Not so long ago, Class II slot machines had a less than enticing reputation among tribal gaming properties and the customers who played the games. When compared to the polish and pizzazz associated with Class III slots being developed for commercial casino markets at that time, Class II games appeared, well, somewhat plain.
“In the early days, all tribal markets had a kind of negative experience with Class II, basically because the technology was so far behind what was being used in Class III,” said Andrew Burke, vice president of slot products for American Gaming Systems (AGS). “But there has been a great education process on the Class II side and tribes are realizing more and more that Class II is really a viable option for them.”
Indeed, today’s Class II games are every bit as sophisticated and advanced as their Class III brethren; so much so that if placed side by side, the average consumer would likely be unable to tell them apart. The modern Class II slot is now designed with one purpose in mind—to attract and captivate the neophyte and experienced slot player alike, with the goal of making them spend more time and money on the tribal slot floor.
“Today’s Class II games are much more sophisticated in entertainment value and player appeal, resulting in products that effectively compete and often outperform their Class III counterparts,” said Ryan Cuddy, vice president of game design for Video Gaming Technologies (VGT), a subsidiary of Aristocrat Leisure.
“Over time, the technologies on the Class II and Class III sides have merged,” added Knute Knudson, vice president global business development for International Game Technology (IGT). “The goal is to have a device that the player recognizes as a casino slot game but that still meets all the definitions of a Class II as defined by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act [IGRA].”
Knudson explained that to be considered a Class II slot under IGRA auspices, the gaming device must be monetarily backed by a player pool instead of the house and an electronic facsimile of a bingo game, which is defined as “a technological aid to the play of the game of bingo.”
Despite this rather involved definition, from a vendor perspective, the primary difference between a Class II and Class III game is one of math “The essential math model for Class II is an entirely different math model from Class III, in that you are playing in a game generated from a bingo engine as opposed to one where you are playing against the house,” Knudson said.
And developing slot games that adhered to the bingo math model was far easier said than done, at least initially. “Without getting too technical, the outcomes for bingo are very finite compared to the outcomes of a Class III machine,” said Eric Boese, chief game designer and vice president of game development for Cadillac Jack. “Class III machines can have billions of outcomes; outcomes from bingo cards and draws are only in the millions. Trying to map a billion types of outcomes back into a smaller, Class II math space is really challenging and often makes it difficult to keep the original integrity of the game intact.”
That is no longer the case today, thanks to better technology and proprietary solutions that make designing Class II games easier than ever before. “We have a lot of proprietary solutions that allow us to have Class III elements such as random free spin events in our Class II games,” Boese said. “It’s a challenge for us technically, but it is important for us to give that type of experience to our players. We do pride ourselves on making that extra effort.”
“It used to be that you really had to limit the game outcomes to get to a Class II product to work and that is what people did,” Burke added. “They designed with a limited number of outcomes and prizes. But we have really refined our process over the years and have proprietary methods that allow us to build a Class II game that is just as rich in experience as a Class III game.”
The end result of all these advances is a Class II product many now believe can compete and maybe even steal a march from Class III machines.
“Historically, Class II has catered to the core gambler and entertainment player segments; now it’s evolving to attract the premium player base with multi-level progressives and wide-area progressive life-changing jackpot games using both licensed and non-licensed titles,” said Mike Smith, director of product management for VGT. “Today, Class II is a very viable option for casino operators looking to drive diversity across the floor. Class II providers are charged with creating a range of products that compete with Class III trends using enhanced hardware technologies, cutting-edge game features and of course the entertainment value players demand. Continued growth of Class II video product, combined with exciting bonus features, is a critical element of the growing sophistication of bingo-based gaming and the key to driving player loyalty.”
Class II machine development has gotten to the point where it now shares the same market pressures associated with Class III gaming products.
“I think the same challenges that exist in Class III also exist for Class II,” Burke said. “It is about delivering players something that appeals to players. I don’t think Class II or Class III makes a difference with that.”
“Like Class III, Class II vendors need to provide new content, new math models and always seek out those different demographics,” Boese added. “It is always important to keep our floors fresh.”
