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Ainsworth Rising

Ainsworth Game Technology officials join the company’s legendary founder in celebrating a North American flag-planting

Ainsworth Rising

Two years ago, a group of distinguished Nevada officials joined executives of a well-known Australian slot-machine supplier at a dusty stretch of desert just off county Highway 215 in Las Vegas, where they donned hardhats and forced shovels into the sand and rock to mark the groundbreaking of a new North American manufacturing and distribution facility.

Just after this year’s Global Gaming Expo, many of those same officials were back at that desert spot, the dust having been displaced by the gleaming new 291,000-square-foot North American headquarters of Ainsworth Game Technology. The ribbon-cutting, though, was simply the final, symbolic touch in a North American debut that has seen the company’s machines placed in casinos across the continent.

In fact, officials cutting that ribbon were were signaling the North American launch of a company that had already gained a ship share of approximately 5 percent in North America.

That share is growing steadily as the company’s market area widens in North America. “We’re more easily able to indicate where we are licensed than where we are not,” says Mike Dreitzer, president of North America for Ainsworth Game Technology, “which means there are just few places in North America where we have not yet launched.” He notes that the remaining few jurisdictions will likely be coming online within the next six to 12 months.

Dreitzer says the company’s success was all the more reason to bring those dignitaries back to that stretch of desert next to I-215 to celebrate with the company’s leaders—and most importantly, its legendary founder and executive chairman. The 93-year-old Len Ainsworth, who started building slot machines for his then-new company Aristocrat in 1953 and founded Ainsworth Game Technology in 1995, was the guest of honor at the September 30 ribbon-cutting, hosted by Dreitzer and Ainsworth CEO Danny Gladstone and attended by representatives of local, state, federal and Native American governments. 

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, Clark County Commissioner Steve

Sisolak, National Indian Gaming Association Chairman Ernest L. Stevens and representatives of state lawmakers and U.S. senators joined Ainsworth officials to cut the ribbon on the massive new complex.

At the ceremony, Dreitzer recalled that first gathering in 2014, with speeches in a tent followed by the turning of shovels in a vacant lot. “Today, two years later, after great progress with our business and a remarkable construction effort, it is with great pride and optimism for our future that we welcome all of you to the grand opening of our state-of-the-art headquarters for the Americas,” he said. “And we can think of no better place to call our home than the gaming capital of the world, Las Vegas, Nevada.”

 The state and local officials expressed their own gratitude that Ainsworth had come to town. “When companies like Ainsworth choose Las Vegas for their global headquarters,” said Sandoval, “it sends a really big message that Las Vegas is the place to do business and Nevada is the thought leader in the gaming industry. Las Vegas and Nevada are going to continue to lead the world in innovations in gaming.”

Sisolak said the area west of Interstate 15 is becoming “the high-tech hub of the valley,” and lauded Aristocrat for adding “skilled jobs with good wages and good benefits” to the county. “Those 200 permanent jobs are not just numbers; they are families,” he said. “There are faces behind each one of those jobs.”

Corporate Citizen

The jobs are just the beginning—company officials used the ceremony to announce the first examples of the good corporate citizenship the company is bringing to North America, including a new scholarship program at the International Gaming Institute of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Ainsworth entered an agreement to support annual scholarships for at least three years at the UNLV gaming program.

“To be a great company, you have to have a relationship with a great university,” says Dreitzer. “So, we announced a financial commitment to create the Ainsworth Scholar program. By doing this, we demonstrate the fact that we are committed to the future. We have several top-notch former students from UNLV who now work here, and we want to support UNLV and the International Gaming Institute. We stand with them in their mission of developing the the ‘big-ideas people’ of tomorrow—and hopefully, to employ them.”

Dreitzer adds that Ainsworth has “not only an interest, but an obligation” to support the university. “We’re going to use this as a starting point and really will continue to strengthen our relationship with UNLV in a number of areas. We want to continue to see excellent, well-rounded, well-read, well-prepared students come out and make the gaming manufacturing segment an enthusiastic choice for a career.”

Ainsworth also announced a program supporting the National Indian Gaming Association, whose member casinos provided the company its first North American game placements. NIGA Chairman Stevens was on hand at the ribbon-cutting to thank company officials for Ainsworth’s pledge of a multi-year donation to NIGA to help renovate the organization’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. Stevens pinned the Native American badge of honor on Ainsworth.

