Bally’s Roadmap Diverges at Systems User Conference 9

Once upon a time, casino marketers charmed the princess with billboards and direct mailings. They wooed her with print ads and TV commercials. But eventually, the princess found an iPhone® and ditched the traditional for the high-tech.

About 1 billion smartphones are expected to be sold per year by 2016. For 60 casinos worldwide, that has meant modernizing by turning to Bally Interactive—a new division of Bally Technologies—to design hundreds of patron- and employee-focused gaming apps.

“This is a massive tidal wave revolution that’s going on,” said Senior Vice President of Technology Bryan Kelly, while presenting Bally’s mobile roadmap at its Systems User Conference 9 in March at Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, Calif.

Riding that wave, Bally Interactive creates apps enabling customers to check in and place food orders at a casino remotely. Others utilize mapping technology so players can find their favorite machines. Many encourage guests to fill out feedback surveys as they walk around the property. Several even provide geo-targeted offers by monitoring when customers visit a competing casino.

And at UC9, the apps had operators talking.

“I think that’s a must-have in our environment,” said Louis Rosa, the vice president of slot operations at Foxwoods Resort Casino. “I’m actually finding this more valuable than G2E.”

Joined by a record number of gaming operators, marketers and executives, the three-day event featured six executive sessions and nearly 20 unique breakouts. Together, they detailed Bally’s future in games, systems and the emerging spheres of mobile, social and interactive.

“I’m having the best time of my life doing this,” Kelly said.

And that’s a feeling Bally wants to share through every portal possible.

A Year of Additions and Acquisitions
Earlier this year, Bally celebrated its 80th birthday by refusing to slow down. Instead, the manufacturer’s eight-decade milestone consisted of rapid change.

It began last June when Bally went social, launching campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

One month later, they went mobile, acquiring San Francisco-based MacroView Labs. A leader in mobile-application development and mobile platforms, MacroView brought with it a customer base of more than 20 casinos and 1 million users. Not only did the transaction equip Bally with a team of award-winning app creators, but it also gave the company control of a cloud-based platform that integrated with its own systems.

Come October, Bally went interactive, announcing the new business division, Bally Interactive. Designed to encompass all mobile, Internet and social initiatives, Bally Interactive offers casino operators the ability to augment land-based casino gaming with mobile, online play-for-free and wager-based games.

Then in February, the company went even further. First, Bally purchased a remote gaming server (RGS) for the online integration of its casino-gaming content library. Two weeks later, they acquired Chiligaming LTD’s business-to-business i-gaming platform, a plug-and-play technology that offers casino operators an integrated traditional and online solution.

And finally, as many attendees were en route to UC9, news broke of Bally’s alliance with leading slot supplier Aristocrat Technologies Inc. Partnering to offer the same third-party poker networks, the companies aim to provide stronger liquidity in the event of legalized online gaming.

But even after a year of additions and acquisitions, President and COO Ramesh Srinivasan says Bally will continue to grow.

“We’ve delivered on a lot of our promises. But let me assure you, this is just the beginning,” he said in his opening ceremony speech at UC9. Showing that at Bally, 80 is the new 20.

( L to R): Ramesh Srinivasan, Derik Mooberry, Bryan Kelly and Richard Haddrill answer questions from the audience.
( L to R): Ramesh Srinivasan, Derik Mooberry, Bryan Kelly and Richard Haddrill answer questions from the audience.
The Future is Now
The morning of Feb. 11, 2012, thousands of people packed the casino floor at Pechanga, vying for their place and prize in the World’s Largest Slot Tournament. Powering more than 1,100 machines simultaneously with a single game, the experiment required a bandwidth capable of handling more than 500 transactions per second.

The technology linked machines from five different manufacturers, while keeping up with more than 1,000 players striking their spin buttons and touchscreens repeatedly. The overhead leaderboards gauged the top scores in real-time.

It earned Bally and Pechanga two Guinness World Records: “World’s Largest Slot Tournament” and “Most Slot Machines Running the Same Game Simultaneously at the Same Venue.”

In comparison, traditional slot tournaments rely on roping off a section of games, moving entire banks, or maintaining games used only for tournaments—all taking valuable space on the casino floor.

But as Srinivasan said: “This truly is not your father’s Bally system anymore.”

Now, there’s the player communication technology of Bally’s iVIEW Display Manager, the floor-wide bonusing events capable with Elite Bonusing Suite™, the DM Tournaments™ app and the media-management solution, CoolSign®.

Together, they’re making possible a new era in tournament play and generating a buzz felt weeks later at UC9.

“It was just an unbelievable event to create that kind of contagious excitement on the casino floor for more than 2,800 people in a single day,” said Bruce Rowe, Bally’s senior vice president of strategy and customer consulting. “The ability to create these entertainment events that enable a truly differentiating experience is one of the things guiding us.”

