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Peak Performance

IGT continues to manage a diverse range of products across a growing number of markets

Peak Performance

Most observers of the gaming industry are aware of the history of International Game Technology, LLC. The company that the late Si Redd started as A-1 Supply in 1975 was created by Redd to market a product he had refined when he was working for Bally Manufacturing in the mid-1970s, video poker.

As the story goes, Bally—then the king of the slot world—had declined to market the poker machines, granting Redd the rights to market them on his own. By the time the new company, known as Sircoma by 1978, went public as International Game Technology in 1981, video poker was one of the hottest attractions on slot floors in Nevada and Atlantic City.

IGT, of course, has evolved several times over since then, various acquisitions and mergers taking the company into product areas from casino management systems to lotteries, while still achieving decades-long dominance of the gaming machine market—stepper and video reels, video poker. The IGT of today looks quite different than the IGT that introduced the legendary Wheel of Fortune slot machine precisely 25 years ago.

But talk to anyone at IGT today, and the impression is that this is a story still being written. The company seems to be in perpetual motion when it comes to product development, including spreading the supplier’s footprint into as many new product areas and new markets as possible.

As for the slot product, again, perpetual motion. New cabinets are launched every year, along with games carefully designed to maximize the features of the hardware. IGT developers continue to maintain a strict regimen of research, from focus groups to live test banks, to improve and expand the company’s slot library. At the same time, the company continues to improve its electronic table game product, one of many examples of seizing an opportunity in a surging market.

Meanwhile, IGT’s R&D muscle is being applied to a number of newly emerging product areas, as the company moves to take its proven content to any number of new markets and new channels. IGT’s video lottery business and Class II business both are growing across North America. The company has moved into the historical horse racing market, and is one of the leading providers of content to the rapidly growing online gaming market.

IGT also is one of the leading platform suppliers in the emerging sports betting market, another business segment that is rapidly growing.

On the system side, the company’s IGT Advantage casino management system itself is in an advanced state of evolution, the latest in its cashless, cardless slot play solution, the only turnkey solution available to address the sudden demand for an option to cash-handling and a contact-free experience brought on by the lingering pandemic.

As IGT’s range of products continues to grow, the company relies on top executives like Nick Khin, senior vice president and chief operating officer, to manage what has become a remarkably diverse range of products.

Khin attributes IGT’s success to how his teams are organized, and the talent heading those teams. That includes executives like Domenico Pastia, senior vice president of global product; Ken Bossingham, senior vice president of sales; and of course, those on the front lines of product development, such as Cari Blomquist, vice president of IGT’s Core Game Studio.

“The way we are set up and organized really helps,” Khin says. “It is a very disciplined process. Each of our main lines of business has dedicated product teams. They do a lot of research on their respective markets, and they’re charged with

really developing a detailed, long-range roadmap for each of their businesses. And of course, we’re always testing strength of our offerings against what’s in the marketplace, and against what our customer expectations are, as well.”

Focus on Hardware

These days, those customer expectations begin with hardware. IGT is still expanding its “Peak” family of cabinets, which began last year with the PeakBarTop and has continued with the PeakSlant49, PeakSlant32, and Dynasty Peak Terminal for ETGs, leading up to this year’s G2E launch of the new Peak65.

Pastia says it’s altogether proper to call it the “Peak family” of cabinets. “That was our philosophy when we started to develop this product,” he says. “The objective is to keep a consistent look and feel; it should be immediately recognizable.”

He adds that from the start of development, the focus has been on the player. “We did extensive market research, and the innovation in this product family is front and center. The objective is to make each hardware distinctive, with some specific unique feature. With the Peak32, we are the first in marketing a product that has three seamless screens. The Peak49 has the progressive curved screen—the first time that’s been used with this curvature.”

Now, the company is launching the large-format version in Peak65.

“The Peak65 is the ideal complement to our already impressive Peak hardware family that extends to premium, core, video poker and ETG,” says Blomquist.

“It’s a luxury cabinet that has sleek lines and a very polished, yet approachable feel for players. Additionally, due to its scale, operators can place it in high-traffic areas, top it with attention-grabbing merchandising and add a two-seat bench to even further its appeal.”

The Peak65 will launch with new titles in the Wheel of Fortune and The Price Is Right franchises, along with proprietary brands including Megabucks MegaVault and Gong Xi Fa Cai Grand.

“The PeakSlant32 and PeakSlant49 continue to produce tremendous performance for our customers,” Blomquist adds, “with standout titles such as Regal Riches, and we’re optimistic that the Peak65 will continue this momentum in IGT’s next-generation cabinet family.”

