Zitro International is a well-known supplier of gaming machines. Zitro is the No. 1 supplier of slots in Mexico, for instance. It is at or near the top of the slot markets in Argentina, Peru, Columbia and especially in Europe, led by Spain, where Zitro is the dominant supplier.
In the U.S., though, Zitro is widely viewed as a new player, except for a few electronic bingo games launched in U.S. markets over the past decade. Company founder and owner Johnny Ortiz is working to change that, and he has chosen well in his plan to gain a foothold in U.S. Class III slot markets.
Early last year, Ortiz brought on a new CEO for Zitro USA—the slot veteran Derik Mooberry.
Mooberry had been in the thick of the turnaround for the former Scientific Games (now Light & Wonder), where he spent a total of 20 years in the gaming division of that and legacy company Bally Technologies, attaining the position of chief executive officer, gaming for SG.
Ortiz coaxed Mooberry out of retirement. “Johnny reached out to me at the end of 2021 and asked what I was doing, and at the time, I was doing nothing,” Mooberry recalls, noting that after several months of retirement, he was ready for a new challenge. Here it was—to establish Zitro in U.S. Class III markets.
“He explained to me what he was doing, and it was his passion that sold me on coming to take this job,” says Mooberry. “I had just started to look around at what opportunities were out there, and as soon as I talked to him, I really quit looking. This guy’s passion is unmatched; he has a drive and a desire that I haven’t seen before.”
Zitro’s R&D is centered in Spain, in its Technology Campus in Barcelona (“I would put it up against the top gaming facilities in the world, including any of our competitors,” says Mooberry).
“A lot of people don’t realize we’re as big as we are, with more than 1,000 employees around the world,” Mooberry says, adding that this fact poses a unique challenge in spreading Zitro’s footprint to the U.S. “This is really like a ground-up operation here in the U.S. While we’re supported by a wonderful, long-established company internationally, the U.S. operation is essentially an emerging business.”
With Mooberry at the helm of Zitro USA, the company is advancing quickly to a growth phase. “The first big ambition is the United States, and Johnny reached out to me to help lead that effort,” he says.
Mooberry says he started with only four employees in the U.S., but that number has grown to 21, and is still growing. “We had a small warehouse in Southern California, because that’s where a lot of our first installs were,” Mooberry says. “But if you’re going to open a U.S. office, you’ve got to be in Las Vegas, so we quickly looked for an office and warehouse. Even though we don’t have a Nevada license today, we’re using this as our launching point.”
As it happens, Zitro’s Las Vegas office is practically within shouting distance of Mooberry’s former Bally stomping grounds. Accordingly, he has tapped a former Bally/SG legend to guide slot development for the U.S. market—Mike Mitchell.
After starting his career at Anchor Gaming, Mitchell had a storied career as a game developer at Bally and Scientific Games, where he retired as vice president of game development three years ago.
Mooberry managed to coax his former colleague out of retirement, bringing him to Zitro early this year as distinguished designer.
“Mike and I have been friends for years, and I told him we need someone here in the U.S. to give some direction,” Mooberry says. “Together with our great team in Spain, we are fully prepared to address the demands of players in this market. Mike brings this vast experience in both software design and coming up with new creative game ideas.”
Meanwhile, much of Zitro’s focus for the near future will be on expansion to new U.S. jurisdictions. When Mooberry arrived, Zitro games were placed in California, Oklahoma and Florida. They are now in 10 states, including recent additions Arizona, New Mexico, Minnesota, Virginia, Ohio racinos, and Connecticut, where Zitro games recently went live at Mohegan Sun. “We’ve started to create some momentum,” says Mooberry. “Our strategy has been to spread our arms and our reach throughout all tribal America. That was our strategy all along, and we started 2023 seeking more of the commercial licenses.”
By 2025, he says, he expects Zitro will cover most if not all of the U.S. jurisdictions.
A collection of strong games is helping the growth mode. As Zitro designers have transitioned to developing more Class III slot games, game performance has improved.
One big success has been the 88 Link game series. Featuring Asian-style theming and graphics, the game franchise has a “Link Up” feature—higher wagers result in more winning combinations—and a growing orb that builds anticipation for a bonus round with a perceived-persistence style of mechanic.
