The Business of Bingo

It's not your grandmother's game anymore-unless you want it to be.

The Business of Bingo

Bingo packs a unique correlation to gaming. It links eras.

Unlike its casino-floor counterparts, like craps tables and slot machines, this centuries-old game recruits patrons during their adolescence.

Bingo was designed for the pace of leisure, the cause of community fund-raising and the social interaction of neighbors. Yet now, in the high-tech, high-adrenaline gambling world, bingo connects kitchen parlors and charity halls to the gaming floor and some lucrative jackpots.

The balls come faster, at slot-machine speed. Cards have an infinite supply. There is no problem keeping up, because a tablet or machine can accomplish that for a player. Convenience comes with higher stakes and buy-ins.

Bingo is a both a niche and an revenue stream for casinos. Throw high-roller parties, for bingo players. Target them for hotel specials, restaurants and shows. Invite them to the property. Make them part of the gambling world.

However casinos bend, shape, expand or contract this game, bingo spells victory.

B—Business: Commercial games offered in Nevada and throughout many Native American jurisdictions offer substantial  jackpots. In some cases, a series of properties can be linked to one payout. Casinos offer full-fledged weekend bingo tournaments.

I—Innovation: One can now find it on tablets or on casino floors. The speed of play can resemble that of a slot machine. It can also be intertwined with lotteries.

N—Natural Fit: It goes with any environment. Dress it up with lights, music and dancing. Dress it down with traditional daubing, cards and number-calling. It can entail social chatter or an adrenaline rush.

G—Grandiose: Major properties celebrate it. Foxwoods has a bingo facility offering 3,600 seats. The Potawatomi Tribe in Milwaukee actually ran a bingo casino for nearly a quarter century before adopting additional forms of gambling. Its bingo hall measures 45,800 square feet, which can accommodate around 2,500 players.

O—Online:  Online for social gamers. On property for casinos wishing to lure foot traffic. On the balance sheet, as a revenue triumph.

The celebrated game does not require a particular type of player, or marketing strategy. Bingo’s realm is unto itself a rare wild card for an industry hard-pressed to find an edge.

Video King “Champ”ions the Cause

Video King, based in Omaha, Nebraska, enjoys a multi-faceted advance. While bingo game content will always be important, it has found a niche where the action transpires.

The company’s newest Android gaming tablet, CHAMP-e, and a powering device, CHARGE-e, have hit the market. CHAMP-e will be deployed at Foxwoods in April or May, and more installs of both items are expected this year. CEO Tim Stuart savors his company’s relationship of nearly 20 years with the prestigious property.

“This is wonderful for us,” Stuart says. “It’s the largest bingo room in the world as far as I know, and is one of the best addresses in the world. We are pretty blessed to have a great relationship with the people there.”

Video King is already among the world’s largest providers of electronic gaming systems, game designs, digital signage and bingo equipment. Its entertainment systems can be found aboard luxury cruise liners, throughout Indian Country and in thousands of charitable, commercial and military establishments around the world.

This is an interesting age of innovation.

CHAMP-e exceeds the general tablet capability of allowing gamblers to play an interactive role in games via touch screen. It offers more enhanced, high-resolution graphics—this portable, touch-screen device will include several animations featuring e-cartoon “Champ” in several poses. The tablet features a brighter, 1,280-by-800-pixel screen, greater processing power for more complex patterns and multi-hour run time, packaged in a futuristic, lightweight design, Stuart says.

And  the champ needs amps.

CHARGE-e will be used to power the CHAMP-e, using wireless technology, with possible applications beyond the gaming industry. This new charging system is foolproof, theft-proof and easy to service, Stuart says. The charge rack has a sliding door that can be key-locked to ensure tablets can’t be removed, further enhancing security.

Capable of holding 10 tablets per rack, its new power supply and mechanical workings are all serviceable from the front, enhancing maintenance ease.

 Using less power than before, the CHARGE-e also has a 2:1 charge ratio, meaning for every hour of charge, operators will get two hours of run time.

From the game side comes PokerNanza.

It is basically 52-card bingo. The symbols from the cards turn into poker, essentially turning one game into another. Lovers of kitchen games may recall a similar concept, 5-in-1, by which a blackjack hand turns into poker, then bingo along the way.

Stuart says PokerNanza should be deployed in several Indian casinos over the next several months. It may also become the catalyst for Video King to enter the Nevada jurisdiction  this year.

