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Casino Superstore

The Gaming Division of Scientific Games merges the power of three legendary brands

Casino Superstore

Some names are synonymous with gaming. In that comparatively small collection of iconic brands, three have been among the most recognizable for decades, to anyone remotely connected to the casino industry.

Bally. WMS. Shuffle Master.

Now, they can all be found in one place—well, at least the nerve center for them all. If one is to be accurate, the brands themselves can be found around the world. Literally.

Bally is the oldest brand in the gaming industry, the script logo a fixture since 1932. WMS—originally Chicago-based Williams, a competitor to Bally in pinball long before slots—defined the American version of the multi-line video slot and brought some of entertainment’s most legendary brands to the slot floor. Shuffle Master revolutionized how table games are dealt, before adding iconic table-game brands of its own like Let It Ride and Three Card Poker to the pit and later to the emerging worlds of the e-table and online gaming.

By now, everyone knows of last year’s consolidation binge on the supplier side, dominated by deals that created two massive, end-to-end suppliers. Both of those deals involved international lottery leaders, GTECH and Scientific Games, acquiring top-five slot manufacturers IGT and Bally Technologies, respectively. However, from a pure casino gaming standpoint, the Scientific Games deal stands alone in the number of strong brands brought under one roof.

Bally was itself carrying a group of strong brands aside from its eponymous slot and system lines. The company had just finished incorporating SHFL entertainment, the descendent of Shuffle Master Corporation, and its treasure trove of table brands. Through a combination of invention and acquisition, Shuffle Master had become the world’s top supplier of specialty table games, shufflers and e-tables.

Meanwhile, Scientific Games, one of the pioneering suppliers in the worldwide government-operated lottery industry, had recently acquired WMS, with its own distinctly recognizable slots—including Monopoly, The Wizard of Oz, Zeus and other iconic brands—not to mention some of the most popular game styles in the business, from Gamefield xD to Sensory Immersion to Transmissive Reels.

With last year’s deal, all those assets were combined with the mind-boggling array of casino games and systems that constitutes Bally, from the Wave cabinet and Quick Hits to oversized portrait monitors to Michael Jackson to NASCAR bonus races on iVIEW DM.

“It’s a dazzling amount of content riches we have at this company,” says Allon Englman, who as senior vice president and chief design officer is charged with mining that rich vein of content going forward. “In this business, content wins the fight, so it’s at the middle of everything we do.”

Englman heads up electronic gaming machine content strategy at Scientific Games’ newly formed Gaming Division. The new Scientific Games is split into three divisions—Lottery, Gaming and Interactive. All three interact with each other at various points, but the one division that touches all others is the Gaming Division, with its variety of content, all those brands, all those beloved titles and game styles, all moving effortlessly from one distribution channel to the next.

Heading that effort is Derik Mooberry, the longtime Bally executive who is now group chief executive for gaming at Scientific Games.

He’s done this before. As senior vice president of games at Bally Technologies, he oversaw the integration of Shuffle Master content following Bally’s 2013 acquisition of SHFL entertainment. For the past five months, he has repeated the process, this time adding the top brands of a company that was once one of Bally’s top competitors.

“What’s great is the level of excitement that I’m seeing towards the merger,” Mooberry says, “not only with our employees, but certainly with our customer base. The priorities have remained the same—to keep the fantastic product momentum that the individual companies had going prior to the merger. We’ve maintained our focus on delivering product that can continue to add value for those in the casino industry.”

Brand Equity

For now, that means the three main historic brands—Bally, WMS and Shuffle Master—will remain separate and distinct. “We believe there’s a lot of equity in each of the three distinct brands,” Mooberry says. “Each of the slot brands has unique characteristics. They have distinct followings and target customer bases. That allows our sales team to work with our casino partners to design an experience across their floor, using an array of different games.”

In charge of the strategy to utilize all Scientific Games’ brands is Englman, who, according to Mooberry, is developing “a product plan and roadmap of where and when we will need content, and in what cabinets and form factors, around the world. The portfolio and lineup is very diverse, so he certainly has his hands full.”

While Englman says his expanded role is designed to have “a one-stop shop for all the product decision-making,” his immediate strategy is to utilize the talent already in place that is associated with each brand. “We’ve tried to bring common procedures and practices across the creative talent of the three brands,” he says. “Now, it’s just a matter of letting the team do what they do best.”

Englman is still diving into this new sea of content and talent. “The three different brands have very different talents,” he says. “For example, the Bally team has historically been strong in vertical-screen content, whether it be the Wave (curved-monitor cabinet), the V32 or other formats. They’re great at making new and innovative hardware and the games that go on that hardware. The WMS team excels in innovative game designs like Money Burst and Colossal Reels, and is well-known for branded games, like Monopoly and Willy Wonka. Shuffle Master is great at the hard-core Australian content—the gambler content, the locals content.

