Of all the gaming supplier mega mergers that occurred over the last year, the one that seemed the most out of the blue was the $1.2 billion acquisition of Multimedia Games, an Austin, Texas-based designer, manufacturer and distributor of advanced gaming technology products, by Global Cash Access (GCA), a Las Vegas-based producer of fully-integrated cash access solutions. The move left many industry analysts and observers scratching their heads, wondering what a payments provider wanted with a games company, and whether there was any synergy between the two firms.
But where others saw confusion, GCA President and CEO Ram Chary instead sensed opportunity. An old hand at growing companies through acquisition, Chary realized that a marriage between GCA and Multimedia Games could work, and that the combined company could provide operators with something truly unique—a one stop shop for slot games and payments systems, and the promise of streamlined game-to- payment functionality in the near future.
Since the acquisition was finalized this past December, leadership and GCA and Multimedia Games have been diligently working at merging the two entities, and determining how to market the two companies going forward. Eventually, it was decided the best approach would be to create a single, re-branded company with a new name, logo and mission; all of which will be unveiled on August 24 at an opening bell ceremony on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Recently, Chary and Linda Trinh, vice president of marketing and promotions for the combined companies, took some time to speak with Casino Journal Editor Paul Doocey about the GCA/Multimedia Games merger and the planned company re-branding. What follows are some excerpts from that conversation:
GCA is a payments company that has primarily grown through acquisition of other payments providers. Why did the company decide to purchase a slot manufacturer like Multimedia Games?
Chary: The thing that we have had on the payments side of the business for many years is a great client footprint and the compliance capability to go along with maintaining that footprint. We have very, very deep client relationships. It is those client relationships that create the tremendous demand for our products. The idea in acquiring Multimedia Games was to expand our portfolio, increase the amount of products and services we can offer our casino clients. It was just a natural extension for us being a casino supplier.
Why did you choose to acquire Multimedia Games? There were a lot of other slot companies potentially for sale at that time…
Chary: We did evaluate several different slot manufacturers. We ranked Multimedia Games to be the best for our company. Multimedia was a company we were drawn to because their products were very differentiated from other slot products in the space. Their Austin roots and Austin headquarters have fostered an employee base that is more creative and innovative than any other slot company in the space.
They were also very thinly penetrated in the market. Having very little market share and penetration was a nice complement to the very widescale penetration we have on the payments side.
How are you integrating Multimedia into GCA? How are you fitting the brand and the products into GCA’s existing mix?
Chary: Organizationally, we have identified two verticals for our company: payments and games. The Multimedia legacy organization makes up the games vertical. GCA makes up the payments vertical. We have also decided to centralize common functions such as sales, marketing human resources and compliance to provide support for each of the verticals.
Our payments vertical leader is Juliet Lim. Juliet has been our general consul, has worked for our payments company for the better part of 15 years in different roles. She is very familiar with the payments space and was a natural to run our payments vertical here in Las Vegas.
Our games leader is David Lucchese. David is a long time slot professional who has spent his whole career in the space, and has gotten to know the entire population in Austin. He has been with the GCA executive team for four years, and he was the best choice to relocate to Austin and run our games vertical.
How hard was it to fold Multimedia Games into GCA? Do you feel this process is done?
Chary: It is ongoing. I would say we are more than halfway through that process. Just by way of background, I’ve built my career in recent years by doing a lot of the heavy lifting around growth through acquisition; which means identifying people and processes that can seamlessly come together and integrate for the common good. I have a lot of personal experience with that even though I am fairly new to the gaming space. I have done the best I can to surround myself with gaming experts, but the concept of integrating a company to drive shareholder value is not new to me. That part is going well.
Have the cultures meshed well? Has there been any culture shock?
Chary: We have been very mindful of the fact that GCA and Multimedia were two separate and very distinct cultures. That is why we have set up two verticals with two distinct leaders, because we need to maintain the individuality of each of those cultures. The financial services or payments business culture has to do with protecting the privacy and insuring the integrity of transactions, so it is much more conservative. On the other hand, in Austin with the games business, it is a very creative operation… more creative than most in the space, which is a draw. So, we decided to keep those cultures separate and distinct… the two distinct verticals are going to maintain that individuality.
So each company will continue as they did before the acquisition and merger?
Chary: Yes, but to be clear, we do intend to rebrand the overall company. By doing that, one of the many objectives we solve is to unify the employees and management under one common umbrella with one name, one logo and one vision. But that is the extant on pulling those verticals together. Again, we think they need to run differently and individually to be most successful.
Trinh: The new brand will officially launch on August 24. The reason we picked that date is because we will be ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange and showcase our new stock ticker and brand.
Why was it decided to rebrand the company and what does that entail?
Trinh: When the acquisition became official in December the executive teams essentially came together and said ‘well, what do we want to do?’ Do we go with a house of brands approach, like Johnson & Johnson which is an umbrella for several distinct, separate brands or do we want to create a new company with a single, powerful brand where we would sunset the GCA and Multimedia Games names and just have one entity that everyone could rally around? But the more we started talking and thinking about the future and where we wanted this company to go, there was no question we had to shed the skin of both previous organizations and companies and come together as one. Not only internally for the employees but for our customers as well, since this is such a unique combination for the gaming industry compared to all the other mergers that are happening.
What message do you hope to impart to the operator community with the new brand?
Trinh: I have had conversations with operators and they basically think the companies are going to remain separate. But the more we talk, the more they see the complimentary products, services and ideas that payments can bring to the table that games would never be able to and vice versa. Now an operator can come to one place and get a variety of items instead of buying them from many different places. That is the hope, that we become this one-stop shop, where they come to us for a payment product, and a game product and eventually for a combination of the two that are complimentary to each other and will better meet their needs.
How will you roll out this brand beyond the New York Stock Exchange event?
Trinh: We realize this is a pretty unique story. We want the opportunity with this rebrand to…say that on 8/24/2015, this is where our story begins. This is the day the combined payments and games story starts. We will send out communications about the brand launch to our customers and keep them apprised of what is going on from 8/24/2015 to G2E; that the companies formerly known as GCA and Multimedia Games are now this, and visit us at G2E at this combined booth. That will be when we have the payments and games products in one booth intermingled together. In essence, we will be bringing a full casino floor to G2E.
What is your vision for the company going forward? Are you still on the acquisition trail for growth or is it a period of assessing what you have put together?
Chary: From a financial perspective, we had to take on a lot of leverage to do the Multimedia deal. So M&A in a big way is something we will not be looking towards for the next few years. Instead, we are going to use our free cash flow to pay down debt. That said, we are still going to look for tuck-in acquisitions that are smaller in financial size and scale to be able to add to our portfolio.
Your competitors appear to be in the process of becoming all-encompassing, adding table games and online elements. Are you aiming toward that as well?
Chary: We want to be the most strategic partner to our casino operator clients. We believe payments and slot machines are the way to do that. We are going to find ways to link the value proposition to make that value more compelling to them. Things like table games and online… we are very mindful of how the space is evolving there, but those things are not core to our business.