Indian Gaming 2010 Brings Buzz to San Diego

Leading up to Indian Gaming 2010 in San Diego, the buzz was all about Internet gaming, the economy and new products and services. The products and services were plentiful. The talk of economic trends, impacts on the industry and forecasts for the future filled the air. NIGA Chairman Ernie Stevens Jr. told us that NIGA members met and thoroughly discussed i-gaming. “The bottom line is Indian country is not prepared to make a position on this,” he said. But they will continue to monitor and study the issue.

Daniel Tucker, chairman of CNIGA and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, also commented he’s not quite ready to support any i-gaming legislation: “We need to think it out very, very diligently and thoroughly to make sure that Native Americans are protected in this field.”

Regarding the trade show itself, Stevens Jr. said NIGA felt like the numbers were good and that the show had a good energy. Networking, information sharing, learning and discussing, are important aspects of the show. “We’re comfortable and excited about what our industry is doing,” he said.

As is with life in general, the underlying topic on the trade show floor was the economy, and most attendees were cautiously optimist. Every vendor seemed to be showing operators how they can help improve the bottom line, or asking them what they need to do so. As Tucker put it, “I don’t think it’s ever going to be like it was … people are buying smart and playing smart.” That means the gaming industry needs to be smarter, too. CEM combed the show floor to find out what everyone was talking about and what were the hits from vendors. Here’s what we found.

The Builders
Hope amidst concern seemed to be the feeling expressed by many at the show, and most of those thoughts came from the architects. It’s no real secret that the economy forced many projects to a halt. Some collected dust and went on a hiatus; others closed completely. But recently some of that dust has been blowing off as operators and builders open the door to the idea of building again. The consensus? Now is the time to revisit those and build great properties for tribes. But there is still one hurdle many in Indian country face: funding.

Though help from the government is questionable, those in the gaming industry are here to support each other as best they can. Dick Rizzo, vice chairman for Perini Building Co., described his firm’s experience with this as: “We really haven’t done a significant Native project (in two years) other than Red Hawk a year ago. And all of a sudden, there seems to be a renewed interest with our existing clients on projects that they put on hold. They know that now is probably the best time in years to build something. They’re still challenged by the availability of funding. There are very few financial energies that are comfortable working in the Native environment because of the sovereign immunity issue. So it’s twice as hard to help our clients identify funding—and they all need it.”

So when the building craze slowed, Perini identified that the new need was financial help and resources. “In the last year and a half, we’ve been surveying the market and trying to understand what resources are out there financially, either in equity or debt, and try to introduce those resources that are real and competitive to our clients and see if there’s a marriage there,” Rizzo explained. “There’s a huge level of frustration I see, and a growing gap in the confidence of the federal government in terms of helping tribes move forward. I don’t know what it’s going to take to fix that.”

Thalden-Boyd-Emery Architects had similar thoughts. Linda Roe, vice president of business development, noted: “In the last year and a half, we have been in a new environment and a new era in the economy. It’s really been good because all of us in the professional services industry have stopped, paused and paid attention to what we need to do to really service our clients, take care of them and make sure we pay attention to their needs and their goals.”

Chief Boyd, partner, said the firm’s goal is to get the tribes self-sufficient and economically independent. “Sovereignty is a great concept and we’ve always had it legally, but we’ll never have it in reality until they’re financially independent. That’s what exciting about the business we’re in. It’s all about them. We’re excited about the opportunity to help them do just that.”

One other firm doing “just that” was Cuningham Group. Vice President Tom Hoskens beamed while talking about a project in the works for the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina. “I think it’s a wonderful to time to be in Indian country,” he stated. “It’s not just business as usual. It’s exciting, it’s cutting-edge, it’s avant garde and it’s a new age.”

One particular recent success story came from WorthGroup. There was quite a bit of buzz at the show about the new Choctaw Casino Resort in Durant, Okla.

The Slot Manufacturers
But despite concerns over building, there was no ignoring the innovations coming from the manufacturers and other vendors at the show. For WMS, the Lord of the Rings game on the corner of its booth was a big draw, consistently being played and watched. Rob Bone, vice president and general manager of western sales and operations, took time to explain this “next generation of adaptive technology” to slot managers. Players earn miles on their journey to unlock bonus games. Similar to STAR TREK™, the game remembers players and their point in the journey so they can always pick up where they left off. Now, players can also hop online and earn even more miles to redeem when they return to a casino. This online access can be obtained through the casino’s website. Bone points out the game creates a journey, not just 20 to 30 minutes of slot play. “This is a whole new aspect of our company that we believe is going to be revolutionary,” he said. The game will be available in June.

