Whether the measure is growth in facilities, in revenue or in game offerings, the Oklahoma tribal casino industry has been on the rise since a compact cleared the way for Class III machines in 2005. All told, 33 tribes now operate a total of 107 casinos that house around 62,000 Class II and Class III slots that draw business not only from within the state, but from neighboring Texas, Kansas, Arkansas and Missouri.
“Oklahoma Indian gaming has experienced tremendous growth in recent years,” noted Alan Meister, PhD, principal economist for Nathan Associates Inc. of Irvine, Calif., “due in large part to the introduction of new gaming facilities; the expansion of many existing facilities to include non-gaming amenities and additional gaming options, such as poker and Class III machines; and the ability to draw customers from surrounding states with limited casino gaming.”
At a time when many U.S. gaming markets posted little or no growth, Meister’s 2011 Indian Gaming Industry Report showed that Oklahoma tribal gaming revenue increased nearly 7 percent from $2.9 billion in 2008 to $3.1 billion in 2009. The Oklahoma tribes have done it with a combination of Class III games along with strong continued Class II play. Included are card games such as blackjack, Let It Ride and Three Card Poker, but not non-card table games such as roulette and craps-though some have a version of craps that uses cards.
The success of the Oklahoma market has not been lost on the financial community. Gaming Capital Group (GCG), a Newcastle, Okla.-based provider of flexible financing solutions for casinos seeking to build or upgrade gaming and non-gaming amenities, has funded a number of Oklahoma tribal facilities and is open to further tribal gaming opportunities in the state.
Despite its ongoing promise, most observers agree Oklahoma is a special market with special needs, and that includes a continued following for Class II electronic bingo-type products. There is no central licensing of vendors at the state level. Vendors are licensed by individual tribes/nations under tribal-state compacts.
“The Oklahoma Gaming Market began with Class II gaming, so we still have a loyal following of Class II Games such as VGT,” said Janie Dillard executive director over gaming for the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. “Our properties currently operate approximately 50/50 Class II/Class III Games.”
Video Gaming Technology, as one of the Class II vendors that has had a major presence since before the 2005 compact, sees Oklahoma as a special market.
“The sole purpose of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was to promote economic development among Native Americans,” noted Steve Wilson, western division sales director for VGT. “Knowing that Oklahoma gaming has this purpose-to improve the lives of so many, gives one the context to know how to conduct business.
“The Oklahoma tribal gaming regulators are some of the most sophisticated in the United States. Making sure that games adhere to their regulations is a must to be successful in the Oklahoma market.”
Statewide, Class III games have been on the rise, from 10 percent of the market in 2005 to 65 percent in 2009, according to Meister. That’s contributed to the continuing revenue rise, along with new and improved facilities including the February 2010 expansion of Choctaw’s Durant casino near the Texas border, the opening of Cherokee Nation’s Cherokee Casino-Ramona casino in May 2010, and the opening of the Kiowa Casino Verden by the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma in September 2010.
“The state of the Oklahoma gaming market seems to be in good shape revenue-wise,” said Richard Wood, Seneca-Cayuga gaming commissioner. “The state has made significant revenues as well as the tribes. Most of the tribes have been able to increase education funds as well as health care.”
Like other operators in Oklahoma, the Seneca-Cayuga tribe uses both Class III and Class II gaming devices, in its Grand Lake Casino, and Wood noted that game manufacturers are building more player interaction into the games.
Still, the market must cope with challenges, including the economic conditions that have impacted revenues throughout the United States.
“The economic downtown has likely impacted most casino patrons,” Dillard said. “This is evident since patrons appear to be visiting tribal gaming facilities as often as in the past, but tend to spend less per visit than before. For Oklahoma casinos, the flat Oklahoma population growth will likely impact their ability to see substantial growth in their market share.
“For border casinos with a market share coming from other markets, the potential for legislative action that would expand gaming in those states must be recognized as a special challenge to development considerations. The potential for Internet gaming legalization, which seems inevitable, brings forth the potential for special challenges to the Oklahoma gaming market.”
“The main challenge I see is increasing the number of players due to just low population,” Wood added. “The lack of population will sometime in the future cause saturation. The ‘Internet gaming train’ is coming down the track and gaining momentum. This will open gaming to a whole new tier. Regulation issues for I-gaming will be a new challenge for regulators.”
GROWTH MACHINESBut along with the challenges are opportunities that continue to draw a wide range of game manufacturers to the state. Here is an update on some of the latest machine offerings from some of the larger slot vendors:
â¢International Game Technology (IGT)Knut Knudson, IGT vice president of Native American development, pointed to Class III video games including Larry Larry’s Lobstermania 2, Golden Goddess, Black Widow, Secrets of the Forest and Renoir Riches as current popular games in the Oklahoma market, along with classic IGT games such as Coyote Moon, Wolf Run and Cats.
“Our games continue to perform well for Oklahoma tribes, while delivering entertaining experiences for their players,” Knudson said. “With the breadth of for-sale Class III core titles that we consistently deliver, operators know that IGT always has something new to offer that will add excitement to their casino floors.”
â¢WMS GamingWMS has an eye on meeting both Class II and Class III demand, according to Director of Communications Mollie Cole. “There is a growing interest for Class II placements in the Oklahoma market, and we are committed to meeting this demand while continuing to support the Class III placements,” she said. “We are very excited about the rollout of our new Bluebird2e cabinet in early March and our first Class II games in April and May of this year.”
Early returns are strong for the Ultra Hit Progressive family of portal applications, with 42 networked games including Pirate, starting with an installation at the Downstream Casino Resort in Quapaw. Yahtzee, Press Your Luck and the Colossal Reels series also are strong performers.