“All three brands have unique strengths, and we try to focus those teams on what they do best.”

Of course, Bally has some well-known brands and a variety of unique game mechanics of its own, not to mention an extensive portfolio of systems solutions that are both open-architecture and interoperable—reducing customer need for coordinating numerous vendors and versions—and with this, a reputation for exceptional customer service. About 50 percent of the largest casinos worldwide currently use Bally systems.

WMS, conversely, had some of the most innovative hardware on the market, making possible games like Wizard of Oz and Willy Wonka. While each brand team will leverage its unique strengths for the foreseeable future, Englman does envision eventual mixing and matching of those strengths.

“Our overall approach is for the brands to remain separate,” Englman says, “but I would never rule out ideas like doing a Monopoly game on the Wave, or a Michael Jackson game on Gamefield xD (the WMS format combining horizontal and vertical monitors into one display). We’ve gone into this merger with an open mind.”

Combined Strength

In the end, there’s not a lot that’s out of the realm of possibility for the combined Gaming Division of Scientific Games. Since completion of the merger last November, the newly merged company, under CEO Gavin Isaacs, has worked to set up the structure that will allow the best use of all that content.

The Gaming Division will remain headquartered in Las Vegas (also the location of the Scientific Games corporate headquarters), the Bally plant there now serving as the manufacturing hub for the merged company. While the WMS manufacturing facility in Waukegan, Illinois is ramping down, the WMS research and development campus, revamped five years ago on Chicago’s North Side, will remain an R&D center.

The team at this state-of-the-art facility joins a studio system in place for the Bally and Shuffle Master slot brands that has long been the envy of other slot-makers. Bally alone had close to 40 game design studios around the world, from Las Vegas to Reno to San Diego to Scottsdale, Arizona, to three locations in India and another in China. Shuffle Master’s Sydney studios, also responsible for successful slot lines, added yet another dimension.

“The beauty of it is that we have 24-hour coverage on someone making a game for us,” says Englman. “The sun never really sets on someone making a game for Scientific Games.”

Mooberry says that situation will be sustained. “We will continue that diversification, and certainly our global presence, in terms of game development,” he says. “We believe that that’s been an integral part of our success.

“We’ve really tried to keep our engineering talent, and product management staff, as close to the end customer as we can. And with gaming being on a global basis now, it’s imperative that we do that, because it’s rare that you actually see a game work well globally without changing it to meet the specific market demands. Having that unique ability to staff engineering resources in the markets where we do business positions us well for the future.”

“I don’t think there’s any supplier that’s better equipped to take on the future than we are,” says Englman. “Working at WMS, I’ve had the pleasure of working with those who have made some of the best games the industry has seen. And now I’m working with the Bally folks as well, with equally as many people on that side who have created some of the industry’s finest games. We have people who have changed and revolutionized game content—people like Phil Gelber, Mike Mitchell, and Nathan Wadds—sitting at the same table now, with the combined force of that talent.”

Setting the Table

That certainly includes Roger Snow, senior vice president of table and utility products and a holder of more than 30 patents in the table game area.

Snow says the purchase of Bally by Scientific Games seemed natural, particularly because it meant working again with Isaacs, who was CEO of SHFL at the time of the Bally purchase.

“We were very comfortable with this purchase, because as Shuffle Master people we were very familiar with Gavin,” he says. “That really helped.”

Far from being swallowed up by a whale, Snow says his division of the company now feels special.

“It’s a bit of a paradox,” he says. “As we became part of the bigger company, internally for the table game and shuffler people that I work with, it feels like we’ve gotten smaller. It feels like we’ve made a comeback, as the Shuffle Master brand came back. It feels like a smaller, more intimate team.”

The return of the Shuffle Master name was also important, says Snow.

“Even before we were bought by Bally, our customers were telling us what a great brand it was, and how we were wrong to change the name. That never occurred to me, but now that the name’s back, it feels right.”

The purchase by Scientific Games has boosted morale and productivity within the dedicated Shuffle Master branded products team.

“Similar to the Bally deal, Scientific Games has brought us much more resources,” says Snow. “While Shuffle Master was a great company, it was still a small company. We never had the breadth of resources that we needed. We’d have to wait until we could prove the need for those resources, and it sometimes took nine or 10 months to get something off the ground. Now with Scientific Games, things get done more quickly. In addition, we have people who are dedicated to long-term ideas—things that might seem like science fiction today, but in the future will become reality. Shuffle Master didn’t have the resources to dedicate to those kinds of ideas, but now we do.”

