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Bingo Bonanza

A game by any other name still makes money.

Bingo Bonanza

It’s an evolving phenomenon.

Bingo thrives both apart from and within the gaming world. In the classic sense, it remains a backbone for charitable, commercial and military establishments. Bingo constitutes a night out, modest fundraising event or social affair.

Not so in gaming.

For casinos, B-I-N-G-O spells M-O-N-E-Y. More casinos begin to resemble the Stations product lineup in Las Vegas. It proclaims bonus weekends exceeding $195,000 on Father’s Day, $225,000 on July 4 and $600,000 for an October bonus event being booked in advance. There are Daubing After Dark sessions starting at 11 p.m., several sessions throughout the day and the progressive principles found in slots. Stations links seven properties for bingo games with jackpots exceeding $125,000. The draw is broadcast to all properties, with an agent positioned at each one to explain rules and handle problems.

This is big business.

The Potawatomi Tribe in Milwaukee, Wisconsin features a long history with bingo. The game, in fact, was its name. The facility opened in 1991 as the Potawatomi Bingo Casino, featuring 45,000 square feet of gaming space for 2,500 players. Only last year, after numerous expansions, did Potawatomi Hotel and Casino become the official business name.

Bingo remains prominent, however. Gamblers can play up to 180 balls electronically and the casino has daily six-figure bonanzas. The names sell the sizzle: Bonanza Bingo, Pot of Gold, Bingo Storm, All Star Special and a promotion spelling the Potawatomi P in less than 35 numbers to the tune of at least $12,000.

Vendors enhance bingo by providing automation, high-resolution tablets, slick cabinets and new games.

Once a month, a glow party at Potawatomi casino begins at 9:30 p.m. Lights dim, music pumps up, videos emerge and the people dance.

The celebration is symbolic. Fast-paced games, sound effects, sleek graphics and a substantial game library form a buzz around this gaming-industry wild card.

Bingo, once just a match of numbers and cards, thrives in the electronics age.

The Show Must Go On

Ortiz Gaming continues to gather speed in different world markets. The South American company is a multi-national developer of electronic slot, bingo and amusement-with-prizes machines.

The company has figuratively yelled “bingo” for the last three years.

In March, its Florida-based United States branch announced an agreement with Manitoba-based Bet Rite Inc. to introduce, distribute and service Ortiz Gaming’s video bingo games in Canada. The commitment to the region included a presence at this month’s Canadian Gaming Summit.

Last year, Video King sported impressive growth in the United States by merging bingo games with the tribal properties that champion them. This involvement included presentations at major shows like G2E and NIGA.

Bingo No. 1 unfolded in 2013, when Ortiz entered the Asian gaming market. It quickly annexed partnerships with more than 25 industry operators. That’s three major developments in three prominent geographic areas in three years.

The company has brought new games and platforms to the market. The O-Circle is the newest cabinet. It has a 42-inch evolutionary curved display, reaching toward the sky and wrapping around the player for full immersion into the game. The product uses surround-sound and an oversized screen.

The cabinets complement the impressive-looking games that contain bonuses and extra balls. Both players and the house want increased time on device.

“Players are always excited when they get different opportunities to win,” says Jerry Floyd, the general manager for River Spirit Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “The extra ball is another level of entertainment for them. It’s worked well for us too. Ortiz is becoming a great partner for us in the United States with their games and the profit center they bring in.”

 As for the games, take your pick.

Six Bingo features four cards with 24 numbers, an extra bonus ball and a free space. The ball draw is 44 numbers, and up to seven additional bonus balls can be drawn.

 Can’t get enough action? Watch for Pilibingo, which features 20 cards of 15 numbers each. Thirty balls are drawn. There are 10 extras, a bonus round and 12 price points in the game. That’s enough betting interest for players and operators.

The Automation Station

Madrid-based Zitro continues to innovate. It created a United States office two years ago, bore fruit with a new cabinet last year and plants the seed for more business via automation.

“Bingo is more than just alive and well,” says Sam Basile, the CEO of Zitro USA. “We like to encourage people to discover bingo again for the first time, if you will. It remains a popular form of gaming. Other forms have come and gone, but bingo has remained strong and is appealing to a new generation of players.

“Those people playing the games and the operators who entertain them are looking for something to enhance their experience. We know that paper is always going to be an essential ingredient for bingo, but with electronics there is the capability of increased pool prizes and faster games.”

By way of Zitro’s PlayBet terminals and new BET system (Bingo Electronics Terminal), patrons can sit down at a kiosk, insert money, buy cards and choose which games they want to pay into for in-game prizes. A new game starts about every three or four minutes, according to Basile.

“There has never been a fully automated system to any of the bingo hall markets,” he says. “With automation, there is no bingo caller, no window attendants, no pay attendants. We have the ability to spit out a slot-like ticket for their winnings and they can go to their kiosk for redemption, just like a slot player would.”

Automated systems remove guesswork and make the operation resemble a classic slot machine. Game results occur quickly. No daubing. No fuss.

“And no shushing,” Basile laughs. “The pressure is off the players. They can truly socialize without disturbing another player. Nothing is upsetting the mechanics of the game. Two people can be playing two different kinds of games and they can talk to each other without missing a beat.”

The BET system is compatible with tablets and the linking of several properties within an area, he says. In a linked jackpot, players can win the super jackpot connecting all of them or simply the property at which they are competing.

