For decades, Scientific Games Corporation has resided near the top of the slot market, building up a deep product library serving nearly every aspect of casino operations.
That history of success, however, does not preclude improvement, renewal or even a transformation in corporate culture.
That is the mindset of Matt Wilson, who took over as CEO of the Gaming Division at Scientific Games in March this year, after leaving his former longtime company, Aristocrat Technologies in June of last year.
In his 16 years at Aristocrat, where he completed his stint last year as president of the Americas, Wilson oversaw a transformation of that company’s North American business under former CEO Jamie Odell—a transformation that saw Aristocrat beef up its R&D with the top game designers in the business, move toward a gaming operations model with some of the most high-profile brands in the business, and inch further toward the top of the slot market.
Wilson now plans similar success at Scientific Games, which had courted the executive under advice from that same Jamie Odell, who had been working as an adviser to SG CEO Barry Cottle for the last 15 months. Just recently, it was announced that Jamie Odell and former Aristocrat Chief Financial Officer Toni Korsanos will become the new executive chairman and executive vice chairman, respectively, a result of the recent acquisition of Ron Perelman’s shares in SG by a number of long-term institutional investors, including the highly credentialed gaming industry investor Caledonia.
“We’re really focused on four key areas of transformation for the organization,” Wilson says of his plans to move Scientific Games forward. “First, as any great gaming supplier, you rise or fall on the strength of your product, so we are focused on developing best-in-class products and solutions for our customers across our portfolio.
“We’ve hired Rich Schneider, who was the chief product officer for Aristocrat the last eight years, to join us and lead the R&D organization here,” he says.
While Schneider is waiting out his non-compete until next year, Wilson and his leadership team are working hard to build a talented team at Scientific Games, complementing the existing talent at SG with some key external hires.
“We believe in building a positive, people-centric culture driven by a core set of values,” Wilson says. “It’s really a fundamental part of our long-term strategy. Successful organizations are built by great teams that attract and retain high-performing talent through an engaging culture, and that’s what we aspire to create at SG.”
The third and fourth pillars are commercial execution and operational efficiency, he says—“the teams executing well across our value chain to create a great customer experience, and then focusing on operational efficiency, which is about making sure we deliver on time and on schedule.
“Those four pillars are what’s going to drive the transformation at Scientific Games.”
Wilson says he was attracted to Scientific Games because of the diversity of the product portfolio. “Scientific Games maintains a unique position in our industry; no other supplier has the breadth of our portfolio,” he says. “For a casino customer, anything they want to buy from a gaming standpoint, they can likely buy it from Scientific Games. We sell slot machines, lease games, table games, shufflers, iGaming, sports betting, systems, cashless solutions… That’s the end-to-end opportunity for us to create value for our customers.
“For operators, they are looking for great product across all those verticals, and consolidating their spend with Scientific Games can create value for them.”
Keeping R&D Going
In this most unique of years, Scientific Games, like other suppliers, had to improvise to keep development progressing in all of those verticals.
“We quickly had to look at our cost base, and manage through a difficult situation,” Wilson says. “We largely kept the R&D teams intact. There was always this theory that game design was one of the things that had to be done on-site, because when designers are building product, they want to put it onto a slot machine to test it, see how the lighting works, see how the animation will look on a slot machine.
“We’ve kind of dispelled that notion. The game designers have done an incredible job building games from their kitchen tables, working through video conferencing platforms to review games… We’ve been blown away by people’s ability to create outside the four walls of the building. I think society in general has figured out pretty quickly, through necessity, how to operate in the new normal. I don’t think we’ll ever go back to the office 100 percent of the time. I think we’ll be a lot more flexible going forward, which helps in recruiting top talent.”
The fact Scientific Games has game design studios around the world certainly helped keep R&D moving forward—and, notes Wilson, sets the company up for the future. “The things you do today are really placing bets on the industry 18 months from now,” he says. “That’s the development cycle. So the games we’re releasing and will release this year were conceived 18 months ago. The decisions we make now will influence next year.”
Because of the continuous motion on the development front, those products this year will include the typical examples of innovation the industry has come to expect from SG, beginning with the annual rite of introducing new form factors.
“I remember when I was working with Aristocrat, in 2012 I came to the Americas. And we had launched one cabinet in the previous five years,” laughs Wilson. “And then a few years later, we launched five in one year. That just tells you the transition and the arms race that’s going on with hardware.”
