Global Gaming Business, September 2022

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GGB Global Gaming Business Magazine

September 2022 • Vol. 21 • No. 9 • $10

Time to Fold? The role of poker in the casino environment

5 WOMEN WHO SHINE MARKET RESEARCH ECLIPSE GAMING THE WONDER OF ETGs

SPECIAL TABLE GAMES ISSUE

Beating Baccarat How to protect one of the fastest growing games

Living It Up

Why human dealers are key to success in online games Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers


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CONTENTS

Vol. 21 • No. 9

september

Global Gaming Business Magazine

24 COVER STORY

COLUMNS

Poker Power

12 AGA A Month to Remember

The game of poker has had its ups and downs over the years, from its traditional status as a loss-leader attraction to its explosion in the early 2000s from digital and TV exposure, to a subsequent decline as interest waned, to a recent rally to where the game is once again a worthwhile casino offering.

Cait DeBaun

14 Fantini’s Finance No Surprises Frank Fantini

DEPARTMENTS 4 The Agenda

By Jess Marquez

6 By the Numbers

FEATURES 16 Live and Alive The streaming of live-dealer table games has reinvigorated interest in the games, as live dealers inject personality into the digital game experience. By Roger Gros

28 Women to Watch As women increase their presence in the casino industry’s top leadership positions, we offer profiles of five of the brightest stars among the growing group of top women in gaming. By Marjorie Preston and Bill Sokolic

8 5 Questions

36 Supporting the Brand Today’s marketing in support of any brand is only as good as the people who support that brand with superior service and customer interaction. By Julia Carcamo

15 AGEM 34 Frankly Speaking 48 Emerging Leaders With SB22’s Vik Shrestha and attorney Steve Iverson

40 Solar Eclipse With a new physical plant and a growing team of gaming veterans and talented engineers, Class II supplier Eclipse Gaming Systems is ready for its next phase.

50 New Game Review 58 Cutting Edge 60 Goods & Services

By Frank Legato

44 Betting on Baccarat As an influx of Asian gamblers has boosted the prominence of baccarat in the casino table game mix, operators must master the nuances of running such a low-hold offering. By Bill Zender

65 People 66 Casino Communications With Bill Miller, President & CEO, American Gaming Association

54 The Digital Table Boosted by the use of live dealers and improving hardware, electronic table games have carved a strong niche on the casino floor. By Dave Bontempo SEPTEMBER 2022 www.ggbmagazine.com

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THE AGENDA

Ghosts in the Machine By Roger Gros, Publisher

Vol. 21 • No. 9 • SEPTEMBER 2022 Roger Gros, Publisher | rgros@ggbmagazine.com twitter: @GlobalGamingBiz Frank Legato, Editor | flegato@ggbmagazine.com twitter: @FranklySpeakn Jess Marquez, Managing Editor jmarquez@ggbmagazine.com Monica Cooley, Art Director mcooley@ggbmagazine.com

hile I was writing this month’s feature on the live dealer phenomenon in iGaming, I was reminded of a time when I was at the cutting edge of live dealer technology. It was around 1981 and I was working as a blackjack/baccarat dealer at Caesars Atlantic City. My cousin’s girlfriend at the time, Dawna, worked as a receptionist in the hotel offices. One day she fielded a call from a man who wanted to recruit dealers for a somewhat unusual assignment. He was planning to create a slot-machine type of device that would feature “real” dealers dealing the cards, announcing the totals and congratulating the winners. More than a decade later, a Japanese company, the video game developer Sega, came out with a ready-for-market version of this live dealer game on a much larger machine that could seat up to seven players. That scenario has currently been perfected by Interblock in today’s casino environment. But no one at Caesars at the time was interested in helping this gentleman, so when Dawna told me about it, I asked for the name and contact info, figuring I might make a quick buck arranging something. After talking to him, he was very grateful that someone had responded, so he wanted a group of six good-looking, well spoken, diverse dealers, which I could easily come up with. It didn’t include me because I didn’t qualify under at least one of those qualifications—and I didn’t ask which one. So the deal was, he’d fly us from Atlantic City to Boston, put us up at a hotel, feed us at some very nice restaurants, arrange for some entertainment— which turned out to be a night at a Red Sox game, my first visit to Fenway Park—in exchange for filming the dealers saying all the catch phrases of dealing blackjack—things like “dealer has blackjack,” the numbers from three to 21, “player busts”…. you get the idea. That turned out to be more grueling than you might expect. They actually paid us all extra to stay another day to complete the shoot. For some reason, Caesars never asked whey seven dealers all called in sick on the same day. The actual product had a mockup of a screen inside a standard-sized slot cabinet so they could see how the shoot would look in that limited space. And we’re not talking about the 62-inch curved screen behemoths we see in today’s casinos. This screen was around 12 inches from tip to tip (think the early Si Redd video poker games) with the silent movie flick-

W

4

er to them because it hadn’t been edited. I knew almost instantly this wasn’t going to work because the technology just wasn’t there. In a later version they showed me—maybe the beta version—it had only improved a small amount, and in the lag between when the player hit the button and when the decision was made, you could have ordered a drink from the cocktail waitress—and had it delivered. But what did intrigue me were the “human” dealers and how they made the game fun. Now, these people were my friends, so I knew what they were like and their real-life personalities, but somehow I could imagine total strangers getting caught up in the game and developing a strange relationship with them. And these were just filmed people, not live and in person. That’s why I’ve been so fascinated with the live dealer, an actual person that you can chat with, someone who does have a personality that interacts with the players. The executives I spoke with for this story tell me that there are players that wait for certain dealers on certain shifts because they have developed a relationship with them. It doesn’t sound creepy or like they are stalking; it just seems like they like the personal interaction when they recognize the dealer. But again, we come back to technology. The product that my dealer colleagues were working on in Boston all those years ago didn’t cut it, not because it wasn’t a good idea, but because it was ahead of its time. The live dealer we see today is really only scratching the surface with its potential. What happens when you can match players with certain “type” of dealer? Or maybe the camaraderie that develops between a group of players can turn into a kind of “weeknight poker night” for those players? And to stretch it even further, we’ve been teased about the possibilities of immersive virtual reality, with or without the headsets, where you could waltz into a virtual casino, dressed to the nines, and sit down at an elegant baccarat game or a high-limit blackjack game and make a night of it. Technology is a wonderful thing, but there are plenty of things we haven’t even imagined that can be delivered instantaneously to our best players. But even with this remarkable technology, nothing will beat the human touch, even if they’re just a group of sad-sack dealers from 1980s Atlantic City.

Global Gaming Business SEPTEMBER 2022

Terri Brady, Sales & Marketing Director tbrady@ggbmagazine.com Becky Kingman-Gros, Chief Operating Officer bkingros@ggbmagazine.com Lisa Johnson, Communications Advisor lisa@lisajohnsoncommunications.com twitter: @LisaJohnsonPR Columnists Cait DeBaun | Frank Fantini Contributing Editors Dave Bontempo twitter: @bontempomedia Julia Carcamo | Marie Casiasl | Chris Irwin Marjorie Preston | Bill Sokolic twitter: @downbeachfilm Bill Zender __________________

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 2022 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 Official Publication

GGB



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BY THE

NUMBERS

ARe YoU ReAdY FoR Some FooTBAll? I

n U.S. sports betting, it’s clear that football is king. More bettors wager on football, both college and the NFL, than all the other sports. B2B supplier Kambi has continued a tradition of publishing an annual recap of the previous season and trends for the upcoming season in the NFL Report 2021-22. Kambi compiled data from the 17 states where its clients are located, and it shows some interesting trends. In the chart at right, Kambi looks back on the 2021 season and shows the highlights of the biggest betting events throughout the year. Later in the report, Kambi shows that home teams aren’t necessarily the favorite betting team, how to use parlays is a hot trend, a recap of the college football betting trends, and much more. To obtain a copy of the report, visit Kambi.com.

State Tax Revenue: iGaming vs Sports Betting (US$m) - 2021

T

iGaming (six states) Sports Betting (30 states) Source: State gaming commissions

560 970

iGaming Tax Revenue Forecasts: Current vs Potential States (US$m) Current iGaming States Potential iGaming States

1,361

Source: VIXIO Gambling Compliance estimates

4,986

6

Bye-Bye Billions

Global Gaming Business SEPTEMBER 2022

he pace of the legalization of iGaming has dramatically lagged behind that of sports betting. For those states that have legalized sports betting but not iGaming, they are missing out on billions of dollars of taxes, according to a new study released by Light & Wonder and compiled by VIXIO GamblingCompliance. The study, the U.S. iGaming State Tax Revenue Potential report, was released in August and highlighted the advantages of offering iGaming and the perils of not legalizing it. States are leaving billions of dollars in tax revenue on the table which could fund a variety of public programs and services without resorting to broad-based taxes. In states where iGaming is currently not legal, residents are turning to illegal offshore gambling sites which provide little customer support and pay no taxes. While 35 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have legalized sports betting, only six—Connecticut, Delaware, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and West Virginia—have also legalized iGaming. In the 30 states that have active sports betting at this time, bettors wagered $4.29 billion, which produced only $560 million in taxes, according to the American Gaming Association. In the six states that offer iGaming, the online casinos generated $3.71 billion in total revenue and $970 million in gaming taxes in 2021. The charts at left show how much more tax revenue was derived from iGaming versus sports betting in those six states (top), with the other chart estimating how much tax revenue goes uncollected while states ignore legal iGaming.


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NUTSHELL

5

“They

Questions Nathan Peak

Said It”

“I don’t know one constituent who wants a casino.” —Brad Hoylman, New York state senator who represents parts of Manhattan where developers want to locate a casino

Practice Leader, President & CEO, HBG Design

H

BG Design is a recognized leader in the design and construction of new casinos and renovations across the spectrum. Nathan Peak was recently named the practice leader for the firm, and he explains why the company has been successful in the gaming industry, particularly tribal gaming. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros from his office in Memphis in July. To hear and view a full version of the interview, visit GGBMagazine.com. GGB: HBG has established a great reputation in the gaming industry over the years. What’s it going take to maintain that leadership in your new role? Nathan Peak: I think we have a different way of thinking. In the new role, I want to have a greater focus on integrated design. And what I mean by that is we really like to work with our clients and our operators to understand what they do best and really make design an extension of the gaming experience. For example, I love to get to know our operators. I love to get to know how the slots work and how they put their games together. I like to work with the food and beverage director, understand what their menus are and how our experience can really enhance the experience of the entire property. So I think of that as an extension to architecture and not just building pretty buildings, but really designing experience around what we do that enhances our clients’ properties.

1 2 3 4 5

You’ve developed some really great properties, one of them being the Oaklawn Racetrack Casino in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It’s got such a colorful history, and you made the hotel and casino blend into the track. You treated the history with respect and the final design recognizes that. The Oaklawn casino is a great project. We’re very proud of it. Having the hotel right there at that first turn and having rooms look right down the horse track is a pretty amazing experience. There are lots of great themes throughout that space. We used a lot of the different stripes, and decorations that they put on the horses and used that pattern throughout the casino and the guest rooms—I think it’s really well done.

September 6-9: 13th European Conference on Gambling Studies and Policy Issues, Thon Ullevaal Stadion Hotel, Oslo, Norway. Produced by the European Association for the Study of Gambling. For more information, visit easg2022.org. September 20-22: SBC Summit Barcelona, Fira Barcelona Montjuïc, Barcelona, Spain. Produced by SBC. For more information, visit SBCEvents.com. September 21-23: East Coast Gaming Congress and NexGen Gaming Forum, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, New Jersey. Produced by Spectrum Gaming and Cooper Levenson. For more information, visit eastcoastgamingcongress.com. October 10-13: Global Gaming Expo (G2E) 2022, Venetian Expo Center, Las Vegas, Nevada. Produced by Reed Exhibitions and the American Gaming Association. For more information, visit GlobalGamingExpo.com.

A recent job you’ve gotten is the Gun Lake project in Michigan, run by Sal Semola. Tell us about that project. Sal is a great person to work with and we do it very collaboratively. And they did something very bold. They approached us with a program that I think is very unique. It’s something more of a hybrid where we have a typical hotel that’s going to be a four-diamond hotel that attaches to their existing gaming floor. But the unique thing about that project is what they’re calling the Aquadome, an enclosed atrium space that houses several pools that can also turn into a nightclub or a concert venue in the evening. So it has dual purposes, but having that right in the middle of a cold Michigan winter. It’s going to be something great for their customers every year, year-round.

October 16-20: World Lottery Summit 2022, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Produced by the World Lottery Association. For more information, visit WorldLotterySummit.org.

Let’s talk about the design and construction industry post-pandemic. My contacts in the architectural and construction field told me things were going great getting back to normal— actually even better than normal. But with the supply chain issues and rising interest rates, what’s the reality right now? The reality is that it’s always been challenging post-pandemic. But a really great thing for the industry of design and construction is that it’s really brought design and construction closer together. Design and construction used to be two different silos where we would design something and then have a contractor help us out. But now it’s really about working from the end forward. I’m on daily calls with contractors and subcontractors to find how to make things work. We have to commit to promises for our clients, and working with contractors and design-assist contractors helps us find ways to make things happen.

November 2-3: The Scandinavian Gaming Show, Copenhagen, Denmark. Produced by Eventus International. For more information, visit eventusinternational.com/sgs.

Following the pandemic, most took slot machines out for social distancing. Today, there are many more carousels rather than long lines of slot machines. How do you work with your clients when you consider a renovation of the casino floor? To my point I made earlier, I really like to work with all departments, and I get a lot of information back when I talk with the slot directors. To me, they want to energize the gaming floor. We’ve worked with a lot of operators, and a lot of them have reduced their quantities of machines. For example, we work with the Four Winds group in Michigan, the Pokagon Band, and they’ve actually done a pretty significant reduction, but they’ve also seen higher play, a higher win or a higher coin-in for most of the machines just by reducing it. So I think it’s a balance that each property needs to find on its own.

8

CALENDAR

Global Gaming Business

SEPTEMBER 2022

November 1-3: SBC Summit Latinoamerica 2022, Seminole Hard Rock Casino Hotel, Hollywood, Florida. Produced by SBC Events. For more information, visit SBCEvents.com.

December 5-7: Global Symposium on Racing, Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, Tucson, Arizona. Produced by the Race Track Industry Program, University of Arizona. For more information, visit rtip.arizona.edu/symposium. February 7-9: ICE London, ExCeL, London, U.K. Produced by Clarion Gaming. For more information, visit ICELondon.UK.com. February 28-March 1: Casino & Esports Conference, Alexis Park Hotel, Las Vegas. Produced by Gameacon Events. For more information, visit casinoesportconf.com.



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AMERICAN GAMING ASSOCIATION

A Month to Remember Responsible gaming comes sharply into focus with special weeklong topics in September by Cait DeBaun

E

ach September, the gaming industry comes together to showcase and strengthen its commitment to responsible gaming. This year, the American Gaming Association is thrilled to evolve what has traditionally been Responsible Gaming Education Week (RGEW) into Responsible Gaming Education Month (RGEM). The expansion of RGEW to RGEM reflects our industry’s growing responsible gaming efforts as the industry itself grows. To guide efforts, RGEM is organized into four themes reflecting the range of responsible gaming priorities: September 1-10: Empowering Customers to Play Responsibly

sponsible. This includes responsible gaming protections and much more. Use this week to highlight the differences between the illegal and legal markets when it comes to consumer protections and responsibility investments. September 18-24: Employees— the RG Front Line

Our employees are on the front lines, actively living out our commitment to responsible gaming and helping customers play responsibly. Every year, the industry invests time and money to equip our employees with the skills and resources essential to supporting our customers. This week will be dedicated to refreshing employee training and internal communications.

Customers are at the heart of responsible gaming. This is especially true as gaming expands into new markets and verticals like sports betting. Join us in educating players to Have A Game Plan by focusing on how to keep gaming fun.

September 25-30: Advancing Responsible Gaming with Technology

September 11-17: Legal, Regulated Gaming Protects Players

From operators to suppliers and every stakeholder in between, we all have a role to play in promoting responsible gaming and building a sustainable industry. You can get it involved in RGEM this year by engaging customers on RG, elevating employee training, spreading the message on media and social channels, and engaging regulators and policymakers. For full RGEM resources and more ideas to celebrate this September, visit the AGA website at americangaming.org/event/rgem22. We look forward to you joining us!

Casino gaming is one of the most regulated industries in the United States. And these regulations exist for one primary reason: to protect players so that gaming can be safe, fun and re-

Technology—like digital payments, website blockers, self-limit tools and more—has changed the face of responsible gaming. Use this week to highlight how technology is shifting your efforts.

Cait DeBaun is vice president, strategic communications and responsibility for the American Gaming Association.

12

Global Gaming Business SEPTEMBER 2022


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FANTINI’S FINANCE

No Surprises Can investors rest easy now that second-quarter earnings were what we all expected?

P

erhaps the biggest surprise in the recent second-quarter earnings report season is that there were nearly no surprises among publicly traded casino operators. Earnings came in about as expected with a few better than expected. Business for Las Vegas Strip operators boomed, regional casino companies largely met estimates, Macau suffered from well-known Covid travel restrictions. Just about all companies reported trends continuing into the third quarter and sanguine outlooks were universal, albeit with the sop-to generalizations about slight weakening among lower-rated players. Even the fallen angels of online gaming operators vowed they have found religion and will become profitable, although we still have to wait until next year for proof of conversion and redemption. In addition, CFOs and CEOs of land-based operators chanted like a Greek chorus the songs of lower debt, share repurchases and free cash flow. All of that was based on their own conversion to the religion of cost controls and the resultant high EBITDA margins. And if inflation remains and recession descends? Well, gaming is resilient, the chorus responded. The sell-side analyst response was largely just as Greek chorus-like. Their hosannas acclaimed the enlightenment of casino operators though some analysts trimmed earnings estimates and target prices, apparently just in case. In fact, there were a couple of instances of raised estimates based on trends and their own analyses, but lowering targets, perhaps to conform to the less bullish outlooks on the economy and consumer spending preached by their firms’ high priests, aka market strategists. All of this is a little scary, as in when everyone is in the same boat, it often proves to be the wrong boat. Yet, as light as I am tempted to make of the situation, I find myself in agreement with the optimists. There surely are risks of recession, but just as surely gamers have proven resilient in the past. And with their greater financial discipline, they should 14

By Frank Fantini

remain resilient on the operating side if hard times come. The improved balance sheets are real. The return to stockholders in the forms of share repurchases and dividends are tangible. Free cash flow generation is not only the new mantra, it’s the right metric. If you’re looking for safety and returns, the gaming REITs—VICI Properties and Gaming & Leisure Properties—are as rock-solid as any equities can be. Their proven tenants provide reliable rents. Their significant and growing dividends and prudent growth strategies are supported by track records of excellent execution.

companies were “ Gaming thought to sell at lower valuations to account for legislative risk. But casinos are long past those early-era risks. They have now been operating for two decades and more with mostly stable legislative environments. So, it would seem, if a hotel stock sells for 14 times EBITDA, why shouldn’t a hotel company with a casino attached sell for at least the same?