Ainsworth, in fact, was a focus of every speaker at the ceremony, who all credited the Australian’s vision as what largely led to how modern slot machines are designed.

“There are so many people to thank for the success of this company, but it goes back to where it was founded,” said Gladstone as he acknowledged Ainsworth and his wife Gretel. “It’s quite clear,” added Dreitzer, “that the history of our great industry could not be written without at least several chapters on Mr. Len Ainsworth.”

The executive chairman, after quipping characteristically that most of his speech had been “burgled by previous speakers,” reaffirmed the company’s commitment to North America, and to Nevada in particular.

“I’ve been visiting Las Vegas and Nevada since 1960, and have met with the welcome and courtesy of its citizens and officials at all times,” Ainsworth said. “During this 55-year period, I have witnessed the tremendous development of Las Vegas and its facilities, in the face of changing times and sometimes challenging economies. But Las Vegas comes through and leads the world in terms of facilities and entertainment.

“We believe for our part, we have created what will prove to be an iconic building of its kind for Las Vegas, and we will be supplying most of the world’s markets with our Nevada-manufactured machines. We are proud to be part of the Las Vegas community.”

Ainsworth also credited Nevada regulatory officials with creating an atmosphere in which gaming has evolved as a respected industry. “Looking back to 1953, when New South Wales (Australia) and Nevada were the only world markets,” he said, “to the present, when machines and gaming are now an integral part of the economies of many countries, the Nevada Gaming Control Board has led the world in raising standards and eliminating wrongdoing, and for this we as manufacturers are truly grateful.”

Ainsworth Style

It was Ainsworth’s home market in New South Wales that would dictate the style of his slot machines, designed to provide gamblers with repeat play and time-on-device. Aristocrat’s “pokies” were the forefathers of the majority of today’s slot machines. Low-denomination, multi-line games were still gaining popularity in North America when Ainsworth started his current company in 1995. They are now the dominant game style.

Ainsworth slot games followed that same Australian recipe on their way to snatching market share in Australia from the founder’s entrenched former company, and the game style has dominated Ainsworth’s product line. With the advent of the new facility, the company’s growing R&D staff is tackling new game formats and products designed specifically for the North American market, but the basic game philosophy remains the same.

Dreitzer says they are for “gamblers who like a good gamble.”

“Now to add to our incredibly successful foundation, we are expanding our portfolio utilizing Ainsworth’s new U.S. game design studio,” he says. “This studio will produce 20 titles of uniquely North American origin over the next 12 months. This will be in addition to the large annual portfolio of games created in the Sydney headquarters.

“To be able to compete effectively in this market you need to be able to have a game content library broad enough to be attractive to the tastes of many different players.”

Dreitzer adds that Ainsworth customers “are very loyal to our games. Players seek these games out; they know exactly what they want, and we’re here to give them that experience. Now, we are continuing to support that while broadening the appeal of the games to more players.”

Broadening appeal also means new game styles—from branded licenses to skill games. While Ainsworth is launching new brands like King Kong (based on the 2005 film) and The Three Amigos, CEO Gladstone says the company is exploring new licenses “mindfully,” picking themes very carefully.

At G2E, the company announced an agreement that not only adds popular themes, but addresses the increasing demand for skill-based slots. The company has entered a strategic partnership with leading video game producer Bandai Namco Entertainment to produce slot games that will bring well-known arcade and online video game brands to the casino floor.

“Bandai Namco is a great company that owns many, many brands that are extremely well-known,” Gladstone says. “Our first foray in this relationship will be to create the Pac-Man slot machine. It’s coming out first in the social casino space, and then next year will be offered as an actual slot machine. It’s a great brand. It offers nostalgia and fun for players as well as opportunities to work in the skill-based space.”

He says the two companies are now studying the Bandai Namco library for new content. “Pac-Man will be the first in that line, but the partnership offers opportunities to make great, entertaining products across their whole library.”

Ainsworth will continue producing core games on all of its popular cabinet styles, including the A600 and A640 products launched this year.

Dreitzer says the A640 format is the natural evolution from the company’s popular A560 series of games. “It’s our belief that we will continue to grow a lot organically,” he says. “We do a lot of fair-share analysis, where we look to see if our products are out-earning their share of floor space. When the answer to that question is ‘yes,’ which is often the case, we can ask for more product placement. To support this, we’ve come to market with many titles for each box. We have more than 50 titles approved for the A600, and when the A640 comes out before the end of the year, we’ll have eight titles to begin with.

