Bingo sports tradition and vision in the technology age.
The centuries-old game renews the fervor of the fabled numbers-on-cards competition with each new generation. Fast-paced technology escorts the ultimate social game from kitchens to church halls and major casino properties.
Witness the touch-screen electronic daubing, multiple-card lineup, the feel of slots and the hint of high-roller exclusivity. The computer technology in bingo, blurring the lines between traditional slots and bingo machines, enhances this trend. Faster-paced games, wild cards, rising jackpots and the appeal to younger crowds remain core strengths for the game.
Casinos in Europe and Mexico have long showcased bingo. Indian Country, the state of Nevada, charitable gaming halls and the start of online gaming highlight its emerging American market.
Bingo may not be viewed as lucrative in many properties, but it has a loyal following. Foxwoods, the world’s largest casino, actually began as a bingo hall. It has a 3,600-seat hall and holds two daily sessions. Many games routinely pay $1,500. Neighboring Mohegan Sun offers periodic Bingo After Dark competition in an ultra-hip-hop game set against a neon backdrop. DJs spin tunes between rounds.
Potawatomi Bingo Casino offers four daily sessions with up to 180 electronic cards allowed. It has a 45,000-square-foot bingo hall able to accommodate 2,500 players. The Native American-run property in Milwaukee, Wisconsin has jackpots of $20,000, and even placed bingo into the name of the establishment.
In Nevada, Station Casinos links high-stakes bingo games over several properties. Its Jumbo Bingo game is a progressive jackpot that starts at $125,000.
How’s this for a progressive idea? The $100,000 Big Money Matinee occurs at Boulder Station, Palace Station and Red Rock casinos May 17-18. Special room rates are available for event players, meaning that bingo fanatics are being recruited to the gaming stage. They are no longer dabbling. They’re “daub”eling.
Casinos have used bingo to service locals, but technology and the thrill of the games have widened its scope. The enticement of bigger jackpots raises the modest entry fees in some cases. Bingo remains a fun game for players and a low-exposure, easy financial venture for casino operators.
They can use it both to develop loyal players and lure more foot traffic into their building.
Zitro: Bingo at the Track
Is it a slot machine? Or is it bingo in floor mode?
That’s the double question, and perhaps the key ingredient, sparking the rise of Zitro’s gaming push in the United States. The Madrid-based company, already an international powerhouse with credentials like 13,000-15,000 units in Mexico, created an American division last year.
Combining sleek slot cabinets, faster game play and attractive variations of bingo, it has begun to bear fruit on a corporate vision. The company unfurled its designs at G2E last year and debuted six of the Blackwave cabinets at Gulfstream Park in Florida in January. The Las Vegas-based arm of the company aims its next push at the California market.
Zitro can bring eight games immediately to play via its new Blackwave cabinet, according to Sam Basile, CEO of Zitro USA Inc. 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.
Then there are aesthetics.
“The dual screen and the cabinet provide an amazing and compelling comfort to the player,” Basile says. “The screens with the graphics and impressive surround-sounds are designed to allow the player to have an enjoyable experience, give them a greater reason to participate.”
It’s a bingo game with a slot feel. 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 says. “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.”
Basile says the majority of the company’s machines contain four 15-number games, for a total of 60 balls in the pool. The initial draw is 30 balls, but players are allowed to randomly purchase up to 10 additional balls. It is a risk-reward scenario, in which the player pays a premium for the right to improve his odds.
The games have flash, speed and mystery. The addition of sounds, graphics and one’s decision-making ability enrich the experience.
“What I think makes slot products great is that when you hit a certain trigger on a game, it provides bonus features,” Basile asserts. “We have the same thing. If a player competes a square within the card, for example, and the middle is empty, he gets an entertaining feature. He or she can pick prizes hidden underneath certain things. It gives them an additional award for hitting that feature (and presumably, an incentive for buying additional balls). The players are truly entertained, immersed in the game. The time on device is much greater than just sitting down and playing.
“The player with the extra ball is like the craps player with the dice or the blackjack player seeing their hands and calculating the rest of the odds. When you purchase this extra ball, you make a true gambling decision.”
Basile says most new clients will initially lease the equipment and may buy it later. Players can be involved for pennies or up to $80 on a particular spin, he says. Cultivation, and education, round out the product offering.
“We don’t just put our machines on the floor,” Basile says. “We have promoters there. Just as we grew the market in Mexico, we will do so in the United States. At Gulfstream, we have two very nice ladies at the machines. They introduce players to the machine and show them how to choose the denomination of play to get started. We show them the extra-ball feature and provide T-shirts and other things as a thank-you for them playing. We intend to develop what I would call a bingo community. We become friends with them. That is how the players become loyal to you. You have to build a relationship with them.”
Ortiz: Bingo-Slot Hybrid
Ortiz Gaming, based in Boca Raton, Florida, already enjoyed a strong presence in Latin America and Europe when it entered the U.S. market in 2012. The company is a multi-national developer of eectronic slot, bingo and amusement-with-prizes (AWP) gaming machines. It did not have to reinvent the gaming wheel in the U.S., but it merged the best of bingo and slots.
“We aren’t repackaging bingo; we are revolutionizing slot machines by adding bingo to them—taking the best of the bingo world and the best of the reels world to create the fierce loyalty of bingo players with the high drop of reel players,” says Maurilio Silva, president of Ortiz Gaming. “Rather than being a Class II interpretation of a slot machine, our games are a genuine fusion and rethinking of an electronic game.”
Silva says the company’s theme games flourish because the game remains easy to play even when the speed of the game increases. Whether playing one or multiple cards, players can easily focus on only one ball drop, unlike similar reel games with multiple screens and multiple reels.
