IGT's Jacob Lanning talks video poker
Since their introduction, video poker machines have been a gaming floor mainstay in properties of all shapes and sizes—from megaresorts on The Strip to humble slot floors in smaller facilities throughout the nation. These machines—a hybrid of traditional table game poker with cutting-edge slot technology—continue to resonate among a core of loyal consumers, a fact not lost on operators seeking whatever edge they can find in an increasingly competitive gaming environment.
Hot on the video poker trail is an industry leader, International Game Technology (IGT). With the games representing a significant segment of their business, IGT is firmly committed to enhancing their video poker products to meet the demands of today’s market, while planning for what seems to be a bright future, according to Jacob Lanning, vice president of product management for the company.
Lanning recently took some time with Casino Journal Associate Editor Megan Clemens to discuss video poker’s evolving market and describe IGT’s latest game and technology advancements in the space.
How would you describe the current state of the video poker machine market? Is it growing?
Lanning: The video poker market remains a steady, healthy piece of IGT’s business. As the global market share leader in video poker, IGT is uniquely positioned to innovate for the demands of today and opportunities of the future. In 2013 we sold 7,000 new poker terminals to Caesars Entertainment—Caesars’ largest poker reinvestment of the decade. A floor refresh of that magnitude speaks volumes to our customers’ faith in both IGT and the strength of market segment as a whole.
What are some of the trends impacting the overall health of the video poker machine market?
Lanning: The proliferation of tribal gaming really propelled the growth of the U.S. video poker market in the last decade. In addition to the sheer volume of new casinos that came with that expansion, our tribal properties often attract a very loyal, local player base—a player segment that tends to gravitate toward video poker products. Other factors that contribute to the overall positive health of the video poker market include the recent spike in the popularity of traditional card-based poker games and favorable video poker regulation in markets around the globe.
Please describe the typical video poker machine player. How has this changed over time? Do you think it will change in the future?
Lanning: Video poker players are often genre purists—they have favorite machines, favorite pay tables, and favorite themes. Video poker is one product segment where the best innovation is often gradual innovation. As a supplier, it is our mission to meet the demands of the players in a way that best serves our customers. Our key to success continues to lie in the breadth of poker portfolio—we continue to offer timeless classics such as Game King and Super Times Pay, in addition to more progressive titles such as Rack ‘Em Up Poker and Crazy Times Poker, that appeal to a broader demographic of players.
Poker seems to be growing in popularity among younger generations who tend to play the game online and in tournaments. Has this trend translated to a surge in popularity for video poker machine play?
Lanning: There are certainly elements of our poker portfolio that more readily attract a younger demographic. For example, we recently introduced Texas Hold’Em Heads Up Video Poker, a game where player can play a one-on-one game with poker legends Phil Hellmuth and Johnny Chan. The respective popularity of these two players definitely bolstered the marketability and appeal of these games to a younger demographic. Our 3x, 5x, and 10x multi-hand games have also experienced a surge in popularity in recent years—they meet the needs of the younger, thrill-seeking video poker player.
How is this market being impacted by new technologies such as mobile casino game play?
Lanning: Social gaming, like what you find in IGT’s DoubleDown Casino, continues to be an exceptional complement to the land-based gaming environment. Social gaming for virtual currency in a purely entertainment-oriented environment affords players the opportunity to build game knowledge, brand affinity and individual confidence—all valuable things that players can later take to a local casino or tavern. There is no greater example of that than the power and mass appeal of cross-platform video poker than the Game King tournament that we sponsored at Casino Del Sol in Arizona in 2013. This hallmark event drew nearly 300,000 players participates from all part of the country and serves as the leading example for cross-platform convergence.
What is your best-selling video poker product? What sets it apart from the competition?
Lanning: There are several key products that most distinctly define IGT’s poker portfolio—our widely known Game King product and the widely placed multi-hand games. Game King is the most familiar video poker product in the industry and there is a certain player type that is really drawn to that more classic video poker experience. Our three, five and 10 game multi-hand games are extremely popular as well because they afford players an action-packed gaming experience where they can play multiple hands simultaneously; no one is doing multi-hand poker better than IGT.
What are some of the latest cutting-edge technologies you have integrated into your video poker machines?
Lanning: A recent example of IGT’s leadership in video poker innovation is our soon-to-launched Barnyard Poker product. We introduced this product at G2E 2014 and it received rave reviews. This game boasts a fun theme that appeals to a younger demographic and presents a video poker/slot machine hybrid experience—where you have the combination of reels and traditional poker hands. We are also experimenting with using multipliers and other famous slot machine mechanics and incorporating them into our video poker portfolio.
What enhancements/technologies are you looking to integrate into the next generation of your video poker machines?
Lanning: One of the most exciting technological advances we have made in the video poker space is what we are doing with our Tournament Manager Systems product. With this IGT-only technology we are bringing the thrill of the slot tournament environment to the video poker player. This technology enables our customers to seamlessly host spirited tournaments in a given area of their floor and afford their players a one-of-a-kind video poker experience. Given that IGT commands more than 90 percent video poker market share, the introduction of this technology is truly industry-changing.