Use dividends as an example of relative value. The average S&P 500 stock, the classic definition of a blue chip, pays a 1.47 percent dividend. The average real estate investment trust pays a 3.48 percent dividend. VICI yields 4.18 percent and Gaming & Leisure Properties 5.48 percent. Or use multiples of EBITDA as examples. Deutsche Bank analyst Carlo Santarelli estimates the stocks of regional casino operators he covers sell at just 7.5 times this year’s enterprise value-to-EBITDA and 7.3 times 2024 projections. Golden Entertainment comes in at just 6.8 times 2024 enterprise value-to-EBITDA with a cash flow yield this year of an outstanding 13.9 percent. Boyd

Global Gaming Business SEPTEMBER 2022

Gaming and Red Rock Resorts are at 11 percent and 11.3 percent. Interestingly, all three are highly exposed to Las Vegas and the Las Vegas locals market. The big casino operators look like bargains, too, based on his 2024 EBITDA ratio estimates—6.7 times for MGM Resorts, 7.8 times for Caesars and 8.2 times for Wynn. Only Las Vegas Sands, which has forsaken Las Vegas to be a Macau-Singapore operator, is in double digits at 10.2 times 2024 projections. It also goes without saying that gaming companies have lower valuations than companies in other travel and entertainment industries. Again, using Santarelli’s calculations, stocks of major hotel companies he covers sell at 14 times this year’s EBITDA and 13.3 times 2024. This undervaluation of gaming companies compared to those in sister industries is not new. It is common for casino companies, especially those in regional markets, to sell at seven and eight times EBITDA while sister-industry stocks sell at 12 and 14 times. Initially, gaming companies were thought to sell at lower valuations to account for legislative risk. But casinos are long past those early-era risks. They have now been operating for two decades and more with mostly stable legislative environments. So, it would seem, if a hotel stock sells for 14 times EBITDA, why shouldn’t a hotel company with a casino attached sell for at least the same? Obviously, this is an oversimplification, but it does suggest a safety in the casino business model that should result in higher than single-digit EBITDA multiples. It also explains some of the motivation in selling casino properties to VICI and Gaming and Leisure Properties, unlocking that value and getting big cash payments to reduce debt and freeing up cash flow in return for becoming renters. Bottom line: From the gentle Greek chorus parody at the start of this column to the examples of relative undervaluations at this end, the conclusion is the same—well-run casino companies should be good bets in these uncertain economic times. Frank Fantini is principal at Fantini Advisors, investors and consultants with a focus on gaming.


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AGEMupdate AGEM Member Profiles Silver Member Profile SUZOHAPP Group suzohapp.com

SUZOHAPP is a world leader in the manufacturing and distribution of gaming, amusement and sports betting products. Serving operators and OEMs for over 60 years, SUZOHAPP carries a vast portfolio of components available for immediate distribution and for developing custom-built solutions. Bronze Member Profile Cammegh Limited cammegh.com

AGEM August 2022 Meeting Recap • Over the past few months, AGEM’s Compliance, Responsible Gaming, Mexico and Government Affairs Committees have been meeting to update and discuss some of the key working initiatives. The Compliance Committee met recently, and the consensus among the group was to focus on trying to work more closely with the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, with a goal of making the gaming lab approval time for land-based and online innovations and products shorter and easier from an administrative standpoint. The Responsible Gaming Committee shared its responsible gaming concerns, including problem gambling risks associated with payment systems, potential regulations surrounding social games and a discussion on potentially establishing an advisory committee that would add more weight to industry initiatives. Finally, the Government Affairs Committee is reviewing and finalizing political contribution and donation strategy for Nevada. AGEM also plans to sponsor a cocktail reception at the National Black Caucus of State Legislators conference being held in Las Vegas November 28 to December 2. • Executive Director Daron Dorsey will be meeting in the coming weeks with Nevada GCB Technology Division Chief Jim Barbee and GCB Member Britnee Watkins, the board member now tasked with oversight responsibility for the Technology Division. These communications follow AGEM’s goal of providing an ongoing dialogue with regulatory stakeholders on current issues affecting the supplier sector and AGEM’s desire to arrange for annual or twice-yearly interface between regulatory stakeholders and AGEM members, whether at monthly meetings or via the Compliance Committee. • The Clarion/ECA Symposium took place in London recently at Les Ambassadeurs Casino. AGEM’s Director of Europe Tracy Cohen was in attendance along with a group of around 35 attendees, consisting of decision-makers representing both casino operators and suppliers. The format of the day followed a dynamic agenda consisting of an “open space” allowing participants to personally set their own talking points with a focus on paving the way for the industry’s success and to secure post-pandemic growth. The event provided a day full of high-level discussions, inspirational exchange and fruitful networking.

Forthcoming Events Cammegh, a family-run business established in 1989, manufactures and develops roulette wheels and roulette technology, along with gaming signage, and has built up an enviable reputation for innovation, quality and impeccable customer service with a worldwide customer base. Associate Member Profile Asimex Global asimexglobal.com

Asimex Global is a Mexican company providing international trade and logistics solutions between the American markets and the rest of the world, with operations in the main ports, borders and airports of the country, as well as in the United States, Central America and South America.

AGEM is an international trade association representing manufacturers of electronic gaming devices, systems, lotteries and components for the gaming industry. The association works to further the interests of gaming equipment manufacturers throughout the world. Through political action, trade show partnerships, information dissemination and good corporate citizenship, the members of AGEM work together to create benefits for every company within the organization. Together, AGEM and its member organizations have assisted regulatory commissions and participated in the legislative process to solve problems and create a positive business environment.

• The AGEM Board of Directors/Voting Member Meeting was slated for August 31. This was the second meeting of FY23 with the more formal meeting format to conform with AGEM’s corporate governance requirements as a nonprofit corporation. At press time, the executive director and officers were finalizing the agenda to be sent out to attendees prior to the meeting. Items for discussion include an update of AGEM’s financial performance and overall operations, along with a discussion of the organization’s proposed charitable, philanthropic and advocacy initiatives. • The first stand-alone AGEM Holiday Reception will take place on November 17, 2022, at Panevino Ristorante in Las Vegas. Historically, this event immediately followed conclusion of the AGEM/McMonigle Cup golf tournament, but it was decided to hold a midweek “after work” event where people could meet and socialize in an informal atmosphere at a convenient venue. If this new format is successful, it could be adopted for similar events every quarter or twice yearly to provide a collaborative environment for networking among members outside of trade shows.

AGEMindex

The AGEM Index rose by 51.54 points in July 2022 to 862.93, rebounding 6.4 percent from the previous month. Compared to one year ago, the index was down 62.39 points, or 6.7 percent. During the latest month, 10 of the 12 AGEM Index companies reported stock price increases, which resulted in 10 positive contributions to the AGEM Index and two negative contributions. The largest positive contributor to the monthly index was Crane Co. (NYSE: CR), which reported a 13.76-point gain to the index as a result of a 13 percent increase in its stock price. Aristocrat Leisure Limited (ASX: ALL) contributed an 11.6-point gain to the index due to a 2.7 percent increase in its stock price. The largest negative contribution to the index was sourced to PlayAGS Inc. (NYSE: AGS), whose 8.1 percent decline in stock price equated to a 0.27-point loss for the AGEM Index. All three major U.S. stock indices saw month-over-month increases in July 2022 after slipping across the board in the prior period. The NASDAQ rose by 12.3 percent from June, while the S&P 500 rose by 9.1 percent. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average grew 6.7 percent over the month.

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Live Dealer is the hottest thing at online casinos because it replicates the real-life casino

That’s Entertainment I

n the magnificently researched book by gaming historian David Schwartz, Roll the Bones: The History of Gambling, we read that the first casino in the world was in Venice—Ca’ Vendramin Calergi, also known as Casino di Venezia. The casino opened in 1638 and continued until 1774, when gambling was banned. Schwartz tells us that the games consisted of card and dice games, the identity of which are lost to time. But clearly there were no slot machines—it was another 100 years or more after it closed before the first slot game was introduced by Charles Fey in San Francisco. But even then slot machines played only a minor role in the gaming halls of their time. Table games have been the center of any casino for most of the history of casinos. Yes, the games changed. Faro was the most popular game in Fey’s time. And poker, of course, was the alluring game that fooled many an amateur gambler until he ran into a card shark. Even when Nevada opened up gambling in 1931, slot machines were just an amenity to keep the wives of the high rollers occupied while the husbands wagered the serious money at the tables. Today, of course, slot machines dominate the casino world—except perhaps in Asia, where the dedication to baccarat by most players keeps table game revenue front and center. So when it came to online gambling, slot machines were the nobrainer decision. They are easily replicated and contain most of the graphics and sounds of the real-life game. For the online operator, the more the merrier, and there are often

By Roger Gros

hundreds of slot games available to their customers at any given time. But then table games became the ugly stepsister of iGaming. Yes, you need to have them because there are some smart players who know that slots are a loser for most gamblers and prefer to use their brains when gambling. But unlike slots, table games are not so easily replicated online. Yes, you can easily remake baccarat and roulette. In those games the player makes the decision where to bet and a simple RNG and basic graphics are all that’s needed. You can conceivably have thousands of people betting on one spin or hand. Blackjack is different because each player needs to make a decision in turn, extending the time it takes to play a full hand. But again, basic graphics and an RNG that copies the theoretical payback percentage, and you’re in business. But man against machine isn’t what live gaming is all about, so the search

“The original mission was to bring the casino to online. It took online gaming into a new genre where it lives today. Sure, it’s a hard business, because you’ve got half casino operations, and then half technical operations and video streaming. It’s a B2B business, so you’ve got to keep all your clients happy.” —Todd Haushalter, Chief Product Officer, Evolution Gaming

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Playtech live dealer set

“Technology is always part of (the future)—different kinds of technology, to be sure— obviously video, but also products using analytic technology applied to live gaming. This will allow us to make a leap of quality of experience for the users.” —Edo Haitin, Managing Director of Live Dealer, Playtech

was on for the holy grail of live gaming online. Todd Haushalter is the chief product officer for Evolution Gaming, the company that invented live dealer and now the dominant player in the B2B market. Haushalter was senior vice president of table games for MGM Resorts prior to joining Evolution. “It started with taking one of those simple Logitech cameras, and putting it in front of a roulette wheel and having the woman spin,” he explains. “She’d manually enter the winning number and live casino was born. Yeah. Roulette was the first product. “And remember in those days you didn’t have decent bandwidth; it was really pushing the technological boundaries. The founders of Evolution made a huge bet and they built five tables and they decided to run them 24/7—it’s labor intensive and nobody’s waking up in the morning looking for live dealer. “And it’s not like we were getting premium placement on the websites at that time either. Sometimes a whole shift would go by and there would be no players. Money was tight, but then players started to slowly trickle in.” But getting to the next level wasn’t about the money for live dealer; it was much more simple.

“Then you saw live casino get its own tab,” he says. “So you’d have sports, sports betting and then casino and then live casino. So that was a huge win.” Evolution was able at the time to refocus on its goals when it gained that acceptance. “The original mission was to bring the casino to online,” Haushalter says. “It took online gaming into a new genre where it lives today. Sure, it’s a hard business, because you’ve got half casino operations, and then half technical operations and video streaming. It’s a B2B business, so you’ve got to keep all your clients happy.” Edo Haitin is managing director of live dealer for Playtech, a giant in the online gaming supplier field. He says Playtech got into live dealer about 15 years ago, and it was slow going at the start. “In the beginning, it was really like a stepbrother or sister for the main casino,” he says. “The technology was different back then; we had to figure out what is live, what can be done with live, why even are we doing live? That was the industry. And it was like that for quite a while. When I joined live around six years ago, I think that was the era that it started to be more popular. “But then the technology really changed. There was a boom in the streaming capabilities, and then it took off.”

Universal Appeal So why wasn’t the player satisfied with the static electronic version of their favorite table game? After all, the odds are the same and the decisions come much quicker. The player decides when the cards are dealt, not the live dealer. According to Oliver Bartlett, the director of gaming for BetMGM, it caters to what the players want. “I think gambling at a table is quite familiar, almost as second nature, to a lot of Americans,” he says. “They prefer that kind of community feel, which obviously live casino gives far more than those RNG games. If I’m at the table with you, I can chat with you. I can chat with the dealer, and we SEPTEMBER 2022 www.ggbmagazine.com

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“Well at least it’s nasty messages instead of nasty elcan all have a good time, send out some virtual high bows in a real casino table,” he laughs. “But that’s why fives and, and kind of win and lose together, which is we offer plenty of choices of blackjack games, different an added element of fun.” rules, different limits. If a player wanted to play alone, The “chat” is not actually a verbal chat; it’s chat they could search for a table which no one’s occupying boxes embedded into the game where a player can chat at the moment. Or if a player prefers to play a lower with all or individual players via text messages. “The live-stream video is very limit with other players, maybe just a short message and Adam Glass, the director of B2B services for Rush say hitting on 16 against a six probably would not be unique in the sense it gives Street Interactive, the operator of BetRivers and Playworth it.” Sugarhouse, believes live dealer is a big upgrade from the player the ability to Evolution supplies many of the online casinos in the the RNG games. U.S. and around the world. But that doesn’t mean its interact not only with the “The live-stream video is very unique in the sense it clients can’t put their brand on an Evolution-run game. gives the player the ability to interact not only with the dealer, but with the other Glass says there is extensive branding for both of the dealer, but with the other players at the table, just as if RSI online sites. players at the table, just as if you’re at a land-based casino. So many players actually “We have BetRivers and PlaySugarHouse, so we’ve want that. They want that feeling that they get from the you’re at a land-based casino. got the two brands’ themes, logos, and color scheme. brick-and-mortar experience online to actually see the We have tables branded to both of our brands. And the So many players actually cards being shuffled out in front of them and commuability to do that adds a layer of personalization, the cusnicate with the folks sitting next to them. It adds a level want that.” tomization of the market, to the player. We can also tie of camaradarie and community, but most importantly, —Adam Glass, Director of B2B that branding to custom bonuses as well. So when a a level of trust of the betting experience, seeing those player has the dedicated table, the brand, the look, and Services, Rush Street Interactive cards fly in front of them. It’s as close to authentic as feel that they’re familiar with, it’s a good feeling when possible without being at the brick-and-mortar propyou’re able to offer that product in any given market. So erty.” we’ve done everything we can to push the communal feel. But looking into It comes down to two elements, Haushalter says. your phone and watching a craps table, it’s just not as fun as the real thing.” “The first is overwhelmingly trust,” he says. “People are risking their hard-earned money on an uncertain event, and you know how it goes. When you’re sitting at the blackjack table, you don’t blame yourself, you Evolution Gaming employs thousands of live dealers around the world, with blame the guy sitting next to you. You’re always looking for somebody to studios in many different places. In the U.S. most regulators are requiring any blame. I think the gambler really wants to ensure they got a good gamble. live studio to be located within the borders of that state. Haushalter says that’s If it’s a pure RNG game, for a lot of people, that’s just not gonna cut it not a problem, because in addition to several European countries, Evolution when the dealer pulls a digital card out of a digital shoe and draws a fivehas studios in Canada, New Jersey, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Connecticut. card 21 to beat your 20. That doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. For Playtech, a studio was recently opened in Madrid, because Spanish reg“And a very close No. 2—it’s almost a tie—is the social element. Even ulators required it to be located in the country. Haitin says the stipulation has if people don’t want to chat I think they just enjoy being around other its advantages and disadvantages. people. It’s a little bit like people will go to a bar to have a drink, but not “We have already completed two studios in New Jersey and Michigan, the to talk to anybody. They could have a drink at home, but they still like to third one is in the making in Pennsylvania,” he says. “It’s already a barrier to go to the bar and have a drink. So I think it satisfies the social appetite as entry, so if somebody new wants to come it’s going to be a long project, so it well. And then of course, some people form full relationships with the has its challenges.” dealers and other players. You’re recognized by name, which is always a Recruiting dealers is also a challenge. In most of their jurisdictions, you good thing.” can’t just advertise for dealers because it’s not like Las Vegas with experienced Haitin says it’s even more deep than the simple connection. dealers on the dole, says Haushalter. “Live dealer is a way to add to the player entertainment experience,” “We’ll target the universities,” he explains. “We hire a lot of young people he says, “because eventually we’re providing an experience, not just a place because we need to hire on all three shifts, and not everybody wants to work to bet. If the player starts to lose, and suddenly is not enjoying himself, at nights. So if you’re a student, it works really well with your schedule in some least he’s being entertained. They’re looking at it from that perspective.” cases. Maybe you can only work three or four days a week, and we can support While it’s possible players could snipe at each other for making what that. If you want to work weekends, we can support that as well.” one might think was a bad decision, like taking the dealer’s bust card when After the potential dealers are recruited, they’re sent to a training academy. he’s showing a six, Bartlett says that has been few and far between in his “In some cases,” says Haushalter, “they don’t even know what a casino is. experience. They don’t know how to pull a card out of a shoe. They don’t know how to

Dealer or Entertainer?

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“I think gambling at a table is quite familiar, almost as second nature, to a lot of Americans. They prefer that kind of community feel, which obviously live casino gives far more than those RNG games.” —Oliver Bartlett, Director of Gaming, BetMGM spin a roulette ball. Nothing. But over the course of three weeks, a pretty intensive three weeks, we turn them into highly productive game presenters. Remember, they don’t have chips to deal with so that really narrows down the speed with which we can train. But they all have different challenges. They’re being filmed at all times and so you have to be friendly and the mistakes are quite hazardous because there could be a thousand people on your table! So the longer they’re with you, the fewer mistakes they make. And it’s really great when you can hold onto them as well, so we try to make a friendly environment that’s really enjoyable to work in.” Haitian says the culture that the live dealer is addressing is also an issue. “We are working to extend our studio portfolio all the time,” he says. “That’s our strategy because then you get different talents, different accents, different cultures. And that’s a big factor.” Glass says the entertainment aspect of the job is the most important. “We believe that a good dealer makes the experience so much more engaging,” he says. “Think about your experience at the brick-and-mortar property. The dealers that make the most tips are going to be the most engaging. They have great personalities, they’re fun to interact with. They tell great stories and they chat with you. It’s certainly just as much entertainment with a good dealer as it is playing the game itself too. So I think Evolution does a great job in training their dealers.”

