Kurt Gissane, Bally Technologies’ recently appointed Managing Director of Asia Pacific, discusses his new job and growth opportunities in the region.
Cath Burns is a tough act to follow, but four months into his new job, Kurt Gissane appears to have found his stride.
Mr Gissane was promoted to Managing Director of Asia Pacific for Bally Technologies Inc. in November last year, taking over the title previously held by Ms Burns, who has moved to London to assume her new role as Global CEO of TCSJOHNHUXLEY.
Kurt Gissane has lived and worked in Macau since early 2005, witnessing firsthand the breakneck development of the local gaming industry since the arrival of the first post-monopoly casino properties in 2004. Mr Gissane joined Bally in 2009, and previously served as the company’s Director of Sales and Operations for the Asia-Pacific region. Prior to joining Bally, he worked for nine years at Aristocrat Technologies.
Inside Asian Gaming caught up with Mr Gissane and asked him how he was settling in to his new post, and what Bally has got planned for Asia over the coming months and years.
IAG: What have been your main priorities since taking over?
Kurt Gissane: The big one was maintaining and strengthening relationships with all our customers and operators. Cath was a big part of this company and the face of Bally here, especially on the systems side—although I’ve run the games business for the last two or three years. I’ve been going out and assuring customers that although we’ve lost Cath and that’s unfortunate—she’s moved on to a great new opportunity—we’ve got a great team here and it’s business as usual. I also benefit from Cath’s legacy—she’s built a fantastic team, and we’ve got a strong management team who’ve been stable here for quite some time.
You personally are well known for maintaining strong relationships with customers, and that’s perhaps a big factor behind your success in sales over the years. How is maintaining relationships here [in Macau] different to maintaining them in Singapore or New Zealand?
Fundamentally, I think it’s the same. I do pride myself on building strong relationships. Transparency and mutual respect—that goes without saying in any region. I don’t think that differs whether it’s a Macau customer or an Australian customer or a US customer.
I think rather than looking at it as a selling operation, it’s about forming true business partnerships, long-term partnerships, and that’s very important for me and the Bally team. That’s very important in this day and age. We’re a provider of systems, games, and now mobile and online gaming business solutions through our new Bally Interactive division. We’re advisors to our partners in the interests of improving their operational efficiency or helping them increase their revenues.
Your customers are dispersed throughout the region. So has that entailed a lot of travelling?
Absolutely. Travelling was always a large part of the role. What I’m not sure a lot of people understand completely is that my role isn’t absolutely Cath’s former role—Cath’s role also encompassed Australia. I have all of Asia-Pacific and New Zealand, so that’s under me. And Michael McNee, who Cath had appointed as General Manager & Managing Director of Australia—he’s assumed the responsibility of Australian reporting straight into the US. So I don’t actually have any Australian responsibilities.
Are your main markets Macau and Singapore?
Yes, Macau and Singapore. New Zealand is a huge market for us at the moment—on the systems side only, not on games. We’re in the middle of implementing systems throughout the casinos in New Zealand.
Whereas previously you were focused on slot games and Cath was in charge of systems, now your responsibilities extend to systems as well. How is dealing with systems different to dealing with games?
It’s different in the sense that a system is a long-term decision. When you make a system decision, it’s much longer ideally for the operator and for the supplier. It’s a long term partnership. You make a system decision; you don’t want to be replacing that system in two or three years’ time. But with a game decision, the product’s life cycle is usually shorter. Also, a game is a revenueearning device, whereas a system enhances other operational efficiencies. In addition, you’re involved in a lot more parts of the business with systems than you are with games. With games, predominantly we deal with the VP or director of slots, that particular division, while systems incorporate tables, slots, IT, so you’re dealing with a lot of other areas, like a holistic approach to the business if you will.
So, it has been a steep learning curve for you?
Definitely, but exciting. Bally is known as the systems leader, not just in this part of the world but globally, and we do pride ourselves on technological innovation, both in games and systems. We are very strong innovators and some of the products that we have on our systems at the moment are extremely exciting. Macau has become a huge flagship for us. We now have three out of six casino concessionaries in Macau running Bally systems, so that’s something we are also very proud of.