“We have a lot of content to build upon our legacy of the core gambler.”

Filling the Market

Those games are being made available for a rapidly expanding market area for Ainsworth. “We expect to continue to expand our floor percentage throughout North America,” says Dreitzer. “In markets like Mississippi, Louisiana, Arizona and Wisconsin, among others, we’ve only just begun to place product, and have a long way to go before getting anywhere near saturation.

“And now that we are coming in with the horsepower of this brand-new line of products, along with a big catalog of approved games, we’re confident that we can continue to grow the floor share. We’ve got a whole new generation of product. The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding is in the cash box. We do very well with core product, and high-denomination categories.”

Pumping out new Ainsworth product is on tap not only in Las Vegas, but in South Carolina, the headquarters of the company’s recently acquired Nova Technologies subsidiary. Nova added the Class II market Ainsworth had lacked, and the companies have integrated their technologies to produce new games in both Class II and Class III.

 “We have completed the acquisition and the integration of Nova, so Class II presents a tremendous opportunity,” says Dreitzer. “We’re growing our Class II route in leaps and bounds, and on that side of the business, we have four cabinets, upwards of 30 titles on the Nova side, and another 15 and growing on the Ainsworth side.”

Just in time, he says, for the growth of the Class II market, which is currently in the 70,000-unit range. “We believe we can capture more and more share of that, and take Class II share away from the other companies who aren’t as focused in the space,” Dreitzer says.

Class II presence also means a stronger relationship with tribal gaming in general, he adds. “We have long had a commitment to being a reliable partner with tribal gaming throughout North America. So now, we’re able to offer not only Class III, but Class II, which enables us to really support the tribes in a much more meaningful way.”

 The company’s commitment to tribes includes not only the multi-year donation to NIGA, but involvement with other tribal causes throughout North America. “We’re very pleased to be partners of the tribes, and it isn’t just a matter of selling them our games; it’s a matter of being committed to support what the tribes are seeking to accomplish,” Dreitzer says. “So, as we grow, so does our commitment to the tribes.”

Dreitzer says an ancillary benefit of the Nova integration is that some of the Nova product is gaining success in the Class III market. “We’re looking to port over some of those successful Nova games into the Ainsworth Class III world,” he says, “which is interesting, because it is a wholly different profile in terms of product.

“We like to be able to offer our customers different things. We’ve not yet had a customer who’s come up to us and said, ‘We have enough content; you don’t need to give us any more.’ There’s an ever-increasing need for more and more content, and so we’ve now got a center for excellence and design in South Carolina, in addition to the new studio in Las Vegas, all anchored by the mother-ship in Sydney.”

Along with third-party game designers like Lightning Box Games in Australia, with which the company recently began partnering on game design,

Dreitzer says the new Ainsworth is tooled to continue to “increase and diversify our pipeline of content.”

Meanwhile, the company’s markets continue to expand, with likely next launches to include Quebec, British Columbia and Colorado within the next year, as well as bolstering of all current key markets—plus a renewed effort, thanks to Nova, in Oklahoma.

Dreitzer says the company will continue to communicate across North America the message that new Las Vegas headquarters says to the locals: “Our customers and our partners needed to understand that we’re here to say,” Dreitzer says, “and this building is a culmination of approximately 10 years of effort within the Ainsworth company to get to that point.

“On the larger scale, certainly it’s a testament to Mr. Len Ainsworth’s legacy, and to the tremendous commitment and leadership of our CEO Danny Gladstone and the leadership team, and what the company has been able to accomplish in North America. Mr. Ainsworth has been in gaming for more than 60 years, so this is a tremendous moment for both the man and the company.”

Pending regulatory approvals, the founder’s majority share of Ainsworth Game Technology will go to Austria’s Novomatic Group, but Dreitzer indicates that Ainsworth will remain very active.

“Mr. Ainsworth is extremely optimistic about this company, and about our industry,” says Dreitzer. “He rarely talks about the past. He talks of the history, certainly, but it is more about the future. He feels we’ve done a great thing here and we will continue to grow.”

Many think Ainsworth will be at it for a while yet.

He’s only 93, after all.

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.