With this in mind, here are some of the new Class II products slot machine manufacturers will be emphasizing at the upcoming NIGA show which will take place later this month in San Diego:
INTERNATIONAL GAME TECHNOLOGY (IGT)
Over the past couple of years, IGT has been all-in when it comes to Class II machine gaming.
“It is a big business for us,” Knudson said. “We are even more committed to Class II because we see opportunities in Class II that are growing. For example, we are going to make concerted efforts in the State of Oklahoma where there remains a very large Class II footprint that we have not yet penetrated.”
Although IGT has had success in the past converting popular Class III games such as Wolf Run, Wheel of Fortune, Golden Goddess and Cleopatra into Class II concepts, the company recently took the bold approach of creating Class II-only machines, introducing 12 such titles at last year’s NIGA. This year, IGT is adding eight more games to this line, including Silver Streak 7s, Urban Mysteries, Wild Twenties and Queen of the Screen.
“We have teams specifically devoted to Class II,” Knudson said. “These men and women are the same kind of experts that exist on the Class III side. We have people devoted to math, sound, play methodology and graphics of Class II games, and they all come together to create ‘lightening in a bottle,” the same as they do on the Class III side.”
Also at NIGA 2015 will be Triple Chance Poker, IGT’s latest foray into the Class II poker machine market. The game showcases a three hand poker match, in which one of the hands is a single-deal draw and the other two our stud games. “Triple Chance has the classic IGT poker machine look and feel and we think it will attract both single-hand and multi-hand players,” Knudson said.
IGT also plans on showcasing its Class II prize bank technology at NIGA. “It’s a player-funded, as opposed to house-funded, tool that enables operators to offer both exceptional prizes and bonus cash in the Class II bingo environment,” Knudson said. “We are the only company that really offers that.”
Over the past few years, Cadillac Jack has made a concerted effort to become a bigger player in the Class III slot arena. But the company believes this approach has helped evolve its Class II game portfolio, which is strong and deep in Indian Country, as well.
“Typically, Class III games perform better, so we are taking our Class II cues from Class III and are trying to follow the trends there,” Boese said. “The Class III market seems to like higher-volatility games… so we’re trying those products as well in Class II. Progressive-type games are strong in Class III, so Cadillac Jack is finding technical solutions to do those types of progressive products in our Class II. Mystery progressives, symbol-driven progressives in free spins, all those types of things you see in Class III, we are bringing over to Class II.”
At NIGA, Cadillac Jack will showcase Class II versions of its extremely popular PowerXStream Class III slot machine line. One such slot is Monarch Moon, a butterfly-themed game featuring PowerXStream and the new Power Sync experience in the base game and bonus free spins, according to company literature. PowerXStream introduces a unique 3?4?4?4?3 reel configuration with 576 ways to win. Themes with the innovative PowerXStream pay mechanic evaluate the award based on the number of symbols that occur on adjacent reels, starting with the leftmost reel and moving right, or beginning with the rightmost reel and moving left.
Power Sync is a feature that forces the reels 2 and 4 to sync with each other after the start of the spin. This feature gives the player the opportunity for larger wins because all symbols in a horizontal line on the ‘synced’ reels are the same symbol, providing a better chance for longer symbol combinations.
Cadillac Jack will also be showing the latest iterations of popular Class II classics such as So Hot, White Buffalo, Firewall and Cat’s Eye. “We have made a lot of games for the Class III market because we have entered many new jurisdictions, but Class II gaming is still a big focus for the company,” said John Milliner, director, product management for Cadillac Jack. “We are an established leader in it and we have a large presence throughout the country. It will continue to be a focus for us.”
Zitro has plans to launch its Class II line of bingo gaming machines in the later part of 2015, but that does not mean the company will come to NIGA without new products to showcase.
Front and center for Zitro will be its Bingo Electronic Terminal, or BET, solution. BET is a fully-automated bingo system with multiple terminals that can be housed in gaming environments ranging from bingo halls to casino slot floors. The 90-ball draw system allows the player sitting at the BET station to buy and play up to 200 cards. They can also play popular Zitro bingo games on the terminals such as Last Bingo in Paris and Fishmania, according to Sam Basile, chief executive office for Zitro USA.
“Operators now have the freedom to offer the bingo experience inside or outside the traditional hall environment,” Basile said. “They can run BET opposite hours from paper sessions or 24/7 since the games cycle every four minutes or so.”
