President and COO Ramesh Srinivasan said Bally averages four new system installs per month.

The mood was optimistic at Bally Technologies’ 9th annual User Conference last month at Temecula, Calif.-based Pechanga Resort & Casino, and with good reason.

Some 600 attendees from around the world were on hand, representing a broad range of gaming departments. That’s a more than tenfold increase from Bally’s first User Conference, in 2003, and twice the number of casino sites that were represented just two years ago. About a quarter of all attendees carried IT titles, but marketing executives more than doubled in number from the year before, to 100, evidence of the gains Bally is making in its systems-oriented approach to relationship building at the point-of-play.

There were case study success stories from industry leaders such as Mashantucket, Conn.-based Foxwoods Resort Casino, which has realized substantial service and cost gains from Bally’s Service Tracking Manager application, and Pechanga, which made news in February using iView DM to support the world’s largest slot tournament. The number of iView DM installs has grown from five last May to 26 as of last month, and Bally’s Elite Bonusing Suite is now in 85 properties. The strongest message of all, however, came from Ramesh Srinivasan, president and chief operating officer, who gave attendees an encouraging view of where Bally is presently and what the future holds.

Srinivasan reminded attendees that four years ago, Bally presented its roadmap for the networked floor of the future, promising player-specific gaming, that recognizes player preferences and delivers a customized gaming experience. The company promised to redefine community gaming by using the floor-wide network to create new levels of competition and reinvent the traditional slot tournament by providing new capabilities. It committed to creating a ubiquitous player experience to ensure guests receive a seamless gaming experience regardless of the hardware or software chosen to deploy. And it promised to develop a highly integrated ecosystem of hardware and software to unify promotions, game management, revenue management and customer insights.

“We have made a lot of significant progress in the last few years,” said Srinivasan. “Systems is no longer just that necessary evil for regulatory and auditing purposes that is managed by an IT department in a corner. Gaming systems today is about tools, technologies that truly give you a competitive advantage, that contribute to your increased profitability and make it a lot more fun and entertaining for patrons in your casinos.”

Some excerpts from the overall progress report:

Bally has the capability to make slot tournaments mobile through the use of iPads and other devices.

• Systems growth:The number of gaming facilities running Bally systems and the number of slot machines connected to Bally systems has grown over the last seven years by an average of about four system installs per month and about 1,900 machines per month. “Why should you care?” asked Srinivasan, “because that gives us more and more R&D resources and the ability to improve the product for all customers. Growth on the machine side has been more domestic; system installs more international. Bally’s biggest growth has happened in the area of competitive replacements. In just four years, about 112 casino sites have switched from a competitive system to Bally’s. That’s 25-per-year or two-per-month.

“Our strength has always been the larger casinos; if you look at the largest 150 casinos in the world, about half use Bally systems,” said Srinivasan. “What we have seen recently is more and more smaller-sized casinos also accepting our products. That’s got a lot to do with SDS 11 and the fact that it supports Windows. We are now able to scale up and down equally effectively.”

The business systems division of Bally has grown to 1,247 people, more than triple in the last seven or so years; the largest gaming systems business unit ever built in gaming. “The best news about that is that about 800 of these people are involved in product development,” said Srinivasan.

• Systems implementations:There have been about 800 over the last four years, averaging over 200 a year. Over the last four years, about 175 of these are new implementations, where a customer buys a core product from Bally for the first time.

“What gives me the greatest amount of pride is the number of upgrades,” said Srinivasan. “That’s where you get value for your maintenance dollars. Maintenance is not paid for help desk and customer support; that’s probably 10 percent of the value. The remaining value comes from the fact that you invested in SDS 20 years ago, you now get SDS 12.4 software for free. You only pay for services.”

Systems implementation “can be a pretty humbling experience,” he said. About 7 percent of Bally’s implementations “we truly struggle with.” Two-thirds go very well and customer satisfaction is pretty consistently on the 70-75 percent range. For about the last two years, customers rate Bally 4.6 out of 5 in this area.

• Research & Development:Bally has increased R&D spend 45 percent increase in the last four years, a number which is understated because of the cost advantages its India development centers have over and above those in the U.S. “Our revenue has not grown that much,” Srinivasan said. “We understand we have to invest in R&D first and the revenue and margin increases will follow. That has resulted in award-winning innovation; 20 awards in the last three years from various sources.”

• Games:The biggest difference on Bally games now is that they are based on a very solid operating platform that gives the company a lot more strength and a bigger canvas on which to paint than what it had previously, according to Srinivasan. “And now we execute to a plan that is well thought out,” he said. “We have done great work with our hardware. For the next couple of years, the focus is going to be on content, content and content. The stream will be very steady and localized for international jurisdictions. A lot of compelling new play mechanics in terms of new software, backed up by good, solid A- and B-level brand strategies.” The company is doing a lot of focus group studies before it releases games, and it will have a steady stream of content on both Alpha 1 and Alpha 2.

• Interactive gaming:This new division is composed of mobile, Internet and social media applications. It has been bulked up by two key acquisitions; MacroView on the mobile side and Chiligaming on the Internet gaming end. As Bally goes along, it will be able to provide operators with games on any of the media, whether it is on the mobile device or through the Internet, according to Srinivasan. “From Chiligaming, we not only got the technology, but we also got some tremendous brain power. We will be able to help you create online portals and help you bring everything together there. And we will help you carry the technology to your Facebook page as well.”