Scientific Games’ new weapons in that arms race come in the form of three new cabinets, all of which would have been front-and-center at the canceled G2E show. The first is Kascada, the next generation of the popular TwinStar J43, the cabinet that began the trend of J-curved monitors. Kascada presents a modernized version of the J43, with 4K graphics on the 43-inch monitor featuring an innovative new lighting package.
Kascada will be launched with several inauguralgames based on some of Scientific Games’ most celebrated brands, including Coin Combo, a progression of Duo Fu Duo Cai, and Monopoly Money Grab, featuring one of the most successful slot themes of all time.
Other games include Ultimate Fire Link Power 4, a multi-game unit allowing four games to be played simultaneously; Playboy Cash Wheel, which adds a wheel bonus to one of the supplier’s biggest brands; and other celebrated brands like Ultra Hot Mega Link-Egypt, featuring the player-favorite Ultra Hot Mega Link Fireball lock-and-spin mechanic, and a free-spin bonus in which the three middle reels form a “mega-reel” for bigger wins.
The second new cabinet is a new large-format form factor. Called the Mural, the cabinet stands 13.5 feet tall. A product pipeline for that cabinet will be announced soon.
The other new form factor injects new innovation into the electronic table game segment. The Quartz Hybrid features an immersive 26.5-inch high-definition LCD flush-mounted player touch screen, on a player station that allows the player to wager concurrently on up to eight different games, including both automated table games and live-streamed dealer-assisted games.
“We’re very excited from a hardware perspective,” Wilson says. “We’ve got great game designers, and content is king; it will always be king. But hardware is the canvas for artists to produce their best work, and we’re also focused on that.”
That best work this year will include new entries in all product categories, and across an enviable collection of ongoing slot franchises. “We’re a house of brands here,” Wilson says. “We’ve got some great proprietary brands, and I think the best third-party brands in the business.
“Willy Wonka, The Wizard of Oz and Monopoly are powerhouse third-party brands, and we’ve got a great catalog of proprietary brands. Think of 88 Fortunes as a category. Everyone’s doing Asian-style games now, but the original 88 Fortunes was designed by one of our best game designers, Qin, out of Australia. She created that concept, understands the psychographics of that core player and continues to iterate and innovate within that same genre today at SG.”
Scientific Games has “new flavors” of 88 Fortunes on tap this year, says Wilson, including 88 Fortunes-Lucky Gong, which takes a page from the legendary game in the addition of “Golden Gongs” to an enhanced free-games bonus feature on an alternate set of reels. The new game also reprises the “Lucky Coins” picking bonus first seen in Duo Fu Duo Cai. Players pick from a field of 12 Lucky Coins to match three “Fu Baby” symbols for one of four progressive jackpots.
Other popular Scientific Games brands are extended in various form factors. On the TwinStar 5RM five-reel mechanical cabinet is Dancing Drums Reels, a for-sale mechanical-reel version of the game consistently named No. 1 in industry video surveys.
The TwinStar 5RM also hosts a new series called “Locked & Loaded,” a mechanical-reel adaptation of the popular “Lock It Link” hold-and-re-spin series.
On the TwinStar Matrix cabinet is a new entry in the Penny Pier series of carnival-style games, which feature bonuses based on carnival games like “Test Your Strength” and “Drop ‘N’ Slide,” a bonus based on the kind of arcade game that has mechanical pushers shove coins to the player. (Think the old “Flip It” slot machine of the 1980s.)
Also on the Matrix is 123 Wild, created by the same studio as 88 Fortunes and Dancing Drums.
SG also has new themes in the popular Super Colossal Reels, Drop & Lock and Quick Hit game groups. The latter is in the form of a new Quick Hit Blitz multi-game unit,, which offers a menu of all four Quick Hit Blitz games on one machine.
New game mechanics are debuting on several games, including Cash Burst, that features a mechanic in which bubbles float over the game screen until matching up with Cash Burst symbols to award credits and multipliers.
System Strength, iGaming Strength
One area that did not slow down because of the pandemic was SG’s Systems Division, currently connected to some 525,000 slots around the world. The biggest trends fueling systems growth are related to the need for casinos to reopen safely amid the pandemic.