While market conditions and state regulations make installation predictions hard to predict, the underlying popularity of bingo remains strong, Stuart asserts. “There is something in it for everybody,” he says. “Bingo players in Indian Country are slot players. They are table-game players, too. You have places in which people are quietly playing bingo and other locations in which there are crazy rooms behind the walls for people playing. You have electronic dance music.

“I know there are some age groups, say the twentysomethings who bypassed slots, who think bingo may be boring. Well, it’s so corny, it’s cool.”

So cool, in fact, that Video King has invested heavily in research and development for the next five years.

Ortiz: In the Zone

Maurilio Silva, president of Ortiz Gaming, believes bingo has spread its customer wings. The company has offices in Europe, North America, Asia and Latin America.

“In the past, bingo players were stereotyped as your grandmother, and bingo was all she played,” he contends. “The recent popularity of the game and market research tell us the exact opposite. Bingo is a multi-demographic game, and it goes back to the universal aspects of the game. Bingo has a long history around the world with people of all ages, and it’s a simple game to get excited about. As a result, bingo players can be gamblers, they can be social gamers, and they can be niche.

“Everyone has enjoyed some form of bingo in their life, making it truly a universal game. Recently, social gaming, new trendy bingo halls and millennials have rejuvenated this niche market, making bingo a popular gaming option.”

Silva said his company has piled recent success in North America atop its perennial presence in Latin America, Asia and Europe. Over the past year, bingo has become trendier, with fun bonus versions of the game, he contends. He says Ortiz will continue to spend significant portions of its profits to provide updates, fun features and new game designs.

One of Ortiz’s most recent rollouts is the OrtiZone, part of its interactive content.

“It is a turn-key gaming lounge solution,” he says. “Transform any space into a profitable gaming area, customized to your needs. Start with an OrtiZone server-based environment featuring amazing games like Six Bingo and Triple Bonus. Decorate your space as a lounge setting or use one of our sleek and ergonomic cabinet gaming sets, like O-Evolution. Connect with your choice of device.”

Silva says operators are encouraged to revamp any space into a profitable gaming area. This gives the operational edge to the casino by fitting its unique needs, he contends. Operators are not limited to the slot floor. They can update a restaurant, bar or lounge area, create a more relaxed high-limit room, or even offer a wireless feature to their existing slot floor.

And what makes a good game these days?

“Fun,” Silva proclaims. “It is our belief that this is what all players want. We add to the fun with great graphics, crisp sound quality, and HD screens and devices to allow the player to feel the excitement of the games.

“Some players enjoy the bells and whistles of games like Ace Mania, which has a joker that lets you pick your next bingo ball, or Triple Bonus, which has three times the bonuses, while others enjoy a simple bingo game. We offer games across the spectrum, but continue to develop based on what the market is telling us.

“One of the new elements we have been offering is games with up to 20 bingo cards. Players just demanded more cards, and we are giving it to them.”

Zitro: Big Bang

Sometimes it’s not the game, but the bonus which inspires a “big” idea.

For Madrid-based Zitro, which opened a United States branch in Las Vegas about three years ago, Big Bang is not a wildly popular television comedy. It’s a fundamental player philosophy, embedded in software. Bet more, play more, win more. Big Bang is scheduled for spring 2016 delivery, according to Sam Basile, president of Zitro USA.

“You hit the Big Bang button and you qualify to go after bigger bonuses,” Basile says.

That sounds like the blueprint to attract a hardened casino player. In the right context, it works for bingo, Basile maintains. “Bingo is still making slow and steady gains in the  gaming industry,” he says. “Whether it’s on a casino floor or in the bingo hall, it is a mainstay. We find that it still has the same demographic as slot players—it is still the 40- to 70-year-old female predominantly playing it.”

Bingo can address the concept of bigger action, especially if it can be linked to a casino game. But how does a company market to that player?

“Some will continue to prefer the paper and the daubers,” says Basile, “but our appeal for bingo on the casino floor is the slot player. We put our machines near a bingo room, and once the players come out, we hope they want to try our version of bingo. It has a different look and feel. We don’t have a five-by-five card. There is no daubing. It’s just a push-and-pray style of game.”

But don’t generalize everyone by age group, he adds.

“Granny has an iPad too,” he laughs.

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Casino Connection Sports Editor Dave Bontempo is an award-winning sports writer and broadcaster who calls boxing matches all over the world. He has covered the Philadelphia Flyers in the playoffs, as well as numerous PGA, LPGA and Seniors Golf Tour events, and co-hosted the Casino Connection television program with Publisher Roger Gros.

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