The unique offerings continued at the Aristocrat booth, where Dallas Orchard showed CEM a hidden game. Orchard, vice president of gaming operations, told us Rockin’ Olives on the new Verve cabinet is expected to gain GLI approval this summer. The game features artwork by Michael Godard, two wide screens, programmable LCD buttons and a four-level progressive. Orchard said, “We’re really, really excited about it. It’s a very different look for Aristocrat, a different feel, very entertainment-packed, very feature-rich; we can’t wait to roll this out into the marketplace.” Rockin’ Olives will be followed by another Godard title, Monster Boogie. Aristocrat also took time at NIGA to show off its VIRIDIAN WS™ widescreen and Vii™ slant cabinets.

The huge screens at IGT’s booth couldn’t be missed. Its Center Stage Series offers a 103-inch screen with five player stations and a 70-inch screen with four player stations. First to hit these screens is Wheel of Fortune® and American Idol®. IGT also continued to show its new Sex and the City™ game, which has so many orders right now there is a backlog for the game, said Knute Knudson, vice president of Native American development. “It’s a wonderful problem to have, this is a very successful game, one of the most successful games we’ve ever introduced.”

Ross O’Hanley
Konami showed off Advantage Revolution™, which has launched at Sycuan Casino in California. Its mechanical drive shaft allows the game to rotate back and forth between reels and video screens. Ross O’Hanley, senior director, North American game sales and marketing, said: ”I’m happy to report it’s doing very well here. It’s exciting that its gone from something that was more conceptual last time, and now it’s out there are doing great.”

The entertainment options specifically being created for Indian gaming at Bally Technologies were plentiful. From the 1,000,000 Degrees™ wide area progressive to the 5-reel spin Instant Fortune™, Bally continues to find ways to focus on tribal gaming. Dan Savage, vice president of marketing, revealed that a new cabinet is coming out in June for the Washington market’s Class II and Class II games. Savage said this model will likely be the standard for five or six years to come. Also, Cash Spin is now starting to hit the streets as a key product for Bally this year.

On display at Cadillac Jack’s booth was So Hot Forty Lines, its new game available for Class II and Indian casinos. Jared Torres, director of game development, noted, “Cadillac Jack is a very strong, free-spin bonus company in Indian gaming.”

A renewed focus on Class II gaming was the message at Multimedia Games this year. Vice President of Product Management Brad Johnson said, “We were starting to neglect Class II, and so we’ve recommitted ourselves with a very strong development plan to make sure that we have plenty of Class II games.” Coming out on Class II first is Lucky Lava. This game has a new feature called “particle effect” which appears when you touch the screen. Lucky Lava is expected to get through GLI in May. Slot Car Speedway™ and TournEvent™ 2.0 are also expected to be approved this summer.

Aruze was optimistic at the show, showing its new G-COMFORT™ slant cabinet. Executive Vice President and General Manager Kent Young said, “Games that are operating in this cabinet versus an upright cabinet always perform at a higher level.” One of those games for Aruze is Showgirl™, which tells players they are doing “excellent, excellent, excellent!” during bonus play. Excellence is what Aruze is shooting for as it hopes to move forward with great products while aggressively getting licensed in New Mexico and getting ready to move into New York and Connecticut.

Ainsworth Game Technologies showed off its Player’s Paradise™ game, which Rick Meitzler, senior vice president – North America (who later announced his move to Bally), described as “not for the faint of heart.” He also explained that the game has just launched in North America, and is currently the No. 1 game in Australia. Catering to Indian country was Rodeo Riches, a Western-themed game that Meitzler said hits the Native American tribes very well.

VGT also had an exciting exhibit. Two of the company’s well-known slot characters, Hot Red Ruby™ and Mr. Moneybags™ were present and created buzz around the booth. For VGT, NIGA is a key trade show. Scott Nulph, director of marketing, explained why. “We’re the leader in Native American gaming. We’re the biggest Class II supplier in the world, and we’re the largest independently owned gaming company in the U.S.” VGT displayed 24 brand new games at the show—even more than it did at G2E. Nulph explained that Oklahoma is its biggest market, which is also the second largest Native American market and the fastest-growing.

