By sheer necessity and regulatory requirement, online slot machine play means different things to different operators and game designers. Are the games for wagering or for social play? Are they restricted to websites or available as mobile apps? If social, are they in separate Facebook apps such as Williams Interactive’s Jackpot Party Social Casino, International Game Technology’s Double Down Casino and Caesars Interactive’s Caesars Casino, or as an adjunct to brick-and-mortar casino websites?

All of the above are up and running, although online slot wagering in the United States currently is limited to New Jersey and Delaware. And regardless of the type of play, operators and content providers alike want to be involved. In New Jersey, wagering sites must be affiliated with brick-and-mortar casinos, so Harrah’s Atlantic City, Caesars Atlantic City and Borgata all have their own name on online casinos, while BetFair Casino is affiliated with Trump Plaza, 888 Casino with Bally’s Park Place and Virgin Casino with the Tropicana.

But outside the wagering space, increasing numbers of casinos are placing games on their websites.

“More and more operators are realizing that online gaming is not just a player acquisition and a loyalty tool, but that you also need to do this to build the population you can offer wagering games once it becomes legal in their jurisdiction,” said Sina Miri, director of product management for systems at International Game Technology (IGT), which is active in the New Jersey wagering space as well as providing business-to-business solutions that enable casinos to put games on their websites. “It allows them to build online communities, reach and retain players, and generate revenue even with social gaming until real-money gaming becomes available to them. It allows them to frequently remind players of their brand even when players go back to their home states, where online gambling is not even legal.

“Operators have reported that once they launched social gaming on their website, 80 percent of people who visited their site stayed there longer,” Miri added. “And they’ve been doing a lot more on the site, whether it’s to book hotel rooms or look at the restaurants and spas and other things they have to offer. It is really increasing the value of their websites.”

 

OPTION PLAY

Bob Hays, vice president, North America for Williams Interactive, took note of the multitude of ways land-based operations are transitioning to an online world.

“Beyond regulated jurisdictions, there are a variety of ways in which land-based casinos have entered the social casino space,” he said. “from larger-scale operators like Caesars Interactive owning and operating full-fledged Facebook social casinos, to casinos offering free-play casino gaming experiences in various forms including the Williams Interactive Play4fun Network, a ‘white-labeled,’ B2B desktop and mobile application anchored by authentic ‘Vegas-style’ slot content from our sister company WMS Gaming. The variety of options entail a range of effort on behalf of casino operators—to build and operate their own Facebook social casino requires extensive know-how and resources (both time and money), while the adoption of white-label platform solutions allows casinos to participate in the social casino and mobile gaming entertainment verticals with a much lower investment and resource commitment.”

One key, said Kent Young, president at Spin Games, is to offer online players the same game experience they get in brick-and-mortar casinos. Spin Games’ involvement is in wagering games, with its first products tested in April at Caesars’ online casino in New Jersey. Its initial rollout is in video poker, with slot, bingo and other numbers-style games to come. Once through regulatory approval, slot games will include traditional multipliers including 25 Diamonds and Triple Sapphire 7s, along with modern games including King of the Luau that use up-to-date mechanics such as ssuper-stacked symbols. “Generally speaking we think land-based product will do very well in the interactive space,” Young said. “We’re seeing that now. Cleopatra from IGT is a standout product in the interactive space in New Jersey. That’s a very successful land-based product, so we traditional-style products are going to do very well. What’s out there now [in the for-wager space] is very much European-centric product that’s been brought over by the big gaming systems providers. Our strategy is to provide U.S.-specific product for the U.S. market. Traditional video poker and slots that have been very successful in the land-based space… we think that’s really where we’re at.”

Player familiarity with the games is a big plus, Miri said.

“If the player is familiar with the game, they are more likely to try it, especially when they are playing for real money.” he said. “We have seen already that when you have this game on the website and it is social, players will try things, they click they go to see what it is. Once they have played it and are comfortable with it, they are more likely to put money in and play it when they come to your casino.”

Game Account Network is a worldwide developer and distributor of gaming content. Its GameSTACK platform is connected to the remote game servers of IGT, Bally and SHFL and distributes their content in regulated, for-wagering markets around the world. In the social and play-for-fun spaces, Game Account offers its Simulated Gaming product.

“In recent years, major slot manufacturers have been re-engineering their titles for the online space for distribution in regulated and unregulated markets,” said vice president of sales Dana Takrudton. “While those efforts come at a fraction of the cost of bringing a game theme to life on a casino floor, those costs are still material and only a few of the major operators have more than 20 titles which can be played on desktop and mobile devices. I feel that we’ve reached a tipping point in the market where casino operators who are looking to go online now with Simulated Gaming, GameAccount’s white-label, monetized social gaming deployed from our real money platform, are being more active in speaking to the gaming equipment manufacturers, with whom they spend, in aggregate, billions of dollars annually.”

 

EARLY ARRIVALS

Amaya Gaming came to the online world early, and has been supplying games and systems to both land-based and online casinos for nearly 20 years. Today, that includes both the for-wager space in New Jersey and the for-fun space, largely on the websites of tribal customers. Its recent acquisition of Cadillac Jack and its game library strengthens its potential online offering.