The Name of the Game All online casinos offer the standard games of baccarat, roulette and blackjack. The first two games have the advantage that you can host hundreds, even thousands of players at each table since there’s no decision to be made by the players after placing their bets. Blackjack, however, is different, and the normal seven spots at a real-life table are replicated online. “Blackjack is the only capacity-constrained game,” says Bartlett. “We manage that capacity with Evolution and obviously looking at our own space. In Michigan, we launched with six private blackjack tables versus one roulette table and one baccarat table. We’ll always look at the capacity of those blackjack tables. If I need to go to 10 or 15 tables, we’ll work with Evolution to get them built. “We also have another option in the live casino space called Infinite Blackjack. That’s a standard blackjack game with potentially 10,000 people betting on one hand, where decisions to hit and stand are left to the original player, so it kind of bridges the gap quite nicely between RNG electronic table games and the real version of blackjack.” 20

Global Gaming Business SEPTEMBER 2022

The wild card of traditional casino games is craps, but solutions are even being worked up for that game. Haushalter admits it’s a challenge. “You feed off the energy of the other people at the craps table,” he says. “That’s just the reality. We’ve done our best to create a vibe, so we’ve built a set that looks like a 1920s underground speakeasy and you feel like it’s this underground table.” As for the game play, says Haushalter, in many ways it’s better than land-based. “It’s faster. We have a re-bet button so if all your numbers get taken down, you can immediately re-bet by pressing a button. It’s super easy. In one click you can see the user interface to explain to you what’s going on at all times. So in many ways it’s superior to the land-based experience.”

The Future of Live Evolution Gaming has already given us a glimpse into the future with live “game shows.” They’ve converted the Deal or No Deal TV program into something you can bet on. “We look for a central format of a game show,” says Haushalter. “For example, we’ve taken the Big Six wheel, peppered it with all kinds of different things that can happen, but some of those things take you off into this bonus game. It gives the player a lot to look at, with incredible variety.” As a former land-based casino executive, Haushalter envisions ways that the game show concept could work in other areas. “I also think it would be cool to see game shows go into actual casinos,” he says. “Yes, it’s not technically live casino, but it would be nice to see some product go the other direction.” Bartlett says he’s looking forward to a game show-style game that is popular now in Europe, Crazy Time. “It’s a good name because it’s genuinely a crazy game,” he says. “Right now there’s probably 10,000 people playing that game in Europe. It’s by far the most popular sort of game show in the world in the online gaming space. I would love Evolution and us to bring that over to the U.S. I think it would really work because you need to build essentially a whole new casino in each state you enter for Evolution.” Glass agrees that the game-show concept is just in its infancy, but there is other growth potential. “We’ll see a lot of variation in the game show-style games,” he says. “I think we’ll see more variations in the table games and side bets. Localization is going be a huge key piece for that, especially as we expand internationally as well. And with our high value, there will be further personalization for that cohort of players.” Haitin believes that technology will lead the way. “Technology is always part of it,” he says, “different kinds of technology, to be sure—obviously video, but also products using analytic technology applied to live gaming. This will allow us to make a leap of quality of experience for the users.” BetMGM just partnered with Evolution on a live studio in Michigan, which has been a huge success and brought the company an impressive market share, a fact that others have noticed. “I think we’ll see more suppliers coming into the market,” he says. “It’s inevitable in the free market that other suppliers from Europe will come over. We’ve already seen Playtech recently launch in Michigan and New Jersey. There’s been some recent acquisitions of live gaming companies by the largest providers of gaming content in the U.S. So it’s inevitable we’ll see more, and that will breed more innovation from Evolution and these other providers. So I’m very excited to see that evolve.”


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A Seat at the Table Poker’s fight to stay relevant in 2022 and beyond BY JESS MARQUEZ

F

or many, many years, the game of poker was “cool”—-it had a highflying, wheelin’-dealin’, almost romantic “boom or bust” mystique that separated it from other gambling pastimes. It was a form of slick Americana, the game of choice for the John Waynes, Paul Newmans and Steve McQueens of the world. Kids played for pots of bubblegum on the sidewalk and neighbors prepared various dips and casseroles in time for basement get-togethers. Its vernacular became part of the lexicon, because God knows it helps to keep a poker face when going all-in, especially when the chips are down. However, as gaming expanded and other offerings like slots, blackjack and sports betting became real needle-movers, poker lost a little of its luster and became less of a staple and more of a complementary option. Its player base stopped evolving and started getting older, some might even say stagnant, and it’s easy to understand why—the game, as cool as it may be, has an extremely high barrier to entry; as Kenny Rogers made famous, you’ve got to know a lot of things to be an effective poker player. The game has many endearing qualities, but accessibility has never been one of them. Then the dot-com boom of the early 2000s came along, and all of a sudden the game was completely reinvigorated with digital life, and anyone with a desktop could run hands all day and night and master the game without going through the school of hard knocks that was previously considered to be part of the process. The birth of televised tournaments with green-screened cards spawned a newer, younger generation of data-driven players who were more akin to Sili24

Global Gaming Business SEPTEMBER 2022

con Valley than Tin Pan Alley. It seemed as though the spark was enough to rekindle a new, brighter future for poker. Sadly, it wasn’t. Participation and interest gradually re-fizzled over the years, until eventually the Covid hurricane came through in March 2020 and swept the entire industry basically out to sea. A large number of casinos had already begun to scale down their poker ops before the crisis, and numerous rooms around the country have since closed for good. With all of that said, what is the state of the game in 2022? As with everything else, it depends on who you ask.

Steady as She Goes When it comes to gaming trends, the simplest answers often come from regional operators, as those with locally focused markets need to be calculated and decisive about their expenditures. For Jerry Sandau, director of poker operations at Agua Caliente Casinos in California, the game certainly isn’t dead, but its future prospects in terms of evolution and growth aren’t exactly gangbusters. Sandau is confident that “there’s still a place for poker in most casinos,” given the fact that the game has “always been a facilitator for the rest of the property, whether it’s table games, slots or whatnot. “That being said though, the state of poker, I think, is pretty obviously in a downfall over these last several years,” he says. “It really curtails more towards the older generation, I guess you could say that they’re the ones that draw to poker the most. Although the younger crowd who play tournaments are out there, in general, it’s more the older clientele that would play a lot of poker.

photo by pavel-danilyuk

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As opposed to other, simpler games like blackjack, poker players are often very particular about what they like and dislike. The once-bustling poker room at Trump Taj Majal closed in 2015

“And as we know, little by little as time goes on, many of them are, you know, slowly but surely passing away. And so we’re seeing the volumes, at least here in Southern California, decrease exponentially over these last several years.” The data would agree with that sentiment, even across the border in Nevada, the gambling mecca of the U.S.—-according to Statista, the number of casino poker tables in the Silver State increased every year from 2001 to 2010, peaking at 920 that year. That figure then steadily declined until 2020, where it bottomed out at 313. Before anyone starts shoveling dirt, however, it’s important to note that 2021 rebounded to a total of 440, which is actually on par with pre-internet levels. And in a certain sense, pre-internet expectations may be a good framework for analyzing the game’s present and future: the dot-com boom was certainly a gold rush, but it’s over now, and that’s OK. After all, people still live in Virginia City. Edna Dalton worked as a poker executive in the ’90s and early 2000s, and for her, the game is people-driven, and the strength of the industry will always depend on positive experiences. As one of the few people who was around before and after the online revolution, she remains confident that “as long as casinos are willing to treat the players decently and respectfully, with decent payouts and time elements, they’ll continue to come.” Dalton previously headed poker ops for both Planet Hollywood and The Venetian, where she got a chance to learn firsthand from some of gaming’s most successful and well-known figures. Perhaps the biggest thing they imparted on her, which Sandau echoes as well, was the Field of Dreams-esque mantra that if you build it, they will come. In other words, the high-risk, high-reward mindset of the game attracts some pretty high rollers, whose rising tides lift all of a casino’s boats—as she says, “action creates action.” She also had the unique experience of traveling overseas to help improve poker operations in casinos across Europe—Holland Casino in Amsterdam, one of the sites she mentored, is slated to celebrate its 30th anniversary for the game this year. This not only helps spread poker’s influence around the world, it also makes foreign players more comfortable “so they’re not as afraid to go and play” here in America, says Dalton. That said, most legal online poker is hosted abroad, and convenience gaming often wins out over in-person play. But overall, increasing the number of players worldwide is never a bad thing for an industry in the midst of a plateau of sorts. So, as the identity of the game continues to transition from superstar to sixth man, that means the industry has to hone in on the things it does well and emphasize them to the fullest extent to keep pace and stay relevant. That may be difficult for other, more singular games, but poker has always had a unique ace in the hole: tournament play.

Strength in Numbers It would be difficult to talk about the importance of tournament play to the poker industry without starting with the World Series of Poker (WSOP). The brand, thanks in large part to decades of ESPN-televised tournaments that brought the game to innumerable bars and living rooms, is easily the biggest and most recognizable in poker, and now it’s doing its part to guide the industry forward, especially for live play. Ty Stewart, senior vice president and executive director of the WSOP, fully acknowledges that “as an industry, poker may not seem as ‘buzzy’ as it was in the early 2000s when everyone was discovering the game,” but overall, the game “has now settled into a more mature life cycle, and at the World Series of Poker, we’re embracing the days ahead. “In terms of driving business to our live rooms across the country, the WSOP always provides a seasonal, but material lift to the Caesars’ system and the entire city of Las Vegas,” says Stewart. “We’re excited to open more WSOP-branded poker rooms this year and would expect the numbers to continue to climb from a participation perspective at our rooms across the country… Poker rooms in Las Vegas were at an all-time high before ‘Black Friday’ and the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act. I believe that live poker will go the way of online poker, as they’re both linked to interest in the game. Our customers deserve the convenience of playing at home, but online poker will never replicate the experience of sitting down in a live poker room.” One of the most important aspects of maintaining and growing the game is to make it accessible to smaller, regional markets—Stewart notes that the WSOP is working on several new projects around the country, including “exciting new WSOP poker rooms at Indiana Grand and Isle Casino Pompano,” as well as Harrah’s New Orleans and the Grand Vic in

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Big-name operators have the benefit of seamless integration into their existing rewards systems, which have been around for years and often encompass properties around the world, not just singular locations. Chicagoland. According to Sandau, Agua Caliente’s three locations in Rancho Mirage, Palm Springs and Cathedral City “still get a decent tournament draw, and there are players who want to play just tournament play only.” He says the tournament demographic is “just a different animal” than casual players, in the sense that most tournament players are very businesslike when it comes to their bankroll and time, and it’s best to let them be rather than push them too far and risk losing them altogether. As opposed to other, simpler games like blackjack, poker players are often very particular about what they like and dislike, and as Dalton says, “you have to understand these players—don’t try to fight their fickleness, just try to understand it.” Of course, that’s not to say that bigger markets can’t play their part, too. MGM has also emerged as one of the game’s biggest proponents in recent years, and Sean McCormack, director of poker operations at Aria Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, is excited for the future of the game, especially with regards to the expansion of BetMGM-sponsored events. “We just concluded our first of many BetMGM/Aria poker tournaments,” says McCormack. “BetMGM ran qualifiers on its site with the opportunity to win a travel and lodging package, inclusive of buy-in ($3,500), for our milliondollar guaranteed prize pool event. I’ve been in the business 20 years and usually know a number of players at these buy-in levels. It was refreshing to see new qualifiers for this event while giving us the chance to cultivate online and live action.” McCormack says the event hosted over 300 players, and overall, “feedback was extremely positive, and I see a lot of opportunities for growth not only at Aria but our sister properties as well.” Twenty years ago, a large percentage of players engaged in both live play and tournaments, but as time went on, the two factions slowly separated, and it’s important to keep both alive in order to cater to all types of players. “In the early 2000s,” McCormack says, “the player bases were very integrated between cash and tournament players; today, most are in one camp or the other, although we do still see some crossover.” In some ways, the gradual decline in poker rooms overall throughout the city has been good for those who have managed to hold on thus far, and he believes that “having fewer rooms has now strengthened business for the remaining rooms who, more recently, are seeing record turnouts. “I believe we will continue to see growth in the rooms that are currently open, by adding tables, events and staffing over the next 12-18 months.” Everything about the game lends itself to patience, both for players and operators. 26

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Going the Extra Mile As gaming becomes more accessible around the country seemingly by the day, player retention becomes a top priority, especially for poker. That means operators have to find ways to include the game in their ever-expanding suite of promotions and player rewards, because players, despite how fickle they may be, will always gravitate toward the best incentives— they want to know that they have a seat at the table alongside slot players, crap shooters and sports bettors alike. “A lot of players who come to play in my room, they like the promotional aspect of playing a live game,” says Sandau. “So on any given day, there are different hands that they can make to make progressive payouts and promotional payouts… They want the promotional draws, and our players do gravitate to when we offer promotions, which we do most all the time. That’s a draw that brings them in the building.” Conversely, big-name operators have the benefit of seamless integration into their existing rewards systems, which have been around for years and often encompass properties around the world, not just singular locations. Stewart notes that “every participant in the World Series of Poker gets the same Caesars Rewards as they would for any other activity at Caesars resorts,” which is extremely convenient, and ultimately leads to better acquisition and retention rates. On the MGM side, “Aria is no different,” with “comps for rated play per hour, special hotel rates, tier upgrades after a certain time played, and more,” according to McCormack. The MGM Rewards program is also extremely robust and longstanding. “We offer our MGM Rewards members opportunities to enjoy our casual dining outlets as well as special hotel rates,” he adds. By and large, the ebb and flow of the game of poker seems to have settled into a somewhat comfortable place, neither record-breaking nor catatonic. For a while, it looked as if it had reached a point of no return, but slowly and steadily it made its way back to shore. The fact that companies continue to find new ways to invest in the game is extremely encouraging, even if it never returns to its previous levels of relevance and popularity. Overall, it’s played the hands that have been dealt, and it’s not folding anytime soon.



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5

Shine

Women Who

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or the past five years, GGB has shined the spotlight on the crucial roles women play in the gaming industry. For

too many years, women have been limited to service positions or creative exercises, but today, the diverse C-suite is getting more and more occupied by amazing women. This month, we bring you five women who have made a

difference in their companies, the industry overall, and their communities. It’s our pleasure to introduce these accomplished ladies, and we’re expecting there are more women making more inroads to the upper echelon of management.

Everybody Wins Tamara Hansen • Director of Sales, NRT By Marjorie Preston

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n work as in life, Tamara Hansen is proof of the motto, “Leap, and the net will appear.” The California native once planned a career in speech and language therapy. But as different roads unfolded, she readily changed course, jumping first into educational leadership training, then meeting sales at MGM Resorts, then sales consulting for fintech and IT firm NRT. With tenacity and optimism, she has succeeded despite unforeseen obstacles—like Covid-19. Throughout 2020, even as the conventions and meetings sector went dark, she continued to book business for MGM in Las Vegas, and stayed in the black throughout the crisis. “It was a master act of shuffling the pieces and re-engaging with customers,” she recalls. “I had that client trust built up, so it was a matter of getting things back on the books rather than canceling. It’s a testament to MGM that it continually came back to the table to make sure our customers were taken care of.” Then, intrigued by fintech innovations that accelerated in the postCovid age, Hansen joined NRT as a sales director. Admittedly, she struggled to learn the intricacies of cashless. She was also daunted by the scope of her territory, which includes eight states and parts of Nevada. “Ignorance is bliss, and had I understood what I was saying yes to, I might not have had the gumption to sign up,” she says. “But NRT took a shot on me and said, ‘This is a person with the right stuff. If we teach her about this space and this industry, we believe she’ll have an impact and be successful.’ So I committed myself every day to learning and contributing.”

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In her case, the right stuff meant dogged persistence, on-thejob training and lots of self-learning (yes, that includes podcasts and YouTube videos). “I molded myself into a person with the capacity to know, understand and have these technical conversations, so I could go to any person of any background in any position and understand their needs and the limits of their knowledge, then help it all make sense,” she says. “I think that’s where my strength lies—that duality. I understand the deeply technical, because for more than a year and a half I alchemized myself to know this business, until I got really passionate about it.” Hansen sees sales as a long game that doesn’t begin or end with a signed contract. “Anyone in sales with that mentality is in the wrong field,” she says. “My sole responsibility is to understand my technology stack and the services I can provide to help an operator or human being. I ask about their environment and their pain points, then map out a custom solution that makes it lighter on them and their team. Do they want to step into and dabble with the digital transformation that’s happening? Do they want to tap into a small piece of cashless rather than making the total transformation? I see myself as a bridge of information,” guiding clients to the optimal solution. An unabashed optimist, Hansen’s LinkedIn page includes cheerleading videos (“Motivational Mondays,” “Feel-Good Fridays”), plus exhortations to “approach life’s day-to-day with a focus on how we can make it better for those around us.” With that as the jumping-off point, she believes, everybody wins.


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Creative Compliance Tonya Henderson • Vice President, Compliance, Resorts World Las Vegas By Bill Sokolic

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compliance officer holds a special place in the operation of an organization. The person in this position sees to it that the policies and regulations of both the business and government at all levels are followed. That covers a lot of ground, and at Resorts World Las Vegas, that job belongs to Tonya Henderson, vice president of compliance. Without an experienced compliance officer, the company could face hefty fines, lawsuits, and damage to its reputation. Henderson has been head of compliance with Resorts World for two years. But she’s been involved with compliance for more than 10 years. “To excel in the compliance field, you need to be a zealous advocate, maintain flexibility and have the courage to do the right thing even when it’s difficult,” she says. “You need to understand the operational, financial and industry challenges on a day-to-day basis.” Henderson praises her mentors for challenging her to succeed. “My mentors pushed me to do more and think outside the box. They recognized that I was ready to take the next steps before I did. I was humbled by the faith placed in me, and that motivated me to work even harder,” she says. Former IGT compliance exec Michelle Chatigny taught Henderson that she has to be willing to make difficult decisions even when they are hard or unpopular, or when she receives pushback from other executives. “She taught me the importance of thinking and planning ahead, and that in

some circles, women will have a more difficult experience, and not to let that stop me,” she says. “Michelle exemplified excellence and poise in every situation.” She “walked the talk” and educated Henderson on the value of a great pair of heels. “(Former Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman) A.G. Burnett taught me that no matter what side of gaming you are on, the ultimate goals and expectations are the same. Integrity, relationship building, doing the right thing because it is the right thing, safeguarding the customer, company and state. He taught me that a quick fix is not worth hurting your reputation because you only get one.” Henderson’s parents instilled at an early age that if there are obstacles in your way, then find a way to get around them. “Just because something is hard doesn’t mean you stop; it means you persevere,” she says. “My parents taught me that all people, no matter the color, gender or job, have something of value to offer. I have used those skills and my education to not only break the glass ceiling, but to lift others as I climb. It is not an easy task, but it is necessary and worthwhile.” Henderson is quick to acknowledge positive contributions from each team member for meeting goals. “I empower the team to make mistakes,” she explains. “It is only by trying new things, being creative and sometimes failing, that compliance will keep up with the ever-changing gaming environment.” When it comes to upper-echelon executive offices, too many gaming companies do not represent the community or the available talent. “Throughout my career, I maintain my focus and commitment to successfully achieving the goal. I find that success at meeting the goals is the answer to addressing bias in the workplace.”


