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All Systems Go

As gaming evolves, so too does IGT, the industry’s most storied brand

All Systems Go

For those in and around the gaming business, the name International Game Technology (IGT) has nearly become synonymous with gaming itself, akin to Kleenex, Google and other titans of industry.

After pioneering video poker in the late 1970s and revolutionizing reel-spinners with Double Diamond, Wheel of Fortune and more by the early 2000s, IGT’s success was nearly inevitable—as gaming expanded and diversified, it became almost a given that IGT would lead the way, from its foundation of slots to video poker, lottery and systems divisions. For many years, it was all but impossible to walk into any U.S. casino without seeing those three letters in just about any direction you looked.

However, no matter how influential a company becomes, its brand recognition becomes a finite, quickly depleting resource once adversity starts to hit; IGT is no different.

By the 2010s, its octopus-like grip on the gaming industry and its facets gradually began to loosen. The company’s market share of North American slots dropped by 20 percent in the 10-year span from 2003 to 2013. That same year, industry analysts proclaimed that Bally Technologies had taken the title of top equipment provider. Thus, the multinational powerhouse faced a position of vulnerability like it hadn’t seen since founder Si Redd stepped away in the mid-’80s.

Enter GTECH, the Rhode Island-based lottery giant purchased in 2006 by Italy’s Lottomatica, another lottery giant which was also facing a pivotal crossroads. On July 15, 2014, both sides announced they had struck a $6.4 billion deal, one that would reshape the future of both IGT and the gaming industry at large. GTECH added a worldwide lottery market to IGT’s gaming business, then-CEO Marco Sala proclaiming that “the combined company will enjoy leading positions across all segments of the gaming landscape.” A Reuters report from that day, however, described both as facing “struggling” domestic markets.

Even after the merger was finalized, skepticism abounded—-in a March 2015 column in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, gaming journalist Howard Stutz asserted that “within the casino operating community,” the IGT brand and legacy would “mean nothing unless the products change.”

Entering a New Era

For every year that’s passed since, the deal has looked increasingly fortuitous. The company’s international lottery empire has done nothing but expand, while its flagship slot titles such as Wheel of Fortune and The Price is Right have avoided stagnation by seamlessly transitioning along with every iteration of its slot technology.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, IGT has become a front-runner in the digital space, positioning itself as a market leader in the iGaming, sports betting and cashless payment sectors.

The company tallied $3.88 billion in revenue for fiscal year 2014, per CompaniesMarketCap.com; by 2016, it was back to over $5 billion, and stayed above $4.5 billion until the doldrums of 2020. Even then, it only took one year to get back over the $4 billion mark.

Indeed, Sala and company did a commendable job of righting the ship and re-establishing the supplier as a model of consistency and innovation. The previous decade was a unique and resilient chapter for the company, but it ended on January 20 of this year, when media veteran and longtime board member Vince Sadusky took the wheel and assumed the role of CEO.

Running a global company is like stretching a bed sheet over a mattress that’s too big—there will always be fires to put out and no one could ever stretch to get them all. Rather, the key is to find the right person with the right vision to weather the peaks and valleys, and IGT has tabbed Sadusky as the one to shepherd the company into its next phase of growth. Having been a board member for over 10 years, he has seen a lot of those ups and downs firsthand, and decades of executive leadership experience certainly doesn’t hurt, either.

Prior to taking the reins at IGT, Sadusky notched an impressive run as CEO of some of the biggest entertainment companies in the world, including Univision Communications, Media General and LIN Media. He also has a notable financial background, having founded multiple trading firms before spending five years as CFO of Telemundo Communications. That experience gives him a unique perspective, one that differs from other born-and-bred gaming industry leaders.

“Having been in the entertainment business as my day job, I was really fascinated with the gaming industry in particular,” says Sadusky. “When I first thought about that business and what I might be able to offer as a board member, there were a lot of parallels to the entertainment business as well. A lot of change, and digitization as an outlet, was just becoming something that was eventually both disruptive and also an opportunity.”

In addition to the promising growth across the company’s divisions, Sadusky notes that perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the new role is “centered around the opportunity in the digital space.” In many ways, gaming is following media trends in its quest to keep pace with younger, more technologically advanced audiences, and “given where the world is at today, with everyone on their personal devices,” it’s important for suppliers to emphasize its digital assets just as much, if not more than brick-and-mortar.

