At its annual user conference in June, Bally Technologies brought a new name, an expanded mission and insights into a plethora of new products and solutions aimed at empowering casino operators to enhance play, performance and profits.
Newly named EMPOWER 2014, the event is designed to help customers learn how to reap the most out of their investments in Bally products and services. Held for the second straight year at the Mohegan Sun casino resort in Uncasville, Conn., the 11th annual users event offered hands-on training, expert speakers, case studies and opportunities to network with gaming industry peers, Bally team members and Bally partners on gaming industry solutions. This year’s conference drew record attendance with attendees representing 21 countries. Attendance was up from 2013 with 464 attendees, nearly 380 of which were Bally customers, a 15 percent rise from last year’s 328 customer attendees, according to Bally. More than half of the customer attendees held director or higher positions within their gaming companies.
Attendees also had the opportunity to meet with representatives of companies sponsoring EMPOWER 2014. This year’s sponsors were platinum sponsor Hewlett-Packard; gold sponsor NanoLumens; and bronze sponsors Axiomtek, BCM Advanced Research, FutureLogic, NRT Technology Corp., Optimal Payments, Seneca, Sightline Payments, Vantiv Gaming Solutions, TransAct Technologies, 10e Media, Automated Gaming Technologies (AGT), Coverity, Crane Payment Innovations, eConnect TV, ELO Touch Solutions, IBM, JCM Global, MICROS, NEWave, Olea Kiosks and Touch Dynamic.
The event shared the company’s roadmap for the future, its commitment to open architecture, end-to-end solutions and highlights of Bally’s expansion into table games and related products with its acquisition of SHFL entertainment and its evolving product lines in gaming, interactive and systems areas. The conference included sessions on tips for optimizing guest engagement and operator testimonials about their use of Bally products. Among some of the innovative products showed at EMPOWER were its Take ‘N Play product, which allows players to take their game on the go for the first time by playing a physical slot machine on the convenience of a tablet, its Mobile Wallet technology that allows players to load credits onto their game directly from a mobile phone or tablet and its Social Link feature that is part of Bally’s Elite Bonusing Suite and enables casinos to integrate bonus events with their social media.
While the conference days were packed with keynotes, presentations and breakout sessions, the event also offered a dinner featuring an entertaining performance from former “Tonight Show” host and comedian Jay Leno, a golf tournament and other entertaining networking opportunities.
Mohegan Sun President and CEO Bobby Soper welcomed attendees to the keynote session on the first day. “We have been a longtime partner of Bally,” he said, noting the property has been an ACSC shop for 14 years and has embraced many innovative Bally products, including its online gaming platform, mobile application and the SDS slot dispatch system. Last year, he reminded attendees, Mohegan Sun and Bally Technologies set three Guinness World Records. The records were powered by Bally’s iView Display Manager™, Elite Bonusing Suite™ and its Virtual Racing™ NASCAR®.
This year, Mohegan Sun has added even more new Bally products on its gaming floor, which includes nearly 6,000 slots in three casinos within the property. The resort this year added new Bally technology that allows players to change their loyalty club personal identification numbers right at the machine and another application that allows players to order their beverages from a slot machine, as well as table jackpot progressive from SHFL entertainment, which was acquired by Bally. Soper noted that just in the two and half weeks since it launched, the progressive was up to $240,000 at the time of the conference and had driven more than 1.1 million in wagers just on the progressive side bet. “It’s definitely a needle mover, and we’re really excited about it as well,” he told attendees.
Bally CEO Dick Haddrill kicked off the keynote session, reminding attendees that they play an important role in the conference by sharing information and ideas with their peers and Bally team members. Haddrill also announced the newly created Bally Ventures business unit and highlighted the company’s recent acquisitions, including SHFL entertainment and Dragonplay.
“As we look forward, we’ve got the broadest product line in the player space,” he said. “With your help, we’re emerging as a thought leader and an innovation leader and a technology leader.” While acknowledging potential “speed bumps” along the way, Haddrill said, “Working through those issues with reasonable people and good partners is how we succeed in the long term. We want to be your best partner. We want to listen. We want to have a fair-fair, win-win relationship.”
In announcing Bally Ventures, Haddrill quoted Henry Ford as saying, “If all I did was give people what they wanted, I would have given them faster horses.”
“Well,” Haddrill said, “what we’re trying to do with Bally Ventures is bring ideas to the industry that first might feel a little uncomfortable, like the automobile did instead of horses, but at the same time work closely with you to commercialize those and make a difference in our industry.”
The new business unit will focus on new products, new technologies and strategic partnerships with customers and technology providers, he said. “It’s going to be global in scope, leverage our core strengths and focus on getting products to market quickly. We simply can’t afford to move at a normal pace in today’s environment.”
