Casino players have gotten used to mergers bringing former fierce competitors under the same corporate umbrella. Caesars, Harrah’s and Bally’s all live happily under the Caesars Entertainment umbrella nowadays.
When game manufacturers start merging, it’s not as immediately noticeable to the gambling public. But the latest round of mergers involves some of the biggest names in slot machines, and is sure to have an impact on the games we play. And two recent mergers involve major players in the slot game – IGT and Bally.
In mid-July, the Italian firm GTECH announced it was acquiring the world’s largest slotmaker, Reno-based International Game Technology, in a $6.4 billion deal. If you play electronic casino games in the United States, you’ve played IGT, with three-reel classics including Double Diamond, Red White and Blue, and Wild Cherry; the long-popular series of Wheel of Fortune slots; and recent hits that include Sex and the City, The Hangover and James Cameron’s Avatar.
Not only that, IGT was founded on video poker, and controls about 95 percent of the video poker market. It’s a leader in developing server-based slot technology, along with player tracking, analytics, electronic table games – just about anything an operator needs to run a slot floor.
GTECH’s main business is in worldwide lotteries and equipment, but it has a presence in casinos slots. Among its earlier acquisitions is the slotmaker formerly known as Atronic, then as Spielo International. Players know Atronic/Spielo/GTECH mainly through its Sphinx and Deal or No Deal slots. But IGT’s slot presence dwarfs GTECH’s, and when the sale is finalized, you can be sure the new owner will want to learn from IGT and take advantage of what it can do.
Bally is changing hands, too, but this deal brings it into the same corporation as a longtime competitor. On Aug. 1, New York-based Scientific Games announced it was acquiring Las Vegas-based Bally Technologies in a $3.7 billion deal. That brings the second- and third-leading U.S. slot manufacturers into one family, because Chicago-based WMS Gaming $1.5 billion sale to Sci Games was announced in January 2013 and finalized last October.
Sci Games is a major provider of lottery systems and services, and devised the secure systems through which tickets for games such as PowerBall are printed and distributed. Its systems reach beyond the lottery into the slot world. When Illinois legalized video slots in bars, restaurants, truck stops and service organizations, it needed a central monitoring system, and turned to Scientific Games.
Bally, too, is a major systems presence. Its SDS, introduced in 1976, was the first electronic slot accounting system, and has continually been updated and upgraded ever since. Today it offers operators a wide range of solutions to gather and analyze data, spot trends, better target player rewards and enhance security.
With Scientific’s existing product, Bally’s enormous presence in casino systems makes for an intriguing blend for operators and regulators. But for players, the bigger question is how much blending of slot game capabilities there will be between Bally and WMS.
Both have been creative forces. Among the games you’re sure to know are Jackpot Party, the Monopoly series, the Wizard of Oz and Lord of the Rings. Among Bally’s hits are Blazing 7s, the Hot Shot progressives, Michael Jackson: King of Pop and NASCAR.
WMS has given us a whole slew of innovations, such as the Sensory Immersion series with its chair for motion effects, with Bose speakers in the chair back as well as in the machine for 3-D sound. It’s also linked casino slots to the interactive online social world with games such as Star Trek and Lord of the Rings. You create a screen name and unlock bonus and graphic packages during play. Away from the casino, you also can unlock the packages through free play online. When you next play in a casino, you can log in and have all your extras available.
Bally has found big success with its U-Spin technology. You touch the video screen to drag a wheel back and forth, move fast or slow and let fly for a spin. On some games, a physical wheel on top of the game mirrors your on-screen spin, and stops in the same place. Used as a prize wheel in the Vegas Hits and to determine bonus events in Michael Jackson, U-Spin has been adapted into variations such touching the screen to play musical notes (U-Play) and targeting cannons on pirate ships (U-Aim).
At this point, no one know how all this will shake out once the Bally sale is finalized. How closely aligned will WMS and Bally be? Will there be layoffs and blending of design labs? Will we see a Lord of the Rings sequel where U-Spin the One Ring to guide a trek through Middle Earth?
No doubt change is coming, but we’ll just have to wait to see how much.
Look for John Grochowski at www.casinoanswerman.com, on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).
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