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Going Beyond the Game

Eclipse Gaming Systems gives back to its Native American communities

Going Beyond the Game

Only a very few private citizens of Georgia have been honored with a resolution of commendation in the state Senate. One of those citizens is Tim Minard, chief executive officer of Duluth, Georgia-based Eclipse Gaming Systems.

It wasn’t just the progress of Eclipse, a 14-year provider of gaming machines to several Class II Native American markets, which led to Senate Resolution 831, adopted March 30, although that was part of it.

Since he became CEO in 2018, Minard, with help of David Lawrence and Greg Drew, has reinvigorated Eclipse’s Class II business, overseeing the launch of a new platform and the high-performing

IMPACT cabinet series. Eclipse has moved into new corporate headquarters in Duluth, an Atlanta suburb, and Minard has built a team of seasoned professionals that have strengthened its core Class II business by expanding its footprint into 14 states and positioning the company for an eventual move into Class III.

The state Senate resolution recognized and commended Minard for his contributions to Georgia through Eclipse and his former Georgia-based companies, Sports Challenge Network and Cadillac Jack—and his dedication to the state through efforts to lure businesses to Georgia, as well as his investments in entertainment centers throughout the state.

The heart of the Senate’s commendation of Minard went to his philosophy of not only fulfilling the equipment and service needs of his customers, but actively working to improve the communities in which he does business, through everything from scholarship programs to a wealth of charitable activities, volunteer efforts, and partnerships.

It is that attitude and culture he brought to Eclipse, where it has evolved into a mantra, a tagline, and a mission statement: “Going Beyond the Game.” Minard and Eclipse established the Beyond the Game Foundation, which has been quite active in Gwinnett County, where Eclipse is located, and the surrounding Metro Atlanta region.

The Metro Atlanta efforts have included the East Lake Foundation, dedicated to revitalizing the East Lake neighborhood and creating new opportunities for the families living there; the Chris Tucker Foundation, which provides scholarships to youth and families in Metro Atlanta, with a focus on STEAM students (science, technology, engineering, arts and math); and countless other efforts.

But over the past four years, Minard has extended this philosophy of service to the communities of Eclipse’s customers, the Native American tribes in the Class II markets the company serves.

“Everybody talks about (success) just being in the game,” Minard says. “Based on our tribal business, I recognized that tribes wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for these casino properties. It’s 100 percent of some of these tribes’ economic development. And so, I focused on getting people to understand that the better we do, the better they do, and the more they can serve their own community.

“And it expanded beyond that to the realization we should be helping the communities as well. We took it upon ourselves to culturally build that into the mix, and think about being a great citizen, a great partner to our tribes, and then to our communities around us.”

Minard relates a story in which a tribe asked Eclipse to sponsor a golf outing to raise money for tribal education. “I said, how about we buy you books or whatever else you need, and then we’ll go play golf?” He says that way, he’s building a relationship with his customers, rather than simply responding to a request for money.

Going beyond the game.

The Game Business

“We took it upon ourselves to culturally build that into the mix, and think about being a great citizen, a great partner to our tribes, and then to our communities around us.” —Tim Minard, CEO, Eclipse Gaming Systems

Not that the game itself is unimportant; quite the contrary. The reason Eclipse and Minard’s former companies have had the resources for all this charity work is that he is an innovator in technology who knows how to move a company to the next level.

At GameTech International, he was head of the video lottery terminal and gaming division. At Sports Challenge Network, he was a pioneer in the use of then-new mobile technology to create XBowling, a complete program of contests, competitions and score-sharing that created an interactive digital community for one of the oldest sports in the world, bowling.

But perhaps most pertinent to how Minard is moving Eclipse forward is his experience as chief financial officer and executive vice president of Cadillac Jack, another Atlanta-based Class II supplier which, after being acquired by AGS in 2015, has evolved into a significant player in the Class II and Class III markets.

Minard sees a similar eventual path for Eclipse, and the process of growth has already begun, as the company still has substantial greenfield space in Class II markets, particularly in the East. The first step has been to attract veteran talent.

For game development, Minard brought in Steven Slotwinski, a longtime game producer for WMS Gaming and Scientific Games—and chief operating officer for a subsidiary of NHN Entertainment, responsible for multiple social-mobile product lines—as chief technology officer. He brought in Laura Olson-Reyes, a veteran of AGS, Scientific Games, Bally Technologies and Aristocrat, as senior VP of marketing. He named Sean Evans senior vice president of sales. Evans was one of the top sales executives at Aristocrat during its most crucial growth period in the U.S. in the early 2000s, and held top sales positions at Scientific Games, A.C. Coin & Slot, and Aruze Gaming.

