Much of the press of late related to slot supplier Aruze Gaming America has focused on the ongoing legal battles of company founder and owner Kazuo Okada, who is fighting to regain control of former Aruze parent company Universal Entertainment after he was voted off the board of Okada Holdings (which controls Universal) last fall.
But the ongoing saga surrounding Okada and the Japan-based public company he founded has distracted attention from the much more positive stories coming out of the Las Vegas-based private company he owns. Aruze Gaming America has forged ahead with its own renaissance, which began with the arrival in March 2017 of Eric Persson, who took over as the supplier’s general manager and eventually was named the company’s president and chief operating officer.
Persson came to Aruze from the operations side, most recently as senior vice president of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, topping a resume that included senior positions for Harrah’s Entertainment, Coast Resorts, Delaware North and American Racing and Entertainment. His arrival was part of an overall retooling of Aruze with industry veterans, in an effort to gain share in U.S. markets in the short term, and to evolve the company into a more complete gaming supplier in the longer term.
In January, Aruze announced the promotion of Justin Arcemont to managing diretor of global sales. Arcemont manages global sales strategits as well as the global profit and loss for Aruze Gaming. He also serves as assistant general manager for Aruze Gaming America. He joined Aruze in July 2017 with 21 years of gaming experience, including multiple positions with International Game Technology, where he was most recently director of strategic accounts.
Finally, also in January, Aruze hired gaming supply veteran Brandon Knowles as executive director of table games, to evolve and expand the company’s library of electronic table games and build the product library on the table side.
Knowles arrived with a distinguished background in casino supply, beginning with executive stints in sales and product development for TransAct Technologies and Scientific Games, but more recently concentrating on the ETG side, as general manager of ETGs for Shuffle Master and senior product manager for ETGs at IGT.
Together, the new executive team has already moved Aruze to the next level in product innovation and customer service. One of Persson’s first moves after he was made GM was to institute an industry-leading two-year performance guarantee on all products using the APX video platform, and on any new video platforms going forward. Just before last fall’s Global Gaming Expo, he added another industry first for Aruze customers, a six-year guarantee on any new APX cabinet purchase on hardware, software and service support.
Persson says he instituted those guarantees because they are something he would have liked to see when he was an operator. “I was with one of the world’s largest buyers, Las Vegas Sands, and so, one of the first things I did (at Aruze) was the two-year software guarantee,” Persson says, “because it was always very frustrating to me as a buyer to go out and spend $20,000 for a new cabinet, only to install software that doesn’t perform.
“Secondly, I came right behind that with the hardware guarantee. The truth is, this is part of a disruptive, intentional strategy designed to grow Aruze’s market share at the expense of our larger competitors… If you buy hardware from us, we’re going to make sure there are games to put on that hardware for at least six years.”
He adds that in addition to new products like the revolutionary Muso cabinet and the Omni-Table (more on those later), the company is working on hardware support for ETGs in markets like Macau, where the life cycle on the games can be very long. “In Macau, we have ETGs that are doing three times floor average, and some of those cabinets are 10 years old,” he says. “One of the things we’re working on right now is a hardware support package for that platform, so we can keep that roulette on the floor for another 10 years.”
Muso and More
Meanwhile, Aruze is making sure there will be plenty of new products to be protected by those guarantees. The company has expanded both its ETG lineup and its variety of cabinet styles.
The company’s innovations on the cabinet side are helping to diversify its lineup of both video and stepper slots. At last year’s Global Gaming Expo, Aruze debuted the Thor cabinet, featuring a curved 55-inch HD monitor with a 21.5-inch tablet touch screen and dual USB charging ports; and the large-format Vertical 80, which stacks two 40-inch monitors to present an 80-inch play surface.
This year, the innovation continues with Muso Triple-27, a striking new cabinet featuring three stacked 27-inch monitors, a new high-performance sound system, an ergonomic glass-table button deck with a 13.3-inch LCD interface, and the first-ever wireless charging port on a slot machine.
“Muso was conceived to re-establish Aruze as a company to watch for outside-of-the-box cabinet design,” says Aruze Product Manager Laura Sims. “The things that we did to help re-establish that were the back-lighting, which no one is doing, and the industry-first wireless charging port. Players have already responded really well to it.”
Player response was one of the key factors going into the design, she adds. “We conducted the player focus test, and the the player responses were overwhelmingly positive,” she says. “We also have them rank the Muso against other industry cabinets, and they ranked it on par with the top-rated cabinets in the industry.”
Sims says what players liked most about Muso were the three-monitor configuration and the spacious button deck. “Players said numerous times that they felt that that was a good space for them; they didn’t feel crowded, or too close to anyone nearby. It fits in the same footprint as the standard cabinet, so it gives that sense of space without taking up more physical space on the floor.”
Fred Nunez, director of product management, adds that the wireless charging port—a pad on which a smartphone attaches for charging without the need for wires—was an even bigger hit with some players. “Those that recognized the symbol were excited and immediately put their phone on the spot to charge. Of course, not everyone has the latest phone, so we estimate about half of players recognize the symbol,” he says.
