There always have been challenges in creating successful Class II gaming devices for Native American casinos.

The base game has to be bingo, with a draw of numbers for bingo patterns that then are translated to slot reels and symbols, video poker cards or any other player-friendly interface the game developer chooses. Payoffs are funded by other players’ wagers, not house-banked as in Class III games, so there have to be at least two players to operate a Class II game. Results come from a central server rather than from a random number generator at each game. And for most of the history of Native American gaming, the bingo-to-interface translation has meant Class II games were a tad slower than their counterparts in Class III.

But there’s opportunity, too, and advances in technology have manufacturers bullish on the future of Class II.

“There’s been a lot of advances in technology as it relates to how the bingo game is actually played in the Class II space,” said Jacob Lanning, director of product management at International Game Technology (IGT). “There are some things we can do with technology to make that experience very seamless. In some cases, our Class II games are actually playing just as fast if not faster than our Class III games. Reel spin speed is something that we look at very closely, and right around the two-and-a-half to three-second range is what normally happens on the Class III side. We’ve been able to push that envelope and meet it on the Class II side, and in some cases go as low as two seconds per spin.”

Technology advances also enable gamemakers to give Class II players the kinds of play experiences they might see on Class III games. At Cadillac Jack, Chief Game Designer Eric Boese pointed to unscripted bonus events and the fact that players can’t tell by looking at the bingo pattern how big their bonus will be before the event is played out on the screen.

“We’re able to use our proprietary technology so that when you get the bingo pattern that awards the bonus, it just awards bonus initiate, it doesn’t actually tell you what the outcome is,” Boese said. “We can still do bingo pattern draws within the bonus to keep the outcome random. So in our games, when the player gets to the bonuses, they never know what they’re going to get.”

Andrew Burke, senior director of product management at American Gaming Systems, said the advances are giving manufacturers the opportunity to step up their games, and offer something more than the old favorites that have dominated Class II floors.

“What you find in most Class II markets is a large set of legacy games that are very strong,” Burke said. “They take up some of the floor for every Class II operator. But then you have this other half of the floor, that the operator is looking for new and innovative and exciting things for. That’s really the opportunity for us and other Class II manufacturers, to fill that other portion of the space with things that are new and exciting that will hopefully go on to become long-lasting, staple games.”

Those new, exciting games are coming from a wide range of manufacturers, all eager to showcase their latest innovations:

 

BELIEVE IT

American Gaming Systems’ Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, already performing well in Class III, brings players a bonus event that’s a trivia challenge. It’s the first in a series with AGS, with Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader, a hit in Class III, due to be ported onto Class II later this year.

“We weren’t sure we were going to be able to carry it forth [into Class II] because it has a very popular trivia function,” Burke said. “So this is going to be the first trivia game in Class II. Players can answer trivia questions in the bonus round to win real cash prizes. It’s pretty awesome.

“If players are getting questions incorrect, the house advantage swings further in the casino’s favor,” Burke added. “If the players are answering them all correctly, we’ve built that into the math, so kind of no harm done, and they’ve had a good experience, which is also positive for the operators.”

 

MORE POWER

Legends of the White Buffalo and Firewolf kick off Cadillac Jack’s new Power X-Stream series, a reference to the long streams of stacked symbols on the reels.

“It kind of speaks to the math mechanic that we have on these games,” Boese said. “We have these very long strings of stacks, and these are not line games, they’re more similar to Aristocrat’s Reel Power games. Together, those two make a very compelling math model. We just rolled out the Class II and it’s doing very well for us.

Win With Diamonds, a premium product with a 32-inch video screen on top, incorporates a bonus wheel.

“It’s on the wide-area progressive link that we have for Class II,” Boese said. “It has free spins, and it has five progressives. The wheel spins to award you the progressives or free spins. The wide-area is actually awarded with a wheel spin, and I think that’s unique.”

 

BINGING ON BINGO

An international leader in electronic bingo, Zitro doesn’t shy away from the base game in bringing its product to the United States.

“Zitro games are different and immediately noticeable to the Class II market in that Zitro’s products don’t display slot reels,” said Sam Basile, CEO of Zitro USA.  “Instead, since the very definition of Class II requires a traditional bingo game, Zitro provides its players with the ultimate bingo experience.  For example, in Last Bingo in Paris, Zitro invites the player to play up to four bingo cards.  If in the first ball draw, the player doesn’t win any prize but comes close, Last Bingo in Paris then provides players the opportunity to purchase up to 10 extra balls.  This extra ball feature gives the players 10 extra chances to win prizes. When hitting the Square Bonus, the player is then entertained with Parisian music during a bonus feature that reveals prizes hidden underneath famous Parisian landmarks. 