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IGT’s After School Advantage program helps at-risk students learn vital skills

Sustained Success Wendy Montgomery • Senior Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Sustainability, IGT By Marjorie Preston

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s a corporate buzzword, “sustainability” is sometimes more honored in the breach than the observance. But taken seriously and implemented thoughtfully, it may be the most important business of business today. At IGT, sustainability means a fair shake for its 10,000-plus employees around the world. In keeping with the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, it commits to no less than ending hunger and managing climate change. In short, this is a job for Superman—or, in this case, Superwoman, in the person of Wendy Montgomery. IGT’s senior VP of marketing, communications and sustainability, formerly with the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp., calls it a “privilege” to advance performance in these crucial areas. Sustainability is nothing new at IGT, which has been formally reporting on its efforts since 2008. “It primarily started because of our roots in Italy as well in Europe, where corporate social responsibility, and especially environmental issues, were very topical,” says Montgomery. “It’s part of the legacy of the organization.” IGT consistently gets high marks in the space. In June, it earned a Gold award from ratings agency EcoVadis, putting it in the top 5 percent of global companies in the categories of environment, labor and human rights, ethics and sustainability. In July, it was recognized by the All-In Diversity Project as the topranking gaming supplier when it comes to diversity, equality and inclusion. Even so, the company doesn’t rest on its laurels. “Such recognition helps us identify the gaps and see what other companies

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are doing, not just in our industry but in entertainment and the technology sectors,” says Montgomery. “This is where we can look at ourselves against the competition and see where we can improve.” The company’s sustainability efforts include rank-and-file programs like the Day Off for Volunteerism, Dollars for Doers, and a Matching Gifts plan that tops up charitable contributions made by IGT employees. The company’s flagship After School Advantage program, established in 1999, provides more than 300 digital learning centers to help at-risk children learn vital competitive skills. The program supports inclusive and equitable education with an eye to future employment, and emphasizes science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM). These practices don’t just feel good, they make business sense over the long haul, Montgomery adds. “It goes back to the three Ps”—people, process and product—which in turn support profitability. “And it makes people feel good about where they work,” says Montgomery, “which is critically important for attracting talent.” IGT doesn’t stand alone in these efforts, but has a supplier code of conduct to ensure vendors comply with the same standards. “Managing the value chain is critically important,” says Montgomery. “Just as our customers expect compliance from us, we expect it from our suppliers, too.” She acknowledges that Covid-19 “threw a wrench” into monitoring and enforcement. “We weren’t able to complete many on-site checkups because of Covid restrictions, but as with all such initiatives, you learn to walk before you run, and we’re maturing in this area,” she says. “We established the plan, we communicated it and translated in various languages, and we’re developing a more robust follow-up to get back on track.” Call it a sort of a bully pulpit, in the best sense. “The good thing is, the more companies that are forced into or led into this area, the more we’re all going to benefit.” For those who would follow in her footsteps, Montgomery espouses a can-do attitude that doesn’t recognize obstacles. “You have to put yourself out there, taking advantage of opportunities that come your way and taking risks.” The reward, she says, is “working with great people,” and not incidentally, helping to save the world.


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The Millennial Moment Courtney Garland • Director of Operations, Emerald Isle and Rainbow Club Casinos By Bill Sokolic

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or Courtney Garland, the casino business seemed like a foregone conclusion. She was born and raised in Las Vegas. Went to college in Las Vegas. Then there’s mom and dad. “I developed a passion for the trade through my parents,” she says, “who both dedicated their careers to developing the gaming and hospitality industry.” Credit Disneyland, too. “Disneyland motivated me creatively with how to better enhance the guest experience in my own entertainment field,” Garland says. When it comes down to it, the fast-paced, high-volume nature of this business as well as the ability to connect and cultivate relationships with patrons played a role. Garland rose in the casino corporate world, and in 2021 Emerald Island and Rainbow Club Casinos in Henderson, Nevada named her director of operations. Like other members of the millennial generation, Garland rose quickly through the ranks. Before her current position, she served as assistant general manager and prior to that, executive casino host. “Managers are being elevated to upper management because we speak up and encourage others to share new ideas through various platforms,” she explains. “My generation is dedicated to promoting cultures of inclusion and innovation, which is instrumental in the success of the casino industry.” Millennials also are committed to personal development through constant self-assessments. As director of operations, Garland oversees guest services and gaming com-

pliance, aids player and community outreach, develops new policies, executes promotions, and hosts special events, to name a handful of duties. She also managed several large-scale projects, including a new player tracking system, multiple property expansions, the restructuring of the player rewards program, and virtual gaming promotions. “I have been allowed to wear many hats at work, which has granted me the opportunity to use my creativity and resourcefulness when taking on new responsibilities outside my area of expertise,” Garland says.


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She owes much to mentors, like the “Wolf of Water Street” Tim Brooks, co-owner and GM of the Emerald Island and Rainbow Club Casinos. “Tim inspires me by being a visionary for the historic Water Street District and an advocate for our downtown Henderson community. The best advice Tim has given me is ‘to keep moving the needle forward.’” Jay Ship, CEO of Xs & Os of Success, reminds Garland “to be a better version of myself than I was yesterday and know the difference between reacting and responding.” Garland says she’s fortunate to work with a diverse team with unique perspectives that help her make decisions. “I aim to facilitate strong teamwork by providing employees autonomy and coaching them through challenges,” she says. Garland checks with employees to assess what works and what could use improvement. “The team can always count on me to research how to resolve any issue. It is important to me to be both available and approachable.” Put another way, inclusion and knowledge make for more ownership of their work. “The best feeling is watching team members become excited about their part of the operation and seeing them succeed by reaching their own personal goals.” Despite all the positivity flowing from Garland, there were times she experienced a lack of confidence and self-doubt since women occupy such a small percentage of leadership roles in the gaming industry. “I overcame these feelings by reminding myself I am qualified, and focus on what I have to offer the team and company.” Yes, she was treated unfairly because of her gender, overlooked for an opportunity or excluded from negotiation. “Because I am a woman. I chose to find my voice and bring awareness in these situations by advocating for myself and proving I can contribute to the conversation in a beneficial way.” 32

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Unstoppable Lana Rivera • Vice President and General Manager, Graton Resort By Marjorie Preston

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or Lana Rivera, a career in gaming was in the cards. Rivera grew up on card games—not just “Go Fish” and “Old Maid,” but gin rummy and spades. Playing cards was a safe, no-cost pastime for Rivera’s family, who lived in a “rough neighborhood” in Joliet, Illinois. By age 7, young Lana could shuffle like a dealer. That skill came in handy in the early 1990s, when a Harrah’s casino opened on the Des Plaines River. Twenty-one-year-old Rivera applied to be a riverboat dealer, and underwent a grueling audition process. “I want to say we trained for three months, 20 hours a week,” she recalls. “I was going crazy, but by the time it was over, I could deal in my sleep. And that’s exactly what they wanted.” Her first shift was exhilarating; four hours in, a high roller had gambled and lost $300,000. Looking to rise through the ranks, Rivera saw few women in mid-level management and fewer still in leadership roles. Eventually, working for the Cherokee Nation Entertainment’s (CNE) Hard Rock in Tulsa, she confronted then-general manager Gary Weddell. “I was honest with him: ‘Throughout my career, this has been a man’s world. I’m curious to know what you think about women in gaming.’” Taken aback by the question, Weddell went on to become one of Rivera’s earliest champions, along with Mark Fulton, CNE’s chief executive officer. “Between those men, I had the best of both worlds—real training in leadership, management, marketing, and caring about people. I worked 70 hours a week to make things happen, but I loved it.” By 2005, she was CNE’s table games manager.


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“Remember everyone that you support and who supports you. It’s easy to say, ‘I don’t have time.’ But you have to make the time.” With the positives came an equal measure of sacrifice. “Early in my career I was a single mother of four, with no immediate family nearby. But given the opportunity for growth, I jumped on it. I spent hours learning the business, understanding the competition, perfecting my departments, building relationships with the team and guests. All that comes at a cost.” Rivera missed birthdays, holidays and school events. One Thanksgiving, called to deal with a work emergency, she had to leave in the middle of cooking dinner. “I gave it my all at every level of advancement. I had to take care of my children.” Rung by rung, she continued her climb, to senior table games manager at the Hard Rock, then director of gaming operations, then director of casino operations and general manager. In Tulsa, Rivera led a workforce of more than 1,600 employees, increased market share, exceeded revenue targets and personally rebuilt the senior management team. She also led a full remodel of the casino floor and an exterior upgrade, on time and on budget. She is also known as the inventor of two patent-protected casino products: a card-based variation of craps and a lighted phone charger (one of the first such devices introduced on a gaming floor). An enrolled member of the Muscogee Creek Tribe, Rivera reached a career pinnacle in 2019, when she was named vice president and general manager at Graton Casino in Sonoma County, California. Greg Sarris, chairman

of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, hailed the appointment, saying, “We’re proud and honored to have hired such an accomplished and qualified general manager as Lana. We’re also proud to have an American Indian woman at the helm of our business.” Then came Covid-19. “Business was strong when I walked in in November, but four months later I realized, ‘We’re going to have to shut this casino down.’” Graton was the first casino in Northern California to close its doors; it did not reopen for 92 days. “The hardest part was laying off team members who were within their first 90 days,” says Rivera. “I’ve never had to lay off a team member, and that was really hard for me.” But business has returned, as reflected by plans for a resort expansion that include a larger gaming floor, a 3,500-seat theater, a new rooftop restaurant and a second hotel tower. Rivera says leaders must have these key traits: • Empathy. “Genuinely caring about your team and showing it, and recognizing them at all levels.” • Loyalty. “Remember everyone that you support and who supports you. It’s easy to say, ‘I don’t have time.’ But you have to make the time.” • Ambition and resilience. “Keep striving for more. Focus on your guests and what they want. And never accept the status quo.”


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FRANKLY SPEAKING by Frank Legato

Bets and Bacon

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ou know, I’m always ready to support new placements of gambling devices, because it’s good for the industry, and I’m all about what’s good for the industry. But some of the mixing and matching of gambling with strange venues lately has me questioning if the ventures will be successful. For instance, slots in strip clubs. Commissioners in Clark County, Nevada, home to all of our favorite Las Vegas casinos, are looking into changing a 42-yearold regulation that says strip clubs and other “adult-oriented businesses” are “unsuitable for the conduct of gaming.” The ordinance was passed in 1980, before I ever set foot in a casino (or a strip club, for that matter). The issue came up because Sapphire, an enormous nightclub location that happens to feature adult entertainment, requested an exemption to the no-slots-at-strip-clubs rule. “Why are they prohibited in strip clubs?” asked one commissioner after the request. I can’t answer that, but neither can I answer another question that pops up: Why would a strip club want them? Oh, right. They make money. But so does exotic dancing. I’m picturing exotic dancers exotic-ing away, flailing around, gyrating to music under flashing lights... and no one paying them a bit of attention, because the customers are all locked into holding and spinning and climbing bonus ladders and picking for progressive jackpots. “Hey! Over here!” “I’m wrapped around this damn pole!” “Anybody?” OK, for you strip club owners, here’s the only way it works. Put a screenin-screen image of the dancers on each slot monitor, with a common bonus: Pick from a field of icons (garters, feathers, whatever) to reveal one of the dancers. Reveal three images of the same dancer. You get a prize, and a cash voucher prints out. That’s the dancer’s tip. (Just so you know, I’ve filed a patent for this.) I know. What’s the point of having exotic dancers if you want everyone’s attention fixed on slot screens? And if you’re paying for the machines, that’s what you want. You might as well have a regular casino. Maybe they can dance on top of the machines. Hey, in the old days, they used to park convertibles and speedboats up there as prizes. Why not have Mandi up there doing her thing? “Thanks, Mandi. Here’s a cash-out ticket!’ While strip-club owners ponder those possibilities, grocers in Ohio are pondering taking sports bets. Kroger and Acme have both applied for licenses

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from the state to place sports betting kiosks in their supermarkets. So, grocery lists will now look like this: √ Milk √ Eggs √ Sausages √ Bengals plus 6 I’m waiting for them to start putting betting kiosks at the McDonald’s drive-through. (In fact, I’m going to file a patent for that idea, too.) Moving on from the gaming device to food, I think I’m changing my name to George. Or, maybe, Jorge. That way, I can eat for free at the Downtown Grand in Las Vegas. They have a restaurant there called the Triple George Grill, and they’re now offering the “George Lunch,” free to anyone who can verify their first name is George. That gets you the Single George—half a sandwich, choice of side, soup or salad, a soft drink and a small dessert. If you’ve got two Georges in your party, you get two George Lunches. Three? The Triple George—three George lunches plus a choice of crab cake, shrimp cocktail or fried calamari, plus bottled sparkling water. This is all to celebrate the 17th anniversary of the Triple George Grill. You can even celebrate if yours is a George-less party. Non-Georges who order the George Lunch get it for $20, and get a $50 match bet coupon. Or, for $200, get the 64-ounce tomahawk ribeye and a match-bet coupon. Sixty-four ounces? Better line up a few Georges, or even Bernies, to help you eat it. George the EMT might also be a good idea. By George. (Come on, you knew that was coming at some point.) In other foodie news, since you’re already downtown, you can bop over to the D and go to Bacon Nation. That’ a 24/7 restaurant celebrating the porcine staple. You can pick from around 60 bacon dishes there, including Elvis-themed peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, milkshakes with candied bacon added, and a “reverse BLT,” with “woven bacon strips” replacing the bread. And you don’t even have to be named George, although you might want to bring along George the EMT to this place, too. Geez, I’m a little queasy even thinking about all that bacon. I think I’ll head to the strip club and play some slots. Then, on to the McDonald’s drive-through to lay down a bet on the Steelers. What a wonderful world.



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The is the Experience How to create extraordinary moments for your guests and engender instant loyalty By Julia Carcamo

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he story about the birth of Southwest Airlines is very enlightening. It details the battle the founders faced when they tried to start their fledgling airline, but buried in court documents and the eventual start of short-haul flights was the notion Herb Kelleher had that if employees were treated well, they would treat customers well. This was well before the days of marketing shifted to a branding focus, but at the core of this concept was what would become the Southwest brand. When I was a little girl, trips to the airport and flying were indeed an experience. Journalist raconteur Andre Leon Talley once shared the story of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy and her sister getting their hair done just to arrive at the airport. Like most of the day, how you experienced something mattered. Today, flying is much less glamorous. It has become a method of getting from point A to point B. It is no wonder airlines appear to be doing the bare minimum to get your business.

So why does Southwest continue to choose its brand over what analysts might think is a better business strategy? More than likely, you have had a chance to take a flight on Southwest, and you have experienced the focus Southwest has on its brand as coming through its employees. From the job descriptions for a mechanic (seriously, check it out) to the quirky ways employees deliver the not-so-typical safety instructions, you are in the presence of a Brand (with a capital B).

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Ritz-Carlton has maintained its leadership in luxury lodging by focusing on fundamentals and adhering to rigorous standards. The lynchpin in their strategy is their people— ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.

We have all heard of or experienced brands with memorable, talkable experiences. Disney, Chewy, Chick-fil-A, and Zappos. The list (actually) goes on. A couple of years ago, when the Clubhouse app was getting off the ground, I had some great conversations with who I lovingly referred to as some “old-school casino guys.” They have some great stories of how, at least in their minds, things used to be. As a brand marketer, I have to ask why casino operations are no longer mentioned in the great experience conversation. For some, it has been a matter of budget cuts and process improvement. For some, it may have never been a genuine commitment, but I am here to tell you that your brand will not endure if the guest experience is not worth talking about positively (and sharing with others). Large or small, your company can create great memorable experiences, and there are lessons to be learned all around us.

Team members who are given tools and trust create extraordinary moments. Ritz-Carlton has maintained its leadership in luxury lodging by focusing on fundamentals and adhering to rigorous standards. The lynchpin in their strategy is their people—ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. Borrowing the family dinner concept of many restaurants, Ritz-Carlton’s lineup happens at every single hotel, everywhere in the world. Every shift is covered, and every team member participates. A signature part of the lineup is a “wow story” spotlighting team members’ actions to create those legendary Ritz-Carlton moments. The consistency of having the same message delivered everywhere supports the focus on service. Moreover, the operator understands that things might still go wrong with a guest’s experience. So, every team member is authorized to repair an experience up to $2,000. As a side note, I recently had a conversation with someone who could recall a casino operator with a similar approach. Still, I am not sure anyone does this anymore.

There’s pet-friendly, and then there is PET-FRIENDLY. One of my favorite hotel brands is Kimpton. I stumbled onto them quite accidentally. Our admin booked me there because it was close to a meeting I was having in another city. When I arrived, I discovered the stories of a pet-friendly hotel ahead of its time. In the words of their director of pet relations, “we invite you to bring your hairy, feathery or scaly family member with you for your stay—no matter their size, weight, or breed, all at no extra charge. If your pet

fits through the door, we’ll welcome them in.” And for those who traveled without their family member, the hotel would provide a goldfish. Unfortunately, the latter practice ended, but the lesson was that Kimpton understood its guests would miss their pets and created an inviting space to feel at home.

Guest loyalty is more than points.

A subsequent visit to a different Kimpton and a second dinner at Capital Grille proved to me that CRM systems are only as robust as the usage. During the original Kimpton trip, I discovered they had yoga lessons as part of their in-room TV selections. Additionally, I could call the front desk for a mat and other equipment for my class. It was a nice break from the typical visit to the hotel gym. On a visit to a different Kimpton location, I was surprised to find yoga equipment already placed in my room with a note from the front desk when I checked in! Now, whenever I travel, I look to see if Kimpton is an option, even though I have many points with a bigger chain. My first dinner at Capital Grille was nice. My second visit was extraordinary when the sommelier asked if we wanted to try a bottle of wine because it was similar to a previous one. Remember, this was only my second visit there. This is akin to a $150 customer coming in for the second time and the steakhouse knowing their preferences. Sure, we probably know the preferences of our VIP guests, but how many preferences do we capture (and use) for our mid-tier guests?