Other top executives each bring special skill sets that are helping to grow the company. President and Chief Operating Officer Robert Visintainer (l.), who joined Eclipse in 2019, has a 25-year history in which he oversaw global operations and supply chain management for NCR Corporation. Chief Financial Officer Louise Ward has more than 20 years’ experience in accounting and financial operations and building best-in-class financial and operations teams.

In all, it’s a team tailor-made to expand the Eclipse footprint in Class II, and ultimately, attack the goal of evolving the company into a full-service supplier in both Class II and Class III.

“At Cadillac Jack, we saw Class II at an early stage grow and grow, and then into other markets with compacts,” Minard recalls. “And then it grew into tribal Class III, and then commercial Class III for some of the Class II providers. Then the other offshoots that are coming out—HHR, iGaming, social gaming—all that’s in the path of Eclipse.

“The question is, what do you need to do as an organization to get to the next level?”

Part of getting to the next level is building an organization that will grow significantly in the Class II market, where Eclipse is poised to enter new jurisdictions. “There’s still so much growth ahead in Class II,” Minard says. “What we love about Class II is there are a lot of recurring revenue partnerships with the tribes—deep relationships, sustainable for a long period of time. And then, as we continually grow that area, with approximately 120 tribal Class II casinos in America, you’ve got tribal Class III, which is another approximately 280 on top of that. So, there’s so much growth potential.”

Improving Performance

“It’s exciting to see the transformation of our products that have been on casino floors for decades to the newest products we are launching today.” —Sean Evans, Sr. VP of Sales, Eclipse Gaming Systems

That process will be moved along by the company’s technology, which vastly improved when Slotwinski refocused the game development process for current and future objectives.

“We did a great job redesigning the functionality of our platform,” says Slotwinski. “We have re-architected our proprietary platform to give Eclipse the ability to create content much more efficiently than we have in the past. Additionally, we have added the ability to easily enter other product lines like Class III, iGaming and HHR with little rework. These are just a few examples of what we have been able to accomplish in a short period of time.”

“The platform redesign has positioned us well to enter the Class III market,” says Minard. “We built it from scratch, and we’re ready to hit the gas; we are ready for that push when the time is right.”

Minard adds that the company’s location in Metro Atlanta is a big advantage, providing a wealth of engineering talent to augment the company’s veteran developers. “We are bringing in industry veterans, and we have a rich market here,” he says. “There are many slot manufacturers represented here, and I know other manufacturers that are looking to come into Georgia. It is a very populous marketplace with great engineers, great media, entertainment talent, and awesome art talent. It’s a good spot to be in.”

That doesn’t mean Atlanta will be the only engineering hub. Minard sees a future in which the company will have design studios in several locations. “We understand other markets also have great talent, and I think you’ll see us move into other markets as well.”

While Class III may be in the future for Eclipse, the company has used its technology to develop some of the top games to be found in the Class II space. “Many of the top-performing titles in the Class II space are Class III games that have been converted to Class II,” Slotwinski comments. “Our focus has been to make unique Class II games with the polish of a Class III game. It’s this type of effort that has allowed us to be competitive in the Class II industry.”

Several new product launches this year will focus on use of the company’s new hardware in the IMPACT series.

“We began by creating our IMPACT 27, a dual 27-inch cabinet, then proceeded to build our IMPACT 43, our first portrait cabinet,” says Slotwinski. “This year we decided to go bigger by adding the IMPACT 49 to our product line. We have elevated that cabinet in multiple pod formations that include wedge artwork and a 360-degree LED sign package that will light up any casino floor.”

Evans adds that the Eclipse product on slot floors is carving its own niche as distinctive and unique. “Our product is seen by players as a different product,” he says. “It’s exciting to see the transformation of our products that have been on casino floors for decades to the newest products we are launching today.

“But more importantly, we’re expanding in properties. We have a pretty audacious goal to add about 15 properties this year, and we’re more than two thirds of the way there. And for us, that’s important to do in our existing markets, like Washington, where, by early next year, we’ll be in almost in every property in the state, which is more than double our penetration a year ago.”

