gained licenses/agreements in Cincinnati, Gary, Indiana, northern Illinois and southern California, and added a collection if iGaming veterans to elevate the company’s online operations. Jim Allen has been directing the company, owned by Florida’s Seminole Tribe, for 20 years, and sat down with GGB Publisher Roger Gros to talk about these developments and more. To see the Zoom interview or listen to the audio podcast where Allen discusses the launch of Hard Rock Digital and the negotiations to allow sports betting and online gaming in Florida, visit GGBMagazine.com.
GGB: The last time we talked, we were at the opening of the Guitar Hotel at Hard Rock property in Hollywood, and it was a fantastic development. Before the pandemic, what was the response of your guests to that property? Jim Allen: Very humbly, the response was
tremendous. People are just blown away at the architectural design, the fit, the finish. I’m very proud of all of our employees providing worldclass service. And frankly, it was actually exceeding our expectations. Let’s talk about when the pandemic hit. What was your concern at that point, when you were forced to close down?
We were like the rest of the world. We wondered, how long will this last? Initially, we thought maybe it’s a few weeks. But we were a little bit ahead of the curve, because of our operations in China. We have a hotel in Shenzhen, which already had been closed down in January, and we saw that this thing was maybe a little bit more than just a week or two. But the ripple effect here in the United States certainly exceeded what we anticipated. But, like everyone else, we 54
Global Gaming Business MAY 2021
Jim Allen Chairman, Hard Rock International were looking at all the covenants of our debt, and looking at cash, but most importantly focusing on the safety of the tribal members and all of our employees. When did you determine it was safe to reopen, and what were some of the steps you took there to reopen?
We made the determination literally within weeks of when we closed that we were going to go back and review all of our standing operating procedures on an individual and line-item basis. So, myself and a core group of around 20 to 30 people went over all our procedures, whether it was in the cage, or food and beverage, or housekeeping, security or other departments. Most importantly we were looking at technology, at how we could create something that gives the perception of being safe. And clearly, that’s how we created SAFE + SOUND, and it just has been a game-changer. We’ve had literally prime ministers, four or five governors, including Governor DeSantis in Florida and Governor Murphy in New Jersey, say that SAFE + SOUND is truly world-class. We were the first to do it in the country. Many have followed suit. But we know by communicating with our database on a daily basis, it was a game-changer. So, let’s talk about outside of Florida. You’ve got a couple of new properties. You took over the Jack casino in Cincinnati, rebranded it as a Hard Rock. You’re on the way to opening in Gary, Indiana. What kind of expansion are you expecting in those places?
Cincinnati, pre-Covid, was frankly extremely successful. Business was up over 30 percent once we took it over, by implementing our database, our technology and marketing programs. Around midsummer we’re looking at a grand opening to celebrate the rebrand. As far as northern Indiana, the building is done. We just received all of our approvals recently, from the Indiana Gaming Commission, and we announced a May 14 grand
opening. If you look at this location, it’s directly on the interstate, about seven or eight miles from the Illinois border. This truly is northern Indiana/Illinois play, obviously at a very competitive tax rate, compared to the Illinois tax rates, and it’s a totally different experience than riverboat gaming. You also signed a deal with a second California tribe, in addition to the first Hard Rock casino near Sacramento. Where will it be located?
As far as Tejon, we actually signed that deal probably seven years ago. But it took us a while, working with the tribe, to get approvals, which were finally granted by the Department of the Interior. Now that we have that done, we’re working with architects, getting the building designed, and starting the process to negotiate the compact with the state of California. How about Las Vegas? Just last month, the former Hard Rock, which you didn’t own, opened as the Virgin Hotel. And there’s always been a lot of talk that a Hard Rock would work very well in Vegas. What’s the status on your consideration of properties there?
As we’ve previously stated, we still think Las Vegas is the gaming capital of the United States. Las Vegas has an amazing ability to continue to reinvent itself. If the right opportunity at the right time comes up, we would certainly be interested in coming back to Las Vegas, obviously under our ownership. I thank you for mentioning that we did not own that property. We had nothing to do with it. We did not think it complemented the Hard Rock brand in any way, shape or form. Certainly I think it did when Peter Morton, the founder of Hard Rock, owned it, but its last five, six, seven years, I think the property struggled, for a whole host of reasons. So, we’re excited for Virgin and Mohegan Sun now having a new opportunity in that building, and it allows us to look at any opportunity that may come up, whether it be on the Las Vegas Strip or anywhere in the state of Nevada.
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