â¢Multimedia GamesAs an established Class II presence, Multimedia is excited about the inroads it’s making in Oklahoma’s Class III scene. “In Oklahoma, we find that the players are very sophisticated and enjoy the new games and new technologies that we and the other game manufacturers are bringing to market,” said Mick Roemer, senior vice president of sales.
The six-level progressive Ice on Fire three-reel mechanical games have been a big Class II success, while Multimedia has given low-denomination video a different look with its 32-line Side Action series that includes a secondary game of poker, dice or keno played alongside the video reels.
“We plan to merge these two segments-the classic and the new-when we introduce our High Rise Games to the state in March,” Roemer said. “The first High Rise Class III Game out will be One Red Cent Deluxe followed by the Class II White Hot Progressives soon after.”
According to company literature, the High Rise Games cabinet features the industry’s largest top box, with a vertically-placed 37-inch LCD screen.
â¢Aristocrat Technologies“Oklahoma is very important market of us with significant potential,” said Mitchell Bowen, vice president of marketing at Aristocrat. “Players and operators are still very loyal to Class II products. We have seen with success through clear, easy to understand math models and over time introducing more complex products that enhance the overall player experience. Some very successful games for us have been Buffalo and Timber Wolf which set us up well to introduce more titles in the Xtra Reel Power category.”
Aristocrat hopes to build on its Oklahoma success with Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, with its jungle graphics, stereo sound, five high-hit frequency bonus features and a four-level progressive with a giant top jackpot of $250,000 on Aristocrat’s 31.5-inch VERVEhd monitor.
â¢Video Gaming Technologies (VGT)Red Screen Free Spins have helped make VGT a market leader in three-reel mechanical games. One of the latest uses of this technology is Hot Red Ruby with Ruby’s Bubbly Bonus top-box bonus game, using VGT’s Live-Call bingo engine for a stable operating platform, maximized functionality and revenue. Hot Red Ruby can be customized with Bonus Blast games on a 19-inch touchscreen.
The popular Mr. Money Bags theme returns in Mr. Money Bags Deluxe!, which features the Mr. Money Bags Vault! progressive. It’s a four-coin, single line, 25-cent denomination, three-reel mechanical game features that also has the Red Screen Free Spins.
â¢Bally TechnologiesBally is preparing for a March Oklahoma rollout of its GREASE slots.
“The brand is so popular, and the images and songs from the movie really resonate with people,” said Mark DeDeaux, Bally’s director of sales. “The game has eight bonus events and a life-changing top award, so we think it will be a big hit in Oklahoma.”
Bally’s Playboy Hot Zone slots, with blocks of “hot zones” overlaying the standard reels to essentially create a sixth reel, are doing really well in Oklahoma, according to DeDeaux.
â¢Cadillac JackWith both Class II and Class III products, Cadillac Jack’s “experience has been one of growth and opportunities in the Oklahoma market,” said Gina Lanphear, senior director of marketing for the company.
Popular games in Oklahoma include Dragon Parade, the flagship game in Cadillac Jack’s Connect to Win series. Meanwhile, Fiesta of Souls joins Hot Streak, Cadillac Jack’s newest product series. Inspired by the Mexican “Day of the Dead” holiday, the game features a progressive multiplier math model in which players on a winning streak can multiply winnings up to 100 times.
â¢American Gaming Systems (AGS)AGS’ latest platform is Roadrunner, a new operating system that consists of both hardware and software plus a proprietary 3D graphics engine, with a dual screen at 1440x900 resolution at 300 frames per second. A new cabinet offers dynamic swoop styling designed to attract players. Wheel and pachinko series top boxes also are offered.
“Roadrunner employs a new Class II Bingo engine capable of a rich frequency-space of game outcomes along with natural layering of bingo progressive and wide area progressive functionality,” said Norm LeDoux, vice president of operations for AGS. “With our new Class III to Class II porting methods, the new Class II bingo engine finally makes Class III game play available to the Class II market.”
AGS legacy core games including Royal Reels, Liberty 7 and Cool Catz remain popular, LeDoux added.
â¢Spielo InternationalThe company formerly known as Spielo/Atronic sees new opportunity as it begins to enter the Oklahoma market with new Class III products. As it increases its presence, the company expects to leverage its popular Deal or No Deal Join’N Play and games in its prodiGi Vu cabinet. Deal or No Deal Join’N Play, a hit in other markets, is the first linked community game based on the successful Deal or No Deal licensed title, featuring TV series host Howie Mandel.
Among core games, Dragon’s Temple is a five-reel, 50-payline, highly volatile adventure, where distinct and frequent expanding Wilds on all five reels offer high wins in the base game and free games. The player can choose their volatility in free games by choosing more free games with a lower multiplier or fewer games with a higher multiplier.
â¢Aruze GamingPlaying to Oklahoma’s strong reel-stepper tradition, Aruze emphasizes its Innovator series with Radiant Reels. Reel spins build excitement and anticipation by sometimes spinning slow, sometimes fast, and sometimes very fast-up to 200 rpm. The 11-inch diameter reels are lit with 240 full-color LEDs.
Another popular machine is 4 Chinese Beasts, a five-reel, 50-line Innovator Stepper with a top box bonus. When three or more bonus symbols appear on the reels, players spin a top-box wheel to reach one of five bonus features that can include free games, multipliers, wild reels and a multi-level jackpot.
King of Dragons, a five-reel, 30-line stepper with LEDs in seven colors on the reels, has a 19-inch touch screen in the top box for bonus play. It’s a mythical dragon-themed game, with bonus Orbs in the top box. It’s a bright, flashy, loud attention-grabber, touts company literature.