The gaming industry looked to the future as members of all industry sectors gathered in September for Global Gaming Expo 2016 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas.
The industry’s largest trade show and conference kicked off Monday, September 26, with featured speaker Frances Townsend, a former Homeland Security adviser to President George W. Bush who called on gaming professionals to be “fearless” in pursuing career dreams. Townsend, a board member of supplier Scientific Games, urged gaming professionals—particularly women—to follow their passions.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but our capacity for action despite fear,” she said at the Global Gaming Women-sponsored event, borrowing a quote from Arizona Senator John McCain.
Sports Betting Central
On Tuesday, G2E’s main conference program and trade show kicked off with American Gaming Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman’s annual “state of the industry” press conference and welcome presentation on the main G2E keynote stage. Freeman emphasized the maturation of the gaming industry into an accepted mainstream business. “The American attitude toward casino gaming has never been greater, and the mainstream nature of this industry has never been greater,” he said at his pre-show press conference. “Las Vegas has never been more mainstream than it is today.”
Freeman cited the coming next year of a Las Vegas National Hockey League franchise and talks of moving the Oakland Raiders NFL team to Las Vegas as examples that the gaming industry has outgrown the stereotypes of the past, but he tied that fact into a theme that the AGA has pushed hard all year—the need to repeal the federal ban on sports betting.
Noting that while options for expansion of casinos to new markets are limited, sports betting is an obvious growth area the industry needs to pursue. “When it comes to growth, we’re going to have to get more creative,” he said. “One way is to give them the products they want most, and there’s no better example of that than sports betting.”
Freeman pointed out that $150 billion a year is bet on sports in the U.S., with all but around $5 billion of it wagered illegally, with no regulation to protect bettors and no tax revenue to communities. He once again called for a repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA), which banned sports betting in all but four states, three of which offer limited parlay-style betting.
Sports betting would be a recurring theme in the keynotes and conference program. Keynote sessions included “The Key to Sports Integrity in the United States: Legalized Regulated Sports Betting,” in which Freeman was joined by experts from the United Kingdom; and another session on the final day of the show in which Freeman was joined by former National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern, who, like his successor Adam Silver, advocates repealing PASPA.
“The belief that gambling will lead to bad things is an outdated notion,” Stern said. “Let’s not talk about the ‘evils’ of gambling when it comes to sports. The industry has come to accept that a properly run gaming association will be protective towards sports.”
“When it comes to who is going to lead the charge in Capitol Hill, those discussions are ongoing,” Freeman said at the beginning of the conference. “But we will succeed in getting PASPA repealed.”
AGA & NIGA: Perfect Together
Other keynotes included a focus on the relationship between the AGA and the National Indian Gaming Association, in which Freeman and NIGA Chairman Ernest Stevens Jr. outlined common goals—such as fighting the attempt by the Internal Revenue Service to lower the documentation threshold on slot wins from $1,200 to $600—and stated that past differences between the two organizations are greatly outweighed by the benefits of working together toward those common industry goals.
In a Wednesday keynote address, technology “futurist” Scott Klososky urged the casino industry to take a more proactive stance to adopting new technology. Klososky said we are in an era of “Digital Darwinism,” in which forward-thinking leaders who embrace interactive technology will thrive and others will die.
“Every industry is somewhere on the curve of hitting the inflection point when technology comes together to radically change an industry so that it’s never the same,” Klososky said.
“Where is the gaming space on this curve?” he asked. “I’d argue that you’re probably close to the inflection point but haven’t really hit it yet.”
On Thursday, the sports betting discussion was preceded by the AGA’s CEO Roundtable, moderated by University of Nevada, Las Vegas Professor Bo Bernhard, who is executive director of the school’s International Gaming Institute. The future of the industry was discussed by Penn National Gaming President and CEO Timothy Wilmott and Pechanga Band Tribal Chairman Mark Macarro.
All About the Games
Of course, while the educational program at G2E gets better every year, anticipation of the show across much of the industry inevitably turn to the “new model year” of games from the worldwide group of suppliers who use the show to launch new content for the coming year.
For manufacturers of slot machines, the innovation displayed at this year’s show, as usual, exceeded all past shows, but more importantly, blazed new trails in terms of the styles of games to be offered. Traditional slots were joined by the first batch of skill-based games, produced in response to calls from regulators in Nevada and New Jersey for new game styles that will create new players among the younger demographic. Meanwhile, the collection of licensed brands among slot-makers joined with new electronic and live table games in yet another mind-boggling G2E trade-show display.
Among the highlights:
AGS highlighted games on its new Orion cabinet that included Gold Dragon-Red Dragon Extreme Jackpots, Fire Bull, Fu Panda and other games. The common denominator here is the Orion format itself, which features synchronized LED lighting that changes color according to the game, providing a striking display on the slot floor.