Rocket Gaming Systems continued its dedication to Class II gaming. While CEO Ronnie Harris is cautiously optimistic about the economy in general, he is supremely optimistic about the prospects for his group’s Class II games. “Right now it’s an education drive,” he said. “But it’s made easier when operators get a chance to test our products and learn that dollar-for-dollar we’re a great, and often better, value.”
Casino Technology currently has 40 new games it believes are perfect for tribal casinos. The Bulgaria-based game manufacturer is currently completing product trials in California and is eager to prove itself in the market.

ATRONIC showed off its new Deal or No Deal™ machine on the trade show floor. “This is the first game that we’ve done with Deal or No Deal where the strength lies in the base game,” Michael Brennan, product marketing manager-North America, said. ATRONIC’s Prodigy Vu™, which features play buttons on the right and left and a remote control, now has 12 GLI approved titles and is currently being placed on casino floors.

For the first time ever, AC Coin & Slot debuted a for-sale-only game at NIGA. Phat Cats is also their first double-play product on the market. Aimee Shultz, director of marketing and public relations, explained the game takes players to the first bonus within seven handle pulls. “People are sitting down and they really, really want to play because they know something is going to happen really quickly,” she said. Phat Cats will be available in late May.

Lightning Gaming continues its rise in the industry with two new titles debuted at NIGA: Popeye and SCRABBLE™ SPIN. President Chris Strano explained, “We’re trying to bring games that operators can use to help merchandise and bring something unique and different to the floor, to help the players feel more of something that they are familiar with … but also bring back some of the elements like free spins and wilds.”

The Up and Comers
There were some new players in the mix at NIGA’s trade show this year, working hard to present their products. Interblock USA, a member of Elektroncek Group, was at the show for the first time on its own. The company formally launched Organic Twins that can run two table games, such as dice and roulette, while players interact, place bets and watch on their personal screens at their seats. Brad Martin, business development manager, said, “We have big plans for this product, we’ve never before had a multi-game product, we’ve never before had a multi-denomination product, this is the first of its kind in the world.” Martin also demonstrated the G4 Organic Card product, the first fully automated, electromechanical card device in the world. Now available in North America, the game mechanically shuffles and deals real cards while players watch and interact with a video screen at their seat.

For the first time in Incredible Technologies’ 25 years of business, the company showed off available games on the NIGA show floor. The Magic Touch® series includes video slot, poker and keno games. Dan Schrementi, director of gaming marketing and new media, said the games are “basically a combination of what we’ve learned in amusement game and video game making, combined with casino gaming, all wrapped together with a nice symbol package that the player can enjoy.” Schrementi said players want a sense of control of their experience. Magic Touch games are now testing at Barona Resort & Casino. Schrementi gave us a hint at the results, saying, “I can’t disclose all of our earnings, but we know that we’ve got something here, and we’re really excited.”

Non-Slot Highlights
Slot manufacturers were not the only ones with new and improved solutions for operators at Indian Gaming 2010.

Casino Data Imaging announced some exciting news at the show. It has partnership with Qualex Consulting Services to launch new BI developments for CDI’s CasinoCAD© product set as well as to co-develop CDI’s next generation program modules and platforms. Also announced was a new table game module addition to CasinoCAD.

Global Cash Access was excited about its new marketing product, Casino Share Intelligence, which was out in mid-May. Its BI tool allows operators to look at customers that have done transactions at their property and others and see what consumer behavior is. GCA will also be closing its acquisition of Western Money this summer.

JCM is manufacturing its new iVIZION™ platform this spring. Mark Henderson, global vice president of sales, said: “It’s far more sophisticated than just a bill acceptor, and that’s why we’re calling it a platform. We have engineering groups designing applications for this platform based on what the customers want, so it’s pretty exciting.”

Gaming Informatics President Grant Stousland demonstrated the group’s fully-integrated IRIS® software, which offers full interoperability between operations and regulatory bodies. Stousland told us NIGA 2010 was a difference-maker for them. “The response from casino operations, manufacturers and regulators at NIGA was confirmation that IRIS is ready for the industry and the industry is ready to embrace IRIS.”

At BMM Compliance’s booth, there was nothing cautious about Greg Anderson’s outlook on the group’s future in tribal gaming. Anderson said, “Challenges remain, but BMM is very enthusiastic about the reception we received from our tribal gaming partners.”

And at Eclipse Compliance’s booth, Nick Farley, president, commented, “Class II gaming continues to play a significant role in certain tribal gaming jurisdictions, and we have seen it building momentum in some regional areas.”