The launch of Peak65 will coincide with another cabinet launch, as IGT introduces the Diamond RS stepper cabinet to augment its familiar S3000 cabinet. The Diamond RS features IGT Diamond Glass, which overlays video elements on the reels for special effects. IGT is using it first on a modern version of the classic Top Dollar reel-spinner.

“IGT has been the market leader in the mechanical reel segment for more than two decades, first with the S2000 and most recently with the S3000 cabinet,” notes Bossingham. “Our customers rely on IGT in the stepper space and look to us to lead the segment’s content and hardware evolution. Our Diamond RS cabinet is designed to fill many roles on our customers’ casino floors and high-limit rooms.

“Consistent with IGT’s traditional strength in the high-denomination segment, the Diamond RS will house next-generation titles such as Double Top Dollar and Double Gold. The Diamond RS also supports a portfolio of proven low-denomination games such as Red Hot Tamales 2 which incorporate elements from both the mechanical reel and video genres.”

Bossingham notes the Diamond RS is the result of research no less intense than that used to develop the Peak family. “In creating the Diamond RS, we’ve leveraged our experience and insights to create a cabinet that our customers can deploy with confidence,” he says. “We’ve paired extensive market research with IGT’s classic stepper DNA to develop a next-generation cabinet that we are very proud of and believe will drive play on our customers’ floors.”

Bossingham adds that R&D continues to produce top content for all other IGT form factors. “High-performing content is essential for both IGT’s growth and that of our customers,” he says. “We are continually innovating our content and cabinets to ensure that we can offer our customers and their players compelling, market-leading gaming experiences.”

While new hardware continues to be developed, IGT still supports the “Crystal” family of cabinets and the Cobalt cabinet, which has excelled in in the video lottery market, where IGT’s footprint is prominent.

“We are a VLT powerhouse,” Khin says. “This is not an understatement. We really do have the highest-performing VLT content in almost every single VLT market in North America. We have dedicated teams of people that are focused on developing VLT games.”

He adds that VLT development is different than casino slot R&D. “We know there is no such thing as a generic VLT game, so a lot of our VLT games are market-attuned, making sure each game is absolutely right and appropriate for the market we want to put it in.”

Most of the VLTs are multi-game units, with the proven performers of the particular market. “There are real player favorites, but also some brand new content,” Khin says. “We really have a nice balance in those multi-game sets.”

Crisis and Opportunity

IGT was well on its way to perfecting a system to offer players a cashless, cardless option on the slot floor long before the Covid-19 crisis made such a system an urgent need for operators across the industry. Resort Wallet and IGTPay are now offered as part of the IGT Advantage casino management system.

While other cashless, contactless pay setups require partnerships to complete the function to where credits go to a slot machine’s meter, Resort Wallet with IGTPay is a complete, turnkey cashless, cardless function that works within the Advantage system.

“We are in fact the only casino management system in the industry that has a fully integrated and built-in payment gateway,” says Khin. “It really gives the players the ability to transfer money from external sources—from their bank account, credit card, etc.—directly to their player account, without a need to connect to a third-party payment solution.

“I think it’s going to do a lot in terms of enhancing the overall player experience. I think it will afford the best player experience out there when it comes to cashless solutions.”

Since the solution is only available as part of IGT Advantage, Khin says it has generated a lot of interest in the system itself. “It’s generated a lot of discussion within our own install base as well,” he says. “It’s giving our existing customers another reason to continue to invest in their systems architecture and their systems product, because we’re able to demonstrate to them that there really is an ROI attached to this.”

Of course, the other market areas that surged during pandemic shutdowns and have continued that growth ever since are the concurrently growing areas of online gaming and sports betting.

IGT’s Digital & Betting segment has been busy porting all the best-earning IGT content for online use, using the company’s proprietary remote gaming server.

“Some of our best content is currently available on the RGS,” says Khin. “Here in the United States, we’ve seen, partly due to Covid, phenomenal growth in terms of iGaming and iGaming revenues. Plus, we’ve seen a couple of new states open up to iGaming. Recently, we saw Michigan open, and IGT’s games are generating a significant share of the overall iGaming GGR. Our share over there is around 30 percent.”

He says classics like Cleopatra, Da Vinci Diamonds, Fortune Coin and Wheel of Fortune games are popular on iGaming sites, and that library is growing rapidly.

“IGT’s casino games are quite frequently leveraged in the company’s iGaming portfolio,” says Blomquist. “IGT’s vast IP and content library is one of its greatest assets, and leveraging our assets across channels has long been a pillar of IGT’s success.”