In discussing the SHFL acquisition, he said, “From a strategic position, it gives us the capability to work with you across the entire floor. It’s made us a much better partner to serve our customers, and the integration is essentially almost complete.”
The acquisition of Dragonplay, a top social gaming player, represents another positive step for Bally. “This acquisition will allow us to take our content and put it on yet another media platform and learn how these players play and help become a better partner with you,” he said.
Haddrill also touched on some of the trends affecting the industry and society as a whole.
“We all know the economy’s improving … but it’s been one of the slowest economic recoveries of all time. We’re now seven years into that recovery and it feels sometimes that it’s not all recovered. And in particular those in the middle-income and lower-income levels don’t have the disposable income that they had seven years ago, at least they don’t feel that way, so it’s kind of a tough recovery,” he said. “At the same time there’s some really extreme market forces coming down on all of us in business and it’s important to understand these.”
He discussed the impacts of the explosion in social networking, big data, mobile technology and collaboration, and he noted the industry must keep pace with these developments if it’s going to grow. In addition, Haddrill noted that the defensive strategy of tightening machines during the tough economic times is not a long-term strategy for success. He noted that in this economic downturn, the entertainment industry invested 5.2 percent of its revenue in information technology, while gaming has been investing less than 1 percent.
“Shrinking is not a good long-term strategy, so being defensive can only get you so far,” Haddrill told attendees. “What are you going to do to make a difference? What are you going to do to grow?”
Bally continued to invest heavily in R&D during the downturn and reaped recognition for its effort, earning 60 awards for innovation in last five years. As Haddrill said, “If you invest and you think smart and you target your players, business can grow, and Bally wants to help you do that.
Check out our online extra: A Q & A session with Dick Haddrill from the EMPOWER Conference.
Online Extra: Q&A with Bally Technologies CEO Dick Haddrill
During Bally Technologies’ recent Empower 2014 user conference, CEO Dick Haddrill sat down with a few reporters for an informal Q&A session on trends and issues facing the gaming industry. Here are some excerpts from that discussion, held in June at the Mohegan Sun hotel-casino.
How has the event gone so far?
Terrific. We’ve had record attendance and very positive meetings, and you can see from the opening sessions some really good customer endorsements and examples of other users of our products. I think that’s one of the big evolutions over the last five years or so is just the return on investment examples are just better and better, and fewer complaints [about actual implementation of Bally products].
Can you tell us anything about your own transition back to CEO and Ramesh’s departure?
I think the board took this rather unique opportunity we have as the thought leader and the innovation leader to maybe, through some really focused strategic work, become the market leader. And I think their view was that just my experience was more relevant for that next three to five years. So simple as that, [former CEO Ramesh Srinivasan] did a great job for us. We have just a really broad product platform, broad geographic platform and very unusual competitive dynamics with lots of changes, so [this is] an opportunity for us to leverage the broad product portfolio, the broad geographic portfolio, the thought leadership, the technology and innovation leadership and the competitive landscape to gain share and work with customers to maybe really transform the industry.
Talking about expanding your platform, can you go into a little bit about [the recent move to acquire] Dragonplay and what you’re going to do with that?
It’s one of the top 10 social networking sites and it’s a profitable business, and we paid a reasonable value. And for us it allows us to get our content on yet another platform. They’ve done very well without the kind of content that we have, and so we think that [adding Bally content] will boost the performance of that business, but it will also give us more experience and rapid feedback on the types of games those players like and how that might benefit our other customers down the road. So it’s both a practical and a strategic acquisition, practical in that it’s near-term profitable and accretive in that it’ll help us understand that market and give that kind of feedback to our core casino customers as they [move into] social and online things themselves.
So will you eventually monetize that? Will you make those Dragonplay games into wagering games?
There’s a real chance that the games that we try out socially will give us some features, some player feedback and perhaps some actual games, but it is quite possible that the feedback would be more features of games, for example, or experience about players that will allow us to ask how can those players enjoy the casino experience. But there could actually be some games that come that way. And the nice thing about that arena is you get much quicker feedback.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you’re managing this vastly expanded product portfolio to take advantage of all this extra content in things like EBS and the promotional aspect of the games?