Among the AGS highlights this year was Fu Cat, a video slot featuring random wild-symbol bonuses and a wheel bonus that can trigger bonus awards shared by several players on the bank if certain slices land. Fu Cat also includes highly entertaining “Easter eggs”—if you touch the cuddly cat character on the screen, it giggles and purrs. Also highlighted was a new version of Colossal Diamonds, the hit giant-format slot that launched new markets for AGS in the casino industry. The new version features the advanced Atlas platform, which adds video-style accents like a floating-coin celebration, and something rarely seen in Bertha-style slots—a comfy bench.
Other AGS highlights came from its newly formed table-game division, including new proprietary table games like Chase the Flush and Buster Blackjack, and the add-on progressive wheel feature Bonus Spin, a white-label feature that can apply a trigger from any of a variety of table games to a progressive wheel spin initiated by the simple touch of a button on the table layout.
Ainsworth Game Technology
The highlight of G2E for Ainsworth Game Technology—aside from the grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new North American headquarters the day after the show—was the launch of the A600 and A640 cabinet styles, which represent the next evolution of product from the workhours A560 cabinet that has been a hit for the past several years in markets around the world. Among the game highlights on the new format were Kong on Skull Island, a sequel to the hit King Kong game on the A560 cabinet. The new Kong game, based like the first game on the 2005 film directed by Peter Jackson, features a reel set that expands to 10 spots for bonus free spins.
Ainsworth also launched the first two games produced by its new Las Vegas team, Rumble Thunder and Toro Treasure, and a lineup of Class II games from its newly acquired Nova Technologies subsidiary.
Aristocrat offered up yet another mind-boggling collection of new game formats, styles and cabinets. Highlights included Dragon Link (left), the next evolution of the company’s Lightning Link multi-site progressive product. Lightning Link combines a highly innovative jackpot mechanic with a multiple progressive jackpot link that is triggered an average of every 100 spins, with the top Grand Jackpot hitting every 25 days on average.
Branded games included The Big Lebowski, featuring an interactive bowling bonus in a nod to one of the scenes of the iconic cult-favorite film; and Game of Thrones and Mariah (featuring singer Mariah Carey) on the new Edge X cabinet, which features two stacked 43-inch 4K-resolution monitors, positioned horizontally for a dramatic effect.
Other new cabinets Aristocrat launched at the show include the Relm XL stepper cabinet, on which a stepper version of Lighting Link was launched—it is a curved cabinet with wide, back-lit reels and including a top bonus wheel—and Flame 55, a video cabinet featuring a double curve on the 55-inch monitor.
Aruze Gaming America
Aruze highlighted its new Tower Stack cabinet and series of games featuring a display made up of three stacked four-by-five reel sets on an imposing 80-inch vertical monitor. On launch games including Tower Stack Lion and Tower Stack Dragon. players can activate up to all three of the 50-line “frames,” for 150 paylines on every spin. Betting the “Plus Factor,” an ante wager, adds a selectable play area according to reel angle, and turns all symbols on the fifth reel wild.
Other Aruze highlights included the Burning Hot Jackpot series, in which the top monitor determines the number of free spins through a roulette display around a central character (there is Burning Hot Jackpot Apex Tiger, Howling Wolf, Aztec Sol and The Great Inca); several Asian-themed games, including Fu Jin and Rai Jin, which feature beautiful artwork, high volatility and free-spin bonus events; and the 999.9 Gold Wheel stepper game, which is a traditional stepper with a free-spin feature added. Players can win the progressive jackpots on a free spin as well as the in the primary game.
Everi displayed its usual variety of innovative slots in all formats. Standouts included Adrenaline Rush, including a “Hot Wire” feature that places dots around the reel set, and randomly runs what looks like an electrical wire to connect the dots and award extra wild symbols; and Lucky Pony, with cute animated pony characters in different colors. You pick your pony at the beginning, and at various points, you get to accessorize the character with tiaras, jewelry and other costume pieces. There’s even an Easter egg in which you touch your pony on the screen and the character breaks wind—spewing a rainbow out of its backside in a hilarious break from game action.
But the most buzz, as usual, surrounded the company’s TournEvent of Champions, the annual event that features satellite contest around the country and the finals at the XS Nightclub at Wynn Las Vegas the week of G2E. This year, TournEvent introduces Everi’s contribution to the skill-based slot movement, a completely skill-based version of the fruit-slashing mobile-game hit Fruit Ninja. The company also displayed an in-revenue game with a skill-based bonus using the mobile game.
In Fruit Ninja, the player uses his or her finger (or even two hands) to slash at fruit that bounces up on the screen, scoring credits or tournament scores by destroying the fruit while avoiding bombs that appear on the screen. It was one of the hits of the show, and signaled a new direction for Everi’s tournament system.