Some investments in the brand experience do not have a one-to-one ROI. Years ago, as we toured one of our Midwest locations, one of our finance executives noticed a soft-serve ice cream machine near the buffet. It wasn’t in the buffet dessert area. Instead, it was located just outside of the buffet. While we enjoyed lunch with the property team, someone came up, took a cone, helped themselves to a frozen treat, and walked away. Of course, the finance executive asked the general manager why he hadn’t moved the machine in to be part of the buffet, and then, of course, he wondered what the property’s ice cream costs were. The GM shook off the comment and said he had thought about it when he took over the operation. If he could make a few people happy to give them something inexpensive, he figured the profit in the casino could cover it. In truth, only a handful of people helped themselves without purchasing the buffet. SEPTEMBER 2022 www.ggbmagazine.com

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Apple does not see a direct ROI from their Genius Bar. However, they see it in their brand loyalty every time they announce a new phone, tablet, MacBook, or watch.

Reducing the effort guests must make to enjoy their visits will net you happier guests, and happy guests tell their friends and family good things about you. On a worldwide stage, Apple is an excellent example of creating brand loyalty with an investment in the experience. Easily accessible and free customer support costs money, but it also creates a culture of ease and commitment to customer success. Apple does not see a direct ROI from their Genius Bar. However, they see it in their brand loyalty every time they announce a new phone, tablet, MacBook, or watch.

to be ready to wow them. And when it comes to your current customer base, they need to continually experience the brand in a way they will share with others. There is a reason “bring a friend” programs have been part of our goto player’s club promotions. Marketers must include the experience in their brand focus. We must look at more than just the top of the brand iceberg; we must look for improvements wherever possible.

Short-term sacrifices can pay off in the long run. Returns of Zappos purchases are reportedly three times higher than for brickand-mortar stores, but the company’s 365-day return policy and complimentary two-way shipping mean customers can shop confidently. Additionally, Zappos’ approach to its culture and customer service means that each customer is treated with care.

Today’s consumer demands a friction-free experience. Before the pandemic, we were becoming accustomed to exceptional ease in obtaining the goods and services we wanted. The pandemic showed many a Luddite the joys of friction-free everything. I can order my dog’s food and have it delivered on a regular schedule, so I never have to look at their faces when I run out of food and have to borrow some from the neighbor. I can easily refill groceries by this afternoon without leaving my desk. In fact, my best friend was able to order food and medicine for me when I was sick from over 700 miles away with a few taps of her phone. Reducing the effort guests must go through to experience your brand is a must for anyone. How many people does a guest have to speak to get a question answered? How about your website? What does it take for someone to find the information they need to plan their next trip? The development of cashless and player wallet technology is removing some of the friction guests have experienced, but brand marketers need to be asking what other points of friction we should be eliminating. Reducing the effort guests must make to enjoy their visits will net you happier guests, and happy guests tell their friends and family good things about you.

Why is customer experience so important to your brand? While all of these stories are seemingly based on training and tools, a deeper review will show you a tale of brands committed to creating experiences that go beyond a logo. Acquisition costs will only go up, and I don’t mean just online betting options. Customer attention has become fragmented, and brands now have to be in more places than ever before. So, when you get a new customer, you need

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Any size operation can take the journey to an experience-centric brand. Evaluate your mission, vision, and purpose. Do your actions reinforce these values? Are you committed to excellent customer service but focus most of your efforts on efficiencies? You can see how these two mindsets might coexist in the same environment yet are at odds with each other. Prioritize a branded customer journey above and beyond just knowing the touchpoints and having them be the right color/logo/font. Forbes Insights Report showed that 74 percent of consumers are at least somewhat likely to buy based on experience alone. However, it is never just one touchpoint that will create loyalty. It is the sum of all. Understanding the customer journey (and indeed, the team member journey as well) can aid you in creating memorable experiences. Create a feedback loop. Never underestimate the minds and feelings of your guests. You may think you know how they feel, but until you ask, you never indeed do. My experience in guest research has taught me that casino customers love to give you their thoughts, opinions and ideas. So, ask for them! This can be done in various ways, from post-visit surveys to blue-ribbon panels, to formal focus groups. Invest in your team members. From the moment they decide to apply for a job, they should understand your brand and their potential role in creating that experience. They are your brand. This should include your call center, which we often outsource even though they have as much if not more contact with our guests. Have you ever written off a company based on one interaction with an employee? If you outsource any of your customer interactions (such as your call center), ensure your partner understands your brand and its values and is willing to be as dedicated to that vision as you are. The guest experience is a battleground for brands, particularly if you operate with competitors only a drive away. Julia Carcamo is a casino branding expert and the author of Reel Marketing: The Art of Building a Casino Brand. As president & chief brand strategist at J Carcamo & Associates and founder of Casino Marketing Boot Camp, she aids casinos in building and maintaining engaging brands. She is also co-founder of the Hispanic marketing firm espÑOLA.


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Going Beyond the Game Eclipse Gaming Systems gives back to its Native American communities as it prepares to evolve toward wider horizons By Frank Legato

O

nly a very few private citizens of Georgia have been honored with a resolution of commendation in the state Senate. One of those citizens is Tim Minard, chief executive officer of Duluth, Georgia-based Eclipse Gaming Systems. It wasn’t just the progress of Eclipse, a 14-year provider of gaming machines to several Class II Native American markets, which led to Senate Resolution 831, adopted March 30, although that was part of it. Since he became CEO in 2018, Minard, with help of principal David Lawrence and Sales VP Greg Drew, has reinvigorated Eclipse’s Class II business, overseeing the launch of a new platform and the high-performing IMPACT cabinet series. Eclipse has moved into new corporate headquarters in Duluth, an Atlanta suburb, and Minard has built a team of seasoned professionals that have strengthened its core Class II business by expanding its footprint into 14 states and positioning the company for an eventual move into Class III. The state Senate resolution recognized and commended Minard for his contributions to Georgia through Eclipse and his former Georgia-based companies, Sports Challenge Network and Cadillac Jack—and his dedication to the state through efforts to lure businesses to Georgia, as well as his investments in entertainment centers throughout the state. The heart of the Senate’s commendation of Minard went to his philosophy of not only fulfilling the equipment and service needs of his customers,

We took it upon ourselves to culturally build that into the mix, and think about being a great citizen, a great partner to our tribes, and then to our communities around us.

—Tim Minard, CEO, Eclipse Gaming Systems

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but actively working to improve the communities in which he does business, through everything from scholarship programs to a wealth of charitable activities, volunteer efforts, and partnerships. It is that attitude and culture he brought to Eclipse, where it has evolved into a mantra, a tagline, and a mission statement: “Going Beyond the Game.” Minard and Eclipse established the Beyond the Game Foundation, which has been quite active in Gwinnett County, where Eclipse is located, and the surrounding Metro Atlanta region. The Metro Atlanta efforts have included the East Lake Foundation, dedicated to revitalizing the East Lake neighborhood and creating new opportunities for the families living there; the Chris Tucker Foundation, which provides scholarships to youth and families in Metro Atlanta, with a focus on


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Eclipse headquarters in Duluth, Georgia

It’s exciting to see the transformation of our products that have been on casino floors for decades to the newest products we are launching today.

—Sean Evans, Senior VP of Sales, Eclipse Gaming Systems

STEAM students (science, technology, engineering, arts and math); and countless other efforts. But over the past four years, Minard has extended this philosophy of service to the communities of Eclipse’s customers, the Native American tribes in the Class II markets the company serves. “Everybody talks about (success) just being in the game,” Minard says. “Based on our tribal business, I recognized that tribes wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for these casino properties. It’s 100 percent of some of these tribes’ economic development. And so, I focused on getting people to understand that the better we do, the better they do, and the more they can serve their own community. “And it expanded beyond that to the realization we should be helping the communities as well. We took it upon ourselves to culturally build that into the mix, and think about being a great citizen, a great partner to our tribes, and then to our communities around us.” Minard relates a story in which a tribe asked Eclipse to sponsor a golf outing to raise money for tribal education. “I said, how about we buy you books or whatever else you need, and then we’ll go play golf?” He says that way, he’s building a relationship with his customers, rather than simply responding to a request for money. Going beyond the game.

The Game Business Not that the game itself is unimportant; quite the contrary. The reason Eclipse and Minard’s former companies have had the resources for all this charity work is that he is an innovator in technology who knows how to move a company to the next level. At GameTech International, he was head of the video lottery terminal and gaming division. At Sports Challenge Network, he was a pioneer in the use of then-new mobile technology to create XBowling, a complete program of con-

tests, competitions and score-sharing that created an interactive digital community for one of the oldest sports in the world, bowling. But perhaps most pertinent to how Minard is moving Eclipse forward is his experience as chief financial officer and executive vice president of Cadillac Jack, another Atlanta-based Class II supplier which, after being acquired by AGS in 2015, has evolved into a significant player in the Class II and Class III markets. Minard sees a similar eventual path for Eclipse, and the process of growth has already begun, as the company still has substantial greenfield space in Class II markets, particularly in the East. The first step has been to attract veteran talent. For game development, Minard brought in Steven Slotwinski, a longtime game producer for WMS Gaming and Scientific Games—and chief operating officer for a subsidiary of NHN Entertainment, responsible for multiple socialmobile product lines—as chief technology officer. He brought in Laura OlsonReyes, a veteran of AGS, Scientific Games, Bally Technologies and Aristocrat, as senior VP of marketing. He named Sean Evans senior vice president of sales. Evans was one of the top sales executives at Aristocrat during its most crucial growth period in the U.S. in the early 2000s, and held top sales positions at Scientific Games, A.C. Coin & Slot, and Aruze Gaming. Other top executives each bring special skill sets that are helping to grow the company. President and Chief Operating Officer Robert Visintainer, who joined Eclipse in 2019, has a 25-year history in which he oversaw global operations and supply chain management for NCR Corporation. Chief Financial Officer Louise Ward has more than 20 years’ experience in accounting and financial operations and building best-in-class financial and operations teams. In all, it’s a team tailor-made to expand the Eclipse footprint in Class II, and ultimately, attack the goal of evolving the company into a full-service supplier in both Class II and Class III. “At Cadillac Jack, we saw Class II at an early stage grow and grow, and then into other markets with compacts,” Minard recalls. “And then it grew into SEPTEMBER 2022 www.ggbmagazine.com

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We have re-architected our proprietary platform to give Eclipse the ability to create content much more efficiently than we have in the past. Additionally, we have added the ability to easily enter other product lines like Class III, iGaming and HHR with little rework.

Chief Financial Officer Louise Ward has more than 20 years’ experience in accounting and financial operations and building best-in-class financial and operations teams

tribal Class III, and then commercial Class III for some of the Class II providers. Then the other offshoots that are coming out—HHR, iGaming, social gaming—all that’s in the path of Eclipse. “The question is, what do you need to do as an organization to get to the next level?” Part of getting to the next level is building an organization that will grow significantly in the Class II market, where Eclipse is poised to enter new jurisdictions. “There’s still so much growth ahead in Class II,” Minard says. “What we love about Class II is there are a lot of recurring revenue partnerships with the tribes—deep relationships, sustainable for a long period of time. And then, as we continually grow that area, with approximately 120 tribal Class II casinos in America, you’ve got tribal Class III, which is another approximately 280 on top of that. So, there’s so much growth potential.”

Improving Performance That process will be moved along by the company’s technology, which vastly improved when Slotwinski refocused the game development process for current and future objectives. “We did a great job redesigning the functionality of our platform,” says Slotwinski. “We have re-architected our proprietary platform to give Eclipse the ability to create content much more efficiently than we have in the past. Additionally, we have added the ability to easily enter other product lines like Class III, iGaming and HHR with little rework. These are just a few examples of what we have been able to accomplish in a short period of time.” “The platform redesign has positioned us well to enter the Class III market,” says Minard. “We built it from scratch, and we’re ready to hit the gas; we are ready for that push when the time is right.” Minard adds that the company’s location in Metro Atlanta is a big advantage, providing a wealth of engineering talent to augment the company’s veteran developers. “We are bringing in industry veterans, and we have a rich market here,” he says. “There are many slot manufacturers represented here, and I know other manufacturers that are looking to come into Georgia. It is a very populous marketplace with great engineers, great media, entertainment talent, and awesome art talent. It’s a good spot to be in.” That doesn’t mean Atlanta will be the only engineering hub. Minard sees a future in which the company will have design studios in several locations. “We understand other markets also have great talent, and I think you’ll see us move into other markets as well.” While Class III may be in the future for Eclipse, the company has used its technology to develop some of the top games to be found in the Class II space. 42

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—Steven Slotwinski, Chief Technology Officer, Eclipse Gaming Systems

“Many of the top-performing titles in the Class II space are Class III games that have been converted to Class II,” Slotwinski comments. “Our focus has been to make unique Class II games with the polish of a Class III game. It’s this type of effort that has allowed us to be competitive in the Class II industry.” Several new product launches this year will focus on use of the company’s new hardware in the IMPACT series. “We began by creating our IMPACT 27, a dual 27-inch cabinet, then proceeded to build our IMPACT 43, our first portrait cabinet,” says Slotwinski. “This year we decided to go bigger by adding the IMPACT 49 to our product line. We have elevated that cabinet in multiple pod formations that include wedge artwork and a 360-degree LED sign package that will light up any casino floor.” Evans adds that the Eclipse product on slot floors is carving its own niche as distinctive and unique. “Our product is seen by players as a different product,” he says. “It’s exciting to see the transformation of our products that have been on casino floors for decades to the newest products we are launching today. “But more importantly, we’re expanding in properties. We have a pretty audacious goal to add about 15 properties this year, and we’re more than two thirds of the way there. And for us, that’s important to do in our existing markets, like Washington, where, by early next year, we’ll be in almost in every property in the state, which is more than double our penetration a year ago.”

Built for the Future The expansion at Eclipse is bound to continue with the company being set up for success due to strategic moves over the past two years, including consolidating its operations into the new 40,000-square-foot facility in Duluth. This allowed Eclipse to increase its production capacity seven-fold. Since 2020, the company has expanded its workforce by 35 percent, has steadily increased its licensed jurisdiction count, and continues to build on a footprint that began in 2020 with 40 tribes in 10 tribal gaming jurisdictions. According to Visintainer, the company has remained active in its expansion and development efforts despite a global pandemic that shut the industry down for months and is still wreaking havoc on supply chains affecting countless businesses. “During the pandemic we doubled down on our investment in technology,” Visintainer says. “We invested in our proprietary platform and re-architected it to scale for our upcoming business objectives. We also migrated our front end to Unity just prior to the pandemic. These initiatives enabled us to come out with dozens of different features we can now incorporate into games seamlessly.” “The revisions to our platform also allow us to produce games with a heav-


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ier focus on the visual and audio details rather than on software development,” adds Slotwinski. “Our feature library is extremely modular now, which allows our team to easily prototype games much earlier in the development process, thus giving us more time to focus on what the players want to see and hear.” Along with those increased efficiencies in game development, adds Slotwinski, has been an influx of new talent—not only veteran game developers, but new engineering talent from the rich vein that exists in the Metro Atlanta region. “We have been fortunate to obtain veteran talent from the industry throughout my three years at Eclipse,” Slotwinski says. “Our talent pool continues to grow with experienced talent as we become more successful in this industry. “Additionally, we have partnered with the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and the Gwinnett County school system to help educate the next generation of STEAM students on the gaming industry. We have partnered with multiple universities in the area and began internship programs with them to help promote gaming in Georgia.” As far as the supply chain issues, Minard and Eclipse were lucky to have a veteran like Visintainer on board, whose experience managing supply chain issues at NCR has been invaluable in keeping production humming along. “Leading up to the pandemic, I noticed negative patterns around the CPU, monitor, and integrated circuit industries,” Visintainer says. “Three months prior to the pandemic I began to preposition our critical inventory, which really helped us through the pandemic. We did not see any shortages in terms of us being able to deliver cabinets to our customers.” With all the right elements in place, Eclipse is poised for further growth in Class II, with Class III remaining on the back burner for the future. “Washington state is a very important market for us,” says Evans. “The growth we see there almost doubled the number of tribes that we participate with. We’re just launching this year into the Northern California tribal market, where there is a good concentration of Class II games. We’re excited to see our first units get installed this month at Blue Lake Casino, and there are five or six other properties that we’ll see prior to the end of summer. California is a great opportunity for us to build up the recognition of our product.” Other Class II opportunities exist in Kansas, where Eclipse will be in two new properties, increasing the company’s footprint to four out of five tribal properties. “Also, in Oklahoma, we have a large concentration of machines, and we’ve been there for a long time,” Evans adds. “And in the East, there are opportunities in New York and Florida that our team’s pursuing. We’re in about a dozen jurisdictions, and we’ll probably pick up four or five new jurisdictions next year.” Minard has said that any company is “one title away from being a superstar.” He points to several new games within an estimated 18 new titles to be launched by the end of the year that could very well be that superstar title. “The games we’ve got ready and about to be

approved are really good,” he says. “We’ve seen great early signs on one of our games, Tick Tock Jackpot.” That’s a five-reel, seven-row game that creates an adrenaline-pumping experience with a countdown pick game in which players work against the clock to pick symbols to create a chain-reaction explosion that reveals prizes. Another potential winner is the Big Shake series, three-reel slots that use perceived skill in recreating an arcade-style coin-pusher game. “The coin-pusher has been around for a long time, but our take on it is bringing in a lot of different elements,” Minard says. “I feel like that can be a franchise game.” Meanwhile, Eclipse is ready for what Minard calls “the next phase.” That means more Class II jurisdictions, and the inevitable launch into Class III. “We see these years as our employee-building years, our strategy-building years,” Minard says, noting he is “putting 2027 up on the board” as the target date for completing that next phase. “I know we have the ingredients to make that Class III game, and depending upon the market we’re going into, we know how to do it. “For now, we feel there’s still a lot of runway for us to expand in the Class II space and we are concentrating heavily on what it takes to be No. 1 in this industry.” That runway, as always with Eclipse, goes beyond the game.

SEPTEMBER 2022 www.ggbmagazine.com

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The smaller baccarat table is in vogue these days

The Times T They Are a-Changing The elegant game of baccarat has become a popular game on the casino floor, and everyone must be aware of the advantages and pitfalls of a game with such a small house edge By Bill Zender

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o most North American casino customers, baccarat is considered an unusual gambling game. Many players compare baccarat to that more popular card game of blackjack. In blackjack, the customer plays against the dealer and has the option to make decisions on his hand such as hit, stand, double down, split, and then some. The same blackjack customer who sits down on a baccarat game is somewhat dumbfounded with the lack of ability to participate in determining the outcome of the hand. Based on a standard “third card” rule, the dealer makes the decision to draw a card or stand. To many North American card players, this limitation makes the game somewhat unattractive. In the past, a large portion of casino baccarat play in North American was attributed to customers from south of the border. Baccarat has been very popular with Latin American players from Mexico, Central America and South America. Most of baccarat customers in Las Vegas during the ’70s and ’80s happened to be the wealthy class from Mexico—players out of Monterey and Mexico City, looking to vacation in Las Vegas and gamble at baccarat. Unfortunately, Latin gamblers started to diminish as the U.S. dollar got stronger and the Mexican peso suffered through periods of terrible inflation. Enter the 1990s and the Asian customer. Based on the Asian gambling psyche, baccarat is the perfect casino game. Once the cards are shuffled, cut and placed into the dealing shoe, Asian players feel their fate is “sealed” in the shoe. The lack of sequence-altering options, as experienced with blackjack, is perfect for what most Asians want in a gambling experience. As Asian customers started to flood the baccarat games, many casinos rightfully refocused their marketing efforts to attract this type of gambler who is virtually “hard-wired” for monetary risk-taking. More baccarat games started to appear on the casino floor, replacing the previously revered blackjack games. In addition, casinos were able to trade in those old 14-spot tables that required an extensive support staff. Asian customers preferred the smaller sitdown table, dealt by one dealer, and with a lot less “bling” and allure associated with the “big table” baccarat games.