That’s part of our strategic vision, and of course it starts with good people and we’ve got some very good people from SHFL entertainment as well as from Bally, and the vision is to give our casino operators a good consolidated view of what’s going on in their entire gaming floor, at home and mobile and social and iGaming. They can get a single view of all their gaming activity but also understand that some players will play both slots and tables, some will play online as well as tables or online and slots. [This will enable them] to understand that consolidated view of the player so they know how to target them and reward them and make a more unique player experience. Increasingly it’s about each one of us and how we can make each of our individual experiences more special to us. And I envision the day not too many years down the road when each of us will be taking more control and having more say. We’ll be actually be telegraphing to the provider what kind of play we want, when we want it and how we want it. So some pretty powerful trends there and pretty exciting period, and we’re best positioned to help the industry through it.
How concerned are you about the challenge of meeting the younger demographics’ desires?
It’s just a great opportunity. It has been overplayed now for a number of years as a worry. If you go back 20 years ago, the demographics actually weren’t much different than they are today, and so we assume that somebody who is 30 today when they turn 50 won’t want to gamble in a social venue, and yet I would argue that the under 40 crowd is a good target opportunity. They like tables. They like online social and online gambling, but that’s not to say that when they become 50, they won’t like a more social kind of casino slot experience. [If] you just think about it logically, that 30-year-old has little sound bites of time. They have a day job, they’ve got two kids at home, they’ve got a spouse that has demands on them, and they have little sound bites of time. The 50-year-old and 60-year-old, [their] kids can be away from home, they’ve got more disposable income, they’re looking to be around other people in a friendly environment. Even though they’re a little bit different than table players [in that] slot players still like a little bit of their privacy, they love when that winning sound goes off, they like other players to see them. They like being in a fun environment… I would argue that operators are less concerned about it today than they were five or six, seven years ago when Internet gaming first came on. I think there was a big fear that Internet gaming was going to cannibalize players, but remember young players don’t have the disposable income or time.
In order to appeal to these players when they reach 40 and 50, do you think you’re going to have to incorporate things like skill and socialization and community play, things they actually always go for right now?
Of those two, community play is more likely because the generation that is growing up in constant communication with their ‘buds’ and even with people who aren’t their buddies, their friends. But when it comes to skill based, we always grew up playing skill and arcade games as well, and we’ll be able to incorporate some skill, but there’s only so much skill you can put into a game… unless regulatory rules change, I don’t think we’ll have much with skill features. You know we have some of that today, but I think on the social side, Melissa (Price of Caesars Entertainment) made a good point that a 25-year-old doesn’t really want to show on Facebook that they’re on a slot machine. [But] I don’t think they’ll mind that when they’re 50. I don’t mean that to say that Bally’s stuck in the past, I think we’re trying to morph technology as fast as the real player wants, and I believe the whole big picture for gaming is still expanding globally every year, expanding in the U.S. over the past year, is still far from saturation here in the U.S., so I’ m still bullish on the core gaming customer.
When Melissa was talking about electronic table games and how younger players are playing those and how that’s incremental revenue, what does that say about where Bally is positioned now?
Really well. We have been a little frustrated that we didn’t get electronic tables a little earlier because it has been a great product. You see it in Asia in particular, where we’ve got some experience in Macau… where people have a little intimidation sometimes with playing tables. They’re afraid of making mistakes. They’re afraid to ask the dealer sometimes about blackjack, about what the book says. But at the same time they’re intrigued by tables so [these games are] a great middle ground between being a slot and a table experience, and even on the social side so you can have some more of the social experiences of the table game without what some people find is intimidation. We do feel that is a great product for those not just 20 or 30 year olds but 40 and 50 year olds who are a little uncomfortable playing tables.
Can you just go a little bit into Bally Ventures?
It’s a very new concept and still will take another 60 days to gel completely, but we’ve always had people within Bally that have been involved with getting new products to market. We have business development, some of our key consultants who have worked with customers in designing new products, our R&D team [and our innovation team], and it’s been very effective if you look at our success rate here. But when you look at the overall market dynamics of the speed of technology and where Bally is as a thought leader, we’d like to be even faster at that, and probably more commercially driven, that is prioritizing products better as to the value they bring to the casino. The third part of that is do a better job of partnering. So now with this broad product portfolio, broad product dispersion, dynamic competitive environment, if you were a new company just starting to serve the casino industry with technology, we’d think you’d want to come and talk to us [to see] is there a way you can win, win, win where the entrepreneurial company, Bally and the customer and the player all win. And we think we want to be friendly and easy to do that. Whether that means investment, acquisition, partnership some way that if you’re that small startup, instead of having to get licensed in 300 jurisdictions, get sales and support in 300 jurisdictions, you can partner with us and somewhere your product is likely to fit in well with our current portfolio and our current sales team and our current service team. That doesn’t mean we’re going to take all of those. We are going to be selective in our vetting of integrity of the teams we’re working with, the relevancy of the product, do we have the resources to manage it, but part of what we’ll do in this is carve out some dedicated resources.