The Class II-compliant system features technology that can create a linked prize pool shared between terminals within an existing facility or multiple properties. This creates larger prizes and also allows operators to customize the game experience so that, after they hit a number of balls, players win individual in-game prizes, prizes for the entire hall and, sometimes, prizes for everyone playing on the entire network.
“I see a lot of promise in the BET system,” Basile said. “We can actually bring the bingo hall experience to the casino floor and vice versa. I think the BET system will allow the player who really just likes to interact with paper to enjoy a bingo session where the stress of watching and daubing multiple cards is eliminated, and they can sit back and truly enjoy the anticipation and excitement of a bingo game.”
Zitro will also display the latest software enhancements for its Blackwave cabinet at NIGA, as well as the new games for its World of Bingo Facebook site.
Multimedia Games has a well-earned reputation for being an innovator in the Class II gaming space, a designation it plans on keeping even as it branches out into Class III and lottery products and systems.
“We consider Class II extremely important, and that we intend for all games that we make to be released in Class II,” said Clint Owen, vice president and executive producer, game development, for Multimedia Games. “Other slot manufacturers may only make the Class II game after the Class III slot version is released…we are making them at the same time. We take the approach that our games have to work in every market, not just Class III, lottery, or Class II. What our Class II relationships allow us to do is get new games deployed in large numbers and provide early insight into game performance.”
This approach has netted some notable Class II success stories for Multimedia, including games such as One Red Cent Deluxe and Carnival in Rio, according to Owen. One Red Cent Deluxe is a nine?reel format that uses a proven bonus game and has a linked progressive that triggers on five or more jackpot symbols. Carnival in Rio is a free spin game where the stacked dancer symbols turn wild during the bonus for a very rich free spin experience.
More recent Class II games that have caused a stir for Multimedia include Moby Dick and Starry Night. “Both games have our art team’s unique twist on slot themes,” Owen said. “And both are new combinations of features we’ve seen success with in other high-performing games.”
AMERICAN GAMING SYSTEMS (AGS)
Like Multimedia Games, AGS produces all its new slot games with both Class III and Class II distribution in mind. “Class II is extremely vital to AGS… we view ourselves as a Class II company, that is where we grew up and it is the core of our business,” Burke said. “So we put out every product in a Class II and Class III versions.”
Lately, the company has focused on bringing its premium licensed brands such as Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, and Ripley’s Believe It Or Not!, to Class II platforms. “I think that is really cool, because historically premium slot products were not developed for Class II facilities. Now those lines are really blurred. We want to give our customers this premium product in Class II,” Burke said.
At NIGA, AGS will also display traditional Class II favorites such as Royal Reels, Liberty 7s and Cool Cats. New product for Class II will also be emphasized, such as Colossal Diamonds and Bang For Your Buck as well as the Family Feud licensed slot machine.
“For us, NIGA is going to be about showing our premium products,” Burke said.
VIDEO GAMING TECHNOLOGIES (VGT)
At VGT, it tends to be, “all Class II all the time,” as one would expect from a company that made its bones in the tribal gaming marketplace.
“VGT’s product line focuses on Class II products,” said Jay Sevigny, president for VGT. “We have strong partnerships with 36 tribal customers, and our products are currently in 137 locations in the United States and Mexico. We are excited about the opportunities available through VGT’s recent acquisition by Aristocrat Leisure Ltd. that will combine our dominance in Class II stepper products with Aristocrat’s high-performing video content, casino management solutions and digital platforms. Some of the first products resulting from the combined expertise of our two companies will be unveiled at NIGA.”
Debuting at NIGA are VGT’s first wide area progressives. The new Easy Money Jackpot WAP offers the chance for life-changing wins on player-favorite titles including Mr. Money Bags, Hot Red Ruby, Lucky Ducky and Crazy Cherry.
New progressive titles, Ruby’s Lounge Life and Ruby’s Hot Red Cabaret, use the same math model and base game features as the wildly popular Hot Red Ruby game with the added excitement of multi-level progressive jackpots, according to company literature.
VGT will also be showing additions to its portfolio of video products on VGT’s XSpin platform, including Cats in Action, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Charmed Destiny and Plan Z.