Can you share with us what you’ve got in store to improve your systems offering in Asia in particular?
We’re constantly working on improving the robustness of our systems solutions. We have over 1,300 employees across the globe dedicated to developing and enhancing our systems products. We’ve got a thousand staff in India, in Chennai and Bangalore. We continue to promote the advantages and explain the many benefits that operators can obtain with a few of our products like iView Display Manager, which we’re really promoting this year. The iVIEW DM™ essentially can make any gaming device—not just a Bally device—as long as it contains a touch-enabled screen into a kiosk and a player information device. The iVIEW DM can run in conjunction with our Elite Bonusing Suite™ (EBS) bonusing applications. We can run slot promotions and slot tournaments across any manufacturer’s machines throughout a venue. In fact, I’m not sure if you’ve read some recent press coverage, but a few weeks ago, in Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, California, we made the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest slot tournament ever held and most slot machines running the same game simultaneously at the same venue.
It seems slot tournaments are something that haven’t been tapped into that much in Macau in particular.
That’s potentially a big growth area.
Absolutely. There have been a few operators that have done slot tournaments in Macau, but it’s been very targeted and they had to just rely on that individual manufacturer’s games and, often, if it’s a tournament-style game, it’s not an asset that’s yielding any revenue when it’s not in tournament mode and they can only run tournaments periodically in some instances. So, what this iVIEW DM does from the tournament perspective is with any one of your assets that are normal revenue earning devices any part of the day, you can have a tournament come up and it doesn’t actually interrupt game play. You can continue to play your slot game and also be involved in a tournament if you like, or a bonusing product if you like. You can have a tournament come over and schedule under certain parameters across games from various manufactures, not only Bally, which is very exciting.
What have you got planned for your own slot games in Asia?
This is something I’m very passionate about and that’s improving the quality of games for our operators in the Asia-Pacific region. Macau has obviously been a huge market for us and very successful in terms of both systems and games, but one of the key things that I’ve been focusing on is localisation of games, and having regionspecific targeted games. We’ve had a lot of success recently with some operators around Macau with premium titles such as Cash Spin, Cash Wizard, Vegas Hits, a lot of these products that are being translated into Chinese language and localised to enhance the customer experience.
As for region-specific games, we’ve developed some targeted in-house mystery links. For Macau, there’s a product called Golden Empire™. For the Philippines, there’s one called Jeepney Joyride. These are inhouse mystery links with themes targeted for the region that can go over Bally games and have been created specifically for Bally Macau. So that’s been exciting for us and it’s been a huge shift for us on the games side.
One of the highlights of the G2E expo held last October in Vegas was your Michael Jackson game and people were wondering when and if that might be rolled out here [in Macau].
Yes, I intend to showcase Michael Jackson at this year’s G2E Asia [held 22-24 May at Venetian Macao]. Unfortunately, it won’t be an approved product in time for the show, but we definitely expect it to be approved and rolled out this year.
What do you see as the big growth opportunities for Bally and other gaming suppliers across the region over the next few years?
Well, Macau is and will continue to be a major market for Bally. Although a lot of people have mentioned that after Cotai parcels five and six open [scheduled for April] there’ll be a little bit of a slow-down in Macau in terms of new, large-scale property openings; that may be true, but technology never stands still. On the systems and the games sides, we’re constantly working with the operators and our partners on enhancements of the systems to increase their business and operational efficiency. We’ve got a lot of add-on products. Our systems are very modular. We have a lot of products like BI, which is our Business Intelligence™ unit; EBS, which I mentioned before; and iVIEW DM. Another product that we’re launching is Service Tracking Manager™, STM. A lot of these add-on products, we’re constantly working with the casino operators to add on or upgrade. So that never stops and Macau will remain a large market there.
Another opportunity is the Philippines, which has been a big part of Bally’s business on the games side for the last five years. Obviously, with the recently approved four casino licenses, in the next 12 to 48 months, the Philippines will be a huge business opportunity for us on both games and systems. So that’s a very exciting market for us. We’re already talking to a number of the concessionaires over there, which is exciting.