First, the desire to minimize contact points for a given player to guard against Covid-19 has pumped new life into the drive for cashless gaming options. “The IP we have around cashless gaming dates back to 2005, but it really took a global pandemic in 2020 to put it on the radar,” Wilson says. “If we asked our customers two years ago, what’s the future? What technology should we be investing in? Maybe the early adopters, 10-15 percent of our customers, would say cashless gaming is the future.
“We did a survey in the middle of the pandemic and said, ‘We’re here to serve you. What should we be investing in right now?’ Every one of them—it was the top 20 operators around the globe—said cashless gaming is the future.”
Scientific Games’ Unified Wallet solution can be funded either through a mobile payment gateway or at a cage with patron deposits. The type of payment method (credit, debit or ACH) depends on the payment provider chosen by the property. There’s also a mobile app; properties can choose SG’s mobile solution or integrate their existing app with SG’s Unified Wallet module along with a third-party gateway integration.
With Unified Wallet, a player can transfer funds to and from the slot machine using the mobile app or through the in-game display at the slot machine. The mobile app enables a seamless transfer of funds from the wallet to the slot machine using Bluetooth connection.
Wilson says cashless operations are overdue in the casino industry, given that digital wallets are commonplace in every other aspect of a consumer’s life. “Everyone seems to have the Starbucks app; it’s a very efficient way of transacting, and it provides greater security for both the casino and their patrons,” Wilson says.
“In the context of cashless gaming, it’s all happening electronically.”
He adds that cashless pay methods are no longer the purview of young people. “In this pandemic, seniors are Uber-ing. They’re having products delivered to the house through Amazon. I think the consumer is more broadly aware that cashless payment is not just a millennial phenomenon now.”
Another recent addition to SG’s systems is a social distancing and automated game sanitation module, which allows players to reserve an EGM and automatically disables surrounding machines.
In addition to systems, Scientific Games has benefited from the boom in online gaming brought on by the pandemic. “I think we benefited from the diversity in our portfolio,” Wilson says. “If you look at our earnings results, we were down the least compared to all the peers in the space, and that was largely due to the fact we have diversified across a number of sectors.
“We’re obviously heavily focused on the land-based casino market, which has been severely impacted, but we have a diverse portfolio. We’re very well diversified across all the verticals in the land-based market, but also in the digital world, whether it’s iGaming, iLottery, social gaming, sports betting—and with our lottery business, we’ve got all bases covered.”
A Year of Recovery
Scientific Games’ one-stop gaming supply shop will carry customers into the new year, when cap-ex budgets might be rejuvenated. “There are still some customers investing in their floor right now, actually more than we had anticipated,” Wilson says. “I think what operators want to see are consecutive months of solid operations before they start to think, ‘What’s the level of investment appetite I have?’
“If we continue on the path that we’re on, and things progress through the back half of the year—in Q4, things look better than in Q3, and in Q1, that’s when all the cap-ex budgets get reset—hopefully, we’re at a point where customers are confident enough with the trends that we get back to something that’s closer to normal.”
Wilson says he and his team are in continuous contact with customers in the meantime. “I’ve actually adopted video conferencing in a remarkable way,” he says. “I used to think I would have to fly across the country to visit our customers. Now, I have calls with customers every morning.”
The pause in capital spending has given a boost to the participation side of the industry, and Wilson says Scientific Games is making an effort to help casinos with lease arrangements that fit their budgets. “We consider them partners, so we share in the mess that is the pandemic. So, we’ve done a lot of things to be a good partner during these tough times.
“The casinos know they need to keep their floors fresh. I guess the analogy is, say, the movie business. Even if things are challenged, if you’re a movie theater, you’re not going to be playing JAWS for 20 years. You need new content. You need new, exciting things for people to go see.”
Wilson says Scientific Games will continue to provide that new content as the nation emerges from the pandemic. “We’re bullish on the recovery,” he says. “We all know that humans are social beings. We know that more acutely now, with the fact we’ve been socially isolated. We’ve all been climbing up the walls ready to get back out into society. And I think as people get more comfortable with infection rates declining, they will return to casinos.”
And SG will be there to prepare casinos for that return. “We have an ambition to build this organization to be the clear No. 1 gaming solutions provider in the world,” says Wilson. “That’s where we want to be.”