Bally celebrates its 75th anniversary this year with an exciting range of new products and aggressive Asia focus, centred on Macau
Although Bally only opened its representative office in Macau in February 2006, its products effectively entered the local market in May 2004 with the opening of the crowdpulling Las Vegas Sands Corp (LVS) property Sands Macau, which ran Bally’s ACSC casino management system. LVS is one of Bally’s major customers in the US. Bally also operates the MindPlay table management system – basically a baccarat security system – at Galaxy Entertainment Group’s Macau properties.
Bally is recognised as the world leader in the gaming systems business, with more than 345,000 machines and 652 casino, bingo, Class II, central determination and lottery locations worldwide – including more than
171 locations currently running Bally eTICKET™ on more than 195,000 slot machines. The Bally Technologies systems product line offers slot machine cash monitoring, table management, cashless, accounting, security, maintenance, marketing, promotional and bonusing capabilities, enabling operators to accurately analyze performance and accountability while providing an enhanced level of customer service.
Bally’s Asia Managing Director Cath Burns describes the company’s casino management system as “almost a mission-critical banking type system – a data warehousing product.” All the information resides in a central library, into which information flows back and forth in real time from each side of the casino operation.
Ms Burns stresses that one of the main advantages of the Bally system is that it is scaleable. “If you had a customer that’s operating one casino and just wants to add another one, you just add another casino on top of it. Your infrastructure and your technology decision is still sound.”
As the Macau market becomes more competitive, there will also be more demand for customer loyalty programs, and the Bally system is already prepared for it. It allows casinos to offer “all your bonusing, your rewards, your points, those types of things.”
Reliability is also critical, with the huge cash flows at Macau casinos meaning “you’re running a bank for all intents and purposes, and you want to protect that asset. You want to account for everything.”
Raising Machines in the Mix
Bally’s Macau revenues are currently dominated by the systems business, but the company hopes to derive 40% of its revenues from gaming machines in the near future.
Ms Burns sees massive growth potential for slot machines in Macau. We’re seeing anything from 20,000 to 40,000 new gaming machines over the next three years. Certainly the properties being built, and the projections for amount of rooms and floor space going forward support those numbers. And it’s one of those markets you don’t see anywhere outside of here – it’s a dual market. It’s a strong table market, and it’s going to be a strong slot market.” Vegas, by contrast, is dominated by slots.
Asked whether the high returns from tables in Macau may limit the growth of slots, Ms Burns stresses they are “two different things.”
“You’ll see distinct players on slot machines. This is a good question for an operator, because obviously they’re seeing the player more than even we are. You’ll see a player come to a slot machine that will probably only gamble on a slot machine. That isn’t a table player. Will they cross over? I don’t think we know the answer to that question yet. They may. I think you’ve just got to offer them plenty of product and see what they like. The early feedback is encouraging – that they do like slot machines.”
The growth of slot revenue has been explosive, though it comes against a low base. Ms Burns says the growth is just about where the major players expected it to be. “I don’t think there was any doubt that players from mainland China or Southeast Asia were going to enjoy playing slot machines. They’ve got universal appeal. If it’s a good game, if it’s entertaining, if it’s got good mathematics, and they enjoy it and it feels good, the player is going to play it.”
Features and Symbols
Ms Burns points out that the mix of features and symbols is the key determinant to a product’s success both worldwide and in a particular market. “It’s got to have the right combination that they like because quite often you’ll see a game that maybe has exactly the same features but different symbols and they don’t like it.”
In Macau, “we’ve seen a very quick take-up in progressive product. People want to win the big prize. It is showing early to be a very strong progressive market.”
Furthermore, “Chinese players loves to gamble,” so they prefer high-volatility games to “entertainment” games. They also “like games that give them free games. They like colourful games.”
“Macau is a very consumer-driven market,” observes Ms. Burns, “because it’s small and also you have several operators starting pretty much around the same time and a player base that we’ve not seen before anywhere.”
The competitive nature of the market makes it innovative. “We’re seeing this new player base, and we’re getting an early indication on what they like. We’re giving them more, and also thinking what more we can do. Something different.”
One of Bally’s top performers in Macau is Winning Times. “I think it’s the symbols but also the games. You have an opportunity to win a bonus feature to multiply your wins.
The company also has high hopes for the Hot Shot Progressive, which it has just started rolling out in Macau. “This style of game will really launch us along here,” says Ms Burns. Another new game under approval for Macau is Roulette.
There is also a “tremendous communal feel” among gamblers in Macau, believes Ms Burns. “They like to be part of a community. They like people to know that they’re winning, and that they’re successful. And if you have games that foster that, they tend to be successful.” She points to Auction Fever as a game that caters to the desire for a communal feel, with everybody playing on a bank able to trigger an auction. “It’s a bidding war. You bid for a prize,” she explains.
Server-based games, or downloadable games, consists of “a set of games that reside on the server and download to a machine. We’ve not seen that yet here, and we probably won’t until at least mid-2007,” says Ms Burns.
“The discussion about server-based gaming is how does it apply? You want to have your good vendors providing the games. We’ve just announced a partnership with Aristocrat where we’ll deliver server-based gaming with Aristocrat so you’ll have Bally games and Aristocrat games—which is a really powerful product.”
It’s early days for server-based gaming, and Ms Burns points out the main questions operators will ask themselves before implementing it is “does it suit me, does it suit my business, does it suit my player? How do I manage it and what’s the cost to replace my network to do it? Is the cost justified? And is the benefit there?”
Ms Burns believes there benefit is definitely there. “Obviously the customer-loyalty aspect is probably the number one. When a player comes in, if that particular player likes a particular game, you can bring that game up on a screen.”
The other major benefit is “the cost of removing your technicians from your floor. You can cut your costs down on who has to go change configuration on the floor. You can re-direct your workforce into other areas and basically have the configuration changes being done by computer. So basically it’s saving you time, money and allowing you to optimize your workforce doing other things.”
Bally is looking to set up a server-based gaming trial site in the US in 2007, and “we’d love to do an international trial in Macau. We’d love to try it and see if it works here.”
Asia will be core to Bally’s future growth. “Given what we’ll see across Asia with Singapore coming on and whatever happens after that, potentially Japan, and other Asian countries are going to come online. You have to focus on the region.”
Bally is also doing business in South Korea, the Philippines and Malaysia (at Genting), but chose to base its Asian operations in Macau “because of the growth that we see here”. Bally also wants “local people” running its Asian business.
To grow in Asia, Bally will focus on development, which is still carried out primarily in the US, but with engineers paying increasingly frequent visits to Asia in order to gather insights to develop games “with either an Asian theme, or an Asian feeling. Or even just games we think will do well in the market.”
“Our philosophy is to deliver as much varied product as we can,” stresses Ms Burns. “Let’s give the player some fun, and some entertainment. Let’s give them everything, then work out what it is they want and refine down. Now you just develop. Put a game out there. You would like to think that everyone is successful, but obviously they all can’t be.”