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Highlights of Scientific Games’ Empower 2017 customer conference


Future technology, a major new game license, and peer-run panels highlighted the annual give-and-take with customers staged by end-to-end gaming supplier Scientific Games. Called “Empower,” the conference inaugurated 11 years ago by the former Bally Technologies as the Bally Systems User Conference staged its 12th annual event last month at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

The Empower Conference is a three-day event designed to bring Scientific Games executives, R&D staff and game designers together with their customers from markets around the world. The conference gives customers an advance look at technology and products that are sometimes a year or more from commercialization.

Scientific Games officials use the event to get feedback from customers on new products, and address concerns about the products and services they currently get from the supplier, across all three of Scientific Games’ core divisions—casino slot machines, table-game products and casino systems; lottery products, systems and services; and interactive solutions and services.

Empower 2017 drew more than 700 attendees from more than 200 casinos. Golf and wine-tasting events on the first day were followed by two days of panel discussions, more than 30 how-to workshops, and more than 40 individual breakout sessions. Attendees learned about current and future products from each of the company’s business divisions, and how products and themes are now converging across all of those three businesses.

“We are here to provide the tools, solutions and services to deliver high-performing games designed to increase your revenue, your engagement with your guests, and of course, your operational efficiencies,” Scientific Games CEO Kevin Sheehan told attendees. “That’s why we’re here today. We’re here to listen to your needs, interact, and to come up with collaborative solutions so we can all be successful as we move into the future.”

It was the first Empower conference for Sheehan, who was named CEO last August after seven years as CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line. He told the Empower attendees that one key to success both for the supplier and its customers is continuous partnerships that will result in taking the industry forward.

“The cornerstone of all of that is innovation, and the art of the possible,” he said. “And that’s the key to all of our shared success.”


‘Shaken, not Stirred.’

Before the start of the two-day conference portion of the program, there was a quotation on the large video screen in the Planet Hollywood Showroom:

“Shaken, not stirred.”

It was referring to the news with which Scientific Games was opening this edition of Empower—the announcement of what the company is calling its biggest-ever licensing deal for themed slot machines. Sheehan announced the company’s new license to use the James Bond film franchise for themed games spanning land-based gaming, lottery games, and interactive/social games.

The exclusive agreement with EON Productions Limited, Danjaq, LLC and MGM Interactive Inc., a subsidiary of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., gives Scientific Games the rights to leverage all past and future James Bond films, as well as all the franchise’s talent portraying the suave British spy created in 1953 by novelist Ian Fleming.

Scientific Games will capitalize on the James Bond experience across its omni-channel portfolio. “The Bond franchise is clearly a long sought-after and incredibly exciting brand for our industry,” Sheehan said. “James Bond is synonymous with action, excitement and next-generation technology. We look forward to harnessing the power of the Bond brand to drive innovation across the company in the years ahead.”

Scientific Games expects to showcase the first James Bond-themed slot games at the Global Gaming Expo, October 3-5 in Las Vegas.

Sheehan commented that Bond is a perfect theme for gaming, the lead character having frequently been portrayed in casinos. Bond was a frequent patron of high-end gaming rooms, beginning with Sean Connery at the chemin de fer tables in the first of 24 Bond films, Dr. No.

The company will use images and movie video clips of all seven actors who have portrayed Bond on film throughout the years—Connery, David Niven, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.

The Bond announcement was the first of many highlights of Empower 2017. This year’s conference included product introductions in the TwinStar cabinet range, technological advances in the iVIEW4 system of picture-in-picture communications and bonusing display, future technology peeks into cashless play, and a report on the development of new types of games designed to appeal to the millennials and other younger casino players.

One session concentrated on how to monetize skill games and casual games favored by the millennial generation; another highlighted game hardware designed to take casinos into the future with a new generation of players.

The first day’s general sessions included panels that are consistent attendee favorites at Empower, like the CTO Forum, in which the technology heads of all Scientific Games divisions report on the evolution of their products and services. Moderated by Roger Snow, senior vice president of tables and shufflers, it included Phil Gelber, senior vice president of product development in the Gaming division; Walt Eisele, senior vice president and chief technology officer of the Lottery division; Sethuram Shivashankar, senior vice president and CTO of gaming systems; and Nathan Wadds, senior vice president and CTO of gaming.

The panelists covered the evolution of game styles in the form of the TwinStar cabinet platform, the first to accept both Bally and WMS-branded content. Oher subjects included the iVIEW4 display system, which now features web-based content management—allowing casino operators to instantly change communications with customers in an HTML format—as well as a brighter display, a faster boot time and more power.

The panel also discussed how the technology gap the casino industry once dealt with is closing. “We went from being 10 years behind (other industries) in technology to right on the front edge,” Wadds said. Gelber added that the 4K displays now being deployed in Scientific Games’ slot products are not even in the consumer market yet.

The panel was joined midstream by Tom Wood, chief product officer, interactive B2B; and Bryan Kelly, senior vice president of technology and iLab.

Kelly, who runs Scientific Games’ forward-looking iLab—which seeks to apply new technologies in the general business world to gaming—ran a separate break-out session on the iLab’s newest technologies that was, typically, one of the highest-attended sessions of the conference.

The other Empower favorite among the general sessions was the Customer Panel, in which former Pechanga Resort & Casino Slot Operations Vice President Buddy Frank moderated a roundtable discussion that included Mohegan Sun Vice President and General Manager Ray Pineault; Jack Entertainment Vice President and CIO Van Baltz; Angel of the Winds Director of Gaming Jeff Wheatley; and Jim Lightbody, president and CEO of British Columbia Lottery Corporation.

The panel discussed the emergence of Big Data, the task of managing data, serving the millennials with new types of gaming spaces, and the emergence of new technologies such as virtual reality, which Lightbody tested at BCLC casinos.

Technology forums and how-to workshops covered everything from lottery systems to the nuts and bolts of game design both on the slot side and the table game side.

One highlight of Empower was a keynote address and roundtable panel led by Frances Fragos Townsend, homeland security expert, TV personality and aide to former President George W. Bush. Townsend described how methods she used in surveillance and prevention efforts battling terrorism after 9/11 can be applied to innovation in businesses like Scientific Games.

Townsend’s panel included Nicholas Negroponte, founder and chairman emeritus of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and Bran Ferren, chief creative officer of Applied Minds and a former president of R&D and creative technology at Walt Disney Imagineering. Discussions centered around creating attractions in the entertainment world using various emerging technologies.

One discussion went back to the James Bond franchise, and ideas from the distinguished panelists on how Scientific Games can maximize the value of the license.

Sheehan said the Empower conference is meant to further the mission of Scientific Games by working with the supplier’s customers to provide products that fill their needs and move industry innovation forward.

“Our mission here at Scientific Games is to empower our customers by creating the world’s best gaming and lottery experiences,” Sheehan said. “It’s really important to us. It gets me up in the morning.

“Our sense is that today is the day; we don’t have tomorrow. We need to be thoughtful of doing the next great thing at every moment in time.”

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.  

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