Built for the Future

“Three months prior to the pandemic I began to preposition our critical inventory, which really helped us through the pandemic. We did not see any shortages in terms of us being able to deliver cabinets to our customers.”—President and Chief Operating Officer Robert Visintainer

The expansion at Eclipse is bound to continue with the company being set up for success due to strategic moves over the past two years, including consolidating its operations into the new 40,000-square-foot facility in Duluth. This allowed Eclipse to increase its production capacity seven-fold.

Since 2020, the company has expanded its workforce by 35 percent, has steadily increased its licensed jurisdiction count, and continues to build on a footprint that began in 2020 with 40 tribes in 10 tribal gaming jurisdictions.

According to Visintainer, the company has remained active in its expansion and development efforts despite a global pandemic that shut the industry down for months and is still wreaking havoc on supply chains affecting countless businesses.

“During the pandemic we doubled down on our investment in technology,” Visintainer says. “We invested in our proprietary platform and re-architected it to scale for our upcoming business objectives. We also migrated our front end to Unity just prior to the pandemic. These initiatives enabled us to come out with dozens of different features we can now incorporate into games seamlessly.”

“The revisions to our platform also allow us to produce games with a heavier focus on the visual and audio details rather than on software development,” adds Slotwinski. “Our feature library is extremely modular now, which allows our team to easily prototype games much earlier in the development process, thus giving us more time to focus on what the players want to see and hear.”

Along with those increased efficiencies in game development, adds Slotwinski, has been an influx of new talent—not only veteran game developers, but new engineering talent from the rich vein that exists in the Metro Atlanta region.

“We have been fortunate to obtain veteran talent from the industry throughout my three years at Eclipse,” Slotwinski says. “Our talent pool continues to grow with experienced talent as we become more successful in this industry.

“Additionally, we have partnered with the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce and the Gwinnett County school system to help educate the next generation of STEAM students on the gaming industry. We have partnered with multiple universities in the area and began internship programs with them to help promote gaming in Georgia.”

As far as the supply chain issues, Minard and Eclipse were lucky to have a veteran like Visintainer on board, whose experience managing supply chain issues at NCR has been invaluable in keeping production humming along.

“Leading up to the pandemic, I noticed negative patterns around the CPU, monitor, and integrated circuit industries,” Visintainer says. “Three months prior to the pandemic I began to preposition our critical inventory, which really helped us through the pandemic. We did not see any shortages in terms of us being able to deliver cabinets to our customers.”

With all the right elements in place, Eclipse is poised for further growth in Class II, with Class III remaining on the back burner for the future.

“Washington state is a very important market for us,” says Evans. “The growth we see there almost doubled the number of tribes that we participate with. We’re just launching this year into the Northern California tribal market, where there is a good concentration of Class II games. We’re excited to see our first units get installed this month at Blue Lake Casino, and there are five or six other properties that we’ll see prior to the end of summer. California is a great opportunity for us to build up the recognition of our product.”

Other Class II opportunities exist in Kansas, where Eclipse will be in two new properties, increasing the company’s footprint to four out of five tribal properties. “Also, in Oklahoma, we have a large concentration of machines, and we’ve been there for a long time,” Evans adds. “And in the East, there are opportunities in New York and Florida that our team’s pursuing. We’re in about a dozen jurisdictions, and we’ll probably pick up four or five new jurisdictions next year.”

Minard has said that any company is “one title away from being a superstar.” He points to several new games within an estimated 18 new titles to be launched by the end of the year that could very well be that superstar title.

“The games we’ve got ready and about to be approved are really good,” he says. “We’ve seen great early signs on one of our games, Tick Tock Jackpot.” That’s a five-reel, seven-row game that creates an adrenaline-pumping experience with a countdown pick game in which players work against the clock to pick symbols to create a chain-reaction explosion that reveals prizes.

Another potential winner is the Big Shake series, three-reel slots that use perceived skill in recreating an arcade-style coin-pusher game. “The coin-pusher has been around for a long time, but our take on it is bringing in a lot of different elements,” Minard says. “I feel like that can be a franchise game.”

Meanwhile, Eclipse is ready for what Minard calls “the next phase.” That means more Class II jurisdictions, and the inevitable launch into Class III.

“We see these years as our employee-building years, our strategy-building years,” Minard says, noting he is “putting 2027 up on the board” as the target date for completing that next phase. “I know we have the ingredients to make that Class III game, and depending upon the market we’re going into, we know how to do it.

“For now, we feel there’s still a lot of runway for us to expand in the Class II space and we are concentrating heavily on what it takes to be No. 1 in this industry.”

That runway, as always with Eclipse, goes beyond the game.

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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