Blomquist says her Core Studio works very closely with IGT PlayDigital, refining the games for the various platforms. “Many of our top-producing PlayCasino games such as Cleopatra and Fortune Coin got their start on the land-based side of our business and emerged from my skilled studio teams in Reno,” she says.

“When a game designer creates a game that is high-performing in both formats, it’s an even more exciting achievement. Take for example, Fortune Coin. Fortune Coin was first created in Reno as a land-based core title. Due to its success in casinos, it migrated to online, then had a follow-up land-based and iGaming version created, Fortune Coin Boost!, and now there are several IGT games across the portfolio that draw upon its math and mechanics.”

She says the PlayDigital team has a “very exciting” Wheel of Fortune roadmap planned for the next several months, including one of the top-producing titles from the land-based side.

Blomquist says one of the top “crossover successes” between land-based and online has been the Powerbucks product in Canada.

“As the industry’s first omnichannel WAP game, all versions of the game launch simultaneously, making tight land-based and PlayDigital alignment critical,” Blomquist says. “Although Powerbucks is a premium IGT product, the solution’s base games come from all parts of the organization, making the need for collaboration even more critical.”

Meanwhile, on the sports betting side, the IGT PlaySports platform is growing its footprint right along with the expanding number of states implementing sports betting programs.

“We’re very proud of our sports betting platform,” Khin says. “We spent a lot of time working on that platform and actually getting it approved in Nevada. We’re one of the very few new sports betting platforms that are actually approved in Nevada.”

Some of the top operators of sportsbooks and mobile betting programs use the IGT PlaySports platform, including FanDuel, Boyd Gaming, Delaware North and Resorts World Las Vegas. “We are live in about 50 different sportsbooks across the United States,” Khin says. “We’ve seen phenomenal growth in that area.”

New Horizons

While growing with existing customers in all product areas, IGT is growing in a few other verticals. This year, IGT expanded its presence in the historical horse racing market with multiple partnerships with HHR system suppliers.

In June, IGT sold a large number of historical horse racing machines to Churchill Downs, Inc. in Kentucky.

“Historical horse racing is here to stay,” says Pastia. “We are currently present in all the active jurisdictions—Kentucky, Virginia and Wyoming. And we are closely monitoring all the possible jurisdictional evolution that may expand the addressable market. And we will definitely be ready; of this, I’m sure.”

IGT titles including Wheel of Fortune, Fortune Coin, Griffin’s Throne and Stinkin’ Rich are successful in the HHR market, on IGT’s CrystalDual 27, CrystalSlant and CrystalCurve hardware.

Another expansion in a new product area is one that’s not new to IGT, but is receiving a lot of new attention: Class II games. “Since the beginning of 2020, we have been expanding our Class II offer,” says Pastia. “At the same time, we have increased our commitment to Class II content development, almost doubling the number of games we bring to market every year.

“We do not simply port Class III games. We are bringing to the Class II market a subset of titles never seen before in Class III, that we believe are useful to differentiate the IGT offering.”

The Wheel

In all of IGT’s offerings, one theme keeps cropping up: Wheel of Fortune. The company is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the iconic game, which was first released in 1996 and did as much to change the nature of the slot machine as any game in history.

Pastia says IGT has some surprises planned for Global Gaming Expo in celebration of the Wheel’s 25th birthday, to go along with a display of 27 units hosting 11 different Wheel of Fortune themes.

“Wheel of Fortune created more than 1,000 millionaires since inception,” Pastia says, noting that works out to $100,000 every 65 hours. “And it’s paid more than $3.3 billion in jackpots. It’s made a lot of people happy.”

“In my view, it’s a confluence of factors that drive IGT’s Wheel of Fortune success and longevity,” says Blomquist. “From a game design perspective, players understand the game and know to root for the wedge with the largest value in the wheel bonus. Additionally, more experienced Wheel of Fortune players have a good feel for the games’ hit frequency and expect a wheel bonus at a certain frequency. We are very intentional about meeting those player expectations when creating new iterations of the game.”

Blomquist adds that the other factor in the game’s longevity is the brand itself. “It’s familiar to many people due to its decades of success on TV, and has become synonymous for winning big prizes,” she says. “IGT does a phenomenal job of staying true to the iconic brand, yet also evolving the slot experience to keep it current across high and low denom, and the video and stepper genres.”

It all boils down to a corporate culture that benefits all product groups, says Khin.

“It is all about making sure that we keep our offerings fresh, and not taking anything at all for granted. Continuing to innovate is very important. And we make sure that we’re listening to our customers.

“Corporate culture is absolutely critical to any successful business, and we operate in many different and diverse areas, but it’s really important that our values are consistently applied across our entire organization.”

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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