By all accounts, the new boss is “really excited about the company’s ability to create a leadership position in both lottery and gaming, but also having invested significantly and made a real commitment to growth in our PlayDigital and iLottery space.”

Starting with the Bread and Butter

For companies that are as multifaceted as IGT, decentralized command has to be relied upon for things to run smoothly, because no one person can take on everything at once.

When Sadusky saw the opportunity that was presented to him, he knew right away that “the combination of its three divisions was at a point in its evolution where the company was very strong.” That said, he also knew that his role as CEO revolved around “helping to set strategy and trying to drive value, overall value” for the storied brand—in order to do so effectively, he has had to rely heavily on his department leaders and their gaming experience.

“We’ve just got amazing experience,” he says. “So many things have been tried over the years. We have great institutional knowledge around what works, what doesn’t work. So I think we’re able to very efficiently direct our product development and improvements across the organization, in each one of our three segments really, really well…

“I’d say in terms of understanding the business, having been on the board for a number of years, and being part of the annual strategic planning for long-term plans, and the benefit of having seen things in the industry that have worked, and some tries that haven’t worked, I think it’s definitely a benefit.”

One of the most important leaders Sadusky relies on is Renato Ascoli, IGT’s CEO of global gaming, long considered to be the company’s flagship division. Ascoli, like many others on the executive team, is a holdover from the GTECH merger who was instrumental in facilitating the regrowth of the IGT brand over the last seven years. Prior to taking over global responsibilities in July 2020, he was CEO of North America for several years, and through it all he’s had a big hand in the product development, management and strategy that Sadusky alluded to.

Even Ascoli, however, attributes the success of the company’s games to his team members on the ground.

“Having IGT game design studios around the world is a true advantage,” he says, because it allows for “regional teams to apply their command of local-market preferences to their game design, and it inherently brings diversity of thought and experience to the game design process.” He also recognizes that “individual game designers tend to find their niche and excel in certain game genres such as stepper, VLT and video poker.”

Mapping out the future is a tall task, especially with regards to game development and design in today’s ever-evolving industry, but Ascoli maintains that IGT’s “content roadmaps are predicated by both market demand and opportunity, as well as customers’ needs.”

More than anything, today’s players want as many options as possible, and Ascoli recognizes that, which is why the company is “very keen on building upon proven mechanics and themes, as well as introducing new ones.” This duality was on full display at the recent G2E 2022 trade show, with the debut of the new premium licensed title Let’s Make a Deal, the latest iteration of the brand’s love of game show nostalgia; its PeakBarTop unit, long considered an industry favorite, was also retrofitted with innovative new sports betting features.

For Sadusky, the potential for growth on the game design front, especially as the industry treks back uphill to pre-Covid averages, was one of the biggest incentives of taking on the role of CEO.

“Certainly on the gaming side, I saw years of pent-up demand as a result of capital expenditure just getting slashed when our great casino-operator customers were having very difficult times with floors being completely shut down, and then significant Covid restrictions over time,” Sadusky says. “So, it’s been a two-year period where IGT made significant advancements in its next-generation game development, but didn’t have a good opportunity to really sell those, as a result of our customers having challenging times.”

Analysts have echoed this sentiment, and are bullish on game demand moving forward. Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, one of the industry’s most trusted resources, said in its recent Slot & Table Forecast Post Second Quarter Update that slot sales are slated to grow by an impressive 11 percent next year, to over 85,000 units.

Doubling Down on Digital

Its games may have laid the foundation, but the company’s continued investment in its digital offerings is perhaps the most impressive aspect of IGT’s evolution in recent years, and will continue to play a huge role in its growth moving forward. In many ways, iGaming and sports betting are the most underdeveloped sectors in the gaming industry, at least in North America, and Sadusky is hopeful that he can position the company to take advantage of opportunities yet to come.

Helping him to achieve those goals is Enrico Drago, who has served as CEO of digital and betting since September 2021. Drago has championed IGT’s PlaySports and PlayDigital solutions, which have quickly become industry leaders for sports betting and iGaming operators, respectively.