“That game has been fantastic for us,” Mooberry says. “It was our go-to game at the G2E show last year, and at the IGA show in San Diego this year—probably 80 percent of our installs continue to be that game, and it consistently earns above house average.”
The first two games in the franchise were 88 Link Lucky Charms and 88 Link Wild Duels. At this year’s G2E, Zitro will launch a new entry to the family, 88 Link Shiro.
The game is the first to be featured on Zitro’s new Altius Glare cabinet, with its 55-inch immersive touchscreen monitor and 27-inch base-game screen. All the familiar 88 Link mechanics are included in the jackpot bonus featuring the popular Link Up, in which larger bets are directly correlated to larger prizes.
“We’ve taken the 88 Link game and put it on our premium cabinets,” says Mooberry. “We’re now going to have our best game on our best cabinet.”
In addition to reprising player favorites like the 88 Link series, Zitro will arrive at G2E with games that break new ground for the supplier—like a fun cartoon game. Billy the Pig carries the fun piggie theme with some unique features. For instance, instead of progressives, there are five fixed jackpot amounts which change into larger jackpots as the player bets up to the next player-selectable denomination.
The pig characters are central to the primary game—they are wild, and when they appear in either or both of two blue-boxed reel spots—reels 5 and 11 of the 15 independent reels in a three-by-five, 243-ways game—they unlock adjacent prizes, which can include any of the jackpots.
Each pig stands above the reels with a bag that fills with coins or bills as they land on the reels. The bags represent free games—six on the left, 12 on the right. The blue boxes are active in the free games as well as the primary game.
“You’ve seen some games in the industry where you’re chasing a symbol in the middle,” comments Mooberry. “We decided to go with two. The chase factor here is trying to get the two pigs inside the blue boxes. This will be one of our premier games—it is going to be the lead game; it will stand out as you walk into our G2E booth.”
Also prominent will be a pair of sister games launching at G2E, Fu Frogs and Fu Pots. These games, featured on either the Illusion Glare or Allure Glare cabinet, combine a collecting pot-style bonus with a hold-and-re-spin feature. Each of the three pot bonuses—on Fu Frogs, they are different-colored frogs—represents a different special feature: multiplier, double, and extra spins. By combining the three, players can get seven different bonus links.
The green frog adds multipliers that apply to the cash-on-reels symbols. (The multiplier lands on a different reel spot with each spin.) The orange frog doubles the reel array, so the feature takes place on two sets of reels, giving the opportunity for twice as many coin prizes. The gold frog grants extra spins when the feature would otherwise end.
The player can get any combination of the bonus features, including all three, for a bonus jackpot feature that starts at three spins and sends the meter back to three with each additional coin or jackpot symbol—the two lower-level jackpots can appear along with the cash-on-reels symbols in the feature.
A wheel symbol in the bonus round triggers a spin on a horizontal wheel to win one of the two top progressives.
Two other G2E launch games are Fortune Keepers, which features a unique hold-and-re-spin round on a 12-spot grid above the middle reels with multipliers on top (the idea is to keep the hold-and-spin going long enough to reach the multipliers); and last but not least, Lún Pán Dú, a 243-ways Asian game that Mooberry predicts will be “the best game at the show.” The latter game includes a chase feature involving a middle-reel panda and a bonus wheel the player physically spins with a hand on the touchscreen.
As Zitro is maximizing its presence in U.S. markets, Mooberry says another big goal is to participate in the push to re-legalize gaming in Brazil—not only Ortiz’s home country, but one of the few potentially massive new markets left on the casino horizon.
“As part of our ambitious growth plans, we have recently opened a new Technology Campus in Bangalore, India, dedicated entirely to software development,” says Mooberry.
In the meantime, Zitro will continue to grow, in jurisdictions, in engineering talent, and potentially in more R&D facilities. “I would love at some point to be big enough in the U.S. to have different studios here,” Mooberry says.
“That may be years in the future, but that’s definitely where we’re headed. That’s part of the excitement of what Zitro has in the future.”