In the second installment of IAG’s video interview series with leading members of the Asian gaming community, we catch up with Shuffle Master CEO Gavin Isaacs, who discusses how he plans to position his company to profit from the booming Asian market.
Gavin Isaacs was appointed CEO of Shuffle Master effective 1st April, 2011. He formerly served as COO of Bally Technologies. With Mr Isaacs’ new role, the product range under his purview has expanded. Whereas Bally is focused solely on slots and systems, Shuffle Master’s catalogue covers slots, table games (including electronic table games), and of course, its market leading shufflers.
Mr Isaacs points out that his new job is also much more Asiafocused, since Shuffle Master derives a much greater percentage of its revenues from the region than Bally does.
Inside Asian Gaming publisher Kareem Jalal spoke to Mr Isaacs during last month’s G2E Asia Expo, help June 8th to 9th at Venetian Macao, for the second interview in IAG’s INSIGHTS series, produced in collaboration with Aomen TV, a member of the Ignite Media Group. Below is a transcript of the interview.
Mr Jalal: Slots are something that Shuffle Master has become stronger in since the Stargames acquisition [completed in February 2006]. Is that part of the reason Shuffle Master decided to buy Stargames?
Mr Isaacs: They bought it more for the electronic tables. They saw the growth of electronic tables. They have a product in North America called the Table Master, and Stargames’ Rapid Roulette and Vegas Star all complemented that.
Then Stargames had a fledgling slot business. What happened was that that slot business, they tried to sell it off, they couldn’t sell it. They reinvented themselves in many ways. The people in Stargames, whom I have met—a lot of them for the first time yesterday—fabulous amount of innovation. They got together. They built a new game, the Equinox, and all of a sudden they have gone from being down near the bottom of the pack to one of the leaders in the industry in Australia. Launching that product up here in Asia, initially, is the first expansion outside of Australia.
The electronic table game space is getting really crowded these days. Is that something you’re worried about losing your position in?
I don’t think so. I think each market is different. There is a lot of competition in Asia, but really the installations in Asia, apart from Macau and Singapore, they’re not that substantial—obviously, Philippines, places like that. It’s the revenue in the major markets around the world where you have these things where we actually do very well.
You’ve talked about the slow pace of innovation in the gaming industry compared to, say, mobile phones. Is that something you see changing?
Certain parts of it yes, certain parts of it no. You’ve got the fact that—and let me talk a little bit about the slot machine, for example, or let me talk about a Table Master or any piece of technology. A casino invests in it, they buy it. Seven years, eight years, nine years, ten years later, they expect you to keep that running and have it fresh with new games. It’s like buying a computer or a PlayStation 3 today, or whatever it is, and in ten years’ time when PlayStation 5 is out, expecting you to keep your PlayStation 3 up and running. So that really holds back gaming a lot.
Does that mean when you engineer a gaming product, it has to be timeless in a way?
Absolutely. In many respects, part of the cost factor in gaming equipment is exactly that. You’ve got to make sure the chips you buy are going to be around for at least the next five years.
You made it out to Macau fairly regularly as part of your old job. I guess you’ll continue coming out here pretty often as part of the new job?
Probably more so in this job. I mean, Australasia is a very large part of our business. When I was with Bally, it was very small.
Do you have any predictions for the expansion of gaming in Asia?
I don’t see Asia not growing. I think Asia is in its infancy. Macau is a phenomenal example. Look at 2003 to today. I mean, that’s 8 years. It’s amazing.
What do you have in store to keep up with the evolving market?
More of our money is being spent on R&D, which you have to do. We continue to evolve with our shufflers. We just had a new one released. Not only does it shuffle 8 decks of cards, but it also recognises the cards as it shuffles them. If someone changes a card or if someone takes out a card, it will tell the dealer. The speed of these things, that’s an investment in technology. On the proprietary tables, we continue to buy new games, develop new games, bring out new games. In electronic tables, we are doing a major overhaul of our sector there. And we’ve just invested in a new equinox cabinet. In every sector we’re investing, plus we’ve started investing in online gaming.
Our brands, Three Card Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold’em, are very popular games, so they’re ideally suited for the online space. In fact, some of them are already out there, so we’re going to license them and then we’re going to bring out our own.
Intellectual property is a very important part of your business. How do you go about protecting it in Asia?
It’s one of the big struggles that I’ve had because I’m very familiar with intellectual property. Obviously, Shuffle Master has probably more and richer and more unique [intellectual property] than any other company I’ve worked with. Its trademarks and patents are registered in many, many countries. But when you come into a market like Macau, for example, where there’s really never been proper testing of patents, I think we’ve been outplayed by a couple of players and I’m going to change that. I’m going to make sure I play the same rules that everyone else does and abide by, obviously, but protect my intellectual property.