Nunez says the Muso is based on APX, the same operating platform as the core Cube-X cabinet. “What that allows us to do is simultaneously port games to both the Cube-X and the Muso cabinet,” he says. “As technology improves, there will eventually be some new bells and whistles, but at the same time, we’ll provide software support and new product for the previous platform… It makes sure you have a lot of confidence as a buyer when you buy from us, that you’re going get your whole depreciated life cycle of your hardware cabinet.”
“Since we’re using the same platform as the Cube-X,” adds Persson, “even if we do do an upgrade to an operating system, it means that we’ll have a dual development. So, it doesn’t matter if we come out with a new cabinet; it doesn’t even matter if we come out with a new platform, because what you can rest assured at Aruze, our software designers will be building game content for both.”
Persson says the innovations on the video slot side—and stepper side, with the Innovator series—augment an intense focus the company has been maintaining on the ETG side.
“One of my focuses when I came to Aruze was to get back to the roots, which really is the ETG,” Persson says. “We crush it in that space. Our semi-autonomous craps game is coming out, which is a full-sized craps table that takes one fourth the labor and provides way more rolls per hour. We’re updating our Shoot to Win Craps product, which is 10 years old. In the next few months in North America, we have our Dragon Sic Bo rolling out. In some properties, that product is doing more than six times the floor average. We can’t build them fast enough!”
At G2E last year, the company introduced the X-Station ETG line—featuring play stations in the Cube-X platform arranged in a circular configuration around the central play mechanism—with the Lucky Roulette and Lucky Big Wheel games.
This year, groundbreaking products are taking Aruze further into the table-game market, led by a product called the Omni-Table.
The Omni-Table is a hybrid electronic/live table platform equipped with a projection video display table and a felt surface, enabling flexibility for operators in the pit: There is a mounted touch-screen to change table limits, increase or decrease available spots, or completely swap out games, in a matter of seconds. Advertisements can be digitally displayed during game play, or when the table is inactive.“They can advertise their buffet, or the show for the evening,” says Knowles.
Four popular common table games will be available at launch, with premium content packs available offering premium licensed games.
“Omni-Table accommodates any live table game,” explains Knowles. “You can swap them out when you want, and you don’t have to change felts, because it’s all done with projection lighting.”
Persson adds that operators can offer the product immediately, since they are presenting games that already have regulatory approval. “You’re not going to have to buy our table; you’re just going to buy our technology,” he says. “For example, for Lucky Sic Bo, we have a patent on the wager. With Omni-Table, you can bring that wager into the pit, and allow customers to have that wager available to them while they’re playing with a live dealer.”
“Everyone who looks at the Omni-Table can see the possibilities,” adds Nunez. “It really stands out as innovation in the table-game sector, and I think everybody’s excited to see where we’re going to take it. And I think it’s the right time—ETGs have expanded, and you’re seeing a lot more dealer-assisted games that blend electronics with live table games. I think this is just the next transition in this area.”
“From the moment our customers saw it,” adds Sims, “we got a number of responses of, ‘I was waiting for someone to do that.’”
Another groundbreaking product coming soon is Roll to Win Craps, which takes the company’s runaway hit ETG Shoot to Win Craps to a new level. Shoot to Win is a popular automated craps game in which the shooter pushes a button to roll giant dice inside a transparent chamber. Roll to Win is a hybrid game with electronic betting stations around a normal-sized craps table, with players throwing real dice.
“The beauty of this is that there is actually a dealer,” says Knowles. “We’ll be classified as a live ETG. Live ETGs have a big presence in Macau and Europe, but they haven’t really made a lot of penetration into the North American space. It’s going to be a growing space, so we want to capture the live ETG space with this live craps product.”
Touch-screen betting causes the normal spots on a craps layout to light up to display each wager, with all the normal proposition bets available. The game proceeds as normal, but bets are made via a ticket-in/ticket-out interface with a bill acceptor. Wins are resolved electronically.
The best thing for operators? Because of all the automation, only one pit employee is needed to run the game. The shooter throws the dice, and the dealer enters the result at a terminal; the point or other result is then instantly displayed on all the player terminals, and payoffs are instantaneous.
Other advantages of Roll to Win include the electronic platform, which allows advertising on LED panels both on the table surface and the walls of the game.
There is also the security that goes along with bets being reconciled electronically. “It offers considerably improved security over a regular live game, but still has the action and the excitement of craps,” Knowles says. “It still has 10 players around the table to create all that live excitement and celebration.”
He adds that while the low labor cost makes Roll to Win a good vehicle to offer low minimums to novice players, he expects the game to attract a full spectrum of players—“not just the lower-end players, but all players, because of the way it operates, and the way it increases the number of rolls per hour.”
Knowles says the product is expected to hit the market by the end of the year.