Tucked into the GLORY booth was Sightline Payments Executive Vice President Diran Kludjian and his deceptively simple display. Created by industry veterans, Sightline’s cash access and ticket redemption system is all about creating operational efficiencies. “We offer a new way to process transactions that allow casinos to waive some of the fees customers are hit with when doing ATM cash withdraws,” he said.

Bob Yabroff, president and COO of Gary Platt Manufacturing, shared the company’s new chair offerings as well. “One that we got very good reception on was the Vue,” he commented. “It had a sleeker look with square tubing and a see-through hole in the back. That put us in a little different market.” He also explained that Gary Platt supplies many chairs to the slot manufacturers. One introduction recently through IGT was the MEGAfx seat with sound and motion. “From comments talking with IGT, customers are very excited about it,” Yabroff stated. But he was quick to explain that they have chairs with other slot machine manufacturers, too.

Steve Odden, vice president of sales and marketing at MLP Seating showed us the group’s groundbreaking new patent pending mesh-backed chair. In addition to offering the kind of breathable comfort one would find in a high-end office chair, the first-of-its-kind seat is also “see through,” allowing the lower graphics on slot boxes to be seen from customers walking the floor.

Automated Gaming Technologies Executive Vice President John Prather showed CEM the “big box” in their booth. The “Revolution” is a casino bank and till solution that processes a casino employee’s starting bank or till and completes the casino employee’s end-of-day deposit without having to conduct any employee-to-employee transactions. Prather explains, “Our product takes a 15-minute process and cuts it down to 30 seconds. Plus, ROI is a year or less.”

In a shared booth, Executive Sales Director of Dynamic Digital Displays Frank Barnes and Regional Manager Frank Manzullo of Symon showed CEM what the future looks like. Manzullo told us about the group’s free iPhone app, which allows properties to funnel time-sensitive deals to consumers without going through Apple’s cumbersome approval process. The 3-D display, for which the group offers assistance financing, displays images in clear 3-D, no glasses needed.

Microgaming’s Travis Carrico and Wright Wilson say they are moving forward. “I would say we’ll be in 60 locations in the very near future.” Carrico is also excited about Microgaming’s Enterprise Edition, a full-blown solution, “by casino people for casino people,” developed directly with feedback from CEOs and CFOs and marketing and IT directors.

Industry Trends
CEM also spoke with companies that specialize in marketing, consulting, accounting and more.

Valerie Red-Horse, managing director at The Prince Ridge Group believes some tribal casino leaders got a little lazy in managing when the money was flowing. “Whoever was captaining the ship might not have been forecasting, suggesting and looking at cost savings when the markets started to decline,” she commented.

Theresa Kain, director of the National Gaming Group at RSM McGladery, is seeing the results of that. She says the company is receiving an increase in requests for evaluations of processes. “There has been such tremendous growth in the industry; over time people have been trying to catch up, and they haven’t been really looking at how their technology and their people interact together.”

Brad Anderson, vice president of Rainmaker, specializes in helping casino resorts determine where to set hotel rates and what offers should be given to which players. Anderson said he’s seen a major shift in the number of offers going out. “Now, when the phone calls are less than their capacity, they want to figure out how the tool can help them generate revenue and price better, versus ‘hey everything is great,’ we just need to figure out where to turn away.”

A NIGA veteran, Christina Lesch, director of business development for Kenco Co.- Players Club Rewards, gave CEM her insight as well. “Casino operators, corporate owned or tribal owned, need to remember that their patrons want to be remembered. Each experience should create a positive memory. Today’s strategic planning and ROI formulas in many cases cannot calculate emotion. A player may be losing, but a conscientious host can turn the experience into a positive memory which will bring the patron back again. Outside marketing companies have the ability to help the in-house departments, host departments and operations determine the floor excitement and patron mood.“

Cautiously Optimistic
If we had a quarter for every time we heard the term “cautiously optimistic” at Indian Gaming 2010, we could finance a full night on the Sex and the City slots.

But Ernie Stevens Jr. says the more than 5,000 attendees at the show are proof that Indian gaming is strong. “I’m not saying that the economy is going right through the top, but I’m saying that we’re working our way through this; things are getting better.”

Many vendors at the show believe Indian gaming will be the first in the industry to rebound in 2010. As Daniel Tucker put it: “Hang in there. If we all stick together with this economy, we can make it all work … Not just Native Americans, but everybody in this country needs to tighten up a little bit, but still go out and have some fun too.”

Want to actually see some of the show action again? View CEM’s video coverage of the 2010 Indian Gaming trade show at www.aceme.org/video-library.

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