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Baccarat scorecards are essential for running a successful game

Asian players love to “squeeze” the cards imagining they can add or attract a spot or two

How Has The Game of Baccarat Changed? What has changed in baccarat with the switch in the cultural market from primarily Latin American to overwhelmingly Asian? Since many Asian customers are more superstitious than their predecessors, the casino must take certain factors into consideration. First, Asian gamblers find certain numbers lucky and others unlucky. For example, the numbers 4 and 14 are considered extremely unlucky. In the Cantonese language, the word for the number “four” sounds similar to the word for “death.” The wise casino executive needs to remember this fact and remove “4” and “14” from the table layout. The number 8 in the Chinese and Southeast Asian cultures represents “luck.” On a seven-spot baccarat layout, the “4” can be removed and an eighth position added after the seventh position, which will accommodate both the unlucky and lucky numerical situations nicely. Management may also consider Asian number preferences when making change for currency of higher-denomination casino chips. Breaking a $100 chip or bill should not be done by giving the player four $25 chips, but by giving the player eight chips—three $25 chips and five $5 chips. This number preference can also be done when changing $500. The customer is given four $100 chips and four $25 chips. There are several other superstitious issues that need to be taken into consideration by management. Note: It is important to accommodate the Asian customer’s superstitious habits, but that does not mean that management needs to always make changes to baccarat and its established procedures. In some instances, the customer will use the casino’s willingness to change procedure to gain the customer an advantage over the house. Sometimes it is best just to say “No.” Following are some other changes to the game of baccarat that have been made to accommodate the shift in the baccarat market.

Condition Of “Squeezed” Cards In Baccarat In the beginning, “big table” players would touch the cards. It was standard procedure for the customers wagering to handle the dealing shoe and with instruction from the “stick” baccarat dealer, draw cards from the shoe. Few baccarat customers bent or twisted the playing cards. Occasionally, a customer would blame his or her cards for a losing outcome and crumple or rip the cards in half. This was usually followed by a stern reprimand from the baccarat supervisor. It was standard practice to reuse the playing cards over and over again unless the cards showed obvious wear or the cards appeared to have been marked. Asian customers on a baccarat “squeeze” game generally treat the playing

cards much differently. When peeking the result of the two-card hand, the player will roll the corners and side of each card looking to identify the value of the card based on the spot configuration. Once the customer has peeked the cards in this manner, reusing the cards in any future rounds is out of the question. Today, it is standard baccarat procedure to immediately replace all eight decks at the end of the shoe.

Why Pre-Shuffled Cards? Primarily, pre-shuffled playing cards used in baccarat are vital for speeding up the introduction of new decks onto the game. When introducing eight new decks of cards, standard procedure is to have each deck inspected, backs and faces, by both the floor supervisor and the dealer, and then scrambled or “washed” together before the cards are inserted into a shuffling machine or manually shuffled. This process is extremely time-consuming, considering that most baccarat games utilize a batch-type shuffling machine that requires the use of two eight-deck sets of cards. Pre-shuffled cards, on the other hand, can be introduced immediately into the game without the time-wasting inspection process. Regulators in most gambling jurisdictions have approved the use of pre-shuffled playing cards when taken directly out of their packaging at the table. Pre-shuffled cards come with an additional cost, but this cost, usually a few cents, is easily recovered by the speed of getting the packaged cards on the table and in action. In some instances, casinos have brought the process in-house, and have a dedicated “card control” room and staff manually prepare the eight-deck batch. The staff opens the decks, removes the joker and blank cards, washes the eight decks together, and places them through a shuffling machine. Once the machine shuffle is completed, the eight decks are run through a deck-checking machine and scanned for completeness. Next, the eight decks are placed into a transparent carrier that is sealed with a security strap. This strap is removed only when the carrier reaches the table. Several casinos that have gone to this process eventually reverted to the manufactured pre-shuffled decks due to cost of card control labor and added security the factory-packaged playing cards provide. To further enhance their baccarat game safety, many casino executives have elected to use a shuffling machine in conjunction with pre-shuffled playing cards. This process, even though more time-costly than immediately cutting and dealing the pre-shuffled cards, has eliminated several game protection issues by adding a final machine shuffle.

SEPTEMBER 2022 www.ggbmagazine.com

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The “big” baccarat table with seven seats on each side and operated by a team of four dealers is limited to high-limit rooms in today’s casino

Following the Player/Banker Patterns (The Scoreboard) Basically, the predominant Latin customers of baccarat went from blaming their luck on bad cards in the ’70s and ’80s to the Asian player guessing their fate based on their ability to identify game trend patterns. Casinos provide baccarat customers with paper score cards and two-colored pens which the customers can use to record and track the Player/Banker/Tie results. The customers would use these notations to locate any winning hand trends. The trends the baccarat customer is mostly looking for are indications that the shoe’s winning hands seem to repeat or go back and forth between Player and Banker. Management quickly saw the advantage of providing the customers with a more efficient result-tracking system, and installed electronic scoreboards on each table. Scoreboards in baccarat track the previous results, usually in two different scoreboard screen formats (Bread Pan and Big Road). The boards also post “prediction” screens such as “Little Road, Big Eyed Boy, and Cockroach Tail” which advise the customers if the patterns indicating the winning results will “streak” and repeat, or if the winning outcomes “chop” or bounce back and forth between Player and Banker. The scoreboard serves an additional purpose—advertising. Customers walking around the gaming area near the baccarat tables will be able to view different table scoreboards and look for patterns that may attract them to a certain “lucky” game.

What Are Free Hands? When looking for these patterns, sometimes customers request the dealers deal hands where no player places a wager. These are known as free hands. This situation free hand is also known as dealing a “dummy hand.” Free hands serve two purposes. First, they are used when a dealer makes a third-card drawing error. Instead of burning the mistake card similar to standard error procedures in blackjack, the error card is placed aside and used in the next hand, with that hand being dealt “free” or without bets being placed. This procedure maintains the (perceived) order of the shoe. The second use of free hands is so customers can view the flow of the cards (again perceived) to help them predict future hands. Almost all Asian customers track hand win/loss patterns either on a paper scorecard or the scoreboard. If a higher-limit customer is uncertain as to the win/loss pattern, instead of sitting at the table until someone else places a wager, as a courtesy, the dealer can be requested to draw a free hand. Some higherlimit players are allowed to request several free hands in an attempt to identify a win/loss pattern. Note: Free hands do not represent any change to the game’s mathematical advantage, but are wasted hands that do not generate revenue. Any excessive amount of free hands per shoe will reduce the shoe’s revenue potential as well as lower the game’s standard hold percentage. In an effort to accommodate higher-limit customers, a few casinos will immediately draw free hands at the beginning of each new shoe. The standard number of free hands drawn to begin the shoe is three or up to five. These hands can be drawn and called quite quickly since there is no bet contemplation period by the customer. Where the overall free hand concept hits a snag is when the casino offers this option to any baccarat customer. In some situations, close to half the hands drawn end up as “non-revenue” events, which damages income 46

Global Gaming Business SEPTEMBER 2022

potential during the standard gaming day. It can also affect the cost of customer reinvestment if the casino does not have the ability to reduce the number of decisions per shoe in the player tracking computer when a large number of free hands are drawn.

The Myth Behind Offsetting Wagering in Baccarat One of the more common myths in baccarat is the wrongly perceived mathematical change that occurs when a customer bets on both the Player and Banker wagers at the same time. This is known as offsetting wagering. Many casino executives believe that this offsetting wagering situation actually nullifies any mathematical advantage of the house. How can the customer lose? If one side loses the other side wins, and the customer receives player reinvestment credit while not risking any money. This myth is absolutely not true. Both bets are subject to the same house advantage as if they were wagered individually or at different times. The Player bet is still subject to a 1.24 percent mathematical house advantage while the Banker bet is subject to that game type’s Banker house advantage (1.06 percent in standard, 1.02 percent in EZ, or 1.46 percent in Tiger). This hypothesis holds true for all table game situations where the customer can “bet against themselves,” such as the “Do” and “Don’t” wagers in craps and the “even money” wagers in roulette. Each bet is still subject to the individual mathematical advantage regardless of the wagering strategies used. In all actuality, offsetting wagering situations are good for the casino. These situations eliminate any risk due to game result volatility and provide the casino with a consistent outcome that is positive for the house. What an offsetting situation indicates is that specific customer’s reluctance to gamble. For instance, casino executives need to question why a customer utilizes an offsetting strategy to wager any promotional chips or coupons. Recently, casinos are questioning why their slot customers have elected to wager their accumulated slot reinvestment “free play” vouchers by offsetting the promotion instruments on Player/Banker in baccarat. Obviously, they would rather “wash” their reinvestment dollars on a 1 percent game instead of a 10 percent game while experiencing no outcome volatility. As former Nevada Gaming Control agent, casino operator, professional card counter and casino consultant, Bill Zender has been involved in various areas of gaming and hospitality since 1976. He has instructed courses on game protection, card counting, advantage play and gaming operations at various colleges and institutions throughout the country. As a member of JMJ, Inc., Zender was an owner and operator of the Aladdin Hotel and Casino. For more information, visit billzender.com.


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Experience IGT PlaySports at G2E October 11-13, 2022 | Las Vegas www.IGT.com/PlaySports © 2022 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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EMERGING LEADERS The Advantage of Authenticity Vik Shrestha Chief Commercial Officer, SB22 ik Shrestha has paved his way through the gaming industry with a focus on building new business verticals and organizations for established technology companies. When he first joined the industry over eight years ago, however, he quickly learned just how much there was to learn. With his first role in business development, he refused to limit himself to that sector alone, instead gaining an education on how various other departments functioned. In learning types of issues and their causes, he was able to not only understand the customer’s product, but the challenges they faced, as well. Shrestha then moved on to a sales management role and was fortunate enough to be embraced by generous customers who dedicated their time to helping him understand the operator side of the business. His propensity for asking questions, for welcoming new challenges, and for approaching learning opportunities with a voracious drive had served him well in his start down the senior management road. But as his career grew and his experiences broadened, he found himself changing his approach entirely. Whereas he had once honed his concentration on achieving the highest level of results as the most productive individual contributor, he now shifted his focus to helping others build their own successes. The result? He reaped even more success himself in his senior management roles while building strong industry relationships. Shrestha has been inspired and mentored by multiple industry peers, but his ultimate adviser and motivator has always been his wife, whose sage advice has guided him through career changes and moments of self-doubt. “I take her advice and she is right 100 percent of the time,” he says. “Just don’t let her know that.” He deeply enjoys what he does, finding the process of building new business verticals and organizations to be rewarding in its challenge. He looks back on his career with gratitude that

“When you’re in the right place, your opinion is valued and career growth comes with it.”

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Gaming by Accident Steve Iverson Attorney

he was able to accomplish such feats for multiple companies, proud of the teams he led and what they achieved. Based in Las Vegas, Shrestha now acts as chief commercial officer for software development company SB22, which is building innovative technology for the digital gaming industry. He has been at the forefront of the rising legalized sports betting industry since the repeal of the federal wagering ban, and has solidified a plethora of key partnerships. Intent on cultivating an innovative culture, Shrestha is ardent about developing diverse and all-encompassing high-performance organizations. Although proud of his accomplishments, he is prouder still of his mentees and the levels of success they have attained. In keeping an eye on industry trends, he’s noticing substantial opportunities for young industry professionals in sports betting and iGaming, and is excited to see the level of talent being drawn to the gaming industry. He is looking forward to the next 18 months, during which he will do what he enjoys most, secure partnerships, as he builds the U.S. organization. For today’s young professionals, Shrestha offers sound advice. “It’s important to be authentic to yourself,” he says. “If a company doesn’t appreciate you for who you are, you’re not in the right place and it isn’t worth trying to climb that corporate ladder. When you’re in the right place, your opinion is valued and career growth comes with it.” —Marie Casias is manager of marketing and administration for The Innovation Group.

Global Gaming Business SEPTEMBER 2022

n his final year at South Dakota State University, Steve Iverson was unsure of what his future held. Unlike some others, he had not quite nailed down what he wanted to do when he graduated; however, that all changed when he took one class—Federal Indian Law. A native of South Dakota, Iverson was very familiar with Indian Country, given the large Native American population and volume of reservations in the state. That one class shifted his focus; he now wanted to go to law school and work primarily on Indian policy, which in a backwards way ultimately led him to the gaming industry. After several years in private practice following law school, Iverson decided to go back to school and get his LLM, or masters of law, and eventually joined the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC). By default, Iverson became entrenched in the gaming industry even if that was not what he set out to do. During his time with the NIGC, he was able to establish himself as a staple within the organization and work prominently on several of the hot topic issues that are always present for the NIGC. When looking back at his tenure as a lawyer, Iverson believes taking that leap to get his LLM in Indian law had the largest impact on his career. This leap opened a lot of professional doors and has since allowed him to pursue his passions. One of those passions is the environment, as well as Indian law, which eventually led to his jump from the NIGC to the U.S. Department of the Interior, where he is able to practice in both fields. Though today he no longer works in the gaming industry, Iverson fully credits his team

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“It is always important to surround yourself with the right people, and having the right mentors is particularly important.”

and the great work they did as to why he was able to win this 40 under 40 award during his time there. “It is always important to surround yourself with the right people, and having the right mentors is particularly important,” he states. “Having supervisors who have a good balance of structure and creativity can be vital to growth in not only one’s career but also in personal life.” Though Iverson fully admits that he has much to learn, he is able to offer great advice to those up-and-coming professionals in the industry. Simply stated, “put in the time, work hard, stay inquisitive, and don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know the answer.” This tried-and-true method has worked well for Iverson over the years, and is something to which he credits his level of success.

He also says, “To those attorneys out there, it is inevitable that you will develop an area of expertise, but it’s important to do it in an area you are passionate about.” Becoming an expert has opened the doors for him, which has led him to where he is today. —Chris Irwin is vice president, Native American and interactive services for The Innovation Group. (Steve Iverson participated in this interview in his personal capacity. The views expressed by Iverson in this interview belong to him and do not represent the views of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the National Indian Gaming Commission, or the Office of the Solicitor of the United States.)

SEPTEMBER 2022 www.ggbmagazine.com

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NEW GAME REVIEW by Frank Legato

Diamond Collector Wolfpack Incredible Technologies

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his game, featured on IT’s large-format V55 cabinet as well as the Summit form factor, features a simple persistent diamond-collecting feature that leads to free games. The “Wolfpack” theme is one of two in the Diamond Collector series (the other is Elite 7s). The theme is depicted through wolves, eagles, cougars and other wildlife symbols. The base game is a five-reel, 40-line video slot on a four-by-five reel array. Above the reels is a display of 15 circles surrounding a free-spin meter. During primary game play, any time a diamond symbol lands on the reels, a diamond appears in one of the 15 circles. When diamonds are displayed in all 15 circles, it triggers

Lantern Rise AGS

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six free spins. Alternatively, the free-spin round can be triggered by two or more scatter symbols. Once the free spins are triggered, each diamond on the upper screen bursts to reveal either “+1Spin” or a multiplier that is applied to the Wolf symbol, the highest-paying symbol in the game. When the free spins are complete, the diamond meter clears and the player begins the process again of spinning to collect diamonds. The game features a player-selectable multi-denomination setup.

Manufacturer: AGS Platform: Orion Format: Five-reel, 30-line video slot Max Bet: 800 Denomination: .01, .02, .05, .10, .25, .50, 1.00 Top Award: Progressive; $5,000 reset Hit Frequency: 27.94% Theoretical Hold: 3.81%-14.86%

his new game available on AGS’ Orion Curve and Orion Portrait cabinets is part of the manufacturer’s Ultimate Rise game family, featuring a ladder-style bonus that can award up to 100 free spins. The base game, themed around an enchanting goddess, is a five-reel, 30-line video slot featuring nudging wild symbols. Six or more lantern symbols on the reels trigger the Ultimate Rise Bonus, a hold-and-re-spin event in which the player collects additional lantern symbols to rise up a free-spins ladder. Alternatively, the bonus can be randomly triggered by fewer than six lanterns. Once the bonus is triggered, the lantern symbols remain in place for three free spins. Each additional lantern symbol moves the player up the freespins ladder, returning the free-spin count to three. The player continues to rise up the ladder with additional lantern symbols, rising from seven free spins up to a maximum of 100 free spins for filling al 15 spots on the three-

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Manufacturer: Incredible Technologies Platform: V55, Summit Format: Five-reel, 40-line video slot Max Bet: 300 Denomination: .01, .02, .05, .10 Top Award: 45,648 Hit Frequency: 44% Theoretical Hold: 5.74%-14.72%

Global Gaming Business SEPTEMBER 2022

by-five reel array. During the subsequent free spins, each lantern symbol reveals a prize—credit awards, extra free spins, or “jackpot gems” corresponding to one of four jackpots—static awards of $100 (Mini) and $500 (Minor); and progressives resetting at $500— (Major) and $5,000 (Grand).