Nunez says the Omni-Table and Roll to Win products are two of many results of an outpouring of R&D efforts at Aruze on the ETG side. “We do have a great R&D team, that has a lot of experience in the ETG space, and they’ve developed some great ideas on the ETG and purely electronic table game side,” he says. “We’ll be leveraging that experience. We have considerable feedback from the marketplace suggesting that communal and social environments are now the direction in which the market is going, so these two products fit that category very well.”
Other new products on the ETG side include Super Big Wheel, a larger version of the Lucky Big Wheel electronic Big Six product released last year. “We added stations on each end, and we’ve got different ways to bet on the big wheel,” says Knowles.
Knowles says all of the new ETG products will be on display at this year’s Global Gaming Expo. “It’s going to be explosive for us this coming year, he says. “By the end of the year, all these products will be standing by the starting gates, if not already peeked out of the gate. And next year, we’ll have Omni-Table. We’ll have Roll to Win Craps. We’ll have a new roulette product. We’ll have the Super Big Wheel product.”
Beyond that, he says the company is developing a new line of RFID-enabled gaming chips, in yet another expansion of the table side of the company.
“We are currently chasing all sorts of different ventures in the table game space,” Knowles says.
Persson notes that this year’s G2E display will include a wealth of innovations ready for the market. “You’re definitely going to see a couple of new ETG products we haven’t been able to talk about that I think are going to be huge for the Asian market,” he says. “You’re going to start to see Aruze do its best to blur the lines between live table game play and ETG play. We’re going to start to try to invade the pit space. We’re going be taking some of our patented technology from slot machines and put it on a table game.”
More innovation is on tap for G2E in both the slot and table spaces. The Innovator Deluxe stepper platform will be ready for market, says Nunez, featuring a 42-inch LCD monitor on top of the core Innovator cabinet. More entries will be on tap for the large-format cabinets, and those ETGs Persson is keeping close to the vest for now. “We’re having a lot of success in this space,” he says, “and we continue to focus on it, and just try to keep creating really cool games.”
On the slot side, says Persson, “we’re working on an upright that fits in a slant top’s footprint. Hardware design is one of the important elements of game experience. Our approach is to get in that space and compete hard. We’ll find things that we think are fun; we’re adding some new little things we think customers will enjoy, such as wireless phone charging. Most manufacturers have great hardware, but what we have is really that Japanese development touch. Aruze has always been into details and a unique cabinet like Muso is a great example.
“It’s just another way that we’re showing our focus back into the core products that Aruze’s been good at,” adds Nunez, “and bringing that confidence back to the customer. This year’s been more about going through and really fine-tuning our games, and making them adaptable for certain markets. With our footprint growing across the U.S. as well as globally, we’re really going through and making sure that we have the focus on solving that content for those markets.”
Aruze’s new sales and product strategies are already bringing results. Year over year, sales are up over 50 percent, and Persson believes they are just getting started. Arcemont adds, “We were able to achieve these increases by finding numerous efficiencies in our sales process. That 50 percent increase becomes even more incredible when you learn that we are just now releasing the products from our strategy change.”
Persson says the expansion of the table-game business will lead to more growth. “We’re getting in the RFID chip business, and we’ve actually already got a few contracts,” he says. “And just like we’re trying to be disruptive in the slot business, we’re coming right after the chip makers. We’re going to sell chips for probably half the price of what they’re selling chips for.”
Pending approval in a few more U.S. markets, Persson predicts Aruze’s revenues are going to double in the next 15 months.
“One of the big strengths of Aruze is our past,” he says. “When you take a look at some of our bet features, like on Lucky Sic Bo for example, we have managed to take a traditional sic bo game, and fundamentally change the distribution of wagers. And the play is actually inversed from a live game, which is really to the casino operator’s benefit. And so, this is where our software development team comes in. They make great bets. They think about what consumers will want, and make a presentation in a way that they’ll accept it, and what happens is the customer’s happy because they like a lucky wager where their bet can double up, and the casino is happy because, on a game like Dragon Sic Bo, the side bets result in a higher house advantage.”
In the end, Persson credits Aruze’s Japanese roots for its growing success. “When you see an Aruze product, you know,” he says. “And a lot of manufacturers have copied it. You’ve seen a lot of other manufacturers getting into that ETG space, but there’s still a distinct feel to the Aruze product.
“And that is something that we’re getting back to, we’re embracing. At the end of the day, we’re a Japanese company; we’re going to embrace it. That’s what makes us successful; that’s our competitive advantage.”
The other competitive advantage is the company’s small size, he adds, noting that it allows Aruze to remain nimble and respond quickly to market demands. “We’re not a huge company, we’re not publicly traded; we have one shareholder,” he says. “And so, we don’t have to answer quarter over quarter. We don’t have a stock price, we don’t have to worry about ship share and then make decisions to discount at the end of the quarter so we can beat the previous year-over-year comparison.”
But the biggest competitive advantage? Customers respond to
Aruze games. “At the end of the day, it’s about game play,” says Persson. “And our games perform.”