Vietnam is another market that’s on the move at the moment. There’s one licence that hopefully should go live towards the end of this year or next year. And that’s a market that Bally hasn’t been in before, so we’re focused very heavily on Vietnam at the moment as well.
Singapore continues to do great and it amazes me that a country with two casinos outstripped Las Vegas last year in terms of gaming revenue. Singapore has also been a success for us on both the games and the systems sides. And that will hopefully mean more opportunities in the replacement market down the road.
We’ve started seeing Macau finally hit a bit of a replacement market. Typically, you look at slot machines with a product life cycle of say five to seven years, in terms of cabinets. Until recently, games sales in Macau have been primarily driven by new property openings—new property, new machines. Now, some of the earlier properties that opened in the 2005-2006 era are starting to replace some of their existing machines.
What challenges do you foresee for your business over the next few years and how will you address them?
One of the big challenges, obviously, is competition. We’ve got the two largest gaming markets in the world on our doorstep and I believe, very soon, the Philippines will be in the top three with the introduction of integrated resorts over there. And it’s a heavily competitive market. We’ve got some very strong, healthy competitors here which is good, because it keeps all of us on our toes in terms of technology development and innovation and always striving for that next step.
As for Macau, I’m a huge believer in building local teams and localisation and that’s something Cath did tremendously here and that’s something I intend to continue to do. We have a very strong local team, but it’s tough, with the Macau labour market being so buoyant—I think the official rate of unemployment at the moment is 2.1%, which is effectively zero unemployment. That makes retention of key great staff a big challenge, not just for suppliers, but also for the operators. Every time a new casino property opens, they always see a lot of transfer of staff. So that’s a huge challenge, especially when we’re a technology company. To find, hire and retain high-level technical people is an ongoing challenge.
What are the major insights you’ve gained during your time working in Macau?
The great thing about being in this part of the world is we’re on the doorstep of China and everything that China is doing at the moment. Being a part of this is huge and gaining an understanding of the Chinese mentality and culture has been great for my development as a business person and as a person in general. I’ve loved being involved and immersed in a completely different culture than what I grew up in and I think it makes me a much more well-rounded business person. And being able to deal with many different types of individuals and personalities, that has been exciting.
I’m proud to be living in the largest gaming market in the world, and Macau continues to grow and what I saw when I first moved here at the start of 2005 to what I’m seeing now, it’s a completely different landscape. Actually seeing that and growing with it has been a tremendous experience.
It’s only possible to have that real insight into Macau’s development when you’ve actually been here through it. It’s like witnessing the greatest gaming growth story of this generation.
Absolutely. It would be like being in Vegas in the ‘50s. It’s something I’ll cherish forever.
What’s in store for visitors to G2E Asia? You mentioned Michael Jackson.
We’ve recently acquired two very globally recognised brands in Michael Jackson and Grease. Michael Jackson is obviously the thing we’re most excited about. I mean, he was such a tremendous performer, has absolutely global appeal and from all the research has a lot of interest and huge Asian appeal as well, so we truly think this will be a knockout product. And the way Bally has designed this product as well—we’ve got some of his hit songs and we actually have Bally’s Pro Series sound chair, which is truly an outstanding product. This game is presented on our new and imposing Pro Series V22/32 cabinet with iDeck.
Bally has really moved into interactivestyle gaming. We look at other trends in the global community, such as the progress Apple has made with iPad and iPod Touch and things like that, so we’ve introduced a lot of that gesture-controlled orientation and player interaction into our games. There’s something called U-Spin, where you spin a virtual wheel, there’s U-Shoot, where you’re playing a space invaderstype game in a feature on an iDeck—a lot of interactive products.
On our systems side, you’ll see the iVIEW DM and Elite Bonusing Suite applications. We have a bonusing application called Virtual Racing™, which is run through our iVIEW technology suite, and actually has a simulated horse race that you can run on all manufacturer’s machines while you’re still playing your slot game.
And of course, there’s also Business Intelligence. It’s a very exciting G2E Asia for us this year.