So with two world records smashed—what comes next?

Product Path Ahead
Today, it’s estimated that the New York Times publishes more information in one week than people encountered during a lifetime in the 18th century.

There are 31 billion Google searches conducted monthly now, up from 2.7 million just eight years ago.

The top 10 jobs in 2010 didn’t even exist in 2004.

That rapid increase in information applies to gaming as well, and Bally’s product path forward aims to make the overload less overwhelming.Guests enjoy Bally’s DM Tournaments™.
Guests enjoy Bally’s DM Tournaments™.

“It is the data that drives our business, and there is more and more and more of it,” Rowe said.

To that end, there’s Bally Business Intelligence, an app that allows operators to analyze and visualize the data at their properties. Equipped with updated features in the areas of IT dashboards, asset management, multi-game multi-denom, fraud protection and enhanced user interfaces, the modules aim to better prepare operators in regards to marketing, security, player trends and employee behavior.

“Those changes are very comforting,” said Virgil Debrosse, the Chickasaw Nation IT director of gaming and hospitality applications. “The things we’re learning here will benefit everything from our smallest to our largest casino.”

Illustrating just one of these functionalities at UC9, Rowe presented a video of real casino data as it altered throughout the day. The “heat map” tracked where customers played most and least often via color gradations. With those images and no numbers, operators saw within moments how the floor needed to be rearranged to meet player preferences, thereby maximizing revenue.

“This is what I mean about the eye tool that’s built for gaming by a gaming company,” Rowe said. “This stuff’s already done.”

Former LA Laker Magic Johnson poses with a fan following his keynote.
Former LA Laker Magic Johnson poses with a fan following his keynote.
On another front, there’s Bally’s Innovation Lab, where games of the future move, sing, engage and analyze. They link to online platforms and social media. They tie video game and arcade features into the typical slot machine. Globally, the corporate-level research and development group seeks out new technologies to bring into the casino gaming space.

Take sensory gaming, a portion of Bally’s portfolio that creates interactive features like the sound chair for Michael Jackson King of Pop™.

By creating “an envelope around your head,” the 5.1 surround-sound chair features four speakers in front of the player and five behind. Equipped with acoustics superior to most high-end automobiles, these chairs will soon be just one of many immersive advancements.

After “hunting the world for technology” that displays true 2-D and 3-D imagery, for instance, Kelly’s team is now experimenting with a solution that brings the big screen experience to patrons without the burden of big glasses.

“We have the technology where you can have perfect 2-D down at the bottom, but the imagery flies right out of the screen,” he explained. “But glasses just won’t work for the casino marketplace.”

Also toying with 3-D touch, Bally’s looking to incorporate pressure and motion sensors into touchscreen technology like the iDeck. Currently enabling patrons to tap virtual piano keys or shoot moving targets during bonus rounds, the iDeck’s added ability to interpret weight and distance would enable arcade mechanics like catching, rolling and launching objects.

When paired with a camera inside the game, these developments could even facilitate biometric scanning and 3-D gaming. This means as a player approaches, the machine would scan his face, instantly recognizing his customer profile. Then during play, his head positioning could be tracked so 3-D objects could surround his specific location.

“We really believe cameras are going to be a cool and powerful tool going forward to create much more compelling gaming experiences,” Kelly summarized.

As will cross-channel promotions via brick-and-mortar, online gaming and social media. Whether it be the availability of an integrated wallet allowing players to use their dollars on all platforms, the emergence of Facebook slot tournaments, or a “social postcard” that prompts jackpot winners to send a digital photo of the moment online instantly, Kelly says the future will rely on expanding “the footprint of excitement.” Bally’s Grease™ game on display at Pechanga.
Bally’s Grease™ game on display at Pechanga.

“But we cannot do this in a vacuum,” he explained to operators. “What we do needs to echo what you want.”

Many Miles to Go
At UC9, many people wanted to hear an update on mobile, see a demo of DM Tournaments, and come face-to-face with magic—Magic Johnson, that is.

As the keynote speaker, the former Los Angeles Laker-turned-Beverly Hills-based businessman wrapped up the conference by challenging guests to be better—stronger leaders, superior creators, broader minds.

It’s a message many in gaming know to be non-negotiable. As budgets remain tighter and competition greater than a decade ago, being a player in the space requires investment. For Bally, that meant committing to a 45 percent increase in research and development dollars at the height of the recession. Now, two casino sites are replacing competing offerings with Bally’s every month.

Perhaps, though, Srinivasan summarized the tone of UC9 best when he quoted Robert Frost, promising operators that Bally has “many great miles to go before we sleep.”

Miles that stretch through brick-and-mortar properties, across online portals and onto the 1 billion smartphones soon to be sold yearly.

Leave a Comment