Bally Systems User Conference 10: Driving Innovation

In today’s technological world, speed, ease and accessibility are of the utmost importance. With the presence of high-speed Internet access, readily available from almost any location, people have grown accustomed to managing a number of tasks, from anywhere, within minutes. There’s no doubt you can check your account balance, pay a bill, confirm plans with friends and check the number of calories in that quarter pounder you’re looking at all while waiting to place your order at a drive-through. And as this has become the new norm, demands for even more technological innovation have been rushing in, especially in the gaming industry. Committed to helping its customers keep up with the pace of today’s casino guests, Bally Technologies is constantly creating and updating products and systems that help operators give players exactly what they want. At the company’s annual Systems User Conference, Bally customers learn how to maximize their investment in Bally’s technologies and get a peek at new and upcoming products.

About 451 attendees, a combination of executives and personnel from IT, marketing and gaming operations departments, flocked to Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., for the three-day event. Themed “Driving Innovation,” Bally’s 10th user conference kicked off on Tuesday, June 4 with a day of activities, allowing attendees to recover from their travel and mingle. There was the option of golf if one wished to be up and about in the morning or a wine tasting lunch for those who preferred a leisurely afternoon. This day was perhaps meant to ease attendees into the information-packed days that would follow. With 27 unique breakout sessions, 21 “How To” workshops, general sessions in the mornings and an exhibitor area to visit, guests were kept busy the next two days. There were also a number of events on the Mohegan Sun slot floor later in the evening.

The Ride Begins
The main ballroom area was packed on Wednesday morning as attendees settled in for the welcome and keynote sessions. After the opening of ceremonies by Robert “Bobby” Soper, Mohegan Sun president and CEO, the reins were handed over to Bally President and CEO Ramesh Srinivasan who discussed the state of the industry and Bally’s role in it. Srinivasan affirmed Bally’s commitment to driving innovation, both in the short and long term, and explained to the audience that this commitment also entails setting realistic goals and ensuring successful implementation of Bally’s innovative ideas. When asked to explain more about this concept, Srinivasan said: “The industry is very hype driven. Lots of things people talk about never actually come to fruition. At Bally, we make realistic announcements and bring our promises to the floor. This is what sets us apart.” Considering the number of exciting technologies Bally has in store, attendees were most likely tickled pink by this guarantee.
Audience members captivated by Wednesday morning’s keynote.
Audience members captivated by Wednesday morning’s keynote.

Remarking on the conference’s attendance, Srinivasan mentioned that there is now a healthy trend among customers who come to the event. “There is a better mix than in previous years,” he said. “IT people no longer dominate the attendee list.” This, he opined, is reflective of the expansion Bally’s systems technologies have made into different areas of the casino.

Bally Senior Vice President of Sales Support and Customer Consulting Bruce Rowe confirmed this. “The change is a result of the way technology is now used and acquired,” he explained. “IT professionals used to be the voice of the business, but as systems move from being all about transactional accounting to a focus on marketing and customer loyalty, people in the marketing and customer service departments are interested in learning how the systems work. Furthermore, as a number of applications increasingly have a strategic focus, more managers and c-level people are choosing to get involved.”

During his session with Srinivasan, Rowe explored a concept of great importance to casinos today—connectivity. He highlighted how important it is for casinos to leverage internet, mobile and social capabilities and engage players even when they’re away from the casino. Bally’s tool for achieving this, he informed the audience, is the iGaming platform. Developed by the Bally Interactive division, the iGaming platform gives casino operators the ability to offer mobile and online play-for-free and wager-based games. This system is connected to Bally’s core casino systems, to give gaming operators a single view of their players and help them take the casino experience to any point of play. “The glue that will hold core casino systems and the iGaming Platform together,” Rowe said, “is Bally’s vision of how to better serve the customer and increase casino visits.”

“Bally would be a good systems provider for those looking for interactive,” voiced Srinivasan after Rowe was finished. “People always wonder if the grass is truly greener on the other side. Let me assure you that it is. And the gardener here [at Bally] takes a lot better care of you and the grass than your current systems provider.”

Successful Products and Strategies
Of course Bally is not only known for its systems. Vice President of Product Management Jean Venneman took to the floor to tell attendees more about Bally’s newest games and their success on the slot floor. The biggest hits seen in the second half of 2012 were Texas Dice, Playboy Muy Caliente, Spirit, Champions of Rome, Quick Hit Curve and Quick Hit Pro. The latter two games utilize the Quick Hit math model and have been wildly successful, Venneman said.

