The gaming industry is one of constant change—evolving technology, advances in legislation, and the appearance of new establishments and organizations. One thing’s certain though, and that’s the promise that there will always be prominent companies leading the way. Bally Technologies Inc. has set out to do just that, by combining its proven history, exceptional executives and praiseworthy products.
Bally has been shattering records, making headlines and establishing itself as a leader in the industry since its inception in 1932. With the recent announcement of executive leadership change kicking off 2013, the company is positioned for a successful year and an exciting future.
Founded in 1932 by Raymond T. “Ray” Moloney, Bally created and distributed coin-operated amusement devices before beginning slot machine production.
The company achieved many industry firsts—creating the first “bottomless hopper,” the first fully electronic reel-spinning slot machine and the first electronic slot management system, as well as becoming the first gaming company to be publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
In 1996, after being spun off by its parent company, Bally Gaming International Inc. (BGII) merged with Alliance Gaming Corp. On March 6, 2006, Alliance Gaming officially changed its name to Bally Technologies Inc.
But the important aspect isn’t where they came from; it’s where they’re headed. New President and Chief Executive Officer Ramesh Srinivasan has already made a significant impact on the company. Srinivasan joined Bally in 2005 as executive vice president, systems, and was promoted to president and chief operating officer in 2011. In December 2012, he stepped into the role of president and CEO. Former CEO Richard Haddrill now serves as chairman of the board.
The transitioning of roles has gone tremendously, according to both Srinivasan and Haddrill. The two have worked together for more than 13 years, learning a great deal from each other.
“Ramesh starts with terrific DNA,” Haddrill said. “He’s very bright and has extreme passion for the business. I’ve watched him progress and have had the great pleasure of watching him grow. The more you give him, the more he grows, and he always steps up to the challenge.
Stepping up to the challenge was something Srinivasan was ready and willing to do, but says that Haddrill played a large role in the success of the operation. Haddrill has been on the company’s board of directors since 2003 and served as CEO for nearly a decade from 2004 to late last year.
“I have been lucky enough to have one of the best seats in the house to see him operate for all of these years,” Srinivasan said. “I have learned many things from him, but there are three things in particular: First, he is the world’s best listener. I have never seen anybody who can focus better than he, and he really listens. The ability to be patient and listen is the first and foremost lesson I have learned from him. Second, the importance of having a great team. A great team does not necessarily mean a similar-thinking team, but one in which each member truly complements each other. The third lesson is to run a company with an open culture where differences of opinions are not only tolerated, they are welcome—a passionate culture where we all leave our egos at the door and have the self-confidence to be very honest with each other.”
Haddrill’s time as Bally’s CEO brought great success for the company. Under his leadership, Bally doubled revenues and increased the share price almost fourfold. He says that moving into the role of chairman of the board has given him more time to focus on Bally’s future and mentor key executives.
“What I’ll probably miss most about being CEO is the firefighting,” Haddrill said. “One of the great jobs of a CEO is to go where the challenge is. The problems sometimes pop up like whack-a-moles. You’ve got to whack ‘em, and that’ll be up to Ramesh now.”
“Bally is in a very good position now for all the incredible opportunities that are in front of us,” Srinivasan said. “In any person’s professional life, it is not often that you come across an opportunity where you are at an organization that is operating at record levels, and at the same time also has a whole lot of growth opportunities in front of it.”
Srinivasan plans to use the momentum of the company in its favor, continuing to create outstanding games and systems products, with a continued focus on customer and player satisfaction.
“In order to keep up the momentum, we have to keep up product innovation,” he said. “It is all about creating great products, because fundamentally we are a market- and customer-centric, engineering-driven company.”
Vice President of Software Development Arun Rajaraman agrees with Srinivasan’s focus on being an engineering-driven company, which allows the company to complete projects with increased levels of innovation, especially in the casino-management solutions arena.
“Bally was engaged in major reengineering projects for core casino management solutions from 2006 to 2010,” Rajaraman said. “And during that time, we built a team of 1,000 engineers—the largest team ever built in this industry for systems. We now have a portfolio of more than 20 different casino management solutions. Four years ago it used to be four or five, so it’s grown by almost four times its size.”
Besides casino management solutions, one of the other areas in which Bally really excels is the licensing of slot titles, creating some of the most-recognizable games. These include Pawn Stars™, NASCAR®, Michael Jackson King of Pop™, The Beach Boys™ and GREASE®. Part of the reason Bally is so successful in this realm is the leadership and influence of Vice President of Product Management and Licensing Jean Venneman. She has been with Bally for almost three years and was able to use her background and past contacts to secure several significant licenses.