“Last Bingo in Paris, like the rest of Zitro’s game library, provides the player the same betting and entertainment experience whether playing the Class II or the Class III version,” Basile added. “All of Zitro’s Class III game library will be available in Class II versions and they are: Fishmania, Da Vinci Secret, Lucky Hero, Power Mania Bonus, Tony the Lobster, Bingo Dream and, of course, Last Bingo in Paris.”

 

HYBRID APPROACH

Lanning said IGT has noticed a trend toward hybrid floors that include both Class II and Class III games, interspersing games with banks of Class II with Class III instead of segregating them into different sections of the floor.

In response, IGT is rolling out a new series of Class II-only games, inspired by successful math models on Class III games. The first games to roll out are Empress of the Amazon, Bengal Eyes and The Horseman.

“What’s going to make them fun for players is we started out with a few of our great math models from Class III like Lotus Flower and Wolf Run and Wild Wolf,” Lanning said. “They’re going to have fun playing those experiences in a new art package that really engages them with that math model in a new way.

“This will help operators because to go back to our hybrid floor example, historically if you had Wolf Run in class III, and you put Wolf Run in Class II, it just didn’t play quite the same because of the limitations of running it on a bingo game,” Lanning added. “What’s great about this is it leverages some of the great successful math model that we’ve had, but puts it in a new art package. So players get a new fun experience on the Class II side that’s not available on the Class III side.”

ON TRACK

Along with new game titles, Bally Technologies is bringing its latest slot cabinets to Class II.  Currently, three Class II games are available on the Pro Wave, with its concave high-definition screen, lower button panel and angled footrest.

Among games, many of Bally’s Class III favorites, including the Diamond Hot Shot Progressive, are available in Class II, and NASCAR is on its way.

“Many of our Class II customers are really looking forward to bringing NASCAR onto their casino floors,” said Mike Trask, senior manager of corporate communications at Bally. “The game has been extremely popular around the country, and now it will be revving up play in some new jurisdictions. The game features five superstar drivers—Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Clint Bowyer, and Kevin Harvick—on the pro Series V22/32 cabinet with a surround-sound chair and three awesome bonuses, along with a huge near-area progressive jackpot. It will be a lot of fun for players to be able to get behind the wheel and take it for a spin.”

 

WHALE OF A GAME

Anything Multimedia Games produces in Class III leads to a Class II counterpart. “Currently some of our hottest games in Class II include Carnival in Rio 2 and Blazin’ Streak, with 100 paylines and Mystery Jackpots, and Moby Dick, which is from our premium High Rise Games series and features variable reel weighting, amazing vintage-inspired graphics and progressive jackpots,” said Mick Roemer, vice president of sales for Multimedia Games. “Many of the new games we’re designing have stand-alone progressives, and we’ve also found that most themes that work in Class III will work in Class II as well.

“Multimedia has been doing Class II games for longer than anyone, so we’ve learned what players want over the last 20 years,” Roemer added. “Our game developers are super strong and putting out some very exciting and unique games, like Moby Dick. The graphics and themes pull you in, and then our prize-first math which is the best in the industry, keeps the players engaged.”

 

IN THE BONUS

Ortiz Gaming puts the emphasis on bingo, and has two durable player favorites in Triple Bonus and Ace Mania.

“Electronic bingo in itself can be an exciting fast paced game, simple to play and very engaging,” said Ortiz President Maurilio Silva. “Triple Bonus has three times the fun and bonuses, hence the name. This game features the Extra Bonus draw. After the 30 bingo balls have been drawn, players will have the chance at an extra bonus draw of up to 10 additional balls Triple Bonus also has a bonus game, which is triggered by making a square pattern on any of the activated cards. In the bonus game, players spin the wheels to earn additional credits. The third bonus is the progressive jackpot featured at the top of the game.

“Ace Mania is just as exciting,” Silva added. “The game also has the Extra Bonus feature, but with a fun twist. If the Ace Joker appears during the Extra Bonus draw, the player gets to pick the next number ball drawn. Players find this very exciting because they can chose their winning spot on their card. Ace Mania also has a progressive jackpot, like Triple Bonus.”

That’s a wide range of games from a wide range of gamemakers. And as Class III games get ever more innovative, manufacturers expect Class II to follow suit.

“Class II really kind of follows Class III,” Boese said. “As these games get more and more innovative in Class III, the challenge is going to be, ‘How do I convert them and keep the same play experience in Class II with the bingo draw?’”