An unexpected surprise among the games is Spirit—a game Venneman wasn’t quite sure about when they introduced it to the market. “It’s a 100-line game,” she explained. “We weren’t sure if people were going to want to bet $1 at a time, but it’s garnered great success on the floor.”
It was no surprise that among the premium games, Michael Jackson King of Pop has been the biggest hit. At Global Gaming Expo (G2E) last year the game was always surrounded by a number of people eager to sit in the professional Pro Series surround-sound chair and play the music-filled bonus features. Other successful premium games include Pawn Stars, Betty Boop Fortune Teller and Hot Shot Progressive.

Following Venneman, Bally Director–SDS Architecture Mark Foxworth spoke about Bally’s Super Slotline during the “Systems—Making a Difference” keynote speech. This revolutionary product can allow operators to increase the network speed of their current slot lines without the cost and hassle of upgrading them all. At about $100 per slot machine, versus $500, the high-speed Internet network wire upgrades the speed at which each machine accesses the casino’s system.

When asked why a casino would care to do this, Bally Senior Director of Software Development Kiran Brahmandam put in simple terms. “Let’s say you operate a casino in Wisconsin,” he said. “It’s Sunday during football season and the Packers are on. Not too many people are going to want to miss out on the game, so less people may come to your casino. With the Super slotline, casinos that can’t afford to update all the slot lines on their floor can still have a high-speed network connecting each slot to the system. You can have the Packers game streaming on every machine, allowing people to watch the game as they play.” The high-speed connection Super Slotline provides can also enable casinos to put on floor-wide community events through Bally’s iView Display manager, such as the recent Bally NASCAR virtual race at Mohegan.

Bally’s Interactive StrategyGroup photo of Bally and Mohegan Sun executives
Group photo of Bally and Mohegan Sun executives

There was definitely a focus on Bally’s interactive strategy, reflected by the large numbers of people that showed up to breakout sessions “How Mobile Technology is Changing Gaming” by Vice President of Mobile Aron Exra; “Bally Interactive Strategy and Product Overview” by Senior Vice President Technology Bryan Kelly; “Future Technology—What is Coming Next” by Vice President of Engineering Randy Hedrick; and “iGaming–The Platform and the Product” by Vice President of Business Development John Connelly.

Connelly’s session provided insight on how Bally can support casinos aiming to engage players through mobile, social and internet technologies. One of the first things he explained is that Bally’s interactive strategy is heavily focused on online capabilities. “Here at Bally we spend a lot of time focused on online wagering, while a lot of the industry is focused more on social wagering,” he said. “This does not mean that we’re not looking at social—we’re working on that too—but we see investing in online systems and capabilities as the distribution channels as something that will pay off in the medium and long term. Social, while an incredible gaming mechanism, is not a distribution channel but a medium that lies perpendicular to them, and the rewards are going to be short term. Our focus on online will create an infrastructure that you can easily build upon in the future as more and more technologies are developed.”

According to Connelly, the iGaming Platform is the first to integrate all three distribution channels available: mobile, internet and the casino. The three years spent investing in and developing the platform certainly was a gamble and there were uncertainties when it was first released, he shared. “If you create a great platform but no one puts their content on it, then what you have is a great looking car with no engine,” he said. “Luckily for us, the industry was craving something like this. From the minute Bally introduced its iGaming Platform, the company has been overwhelmed by desires to utilize it.”

Connelly also informed his audience that they need to be proactive when it comes to mobile and internet technologies, stating that the biggest mistake a casino could make is to let another provider be the first to provide online and mobile games in their area. As Connelly put it: “When an online casino opens in your jurisdiction, they’ve basically just opened a casino in your parking lot. You need to get players now.”

The information sessions were not all that attendees had to look forward to. On Wednesday night, Bally hosted a dinner featuring a keynote by NFL Hall-of-Famer Howie Long. After recounting tales of his childhood and how he first got into football, Long opened the floor to questions. Audience members could not have been more excited. Questions ranged from what Long thought of the hefty salaries NFL players receive today, to how he felt about the scrutiny and criticism corporate industry professionals sometimes receive. “I really don’t know why it’s like that,” Long said in response to the latter question. “Here I am, knocking people over for pay on the football field, and no one has anything to say about it other than good job.” And of course there were the many compliments to Long himself, including one from an attendee whose wife, he informed Long, would be happy just watching Long read the newspaper. That remark left him a little baffled.

Another highlight for attendees was the sneak preview of upcoming technologies. During Kelly’s presentation on augmented reality (a long term goal), mobile payment technology (which will be revealed in the coming months) and social technology, audience excitement was palpable. Hopefully the company will provide more information on these products during this year’s G2E.

Looking into the future, there is no doubt that Bally will continue to roll out new, innovative and exciting technology solutions this year and in the future. “Bally is focused on increasing the number of tools we give you, so you can better compete in the marketplace,” Srinivasan said. “The gaming ecosystem is always improving, so we’re always improving.”

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