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Marilyn Monroe Romantic Kisses Ainsworth Game Technology

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insworth brings a rare licensed brand to its Manufacturer: Ainsworth Game Technology A-STAR Curve cabinet with this new game carPlatform: A-STAR Curve rying a theme surrounding the iconic movie and Format: Five-reel, 243-ways-to-win video slot 1950s sex symbol Marilyn Monroe. Max Bet: 500 The base game is a five-reel, 243-ways-to-win video Denomination: .01 slot packed with still images and film footage of the late Top Award: Progressive; $2,500 reset star gleaned from across her film and modeling career. The Hit Frequency: Approximately 50% top symbol is the “kiss” symbol—lips which transform into Theoretical Hold: 6%-15% cash-on-reels symbols. Three Marilyn Monroe symbols trigger five free games. Free games play out on reels with scattered cash-on-reels and two progressive jackpots insymbols. The wins are accumulated and awarded with each spin. The symbols on cluded on the wheel. The progressives gold backgrounds qualify for a multiplier round in which each win receives a reset at $250 (Major) and $2,500 multiplier up to 25X. (Grand). Five kiss symbols inThe game is licensed for sale. It is cluding a gold symbol trigexclusively a penny game, with a ger a wheel bonus. The minimum bet of 50 cents and a maxwheel spin is presented in a imum of $5. side view, with credit awards

The Price Is Right Come On Down! IGT

I

spread across a 65-inch monitor. The base game is on a five-by-four reel array (five reels, four rows of symbols), in a ways-to-win configuration. With four rows of symbols, there are 1,024 ways to win on every spin. The primary game has a random Plinko Wilds feature that can add three to seven wild symbols to the reels. The wide-area progressive features bonuses based on fan-favorite games in the popular show, including Cliff Hangers and the iconic Showcase Showdown wheel with up to a 95X multiplier and possibility of winning the wide-area top award. The bonus is triggered when two scattered bonus symbols land on reels 1 and 3, along with a unique bonus symbol on reel Manufacturer: IGT 5, which determines the bonus played. Platform: Peak65 In the Cliff Hangers free spins bonus, the climber starts at 1X Format: Five-reel, 1,024-ways-tofor the first spin and moves up the mountain with increasing win video slot multipliers. When the climber falls off the cliff, the player is Max Bet: 300 awarded one last free spin at a 25X multiplier. Denomination: .01 In the Range Game bonus, a unique three-by-nine reel interTop Award: Progressive; $20,000 face appears, and the player selects a three-by-three “win box” in reset one of seven positions on the grid. The player gets three spins to Hit Frequency: Approximately 35% land as many money balls as possible within the chosen win box Theoretical Hold: 5%-15% with the opportunity for extra spins.

GT has reprised one of its most successful branded titles in this new slot based on TV’s longest-running game show, The Price Is Right. This new version is featured on the manufacturer’s massive new Peak65 cabinet, with game features

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Global Gaming Business SEPTEMBER 2022


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ETG Evolution Electronic table games have evolved as a lower-limit, non-intimidating version of tables—often with slot-style bonuses By Dave Bontempo

Interblock’s Universal Cabinet

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romises fulfilled. Electronic table games have exceeded the industry faith placed in them several years ago. ETGs have vaulted from floor-saving devices spiking play at all hours and removing intimidation from novice players to an expression of gaming creativity. They are not only smaller versions of real games, but provide bonus, wild-card and graphically pleasing elements matching the evolution of player preferences. When launching this novel fleet several years ago, vendors and operators believed the industry couldn’t lose. Not only has it not lost, but the industry is winning, fairly big.

ETG Impact Slot supplier International Game Technology has been a player in the ETG segment since 2016, according to Brandon Bruno, the company’s director of electronic table games. That’s when the company had its first ETG deployment in Pennsylvania. Since then, IGT has continued to innovate across ETG content, hardware and merchandising. “ETGs became a major focal point for operators because they help address aspects of widespread casino staffing issues as well as social distancing con-

54

IGT’s Dynasty Concurrent Multi-Game

Global Gaming Business SEPTEMBER 2022

siderations,” Bruno indicates. “Traditional live table games require a disproportionately large number of employees to operate even the smallest tables pit. ETGs can operate unstaffed through automated or virtual games, or with significantly fewer employees in a live dealer setting. “While most operators’ live tables businesses have returned to pre-Covid-19 levels, the majority of operators have elected to retain ETGs on their floors as a great valueadd to their existing game mix.” Bruno says IGT offers a dynamic and comprehensive portfolio of electronic baccarat, roulette, and blackjack games. One of them is “Concurrent.” This offering enables players to enjoy a variety of games simultaneously and with various bet configurations. Concurrent play can increase the velocity of wagers, elevate coin-in, and ultimately lead to a higher degree of player satisfaction. In terms of hardware, IGT offers highly versatile ETG terminals than can be deployed in a variety of configurations. Dynasty RNG Concurrent gives players the ultimate choice in gaming options with the ability to play up to 12 RNG games at the same time from one terminal. It offers players the ability to select from a variety of multi-games— single- and triple-hand blackjack; single-, double- and triple-zero roulette; and both commission- and non-com-


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“Players desire crisp, modern technology to interact in their playing experience. A fuzzy video screen will turn people away. ETGs and all games need to provide aesthetics and engaging game play.” —Rob Ziems, President, Aruze Gaming America Aruze’s Roll to Win Craps

mission baccarat. The product has updated graphics, user interface screens and side bet options to give players a new look and feel. Terminals can be placed in a variety of configurations in stand-alone, bank, circle, arc and stadium layouts, ensuring maximum versatility. New side bets create a more dynamic player experience while increasing time on device and improving house edge. New to the Dynasty RNG Concurrent group are Lucky 8s Side Bet (baccarat), Upcard Stud Side Bet (triple-hand blackjack) and Lucky Number Side Bet (baccarat). ETG side bets offer a potpourri of wagering options, both on player and dealer hands, with varied bonus structures. The Upcard Stud side bet wins if the first two cards of all three player hands and the dealer’s face-up cards form a winning poker hand. The Straight 2 Flush side wager wins if the player’s first two cards and the dealer’s up-card make up an eligible hand. The Buster Blackjack side wager wins if the dealer busts. This side wager pays out based on how many cards the dealer received. Lucky Lucky, Upcard Stud and Dealer’s Bonus wagers either combine the hands of the dealer and players together or focus on the dealer’s hand alone. Bruno anticipates significant opportunity for global ETG expansion. In North America, player adoption has been steady, he says, but operators are still embracing and introducing ETGs at an unprecedented rate.

Rolling to Win Aruze entered the ETG space in 2009, and has played a leading role in the ascent of this industry sector according to Rob Ziems, president of Aruze Gaming America. Ziems says the ETG market expanded as technology became more ingrained in the everyday life of consumers. ETGs’ low-touch status became a significant advantage in the Covid-19 era, as operators and players sought reduced touch points to help limit virus spread, he says. “ETGs are a growing market; they have been around for roughly 20 years and have experienced various levels of success and adoption over the years,” says Ziems. “Shoot to Win Craps really started to change the adoption rate of ETGs because it combined player interaction with technology to create a new yet familiar experience. Aruze calls this ‘Activ-Play,’ where current technology is leveraged to create new experiences.” Shoot to Win Craps places player stations around a central air chamber which the shooter uses to roll oversized dice. While that product has achieved much success at high-profile casinos such as the Venetian, Aruze followed it up with Roll to Win Craps, a semi-automated unit presented as an actual table with LED backing, where players actually roll the dice. Roll to Win can be operated with a single dealer (a fully automated version is also available) and offers chip-free and error-free operation. The game simu-

lates live-table game play with dynamic interactive graphics and a side bet that awards a jackpot on a hot shooter’s streak. In addition to the craps games, Aruze offers Lucky Roulette, a “hybrid roulette” combining classic mechanical elements with innovative projection mapping technology. The HD projector displays high-resolution graphics of the roulette wheel onto a spinning mechanical wheel. The result is a beautiful, crisp, hyper-realistic 3D visual experience that melds the appeal of a traditional roulette wheel with vibrant graphics that significantly enhance a gaming experience that is punctuated by a variety of changing game scenes and interactive graphics that track the spinning physical ball, according to Ziems. The game play is more exciting with expanded bet options that now include “Box Bets,” he adds. “Today’s players have become accustomed to highly engaging, highly produced interactive games that are easily accessible via their mobile devices, high-definition TVs, and tablets,” Ziems says. “Players desire crisp, modern technology to interact in their playing experience. A fuzzy video screen will turn people away. ETGs and all games need to provide compelling aesthetics and engaging game play.”

Blitzing Into the Market Jackpot Digital has been on a roll. Last month, it announced a licensing agreement with Buffalo Bill’s Casino Resort, located in Primm, Nevada, to install two Jackpot Blitz ETGs. And there is more to come, according to Mathieu McDonald, head of investor relations and business development for Jackpot Digital. “Operators have expressed their desire for ticket-in/ticket-out funding and full integration with their casino management system, and we have heard them loud and clear, which is why we have recently introduced our next-generation Jackpot Blitz,” he says. “This is allowing us to serve a much larger segment of the marketplace, and the demand is definitely there. The ongoing labor shortage, combined with difficulty in finding or retaining experienced dealers, means there is growing demand for dealer-less platforms like Jackpot Blitz.” McDonald says Jackpot Digital has been in the ETG space since 2015, when it acquired the assets of PokerTek, a major player in the dealer-less poker arena. He indicates that the company is proud of the work it has done to evolve the product from the “1980s cellphone” technology people saw back then, into the “latest Apple iPhone” customers see today in the SEPTEMBER 2022 www.ggbmagazine.com

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“Feedback from operators has been overwhelmingly positive on the level of action, engagement and entertainment provided for casino guests. Poker players absolutely love the action on Jackpot Blitz ETGs.” —Mathieu McDonald, Head of Investor Relations

Ministar: A Big Star

Interblock, the Slovenian company that was a pioneer in the ETG field, has an array of products in this realm. One of them is Ministar Dice. It is composed of Interblock’s new micro-office generator and play stations that are closely situated around it, providing great visibility for the player. Ministar offers more of the features Interblock’s Diamond Craps does, but in a smaller, space-saving package. Ministar Dice will also offer the Majestic Button, a motion-activated sensor that allows players to set, shake and shoot the dice. and Business Development, Jackpot Digital As for features, it is available with six, eight or 10 seats. It has color-adjusted armrests. It has the ability to connect to external generators like Interblock Stadiums or StarBar. Grand Casino Bucharest is the first property in Romania to install the Jackpot Blitz poker ETG. company’s award-winning Universal Cabinet. “Feedback from operators has been overwhelmingly positive on the level The Universal Cabinet product line is one of Interblock’s latest breakof action, engagement and entertainment provided for casino guests,” Mcthrough form factors, offering an entirely new way for players to interact with Donald says. “Poker players absolutely love the action on Jackpot Blitz their favorite table games—elevating the experience for all, from the novice ETGs.” player to the expert. McDonald says the game’s versatility has been a hit with players. This unique cabinet supports six different table games, including roulette, “When players sit down to play Jackpot Blitz and see the cards bending on blackjack, craps, baccarat, sic bo and Big Six, an innovative spin on a casino the touchscreen for the very first time, the reaction is almost universally table game classic. ‘Wow!’ Jackpot Blitz also offers several side-bet and min-game options, allowThe Universal Cabinet provides an independent game play experience by ing players to multitask by playing blackjack, baccarat, video poker or ‘Bet allowing players to set the pace of their own individualized game. It consists The Flop’ right at their seat while being engaged in a hand of poker. of visually enticing game displays—a crisp 5G screen and fun, 3D game top“This really brings players the action they are seeking and allows casinos pers—which include a roulette wheel, bubble craps generator or a horizontal to offer guests the chance to enjoy card games at a whole new level of excitevideo player information display. ment and entertainment, which is something that, truthfully, no one tradiIn June, Interblock announced it has been acquired by funds managed by tional dealer can provide.” American global asset management firm Oaktree Capital Management, LP. The high performance of ETGs was a prominent factor in the process. “We have delivered robust growth over the past six years, which can be attributed to the company’s dedicated team of ETG specialists, a best-in-class product portfolio, data-driven decision making and our continued focus on innovation,” said John Connelly, Global CEO of Interblock, in announcing the acquisition. “There is significant momentum within the electronic table game sector, making it the right time to partner with one of the largest private equity firms in the world, Oaktree. Moving forward, we are excited about our partnership with Oaktree and the ability to further accelerate our momentum, concentrating on both organic growth and potential acquisitions.” As the industry winds toward the Global Gaming Expo, operators and vendors relish the sustained impact of ETGs. It gives them the feeling of a player who has reached the bonus round Grand Casino Bucharest is the first of a game. property in Romania to install It’s going to pay off. It’s just a question of Interblock’s Universal Cabinet how much. 56

Global Gaming Business SEPTEMBER 2022


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CUTTING EDGE by Frank Legato

Cellphone Cash PRODUCT: WINUP Wallet MANUFACTURER: Win Systems

in Systems, developer of the WIGOS casino management system, will be presenting its latest release at Global Gaming Expo, the WINUP

W

Wallet. WINUP is a state-of-the-art solution that allows players to easily cash in and cash out their player account with their cellphone, while enabling access to several services offered by the casino: • WINUP Wallet app: Players can just link their casino account with their preferred payment methods, download their gaming balance, and start playing. • Player’s Club: Players can manage their player’s club account and have direct access to services. • Casino Services: WINUP may also give access to most of the casino services and gaming (online casino, sportsbooks, social gaming). WINUP offers several benefits for the casino operator and for the patrons. Players will gain easy, fast and convenient access to all services available at their fingertips, through a 100 percent secure app with ID verification in each critical transaction. Patrons will also have access to personalized promotions and value-added advantages, as well as having full control and visibility of their account status, and also to their player’s club account. The casinos will benefit from a cash-free gaming floor, increasing security while cutting down the associated costs. WINUP also allows full player traceability of gaming and spend activity, and will boost the business opportunities

and provide more gaming opportunities, even outside the gaming floor, while attracting new players to the casino. More importantly, WINUP is the ultimate step towards the omnichannel casino offer. WINUP offers the perfect tool for a continuous communication and interaction with players, meaning that now casinos will have more and better opportunities to perform segmented marketing activities with personalized in-app promotional messages based on powerful segmentation tools. WINUP also offers the advantages of a unified payment method. In essence, WINUP Wallet is the first step to bring all casino services to the convenience of the player’s mobile device. For more information, visit winsysgroup.com.

Wild Card Waiting PRODUCT: What’s Wild MANUFACTURER: Baaank! Games

aaank! Games is launching a new poker derivative for the pit. “What’s Wild” is a cutting-edge game that gives players control over their outcome while boosting hands with surprise wild cards. What’s Wild is a spin on the classic poker game Let It Ride. It allows players to place four bets and rescind up to three of them if they don’t like what they see. But it’s the wild card that changes everything. During game play, players can take back their bets as the cards are revealed. If you don’t like the flop, you can take back a bet. Turn card weak? Take back another. Have a decent hand, but want to make it stellar? Ask yourself “What’s Wild” as the dealer flips the designated card that can take a hand from trash to a straight. If that wild card lets you down, you can take back another bet. Baaank! Games produces games for seasoned and new players alike. Veterans will love the new twists on traditional games, while newer players will be

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Global Gaming Business SEPTEMBER 2022

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Strength in Numbers

More than 160 member companies from 22 countries Nearly $21 billion in direct revenue • 61,700 employees 13 publicly traded companies • ONE POWERFUL VOICE Address worldwide industry expansion, 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. Daron Dorsey, Executive Director +1 702 277 3641 • Daron.Dorsey@AGEM.org Tracy Cohen, Director of Europe +44 (0) 7970 833 543 • Tracy.Cohen@AGEM.org Connie Jones, Director of Responsible Gaming +1 702 528 4374 • Connie.Jones@AGEM.org Design & photo-illustration by Jeff Farrell.com • AGEM and charter ESP member since 2007.

AGEM.org

©2022 Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM). Membership list current as of August 2022.


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GOODS&SERVICES PlayAGS REJECTS INSPIRED’S $370 MILLION OFFER

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aming supplier PlayAGS has rejected a takeover offer from game developer Inspired Entertainment. The deal would have cost Inspired $370 million, or $10 per share in cash. The offer was first reported by Reuters.

PlayAGS’ David Lopez

Inspired Entertainment’s Lorne Weil

Although the offer was rejected, PlayAGS emphasized that it was only that specific offer that was rejected, and the company would remain in negotiations with Inspired. In a statement released by PlayAGS, the management and board noted they would do everything possible to create shareholder value and would listen to any and all offers. Immediately after news of the offer broke August 12, PlayAGS shares soared 31 percent to $7.88, up from the previous day’s closing price of $6. Alternatively, Inspired share price declined almost 6 percent to $12.56. Last week, PlayAGS was trading around $8.10 and Inspired at $11.56. Nevada-based PlayAGS, which first went public back in 2018, is backed by investment firm Apollo Global Management, which also operates the Venetian in Las Vegas. Due to Covid-related impacts, the company is worth just 20 percent of its 2019 market value, but is steadily climbing back, having reported $76.6 million in secondquarter earnings. PlayAGS products include slot games, innovative table games and other gaming solutions. PlayAGS is led by CEO David Lopez and has a market cap of $279.34 million. Inspired, which is based in New York, has a market value of approximately $400 million, providing gaming solutions in over 30 jurisdictions. Its main products are virtual sports games and mobile gaming. It recently reported $71.3 million in quarterly revenue. Inspired Entertainment is led by CEO Lorne Weil, a former CEO at Scientific Games. The company has a market cap of $337.75 million. During an earnings call on August 10, Inspired CFO Stewart Baker had alluded to potential 60

Indian Gaming Revenue Breaks Record

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he revenue from Indian casinos in the U.S. jumped 40 percent in FY 2021 from the previous year, reaching a record high of $39 billion. Of course, 2020 was the first year of Covid, but the 2021 revenues were also a 13 percent increase compared to FY 2019. That is the highest in Indian gaming history. The revenues for FY 2021 were compiled from independently audited statements of 510 casinos owned by 243 federally recognized gaming tribes across 29 states. It was a year where the greatest increase in revenue followed the year of its greatest decrease, which had been created by the pandemic forcing the closure of nearly all casinos nationwide for weeks or months. National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) Chairman E. Sequoyah Simermeyer and Vice Chair Jeannie Hovland made the record announcement live on August 10 at the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association Tradeshow and Conference (OIGA) in Tulsa. Simermeyer declared, “NIGC recognizes this year’s rebound has not been felt equally by all tribes. We are committed to helping all tribal operations benefit from the regulatory lessons learned over the past two years.” The chairman added, “As we seek to build the regulatory workforce’s preparedness, all parts of the Indian gaming industry have a responsibility to learn from the experiences of tribes who have forged the path so we preserve those lessons and ensure we retain that knowledge for generations to come.” Hovland added, “The industry has much to celebrate and be proud of. With 43 gaming operations reporting GGR greater than $250 million and accounting for more than 50 percent of total revenues, this year’s revenues underscore the wide diversity in gaming operations across Indian Country.” According to a press release from NIGC: “With the pandemic still at the top of mind for tribes, Indian gaming continues to show its resiliency through innovative operational advancements and the steadfast leadership of tribal regulatory authorities.”

growth possibilities for the company. “We are certainly willing to use capital for M&A if it’s something that strategically fits with what we are trying to do,” said Baker. “And there seem to be a lot of things around right now presenting themselves as possibilities.”

