As a prime catalyst behind the growth of AGS as senior vice president of slot products, it wasn’t surprising to see Andrew Burke named chief executive officer at Quebec-based Bluberi in January. Bluberi has been bought by the Catalyst Capital Group private equity firm, and is eyeing a significant move as a game manufacturer and system provider. Burke’s expertise with slot product and Class II systems makes him a natural for the Bluberi role. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros at the Bluberi offices in Las Vegas in June.
GGB: Congratulations on the new position with Bluberi; it’s such an interesting company. Why don’t you start with just giving us a little background on the company?
Andrew Burke: Bluberi’s a business that’s been around for almost 30 years, in various kinds of formats. For many years, it was run by the founder of the company, Gerald Duhamel, who started it in Quebec, in a town called Drummondville.
It was primarily technology and game development—a heavy focus on that. It had never really taken a foray into manufacturing. The roots were this Class II gaming system. It was great technology and great games. In the mid-2000s, they tried to become a full-scale manufacturer. Unfortunately, they ended up bankrupt in 2015. Out of that, they became owned by a private equity firm that is taking a different approach with the business. They had a CEO before me, and had various initiatives they were going after. But they just couldn’t get the traction that they really wanted. I’ve known the company for a really long time, from a distance. At AGS, when I started there, we didn’t actually have a game development studio, and all of our product was Bluberi product.
How did you get involved?
I got a phone call saying, “Bluberi’s looking for a CEO; are you interested?” I said, “absolutely.” So it was a very natural fit for me. I grew up in the Class II business, and I think there’s just so few of these businesses left, that have really good bones, some really great technology, and just need a cohesive strategy and some discipline.
I believe our technology is some of the best in the space, and our Class II business is amazing.
We really see a parallel between the ramp-up of AGS and your role at Bluberi. AGS was mostly a Class II business when David Lopez took over, and this seems to be the same thing for you.
Yes, the playbook’s similar—find a good asset that has good people and good technology, and then fill in skill gaps with smart people that have lots of industry experience. We recently hired Casey Whalen as our chief commercial officer. He’s got a tremendous amount of Class III knowledge, as well as Class II experience. And so, the more we bring those types of skill sets on the manufacturing and sales side of the business, the better off we’ll be.
Your expertise is in game development. I understand the Bluberi game development lab in Quebec is pretty strong.
They have a great team there. The things that they’re really good at and strong at, I can just help from a distance, and help our strategy. That’s always been my biggest strength on the commercial side of the business, thinking about how those two things marry up. I really am excited about the game plan they have. I feel like the team there has just never been given the chance to run it themselves. They’ve had a lot of outside consultants brought in, and for some reason it never worked. And so I think it’s really good for them to have a shot to run it, and create something special.
What are your main markets right now?
We do mostly tribal-based businesses—no surprise on the Class II side. Alabama is a large market for us. Washington state, the TLS market is very big for us. California is starting to come along and develop. The Class II business down in Florida is also big for us. We have very little business in Oklahoma, which was very big for me in my previous roles, so there’s a lot of opportunity there. I feel like I was a partial Oklahoma citizen. So I think there’s a lot of white space in front of us—a lot of opportunity to grow the business.
How has the pandemic affected Bluberi? I’m assuming you were shut down like everybody else.
Yes, that’s right. And it was very difficult. But we have a lot of great people who made a lot of sacrifices for the business, and that’s not lost on me. I told everybody that was staying, it’s our job to make sure that there’s a Bluberi for people to come back to. And that’s the most honest thing I can say—that we can’t waste that time. While everybody else is at home or people have been furloughed, our obligation is to maximize the amount of work and effort we put in during that time. And I feel like we’ve really been able to achieve that.
Your new Las Vegas office is taking shape, and they’ve been in Quebec for all this time. What will be the ratio of employees in each office?
It’s interesting. People up there ask me that question. “Are we closing the Quebec office?” And I said, “No, look; when I started at AGS, we had 100 employees. And when I left AGS, we had 700 employees, and all over the place.”
Despite the COVID situation, I came here to grow this business. And I think we’ve got a lot of great, talented people there. I hope to add a lot of great talented people here. Also there. So, I think we’re just really getting started. We’ve got really good technology and R&D up there. We’re building the stateside infrastructure you need to run one of these businesses.