The strength of Shuffle Master remains its namesake, the shuffler. Snow says they used to keep a low profile and be somewhat discreet, but now they are grabbing the limelight.

“In the beginning, they were hidden under the table and the part you could see was painted matte black with no branding,” he says. “But our newest shuffler, the Ideal Plus, which just debuted at the Red Hawk casino in California, has a big display that is designed to attract their attention. So I think that’s going to be the next inflection point in our shuffler business: getting it more involved in the actual play on the table.”

Proprietary table games also remain very much a part of Shuffle Master. In addition to the tried-and-true games like Three Card Poker (see sidebar on the Shuffle Master Classic, page XX), Caribbean Stud and Casino War, Snow is particularly impressed with a new game developed in-house called DJ Wild Poker, a game played with five wild cards: the Deuces and one Joker.

“I had my doubts in the beginning,” he says, “but it really has become popular.”

One of the reasons, says Snow, is the company’s use of focus groups.

“I always shied away from focus groups,” he admits, “because I thought I knew table games better than anyone. But I gave it a try and it’s uncanny how accurate they are.”

Snow says Scientific Games is committed to finding new and innovative table games, and says he personally studies every submission, whether from inside the company or out.

“It’s incredibly difficult to make a success of a table game or even a table-game derivative, but when you do, it often becomes a real home run,” he says.

Completing the Picture

The new Scientific Games and its Gaming Division are still a work in progress, but the work is progressing rapidly. According to Mooberry, the Las Vegas plant has already done initial pilot runs of WMS games, and will be ready to crank out the brand before the Waukegan plant is fully closed. Retooling for that extensive product line, as well as the Shuffle Master slots from the Sydney studios on the Equinox cabinet, is right on schedule, he says.

“There’s a fair amount of work that we’ve had to do in terms of planning, in terms of the consolidation and the movement of all the manufacturing to Las Vegas,” Mooberry says. “We expect to have that completed sometime this summer. And a good deal of effort from many people has helped make that a big success.”

As that progresses, Mooberry continues to work closely with the Interactive and Lottery divisions going forward. “Our Interactive Division takes a lot of their content from the traditional gaming channels, so there’s coordination between the development teams,” he says. “There’s a lot of knowledge and data-sharing in terms of what we learn in the social environment, and how that correlates to success that we see in the land-based environment.”

The Lottery Division, with its multiple worldwide distribution points and channels, also is a natural fit for Scientific Games’ substantial cache of content. “There’s crossover between lottery and gaming,” says Mooberry. “We’ve seen proliferation and expansion in many markets around the world, as countries and/or states have looked at video lottery terminals. We saw growth throughout the Canadian provinces over the last couple of years. In the current year, we’re seeing the state of Oregon placing new machines.”

He also mentions growth in the Illinois VGT market, as well as VLT expansion around the world, as a huge point of gaming/lottery consolidation—and another distribution point for all that content. “We believe that our depth in the Lottery Division does complement what we’re doing in gaming,” Mooberry says, “and it does give us a chance to work together to combine systems and provide a better overall experience to all of our end customers.

“The three groups are becoming closer and closer together,” says Mooberry, “because whether it’s Gaming, Interactive or Lottery, what we’re trying to do is create experiences. That revolves around developing world-class content that keeps the consumer entertained, and delivering that content through state-of-the-art technology.

“Another major benefit of this merger was that it allows us to integrate Bally’s award-winning, one-stop shop for gaming systems with Scientific Games’ regulatory systems business for video lottery markets—we’re now able to bring our customers both proven technology and profitable content from a broad spectrum of various gaming segments.”

This is the first year the sheer size of Scientific Games’ collection of content is being displayed as a combined group at all the trade shows. “Last year, we had about an acre of slot machines,” says Englman. “We’ll be trimming that down a little, but we’re going to have all our brands front-and-center.”

Englman says that while it’s too early to reveal details about Scientific Games’ first combined Global Gaming Expo lineup this fall, it will definitely be a coming-out party for the new gaming giant. “If you look at the core competency of our company, what we’re bringing out in the next couple of years will be some of the most exciting products ever,” says Englman.

“It turns out that Bally was working on some really exciting stuff, and WMS was working on some exciting stuff. When we combine those two together and start leveraging them in the next couple of years, we’ll astound our customers.”

“We have so much tremendous talent,” adds Mooberry, “and we’ve got to keep them very much engaged, and focused on what we’re delivering to the customer and the player.”

No argument from Englman: “I look at our stable of talent compared to the rest of the industry, and I can’t see how we can’t win.”

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.