“By only having one ball drop, the speed of the game and the speed of the ball drop can increase without causing confusion or frustration to the player,” Silva says. “Players can pick their ball drop speed and the number of cards to play for their own enjoyability, but we find that because of its simplicity, excitement and the great bonusing available, our players crave the fast pace of our bingo games.
“We took that simplicity and added enhancements,” he adds. “For example, the original stepper-reel slot machines play about seven games a minute or theoretically 10,080 games in a 24-hour period, and a max play of three credits per game. The next evolution of slot games was 25-line video slot machines, which slowed the game to about six games per minute, because of the new bonusing features. The 25-line video is good for a maximum theoretical 8,640 games per day.
“We expanded on this technology so that our bingo-themed games have a maximum theoretical 43,200 games per day,” says Silva. “Plus, we added to the already-impressive math, the most exciting bonusing and community gaming that the industry has available. That technology alone is just an example which increases potential casino revenue five times.”
Ortiz Gaming has loaded up its new product line for NIGA. One of them is Six Bingo, available for Class II and Class III. This classic game has been redesigned. The five-by-five bingo game has bonus features. One of these is the extra ball draws, and, similar to classic bingo, a free space in the center spot. Six Bingo is comprised of four cards with 24 numbers each (and a free space), where 44 balls are drawn and up to seven extra balls are offered. Ten prizes are offered, in addition to the jackpot.
Another new entry is Goal Mania. It explores the soccer-theme take on bingo, with the main character as a goalkeeper. It is a Latin bingo game consisting of a three-by-five bingo cards, four cards with 15 numbers each. Thirty balls are randomly drawn and up to 10 extra balls are offered for purchase. It has 17 prizes plus the jackpot. The bonus is offered when the player wins the double-O prize. The option to double the prize is also offered, where the player guesses on which side the soccer player will kick the ball. If the goalkeeper defends it, the player loses the sum bet. If the goalkeeper doesn’t defend it, the player wins half or the entire sum bet.
Some new offerings continue to flourish. Triple Bonus, unveiled at G2E in 2012, is a Latin bingo game consisting of a three-by-five bingo card instead of the typical five-by-five card.
Triple Bonus is comprised of four bingo cards with 15 numbers each. Players may choose to play one card, or all four. The game starts with 30 balls drawn from a virtual globe. After the 30 bingo balls have been drawn, players will have the chance at an extra bonus draw of up to 10 additional balls.
Each time an extra bonus ball is drawn, the number will be marked on the activated cards and will offer the chance to win additional prizes. An additional bonus game is triggered by making a square pattern on any of the activated cards. In the bonus game, players spin the wheels to earn additional credits. In total, Triple Bonus has 11 prizes to win, plus the jackpot.
Video King: Youth Movement
Bingo has a sleek look and feel, according to Tim Stuart, president and CEO of Omaha, Nebraska-based Video King. With his company renting equipment both to charitable organizations and casinos, he has noticed a younger market base.
“Like with anything, those who have become creative with it have done very well,” Stuart 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 creative touch might be music, or perhaps “bingo” to the ears of an executive whose company thrives upon the game.
Video King is among the world’s largest providers of electronic gaming systems, game designs and bingo hall equipment. Its entertainment systems can be found aboard luxury cruise liners, throughout Indian Country and in thousands of charitable, commercial and military establishments around the world.
Video King rents approximately 60,000 units to various jurisdictions. The equipment can run the gamut from state-of-the-art bingo consoles, integrated management systems, mulch-channel video flashboards and high-tech electronic handsets to tablets and other portable gaming devices, as well as an array of innovative computer games.
Stuart says the game remains the same at its core. It is sociable, unfolding in a relaxed atmosphere. This is well-suited both for community fundraising and for recreational gambling at a casino. Operators view bingo as a means to cultivate customers either for more expensive games or simply for restaurants, shopping and shows.
Technology’s impact occurs on the tablets.
“Every jurisdiction is different, and we service so many of them,” Stuart indicates, “but if we had to pretend every bingo hall had 100 seats, I would say eight out of every 10 players would use a tablet now, along with the cards. A few years ago I would have said it was two out of 10, and the rest would have been using the cards.”
The games Video King supplies its vendors take bingo to a new realm. One of them is Bing O’Lucky.
Each winning card now has its own animated sequence, and each game has 15 of these animated scenes. Cascading coins, dancing elements such as clovers, elves, top hats and a flighty fairy; sparkling rainbows and flying diamonds are part of Bing O’Lucky’s lineup.
Players begin by touching the main screen to select the number of cards and at which price one wishes to play, which is changeable every game.
The cards are actively daubed as the called balls are displayed, simulating the feel of live play.
To switch it up, players can click the help and options button to view the pay table and change the pace of play.
An array of horse-racing games also exists.
In Horse Race, 15 jockeys vie for top prizes. One can play any one of three different pull-tab payouts in conjunction with Video King’s software.
Long Shot is a unique progressive pull-tab concept that generates large jackpots. It can become even more enjoyable when coupled with the Long Shot animation program, now available as part of Video King’s suite of race games.
Go-Go-Ball is the newest race ticket on the market. It teams with Video King’s cast of characters—from Sir Dab-A-Lot to Free Space to the rocket-fueled Astronaut—with race animation awarding prizes for win, place and show.
Over the last several months, Video King has ushered in the next generation of flash board play. It has taken the game into the realm of big-screen television.
By splitting the electronic flash board image into three high-definition channels, information can be displayed in a big way across three TV screens, which can be 40, 50 or even 60 inches. Aligned in the shape of a traditional flash board, two of the monitors will show the 75-number bingo board, and the third will display the other game information, including game name, pattern, ball called, ball count, or even the ball image. As an added bonus, the TVs can be used for digital signage.
In all, it’s not your father’s bingo.