Incredible Technologies made a splash at G2E with games in its new Infinity Super Skybox format, with two games from its “Money Family” of slots—Crazy Money Super Sky Wheel and Money Rain Super Sky Wheel. The games were featured in a bank which links the 55-inch vertical monitors on four side-by-side machines into a single 123-inch wide-screen display, linked by a controller.
The games all feature the second-screen “Money Catch” bonus, in which players touch the screen to “grab” flying dollar bills. However, when a wheel bonus is triggered, the enormous linked display transforms into a giant wheel for the bonus event. It is a display that could be seen from across the trade-show floor, as well as across the floor of the adjacent Venetian casino, where the new game occupies a wall near the restaurants and parking garage entrance.
Core games displayed at the IT booth included Crazy Money II, Money Roll, Dine4ro Loco Money Rain, Big Prize Bubblegum Deluxe and other popular titles on the core U23 cabinet launched last year.
Basketball legend Shaquille O’Neill was on hand at the Inspired booth to help launch the Rush Basketball Virtual Sports brand and its upcoming Rush Basketball virtual reality game. On September 16, Inspired announced its partnership with O’Neal to promote its new virtual sports brand. The company plans an early 2017 launch of its Rush Basketball virtual reality gaming system.
O’Neal, who won three NBA titles as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers and a fourth with the Miami Heat, signed an agreement with Reno-based Spin Games to deploy the Inspired virtual sports technology in North America via The Roc platform, and with plans to create virtual race, football and basketball programs. In July, Inspired launched what it calls the first virtual reality gaming program release in the United States via its partnership with William Hill, which is running Inspired’s land-based virtual horse racing program at race books at the Plaza and Silver Sevens casinos in Las Vegas.
Interblock Luxury Gaming Products put on a grand display, including flashing lights, DJs and sexy dancers in a show designed to introduce its Pulse Arena hybrid electronic table-game product.
The Pulse Arena features several dealer-assisted automated table game choices, with video beamed to individual player stations that allow customers to choose one or several games to play simultaneously. Games are displayed on several giant LCD monitors on a wall, with play stations concentrated in an ultra-lounge setting complete with pulsing music and flashing disco lights, in a setup designed to appeal to the millennial generation’s thirst for nightclub settings.
International Game Technology
IGT displayed a remarkable variety of new content, including proprietary brands like Fort Knox, a multi-level progressive game featured on the new CrystalCurve cabinet. The game encourages high wagers by offering an extra top jackpot starting at $15,000 for per-spin wager of 150 credits or higher. Also featured among proprietary offerings was Sphinx 4D, the next evolution of IGT’s “True 3D” glasses-free 3D effect offering a “gesture control” technology that allows players to actually interact with the 3D icons floating in front of the screen.
Among the new branded licenses, IGT’s booth features a multimedia show with dancers to celebrate the launch of The Voice (left), based on the popular reality talent show; Betty White’s Story Time, a new series of games featuring TV icon Betty White (she did six full hours of voice-overs for the game); and a new version of Ellen on the CrystalCurve Ultra cabinet.
On the skill-based front, IGT highlighted Lucky’s Quest, a mobile-style game. There are no spinning reels; the player uses his finger on the touch-screen to connect matching symbols, just like a video game on a mobile phone. In fact, players can use their mobile phones to play the game at casinos using IGT’s OnPremise solution, which allows players to transfer games from an EGM to their personal device.
Konami highlighted its Concerto Collection of cabinets, including new versions of video hits such as Castlevania, featuring reels that expand to triple height to offer full-screen wilds; and Smash Smash Festival, featuring a highly entertaining bonus built around smashing piñatas.
However, the real highlights of Konami’s G2E display were the first fruits of its collaboration with its legendary sister video company, Konami Digital Entertainment, and the amusement-game heritage of parent company Konami of Japan. The call for skill-based games was answered by a skill version of the legendary Konami arcade hit Frogger, with players earning more according to their skill at getting that familiar digital frog across the highway; and Beat Square, in which players combine skill at musical timing with hand-eye coordination to follow along and “play” musical hits blasting through the audio system.
Konami’s recent doubling of U.S.-based manufacturing space enabled two multi-player offerings displayed at the show. Crystal Cyclone is a game adapted from a Japanese Konami amusement game. Players sit around a circular mechanical display that feeds rubber balls into a spinning roulette-like apparatus, with wins accumulated according to the holes around the outside of the wheel. The arcade-like presentation affords the opportunity for a celebratory atmosphere on the casino floor, and the game can actually be instantly changed into a giant game of actual roulette, with play stations displaying the classic roulette setup; or an arcade-style bingo game. Finally, Konami launched Fortune Cup, a miniature horse-race game with remarkably detailed mechanical horses in realistic movements and wagers similar to a real horse-race track.