“Our strategy is very specific,” Venneman said. “We’re not looking for a lot of different brands. We are looking for a key brand we really feel makes sense and covers two criteria: One, that it’s a brand that the player wants to play. It’s something that they like, something that they know about, you know, it hits the player demographics. And two, there’s something about the brand that we can incorporate into the game-play experience.”
One of Bally’s most popular and newest titles to date—NASCAR—fits Venneman’s description. It is globally recognizable and provides an entertaining experience for players. “There’s a lot of overlap between who our players are and who NASCAR fans are,” Venneman said. “And the fans who tend to like NASCAR don’t just like it; they love it.”
Bally plans to utilize the recognizable NASCAR brand to help casinos deliver an entertaining experience to players. “Brands have shown to have a lot of power and influence over purchasing decisions in lots of industries, not just gaming,” said Senior Vice President of Products and Operations Derik Mooberry. “I call it curb appeal. When you’re walking through the casino and you have lots of choices to make, if you see something that’s familiar to your eye, that will draw you to the game.”
Players demonstrate how to use the Virtual Racing NASCAR game.“NASCAR was an extension of an already impressive lineup of games in our portfolio, but it’s also the first brand of its kind in the industry that will cross over into our systems business,” Mooberry said. “We’ll be using the brand for a floor-wide bonusing event that several casinos have already had tremendous success with.”
The Virtual Racing™ NASCAR bonusing product through Bally’s Elite Bonusing Suite and iVIEW player-user-interface systems solution lets players choose their favorite driver to cheer on, providing an exciting and exhilarating floor-wide experience on almost any gaming machine. Players can choose between eight famous drivers: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. Casinos that have held Virtual Racing events have seen an increase in new card signups, carded play and coin-in.
Another of Bally’s newest titles is Pawn Stars, a tribute to one of the world’s top TV shows. The game features Rick, grandfather Richard (Old Man), grandson Corey, and Corey’s loveable sidekick Chumlee from the HISTORY® Channel. The game is very similar to the show, as players are able to select their favorite character from the show, and can negotiate with the Pawn Stars for credit awards. “There is a direct tie-in between the way the show works and the way the game is played,” Venneman said. “We’re not just taking clips from the show; we recorded them specifically for this game. That personal touch of the cast members is sure to resonate with players.”
One thing that makes the NASCAR and Pawn Stars brands successful on casino floors is the amount of audience participation, not just player participation, said Vice President of Systems Product Management Tom Doyle. “Especially in Virtual Racing NASCAR, there’s a lot of hooting and hollering from people rooting for their drivers,” he said.
GREASE and Michael Jackson King of Pop also maintain Venneman’s requirements for a licensed game from Bally. “Those are great examples of two brands that we felt hit both of our objectives,” she said. “Both GREASE and Michael Jackson are very well-known not only in the U.S., but overseas, and have both been very successful.”
Overall, Bally’s slot titles have proven to be some of the most popular topics of conversation at past trade shows like G2E 2012, with guest appearances by NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer and the Pawn Stars cast. But there’s much more that goes into a licensed game to make it successful. “We hope and we think that those games are going to resonate with players, not just because of the brand but because of all the innovation that’s behind the game play as well,” Venneman said. “We’re really looking to see what we can do to give the players a new, different and exciting experience, but also have that familiarity of the beloved brand.”
Bally invented the first slot-data system in 1976 and has been innovating ever since. They offer a selection of systems products to help retain and reward casino patrons, perform slot accounting, manage and forecast finances, reduce risk, spot trends and increase security.
One of Bally’s most successful and popular products has been the iDeck™ technology—the replacement of physical buttons on slot machines with touchscreens.
“It was a really big and bold decision at the time,” Mooberry said. “Consumers are quite comfortable with touchscreen experiences. You see it today in your everyday life. If you go to a grocery store or an airport, more than likely you’re checking in on a kiosk or cashing out on a kiosk that’s touchscreen-enabled. We’ve seen that in gaming too, and players aren’t afraid of the transition.”
The Cash Spin app is displayed on an iPad.Several new games on the iDeck, such as Fish’n for Loot™ and Total Blast™, allow players to touch the iDeck to “shoot” at targets on the main game screens.
Senior Vice President of Technology Bryan Kelly said this level of interactivity is a large focus for Bally.
“The iDeck is the world’s first multi-touch screen, which allows for things like aiming cannons in Pirate’s Quest™ or scratching a virtual lottery ticket,” he said. “We think that over time, players who are familiar with multi-touch applications on smartphones are going to be looking for similar features on slot machines. Traditionally this will skew a little younger demographic than a traditional casino gamer, but it also has to work for the casino gamer who’s in the 60-year range so that they can enjoy the experience too.”
Two of Bally’s other proven systems products, iVIEW Display Manager™ (DM) and Elite Bonusing Suite™, allow gaming operators to present content such as player account information, bonusing offers and directed marketing messages right on the main game screen or top screen.
