Matt Wilson made his name rising up through the ranks at Aristocrat Technologies. He was involved in all aspects of the company’s success at one time or another. When he was recruited to lead the gaming division of Scientific Games, he was required to honor a non-compete of nearly a year. But when he came on finally, the pandemic hit. He explains how the company handled that challenge and why it’s poised to move forward as the crisis wanes. He spoke with GGB Publisher Roger Gros at the Scientific Games headquarters in Las Vegas in January.
GGB: You stepped into your role as the CEO of Gaming in March 2020. What kind of plans did you have before the pandemic hit, and what was the impact?
Matt Wilson: I started March 2, with a dream and a bunch of aspirations, and that quickly changed. A week later, the industry started to shut down. So, not exactly how I drew it up. I think the Mike Tyson line is, “Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth.” And we all got punched in the mouth in a pretty profound way in 2020. Like every business, we quickly went into crisis management. We had to make a bunch of big decisions, and hopefully we got the majority of those right, and I think we’re moving in the right direction.
How did you stay in touch with your clients during this time?
The world’s turned pretty dramatically, I think. It used to be you had to get on a plane or a train or a car and go see a customer. Now you’ve got this rise of the video conferencing tools. It’s very easy and efficient to communicate with customers. The first thing we thought was, how do we be of service to our customers? And we came up with this idea—a thought leadership series, which was really about getting all of our customers on the line, talking about the things that mattered to them. We have a big global footprint, whether it’s Australia, or Asia, or North America or the U.K. So, we got operators from all around the globe on a call. Initially talking about social distancing, and reconfiguring floors, and those types of things, we then evolved the topics over time. We tried to be of service to customers, and bring content to them that was going to be useful for them navigating their way through the pandemic.
You’re kind of getting the band back together here at Scientific Games. You’ve brought in a lot of your colleagues who you worked with at Aristocrat—Siobhan Lane, Connie James, Rich Schneider and others.
I actually think it’s a new band. It’s a different band. More like a supergroup! We have superstars from all these different bands, (including) the legacy employees here that have a lineage back to Shuffle Master or Bally or WMS. And then we’re bringing some people in from the operator side, like Eileen Moore, and there’s the host of people from Aristocrat, who have been drawn to this opportunity. Rich Schneider is on the way. He’s going to lead our global R&D teams. We’ve got Ted Hase, who’s maybe one of the best designers in the industry joining. And then ultimately, at the helm, we’ve got Jamie Odell, as our chairman, and Toni Korsanos as our vice chair, who were widely regarded as the architects of Aristocrat’s success—both big believers in the intersection of strategy and culture. And then finally we’ve got Barry Cottle, who’s my boss, our CEO, and he brings a gaming perspective from Zynga and EA Sports. So, it’s kind of a melting pot of lots of different executives with lots of different perspectives.
Most manufacturers have been concentrating on the established brands, rather than going out and getting the licenses that cost so much. What has your strategy been?
We have a few large tent-pole brands in-house—evergreen franchises, like The Wizard of Oz, Willy Wonka, James Bond, Monopoly, these types of brands. Ones that really kind of cut through social consciousness. And then we have a lot of in-house proprietary brands. I think the part of the business that most suppliers are moving away from is that kind of middle-ground, these kind of second, third-tier licenses, that don’t have the same panache with players. I think it may be a consequence of the fragmentation of media. In the ’60s and ’70s, you’d have shows like M*A*S*H on TV, which 50 percent of the population would tune into. But now you’ve got Netflix with a million different offerings, and cable TV with 300 different channels, and so, the audience is fragmented across a ton of different brands. So, it’s hard to find those big tent-pole brands that reach the mass audience now. That’s a dynamic playing out in the industry.
Another consequence of the pandemic has been the growth of online gaming. Scientific Games has a whole separate division, SciPlay, handling that. How do you interact with them?
Jordan Levin is my peer there. He’s the CEO of the digital division. And we work kind of hand in hand. There are two parts to that market. There’s a big European piece, which is a different market structure than the U.S., where it’s all about sports betting and iCasinos, all through the land-based partners.
What’s unique about Scientific Games compared to every other supplier in the industry is the breadth of the portfolio. We have table games and table game systems, electronic table games, cashless solutions. We have sports betting solutions, the best in the industry. And we have iCasino as well—a very forward position there, a content aggregator, which is the best product in the market. So, we have that kind end-to-end solution, and we’re able to package all of that, go to an operator and ask, why would you buy anything from anyone else? We’re a solution to all those issues.