Merkur displayed a complete library of games from its EvoStar multi-game series, which includes no less than 60 available titles, all featuring HD graphics, in operator-selectable configurations of 10-20 games each. The unit is in a sleek upright cabinet that positions its monitors much like a slant-top, with easy viewing and extra perks for the millennials like a USB port for mobile-phone charging.
Standout games include the highly volatile Zentaurus, themed around a mythical centaur and featuring free-game bonuses in a highly volatile program. The game also features multiplying wild symbols that increase payouts up to 16X.
Other Merkur standouts include Asian Challenge, which features expanding wild symbols; Tiara, a classic fruit game; and Pirates Arr Us!, with a second-screen bonus in which players pick from a screen to reveal extra wild symbols, extra bonus symbols and extra free games.
Novomatic’s booth was dominated by an ongoing slot tournament on the company’s new instant-tournament system, World Championship of Slots (left). The system will be the subject of an upcoming reality series on a prominent cable network, but players will notice a few things that sets it apart from other tournament systems.
First, the World Championship of Slots includes a free-games bonus players can hit during the course of a contest. These free games complete even if the time runs out on the actual tournament, providing potential score boost and better chance of winning the tournament. Second, there is a gamble feature—players can opt to gamble to choose red or black in a card-deal to double any win, and can gamble on a double up to five times on any win, potentially boosting the score (or, of course, dropping it—that’s why it’s called a gamble).
Finally, the tournament system benefits from Novomatic’s trademark innovative hardware. For instance, there is a “Hot Foot” button—instead of pounding away at a spin button, the player can opt to spin the reels by stepping away at a foot control. It is one of many hardware innovations Novomatic displayed at the show, like the VIP Lounge and the VIP Slant, both of which place players in an easy chair with spin buttons at fingertips, in front of a giant video screen on which games like the popular Tales of Darkness linked progressive, or the popular Asian Attraction or Gorilla games, can be played with a comfort level rarely seen on the casino floor.
Scientific Games displayed its usual mind-boggling variety of slots, table games and systems, but the highlight of the show for the slot-maker was the introduction of its new Seinfeld video slots. Packed with video clips, sounds and audio from the beloved show, the game has multiple bonus events based on the show’s most iconic moments, from the “Master of His Domain” episode to Kramer and Newman churning sausages in Jerry’s kitchen to Frank Costanza’s made-up “Festivus” holiday (“A festivus for the rest of us!”).
For the latter sequence, the game employs a great motion/gesture-control feature allowing the player to reach out and position the “Festivus Pole” for a bonus event. There also is, naturally, a bonus event themed around the “Soup Nazi”—a.k.a. actor Larry Thomas, who was on hand at the Scientific Games booth to sign autographs and pose for selfies.
The motion-sensor/gesture control feature was prominent on another game, the new-and-improved version of The Simpsons (left), on the theater-like GameScape cabinet. The feature allows the player to interact with scratch-off tickets in one bonus (hosted by Apu, who hilariously says, “Let’s see what great riches or miserable disappointment Vishnu has in store for you”) and catch sprinkles from Homer’s donut in another.
Scientific Games also launched National Lampoon’s Vacation on the Gamefield XD cabinet, featuring bonuses hosted by “Walley,” the moose character at “Walley’s World,” the amusement park the Griswold family traveled across the country to see; Heidi’s Beer Haus on the new “J”-shaped TwinStar J43 cabinet; and Feathered Friends, with a unique pachinko-style bonus.
On the skill-based front, Scientific Games launched the new skill-based bonus on Space Invaders, in a game that plays much like the 1980s arcade game on which it is based.
TCSJohnHuxley’s G2E booth was the site for the international launch of worldwide launch of the Qorex terminal, an innovative electronic gaming terminal powered by GFL Gaming, the company’s platform that gives casinos real-time visibility and total control over the gaming floor.
The debut of Qorex showcased a range of the company’s products that provide unlimited electronic gaming solutions through a variety of configurations. All combine the experience of live table gaming while delivering the benefits of electronic gaming, with more customizable game content to drive revenue and increase levels of security. The Qorex terminal is ergonomically designed for optimum comfort and playing position, incorporating a 27-inch widescreen display that provides top-quality HD graphics. It is currently available with roulette and baccarat, with sic bo coming soon, according to the company.
The company also showcased its Saturn Glo roulette wheel, which debuted earlier this year G2E Asia in Macau. Including the same cutting-edge features as the Saturn roulette wheel, Saturn Glo incorporates LED technology providing in-rim lighting color changes according to what’s happening in the game.