Elite Bonusing Suite’s DM Tournaments powered the world’s largest slot tournament in February 2012. The record-setting event took place at Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, Calif., and was certified by GUINNESS® World Records. It featured more than 1,100 players simultaneously competing in a tournament in one location on slot cabinets made by five different slot machine manufacturers. “People were lined up the night before to register for the event,” Doyle said. “It was extremely exciting, and one of the best revenue days Pechanga has had.”
In conjunction with the iVIEW DM, Bally’s Elite Bonusing Suite also allows casinos to reward players right at the device. “Operators themselves can use the framework and create their own bonusing applications,” Rajaraman said. “Customers really love it because the apps in the suite provide a synchronized floor-wide community-style bonusing experience, adding a lot of excitement for players and operators.”
One of the most successful products in recent Bally history is the Service Tracking Manager™, an automated dispatch and alert system that drastically increases efficiency of casino operations on the floor.
“It automatically dispatches employees based upon the area the employee is working in,” Doyle said. “They can pass on the task and send it to another employee, all with very good, modernized handheld devices so that everything is automated and we give best service to the best customers. It’s a tool that provides very fast service to customers, higher customer satisfaction and reduced labor because everything’s targeted.”
Overall, Bally’s systems are the epitome of cutting-edge developments and continue to be a great example of where the gaming industry is headed in terms of new technology. “All these new products that we’ve developed in the last couple of years have been designed and developed to cater to the different ranges of customer bases and operators, large to small corporations and multiple casino sites across the world,” Rajaraman said. “It’s pretty powerful.”
Bally Interactive encompasses a suite of Internet games and mobile technology, enabling traditional casino operators to augment their land-based casino gaming with both mobile and online play-for-free and wager-based games. Bally’s Remote Gaming Server (RGS) enables online casino providers to access Bally’s library of casino-gaming content. The RGS ensures that Bally’s games have the exact play mechanics, look, feel, excitement and payback as the land-based casino versions.
In June 2012, Bally announced the launch of the Golden Nugget’s online platform, becoming one of the first play-for-free sites in the U.S. driven by a licensed gaming manufacturer. Golden Nugget and Landry’s utilized Bally’s iGaming platform to create goldennuggetpoker.com.
And Bally Mobile delivers a field-proven suite of mobile concierge apps and mobile websites, easily managed through simple content management software, for iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry and other mobile devices designed to keep patrons informed and engaged 24 hours a day.
“We’re linking our mobile, Internet and land-based systems all together to provide not only Bally content, but third-party content,” Kelly said. “The Golden Nugget site has done very well. They have registered more than 25,000 users, and are using it as a marketing tool to drive people into their brick-and-mortar casinos and their property. They’re driving people from their Internet portal down into their property, which is a huge value for these properties. We think this will replicate across our other customers across the globe.”
Rajaraman addresses a different side of the platform, and what makes it stand out: “From a technology standpoint, it is very unique,” he said. “The i-gaming platform sets itself apart from the competition because what we’ve managed to learn is open architecture. A lot of our competitors’ platforms only cater to games that particular manufacturer provides. We’ve got a platform that can allow multiple games—any games from any manufacturer.”
Besides being a leader in the i-gaming realm, Bally has also made a splash in the social media sphere. “Part of our social strategy includes slot machines that link to Facebook, as well as a system-type technologies link out there to create excitement for those portals, to engage those customers and then eventually to track them back to the brick-and-mortar casinos,” Kelly said. “We want the players to be connected to the casino’s Facebook site, their website and their mobile site.”
Among Bally executives, one of the largest goals for the company moving forward is international expansion. “We’re excited about our international expansion, because we see it as a benefit to all of our customers,” Doyle said. “Since we’ve gone live in several international applications, we’ve met those requirements and can advise our U.S. customers if they want to expand internationally.”
Markets that are of high interest for the company now include Europe, Africa, Latin America, Mexico, Asia-Pacific and Australia.
“For a company that has more than 80 years in gaming, we’ve had a chance to build a marketplace that is truly global,” Mooberry said. “We hope to capitalize on the investments made in those markets, and to continue to grow our share through innovative new products.”
“We’ve built a good international infrastructure, and now is a great time for us to take advantage of that in the coming years,” Haddrill said.
According to Srinivasan, there are three main goals regarding the future of Bally Technologies. They include keeping up product innovations, taking customer satisfaction to newer and higher levels and expanding interactively.
“Success in an organization these days is a matter of being ambidextrous,” he said. “It’s a matter of focusing on the core business, and at the same time keeping your innovation engine going. And so in spite of all these record quarters we’ve had, I firmly believe that you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”