Due to the fact that the company “is licensed in so many jurisdictions worldwide and is highly skilled at navigating complex regulatory environments, operators know that they can count on IGT for quick and reliable market access,” Drago says. This trust is what has allowed them to partner with other high-profile brands such as FanDuel Group, which has utilized IGT’s PlaySports solution since the U.S. sports betting industry took off in 2018.

iGaming, however, is viewed as perhaps the one of the last remaining frontiers, in which case, “IGT PlayDigital is very well-positioned in the North American gaming market,” Drago says. “We’re currently the leading iGaming supplier in the U.S. and Canada and recently fortified our games and services portfolio with the acquisition of iSoftBet. The acquisition more than doubled the IGT PlayDigital content library to approximately 225 proprietary games, in addition to providing a world-class, proprietary game aggregation platform to distribute third-party games, and leading data-driven promotional and user-engagement tools.”

Even though iGaming is only currently legal in six U.S. states, its proliferation across Europe and elsewhere makes it a “really great opportunity moving forward,” according to Sadusky.

He believes that its simplicity and accessibility will win out in the end, even if regulators are still catching up. “The approvals kind of go in waves,” he says, but he remains confident that “you’ll start to see more and more states approve iGaming,” once officials begin to realize the magnitude of tax revenue opportunities that online gaming represents. In his estimation, “this is still early days for iGaming,” which is why it’s so important to establish oneself as quickly as possible.

Of course, any discussion about the company’s digital offerings would be incomplete without mentioning its foray into the cashless payment sector, another sector that was unintentionally bolstered by the headaches created by the pandemic. IGT’s Resort Wallet with IGTPay solution has enjoyed massive success in the last two-plus years, most recently in the form of an enterprise-wide partnership with Station Casinos.

The payment modules, part of the IGT Advantage casino management system, will now be featured in six of Station’s largest Las Vegas properties, representing a huge expansion in the biggest gaming market in North America. Additionally, the technologies were recently featured in the first trial of cashless solutions in New South Wales, representing massive growth potential.

“IGT is very well-positioned in the cashless gaming market,” says

Ascoli. “As the only supplier to offer a fully integrated, turnkey solution, IGT has a leading solution that is backed by proven technology, integrates with existing casino systems and delivers a highly favorable player experience… Because our cashless solution includes both the e-wallet functionality and the payments gateway, operators do not have to partner with additional vendors to offer cashless gaming.”

Taking the Current Where it Serves

In many ways, the higher you climb within a company, the fewer decisions you have to make; it’s just that the ones you do make have the biggest overall impact.

“A big part of the grade you get as a person fortunate enough to lead a company is how significantly you increase value,” says Sadusky. Now that both the company and the gaming industry are definitively entering a new chapter, the combination of continuing a legacy and taking risks is a tightrope that must be walked with equal parts confidence and prudence.

Many subscribe to the idea that a jack-of-all-trades is a master of none, but they likely never had the resources and global infrastructure exhibited by the likes of IGT. After all, Sadusky says, “We’re the only one that can say, ‘we service everyone,’ from the lottery in Georgia to iGaming in Michigan, to iLottery in Kentucky.”

“When you go through a merger, let’s face it—you do have various cultures coming together. And there is discomfort, given that people come from different places and different backgrounds and different managers. But if it’s done right, you can look back several years later and say, ‘Look, we have the best and brightest people from each one of our organizations.’

“We’re a more global organization, so we have a broader perspective of the world. We have more product expertise, better IT expertise. And I think the company’s done a great job of working through those early combination challenges, to get to the point where we’ve been able to draw from the best and the brightest.”

Ten years ago, it seemed unlikely, even to optimists, that the company would reach such heights again. But now that all cylinders are firing at full speed, look for IGT to re-cement its place as gaming’s biggest brand.

Jess Marquez is the managing editor of Global Gaming Business. A lifelong Nevadan, Marquez has communications experience across multiple sectors, including local government. Prior to joining GGB, he was the communications and advertising director for a prominent personal injury law firm based in Las Vegas and Seattle. He also founded and hosted The Pair O’Dice Podcast, a weekly show that focused on sports betting news and predictions. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2019 with a B.A. in journalism. Outside of work, Marquez is passionate about professional sports, classic literature and leatherworking.