Basile says Zitro has 8,000 terminals connected to 300 bingo halls in Spain and deploys both PlayBet terminals and E-Wave tablets. This indicates a market demand that may thrive in larger jurisdictions.

BET was showcased at G2E in 2014 and will be ready for United States distribution upon approvals being granted to casinos by gaming commissions.

The company continues to hustle in the United States. The BET follows the Blackwave cabinet Zitro unveiled last year at Gulfstream Park in Florida. It has spread to the California market and is set to enter New Mexico, Basile says.

Zitro can bring eight games immediately to play via the Blackwave cabinet, he adds. Blackwave’s key attributes include the enabling of games to be developed on the server and updated in real time. The integration of infinite jackpot and mystery systems also plays a key role in the product.

Aesthetics also matter.

“The dual screen and the cabinet provide an amazing and compelling comfort to the player,” he says. “The screens with the graphics and impressive surround-sounds are designed to allow the player to have an enjoyable experience, giving them a greater reason to participate.”

Bingo patrons enjoy the speed of a casino setting while slot enthusiasts find another gaming source.

“The beauty of our machine is that it appeals to both groups,” Basile contends. “It attracts a bingo player who wants a better experience and it also appeals to a slot player who may be just hitting a button and not knowing why he is winning. With us, you are not merely being entertained by the machine, but you are interacting with the machine.”

The New Champ

Omaha, Nebraska-based Video King is among the world’s largest providers of electronic gaming systems, game designs and bingo hall equipment. Its entertainment systems exist aboard luxury cruise liners, throughout Indian Country casinos and in thousands of non-gaming establishments worldwide.

The company rents approximately 60,000 units to various jurisdictions. Its equipment includes state-of-the-art bingo consoles, integrated management systems, video flashboards, high-tech electronic handsets, tablets and other portable gaming devices, as well as an array of innovative computer games.

The newest upgrade occurs in the tablet area. Over the past 20 years Video King has launched several player devices, including the Champion II and Tab-e touch-screen tablets.

It’s now time to make way for the CHAMP.

The new Android tablet, CHAMP-e, will offer stunning high-resolution graphics with increased levels of animation on every screen, company officials say. It will also provide Video King with future product options.

“The Android tablets will take us to another world,” says Tim Stuart, the president, CEO and newly minted part-owner of Video King. “They will give us a lot of flexibility and give us a new realm for content in the coming years. It will give us, among other things, a chance to utilize different apps for content (like Wi-Fi).”

The tablet line in general enables gamblers to play an interactive role in games via the touch screen. CHAMP-e is targeted to go further.

Besides offering more enhanced, high-resolution graphics, this portable, touch-screen device will include several animations featuring e-cartoon “Champ” in several poses. The tablet will feature a brighter, 1,280-by-800-pixel screen, greater processing power for more complex patterns and multi-hour run time, packaged in a futuristic, lightweight design, company officials say. Video King has a 10-inch and seven-inch screen version in production. The CHAMP-e is in the demo stage and may be rolled out in the fall.

The upgraded tablet enables character and personality to emerge by way of man’s best friend. Champ is the dog with his nose pressed against the screen, eager to play. And, subliminally, to sell. Lovable animals bring a new dimension to any game.

“People want the bingo to be fun, even silly if you have it on a cruise ship, for example,” Stuart says. “Families can be playing on these tablets. We are happy to be spread out between tribal casinos, cruise ships, the Air Force and charitable bingo halls. There is something for everybody.”

Where is the market headed? Stuart mirrors industry sentiment about bingo growth in the Philippines. He has also witnessed a creative flair for it in Texas and Arizona.

“At the Gila River property in Arizona, they will have a Friday night disco theme and then on Saturday it will be a Hispanic theme,” he indicates. “There is music, a lot of dancing and many young people enjoying the game.”

Stuart says he noticed similar enthusiasm for bingo in cities like San Antonio and Austin, which don’t have casinos.

Video King’s new games, meanwhile, feature more animation, free cards and bonus rounds.

One of them is Potion Commotion.

Its newest QuickShot Bonanza game (an electronic version of the highly popular bingo paper game) ventures into a new realm. This fantasy-themed game not only includes free cards and bonus rounds, but a choice of five wizards to guide players on the journey.

As for the bonus rounds, players choose from among the magic ingredients, as the wizard stirs the pot and enchants the potion. In a puff of smoke your treasure explodes from deep within the murky well. 

Bingo has a sleek look and feel, Stuart asserts.

“Like with anything, those who have become creative with it have done very well,” he says. “You may think that bowling can be boring, for example, but now you have cosmic bowling, with the black lights and the funky music and the midnight games, and all the kids are coming in. The same thing is happening with bingo. You have cosmic bingo and fluorescent lights, all kinds of fun things to attract a younger crowd. Little by little, the people who run bingo are making it more creative.”

The game remains a winner. Casinos can provide enough content to make bingo a stand-alone market. Or they can link players to other games and entertainment. Now that’s a “cover all.”

Casino Connection Sports Editor Dave Bontempo is an award-winning sports writer and broadcaster who calls boxing matches all over the world. He has covered the Philadelphia Flyers in the playoffs, as well as numerous PGA, LPGA and Seniors Golf Tour events, and co-hosted the Casino Connection television program with Publisher Roger Gros.

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