“As a leading supplier since the inception of online gambling, we take great pride in developing innovative, fun and profitable casino games,” said André Nylander, head of casino marketing for Amaya Gaming. “Our strategy for casinos primarily resides in three areas: in-house premium productions, aggregation of first-class third-party content and the convergence between land based and online. We have a number of development studios throughout the world, working on our own proprietary titles and focused on all components of game production.”

Among the titles Amaya offers is The Zombies, which now is live in Europe.

“This game provides players with dual functionality through two different play modes, one that is catered for a more volatile experience and one that is geared towards the casual player,” Nylander said. “In designing this game, we wanted to give the player a powerful choice. Essentially, the player decides how they want to experience the game. In one session they might choose to have a more casual approach with a longer playtime and frequent introductions to the different bonus games. On another day they may only be concerned with ‘hitting it big’ with the more volatile game mode. We are exploring many avenues of player experience and mentality with this game.”

GTECH, which powers more than 100 sites around the world, also is making its presence felt in both the for-wagering and play-for-fun spaces in the United States. The company launched North America’s first legal online poker network, the Canadian Poker Network, as well as the first mobile commerce lottery app in the U.S.

“We provide interactive versions of many of our land-based slot games to continue GTECH’s goal of enabling players to play anywhere, anytime,” said Matteo Monteverdi, senior vice president, iGaming, and senior vice president, Americas Interactive for GTECH.

In several of the U.S. jurisdictions that permit real-money gaming, play-for-fun is a key strategy for helping casinos acquire customers, Monteverdi added. “Our development team prides itself on creating exciting new slot products and transferring them online, but we are also creating innovative new ways to tie these together—from marketing opportunities through player tracking, to holding online tournaments that lead to land-based play and even online play in casinos via mobile devices,” he said.

 

MAKING IT LOOK EASY

At IGT, Miri said there’s been a big push to make its online gaming system as easy for casinos to install and operate on their websites as possible.

“It’s a very easy thing, the operator can be up and running in three to four weeks,” he said. “It’s just a matter of creating a place holder on their websites, which technically is a very simple thing to do, and then we take care of everything for them. They’re really authentic games, even with the social. Obviously with real money they have to be, but even the social games are the real games, exactly or almost exactly what the player will see when they come in house.”

Williams Interactive also is working to optimize content for digital distribution in both wagering and free-play enviroments, using its deep library of WMS Gaming and Barcrest content.

“Where legal, we provide wagered casino slots content integrated into online gaming sites through our Remote Game Server,” Hays said. “Our content has been live in regulated online Europe since the beginning of 2013, and we have quickly confirmed that our innovative and one-of-a-kind game engines, like Colossal Reels, Reel Boost, and Double Money Burst, are proving exceptionally popular with online players in Europe where they’ve never seen these unique reel sets or sophisticated math models online in the past. In the near future we’ll be offering this content portfolio to online players in New Jersey and Delaware, where we’ve already announced deals with Gamesys [which is the platform provider for Tropicana], bwin.party [the platform provider for Borgata], Delaware and British Columbia lotteries.  Continued expansion to other online operators and Canadian jurisdictions are expected throughout the year.

“We also provide free-play versions of our content through various platforms, the most well-known version perhaps being through Jackpot Party Social Casino, a top-five Facebook social casino and one of the top casino-style games available for iOS, Android, and Kindle devices,” Hays added. “In addition to our B2C social casino, we’ve spent the past 10 months ramping up our B2B social casino platform, the Play4Fun Network, a white-labeled social casino platform wholly branded to land-based casinos through both desktop and native iOS and Android applications, which in current deployments is succeeding in building online player communities for land-based casino operators.”

GTECH is also working to simplify iGaming implementation and operation. “We work with partners to bring a host of games to our customers’ virtual floor in a fast, easy, on-time connection through GTECH Connect,” Monteverdi said. “A simple one-time integration provides hundreds of games from GTECH and our premium game partners, putting the management of an online casino floor mix in the customers’ hands. Any changes can be made swiftly and easily with a simple click or two.”

 

WATCH AND LEARN

In the process, said Spin Games’ Young, everyone is learning. What works in social casinos can indicate directions for wagering games. He points to the experience of High 5 Games, a game developer that has developed games for the brick-and-mortar wagering environment for large manufacturers including IGT, WMS, Bally Technologies and Konami Gaming. Online in the social media space, High 5 Games are in use both at Double Down Casino and the company’s own High 5 Casino.

“If you look at what’s performing well in social, especially on the slot slide, it’s traditional gaming product,” Young said. “High 5 Games is an example of that. Their social side has very little fluff. The slot content is excellent, It’s been proven in land-based for a long time. I understand that the outstanding products at Double Down are traditional land-based products.

“Are there lessons you can learn from social? Absolutely, because I think the result remains true across both social and the for-wager space.”

Monteverdi stressed the need for online operations to keep up with the changing virtual landscape.

“Just as land-based casinos need to keep displays and products fresh, online operators need to do the same,” he said. “Everything is faster online, and customers have more choices, so it’s imperative that the player experience continues to be new and exciting, even if that means daily changes and offers, rather than a monthly plan, which is common in brick-and-mortar establishments.”