PENN NATIONAL REBRANDS AS PENN ENTERTAINMENT

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enn National Gaming announced that it has changed its name to Penn Entertainment, after announcing mixed results for the second quarter. The company’s name change is meant to reflect the expansion of Penn’s business to include diverse

sports betting, media assets and other changes. “Today is an exciting day for us as we become Penn Entertainment, Inc.,” said Jay Snowden, the company’s president and CEO. “Over the past few years, Penn has transformed our business through a highly differentiated strategy focused on organic cross-sell opportunities, which is reinforced by our

Global Gaming Business SEPTEMBER 2022

investments in market-leading retail casinos, sports media assets, owned technology, including a state-ofthe-art, fully integrated digital sports and online casino betting platform, and an in-house iCasino content studio. “Our new name maintains ties to our legacy while better reflecting our evolution into North America’s leading provider of integrated entertainment, sports content and casino gaming experiences.” The announcement came as Penn revealed second-quarter results showing an 87 percent drop in net income year-over-year—$26.1 million, compared to $198.7 million for the same quarter a year ago. Those results reflect a $167 million share repurchase for the quarter, and as Snowden noted, net revenue of $1.6 billion, up 5.2 percent from the same quarter last year. “Last month, we successfully transitioned theScore Bet in Ontario to our own fully integrated, proprietary tech stack—reflecting a key achievement in our strategic roadmap. Our strong operating performance and balance sheet enabled us to opportunistically repurchase $167 million of stock in the quarter under our $750 million share repurchase authorization. Based on our second-quarter performance and our outlook for the remainder of the year, we are reiterating our 2022 revenue and adjusted EBITDAR guidance range of $6.15 billion to $6.55


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billion and $1.875 billion to $2 billion, respectively.” Snowden also highlighted a large increase in its mychoice player’s club database. “Our mychoice database has increased by over 1.2 million registrations over the last four quarters, driven by both our retail properties and new interactive offerings, providing significant opportunities for future growth,” he said. Snowden also highlighted PENN’s omnichannel growth and the development of the company’s cashless wagering ability. “Our three C’s—cardless, cashless, and contactless technology—and omnichannel engagement continued to drive our growth,” he said.

CHUN: MACAU SLOT SUPPLIERS FACE MICROCHIP SHORTAGE

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acau gaming manufacturers are facing a critical shortage of microchips caused by supply-chain issues surrounding the global Covid-19 panJay Chun, president of the demic, according to Macau Gaming Equipment the head of their Manufacturers Association lobbying arm. Jay Chun, president of the Macau Gaming Equipment Manufacturers Association, noted the microchip shortage in an interview with GGRAsia. “The biggest problem (for slot manufacturers) comes from delay in component supply, due to a global chip shortage,” said Chun, who also is chairman of Paradise Entertainment, which manufactures equipment under the LT Game brand. Chun said his company is experiencing months of delay in the delivery of microchips, which run the logic board and bill validators on slot machines. “Various sectors are competing for chips from a limited (supply) capacity,” he told GGRAsia. “Many sectors—not only us— need chips for their production. The automotive industry, for instance, is a sector that has a very robust demand for chips.” Chun added that a “big problem” for slotmakers lies in gaming’s regulatory structure. “After you gather every component, you need to have it certified; and after it is certified, you cannot change (the components), which means, you cannot use one type of chip today and another the next day,” he said.

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ALL-IN DIVERSITY REPORT REFLECTS CHANGES, GOOD AND BAD

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he All-In Diversity Project, an industry-led, not-for-profit initiative based in London that seeks to benchmark diversity, equality and inclusion across the global betting and gaming industry, has just released its third report on the sector’s workforce. Traditionally an annual survey, this year’s report covers the extended period 2020/21 to allow for the impact of the pandemic. The latest findings continue to showcase the gambling sector as an effective barometer of emerging global trends, technology and changes in society and their impact on the workplace. Key trends reflected in the latest All-Index include Gen Z, “the Great Resignation” and the Menopause, and their short to long-term impact on the workplace. This year’s All-Index report recorded the widest gap between males and females in the industry, with the number of males (56 percent) exceeding the number of females (43 percent) for the first time in five years—the biggest gap exists at entry level, which is a real cause for concern when looking at long-term prospects for role models, mentors and talent pools. For the first time, the number of individuals identifying as non-binary is significant enough to register a measurable value. At leadership level, females make up 29 percent of executive roles and 32 percent of non-executive roles. If the All-Index is a benchmark for the industry, then it is closer than ever before to hitting 30 percent female representation at executive board level, and in the case of non-executive roles, has surpassed it. The latest report highlights the impact of the following: • The number of organizations offering company-paid sick leave has dropped from 95.83 percent (2019) to 84.38 percent, while the number of organizations with a policy on flexible working has increased from 75 percent (2019) to 84.38 percent. • Other significant shifts reflect changing views and attitudes in society, with maternity leave now starting to be replaced with the more generic

Global Gaming Business SEPTEMBER 2022

“parental leave”—including same-sex couples. • There has also been a noticeable shift from passive policy to active awareness and practice. While the number of organizations with equal opportunities and anti-discrimination policies has dropped, the number providing practical training and guidance in these areas has gone up, together with an increased focus on addressing harassment/bullying, challenging behavior/language, and cultural stereotyping. The full report is at allindiversityproject.com/ all-index.

ARISTOCRAT LAUNCHES DRAGON LINK IN MANILA

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ristocrat Gaming introduced its award-winning Dragon Link slot product to Asian customers at a special showcase event July 19 at the Solaire Resort & Casino in Manila, Philippines. The progressive link, featuring the popular and much-copied “Hold & Spin” game mechanic, will soon be launched to customers across Asia. The “Dragons” showcase was hosted by Aristocrat executives, and featured three days of demonstrations and networking with Asian customers. John Stevanja, director of product marketing and strategy APAC at Aristocrat, said, “Customers were very excited to see Dragon Link—it has had phenomenal success in other markets globally— and we’ve built this version specifically for the Asian markets with player-selectable denominations, market-attuned jackpot profiles and cost-tocover configurations to suit all venue types. It’s our most configurable game ever built for Asia.” Dragon Link is launching exclusively on the MarsX cabinet. It features four Asian-themed base games—Autumn Moon, Golden Century, Happy & Prosperous and Panda Magic.

IGT DOMINATES AT ARGENTINA’S NEWEST CASINO

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nternational Game Technology announced last month that Argentina’s newest casino, Nuevo


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Jackpot Digital ETG

Casino Alberdi in Salta, recently opened with a slot floor consisting of 70 percent IGT slot games and cabinets. “When planning the entertainment for our gaming floor, Nuevo Casino Alberdi knew IGT’s high-performing content and versatile cabinets needed to be prominent throughout our casino and highly accessible for our players,” said Alexis Beber, Nuevo Casino Alberdi general manager. “As guests enter our casino, they are greeted with a choice of dazzling IGT games on the CrystalSlant 32, CrystalCurve, CrystalDual 27 and Cobalt 27 cabinets; it’s a very inviting environment that our players are readily embracing.” Of the 140 IGT games on Nuevo Casino Alberdi’s gaming floor, some of the standouts include the Olympus Link four-level progressive game with two base game themes and player-favorite mechanics on the CrystalDual 27 and Cobalt 27 cabinets; the high-energy Bubble Blast Link on the CrystalCurve Cabinet with two free game features and scaling bonus prizes and jackpots; the latest games in the Argentina Treasure Box and Super Wheelmania families on the CrystalSlant 32 cabinet; and high-performing standalone core themes on the CrystalCurve cabinet such as Hexbreaker 3, Golden Jungle Grand, Magic of the Nile, Coin O Mania and more.

tions. We are confident Jackpot Blitz will have a large footprint in Nevada, and expect to be in all markets, both large and small.”

AGA, AGEM GOLF EVENT RAISES OVER $150,000 FOR ICRG

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he AGEM & AGA Golf Classic Presented by JCM Global came roaring back in 2022, raising $180,000 for the International Center for Responsible Gaming (ICRG). To date, the event has raised nearly $2.5 million to support the ICRG and its research into problem gambling. The figure does not include a $200,000 donation

from Caesars, announced during the event. “I would like to acknowledge the amazing partnership that we have with JCM Global and the other title sponsors AGA and AGEM,” said ICRG President Art Paikowsky. “We saw an amazing 73 percent revenue growth over the prior year thanks to all of the sponsors and the 144 golfers at this sold-out event. These funds will go a long way in supporting our mission of funding scientifically based research to better inform the industry, regulators, legislators and the media.” The event drew a broad range of support from across the regulated gaming industry spectrum, with operators, suppliers and independent test labs from across the country coming together to support the event and the ICRG’s mission.

JACKPOT DIGITAL TO INSTALL 2 ETGS AT BUFFALO BILL’S

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ackpot Digital Inc. recently announced that it has signed a licensing agreement with Buffalo Bill’s Casino Resort, located in Primm, Nevada, to install two Jackpot Blitz electronic table games (ETGs). The licensing agreement is subject to obtaining the customary regulatory approvals. Buffalo Bill’s is one of three properties that make up Primm Valley Casino Resorts, in a large resort area located on the Nevada side of the Nevada/California border. Primm Valley Casino Resorts is part of Affinity Gaming Group, which owns eight destination casino resorts around the United States. “We are excited to be working with Buffalo Bill’s Casino Resort, our first official agreement signed with a Nevada property,” said Jackpot Digital President & CEO Jake Kalpakian. “Buffalo Bill’s is yet another new casino added to our growing list of customers, and Nevada is clearly a key addition to our growing roster of new jurisdicSEPTEMBER 2022 www.ggbmagazine.com

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PEOPLE JOE LUPO’S VEGAS MOVE TRIGGERS CHANGES

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ne of Atlantic City’s most successful gaming Joe Lupo executives is headed west— Hard Rock International has announced that industry veteran Joe Lupo will take over the Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas once the company completes the purchase of the property from MGM Anthony Faranca Resorts. Lupo will officially become president after the sale closes and he receives the requisite approvals from state regulators. Lupo currently serves as president of Hard Rock AtMark Giannantonio lantic City. Prior to that, he spent time as senior vice president of Borgata, president of Seminole Hard Rock in Florida, and other executive-level positions around the industry. In addition to his duties with Hard Rock, Lupo was also serving as president of the Casino Association of New Jersey (CANJ). Replacing Lupo as president in Atlantic City will be Anthony Faranca, subject to regulatory approval, effective September 1. Faranca has extensive experience managing large gaming properties including the Palms in Las Vegas and Parx Casino in Pennsylvania. Mark Giannantonio was voted in as president of CANJ, replacing Lupo, who has held the position over the past three years. Giannantonio is president of Resorts Atlantic City and previously was the general manager at Tropicana. He has spent his entire career as a casino executive in Atlantic City.

IAN SILK APPOINTED AS CHAIRMAN OF CROWN MELBOURNE

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ustralian operator Crown Resorts is continuing its executive-level carousel, this time with the appointment of Ian Silk as chairman of Crown Melbourne. His appointment is subject to regulatory approval. Ian Silk Silk spent 15 years as the head of AustralianSuper, the largest retirement fund in the country, representing approximately one in 10 Australian workers. The finance veteran also will join Crown Resorts’ board of directors in a non-executive

role, according to the company. Silk’s appointment comes at a pivotal time for Crown, not long after it was acquired by U.S.-based investment giant Blackstone Group earlier this year. In addition to Silk, Crown also recently appointed Bill McBeath as chairman and Ciaran Carruthers as CEO of the company, along with John Van Der Wielen as chairman of Crown Perth and John Borghetti as chairman of Crown Sydney. Prior to Blackstone’s takeover, Crown was found unsuitable for licensure in three separate jurisdictions—New South Wales, Western Australia and Victoria. All of those licenses have since been restored on a conditional basis.

ARUZE NAMES KURT HANSEN VP OF iGAMING

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lot supplier Aruze Gaming America, Inc. announced the addition of Kurt Hansen as vice president of iGaming. Hansen joins Aruze’s leadership Kurt Hansen team to build and strengthen Aruze’s iGaming offering, bringing his extensive experience in the online gaming industry. As VP of iGaming, Hansen will lead the implementation and execution of bringing Aruze Gaming to online gamblers around the world. Aruze’s exclusive titles will be available with partners in both social gaming and licensed real-money iGaming jurisdictions. In his new role at Aruze, Hansen will oversee all iGaming operations and efforts as the company builds its strategic vision. Most recently, Hansen was at GameCo as the head of digital. He has also spent time at Aristocrat and Game Account Network, where he specialized in the management of online gaming platforms.

HERRERA TO HEAD INTERBLOCK’S EMEA DIVISIONS

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aming manufacturer Interblock announced that Marco Herrera has been appointed as the new president for its Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) divisions. Marco Herrera In his 30-plus year career thus far, Herrera has held multiple global leadership and executive-level titles, including chief information officer, chief technology officer, and most recently, senior vice president and managing director. Herrera is a University of Nevada, Las Vegas computer science and math graduate and is fluent in English, Spanish and French. Having lived and

managed offices in seven European countries and in South Africa, Herrera has the skill set and experience to excel in Interblock’s EMEA Region.

ROXANE LUKAS APPOINTED AS L&W’S CHIEF PEOPLE CAPABILITY OFFICER

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as Vegas-based crossplatform game and entertainment company Light & Wonder, Inc. recently named Roxane Lukas as chief people capability officer (CPCO). Roxane Lukas Lukas brings more than 25 years of combined experience in the peopleleader field with focused expertise in the areas of organizational and leadership development, strategy, mentoring, talent management, executive coaching, overall operating culture and facilitating transformation. In her new role as CPCO, Lukas will lead global people strategy and oversee L&W’s people functions to ensure business outcomes for the company. This includes centers of expertise dedicated to fostering a high-performance, engaging and inclusive work environment for the company’s approximately 5,000 employees worldwide. Some of these critical areas include business partnership, corporate social responsibility, diversity, equity and inclusion, talent management and learning, and development.

GGB

September 2022 Index of Advertisers

Acres Manufacturing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7 Advantech . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13 AGEM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .59 AGS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2 Aristocrat Gaming . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .68 Axes.ai . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .67 Casino Player Media . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .57 Eclipse Gaming Systems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .39 Emerging Leaders . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .49 Everi . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .5, 29, 31, 33, 35 Fantini Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .63 Global Gaming Business . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12 GGB Casino Style . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .61 IGT . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10, 11, 22, 23 IGT Global Solutions Corporation . . . . . . . . . . .47 Incredible Technologies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19 J Carcamo & Associates . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .53 Playtech/PT Services Delaware . . . . . . . . . . . . . .9 Procopio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .43 Reed Expo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .51 Soft Construct Limited . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27 Vaask . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .21

SEPTEMBER 2022 www.ggbmagazine.com

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CASINO COMMUNICATIONS

Q

&A

Bill Miller President & CEO, American Gaming Association

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ill Miller became the third leader of the American Gaming Association in 2019, and has dealt with a variety of issues from the legalization of sports betting to an industry initiative that battles human trafficking. But the challenges ahead of a slumping economy and the spread of iGaming will test his and the organization’s fortitude. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros at the AGA offices in Washington, D.C. in July. To hear and view a full podcast of this interview, during which Miller addresses the legalization of iGaming, smoking bans and other important issues, visit GGBMagazine.com.

GGB: Gaming just had a record-breaking year revenue-wise, and it looks like 2022 will surpass that. But of course, now we have this this shadow of inflation and higher gas prices staring us in the face. How should the industry respond to these kinds of real-world concerns? Bill Miller: First, I think it is important to remem-

ber where we just came from. We came from the nadir. The 989 casinos all across America—every single one of them shut down for months, with furloughs of tens of thousands of people. No area in the country was more badly affected than Nevada and Las Vegas. Right now we’re in 44 states, and every one of these communities was negatively impacted both from a tax perspective and from an economic perspective. In terms of GGR, both in commercial and the tribal gaming, the bounceback has been extraordinary. But you mention a couple things that are really important, and they’re clouds on the horizon. They include things like supply chain, labor shortage, interest rates, inflation and gas prices, particularly as it relates to regional casinos. If you were to look at the world today, remembering what the world looked like in the dark days of 2020, we are doing extraordinarily well. But we have to be at least concerned a little bit about the overall state of the economy and what it means for our industry.

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Sports betting was legalized in 2018 with a tremendous assist from the AGA. How gratified are you that so many states have actually legalized sports betting?

I’ve spent most of my life in government, advising government or lobbying government, and I’ve never seen anything move quite as quickly as this. Right now we’re legal in 35 states, plus the District of Columbia. To see that much happen so quickly, it has been really gratifying. Some states though, really haven’t gotten the memo when it comes to creating a successful operating environment with high tax rates, high fees and then some regulatory hurdles as well. Is this going to be a problem in the long run?

One of the things that’s important is to think about what we have been able to get right. The states have recognized that there is an illegal market out there, and particularly when you’re talking about mobility, you have to create a product that gets the consumer to move away from the illegal market, into the legal market. And that involves tax rates and regulation and some of the other issues. We need to make sure that we’re providing a safe alternative to the illegal market that provides taxes and jobs, and consumer protections. If they tax it too high, the bettor is going to stay in the illegal market. And that’s where we, by and large, have been successful with a couple of exceptions. There’s been a lot of pushback in the U.S. on sports betting advertising. It’s getting on people’s nerves, particularly nerves of legislators and regulators. Should the industry get together and agree that maybe we need to back up a little bit?

Advertising is an important vehicle to move the bettor to legal websites. They often don’t even know they’re betting at illegal sites. So how do you move that bettor from an illegal website to the legal marketplace? Advertising is an important piece to this.

Global Gaming Business SEPTEMBER 2022

With the legalization of sports betting, responsible gaming has become much more important. Last month we ran an article by Art Paikowsky, the president of the International Center For Responsible Gaming, in which he said we need a lot more research into the issue of gambling harm and whether sports betting equates to an increase in problem gambling. Do you think more studies should be done on sports gamblers?

I do. I think there is not enough scientificbased research on the technology and the impact of payment modernization and the dynamic that includes mobility, sports betting, and increased offerings. We absolutely need more academic research, more health and behavioral scientists in this. I’m honored to sit on ICRG’s board, and I do believe with them leading the way and creating opportunities via grants and other sources of funding, this is long overdue. We’re all excited to return to G2E this year in full force. The Indian Gaming Tradeshow in March was a big success. What are you expecting at G2E, October 11-14?

Last year, our vendors arrived at the show excited, but cautious. We provided a safe environment to meet, and this year we are ready to ramp it up. We’re dealing with not only the massive investments that the suppliers and manufacturers make. I believe we are convincing them that there is an actual viable marketplace. Not just the safety piece. But what we’re not trying to do is do a show that’s a symbolism show. We’re trying to create an economic marketplace, and a viable one. We’ve already eclipsed our sales number in terms of the number of exhibitors and floor space reserved and purchased. And now that we’ve opened up registration, that looks really good too. So we’re looking forward to seeing everyone in Las Vegas in October.


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