Under the direction of President and CEO Rick Meitzler, NOVOMATIC Americas is in the third year of a program that seeks to expand its footprint in the North American gaming marketplace. The company’s parent, NOVOMATIC, is one of Europe’s largest, most experienced and successful operators and game makers; and with its backing, NOVOMATIC Americas will likely bring innovation—and increased competition—to the U.S. slot machine scene.
Raving Consulting Partner, Slot Operations and Marketing, and Casino Journal Contributor Buddy Frank recently took some time to meet with Meitzler to discuss the challenges and opportunities NOVOMATIC Americas has faced during its entry into the U.S. casino business. Excerpts from this conversation, which originally ran in Raving Consulting’s Strategic Solutions Magazine, can be found below:
NOVOMATIC is one of the most dominant slot suppliers in Europe, but here in the U.S., you are more like a start-up, so to speak. What are the benefits and drawbacks of that positioning?
Meitzler: NOVOMATIC Americas is now in its third year, and having spent the past two and a half years on licensing, we are now ready to bring the NOVOMATIC brand and products to the North American market. Doing this for a company that is not only the most dominant slot machine supplier in Europe, but is also very strong in other parts of the world, especially in Central and South America, can only bring benefits. Although it hasn’t sped up the licensing process, we are now in a lucrative position to bring international proven products to North America for the first time.
In addition to our parent company developing some of the most innovative technology available on slot floors today, NOVOMATIC is also a major operator with more than 1,600 traditional and electronic casinos around the world. This provides a huge advantage by enabling our products to undergo extensive testing and modification before being released to customers, and gives us a significant amount of knowledge across the entire spectrum of the gaming industry.
You have nearly two dozen different cabinets and hundreds of game themes worldwide. Can you give us a brief background on what products NOVOMATIC will bring to the North American market?
Meitzler: We are initially bringing a few products that have been customized for the U.S. market, based on our initial research of the market and local players. It won’t be a huge rollout initially, but selected games will be introduced from the extensive NOVOMATIC catalog, as well as new games created at our U.S. design studio, to assess how different game styles perform in various jurisdictions. We will then further modify the math to bring games in line with player preferences; a key reason for establishing our studio in Illinois with local developers who are experts in the North American market.
The cabinets that will be the first to launch in North America include the DOMINATOR and its sister cabinet the DOMINATOR Curve, which are both hugely impressive and create maximum impact on the casino floor.
What has NOVOMATIC learned in Europe that will help you in the Americas?
Meitzler: NOVOMATIC prides itself on extremely high-quality Austrian engineering and professional service. This is shown in the products that it produces and the casinos that it operates, as well as the level of focus it puts on the customer at every stage, from product delivery to after-sales support. These are core values that have been adopted by the company’s numerous subsidiaries around the world, and NOVOMATIC Americas is no exception. A customer-focused approach is key to success, and being an operator, as well as a supplier, has given us the tools to very quickly react to customer demands.
As we expand the team here in the U.S. with some key personnel in sales, marketing and product development, we continue to be fully supported by the team in Austria and try to utilize the experience built over the company’s 35-year history and apply it to the North American market, giving us a competitive edge.
Why should a slot director choose NOVOMATIC?
Meitzler: In addition to the high level of customer service instilled by the NOVOMATIC Group, the company manufactures all of its components in-house, meaning that it doesn’t have to rely on any outside parties, thus removing potential compatibility issues. A slot director can purchase a slot machine from NOVOMATIC, and then new games being released are entirely compatible to operate on old or new machines, enabling casinos to personalize their NOVOMATIC offering, as well as minimize spend while keeping the content fresh.
Any new content we release is backward compatible, so casinos don’t have to replace machines every two to three years, saving operators time and money, as well as not having the need to retrain staff on new equipment. The game mixes developed for brand new cabinets can be retrofit into existing cabinets, and offer the same performance due to the company designing its own game boards and technology. NOVOMATIC additionally supports antiquated and retired machines longer than anybody else.
NOVOMATIC is one of the few major vendors without “participation” or “shared revenue” games. Is that temporary or something that will remain in the future?
Meitzler: This is something temporary for us in the U.S. during this initial period of testing the games in the market. We first need to assess what games work in a variety of cabinets for various jurisdictions. We are spoiled with the number of NOVOMATIC games to choose from, but we need to adapt the math models, such as modifying the volatility or number of lines, to get the right fit for the local markets. Once the products have been out in the market for some time, we will roll out more games tailored to North American players, at which point we will offer operators mutually beneficial revenue models.
What have been the biggest challenges in getting NOVOMATIC up and running in the many diverse gaming jurisdictions that make up the U.S., and where are your products now licensed for sale?
Meitzler: The biggest challenge has been licensing for the different states and product sectors. We have been testing the market from a technical standpoint for the past 12 months with a limited number of games in order to eliminate potential issues, such as downtime or incompatibility with the casino systems. This is the very first time that NOVOMATIC is entering North America, and we have gone through all the procedures, down to the last detail, to ensure everything runs smoothly. We now have a product road map in place to launch 36 titles by July, and will then roll out new games every quarter.
Our plan is to start by launching across North America, from California to Florida, up to New York and across the Midwest, in both tribal and commercial casinos. We continue to work on licensing additional NOVOMATIC products and in more jurisdictions throughout the U.S. and Canada, while we further test and tweak the math models of existing NOVOMATIC games in the market.
You are also a world leader in biometric technology. Do you see these products being integrated into the U.S. gaming world in the near future?
Meitzler: NOVOMATIC pioneered biometric technology in the gaming industry and developed the first commercial system for casinos. This concept is still very new and is currently undergoing initial trials in several casinos in Austria, which have so far received positive responses from operators, players and regulators. We are paying close attention to how this technology progresses in Europe, as well as speaking with U.S. operators about how its advantages could benefit casino payment systems. Ticketing has become old and it is time for a change. And although we are not yet certain whether this is imminent or in the long-term, one thing that’s for sure is that NOVOMATIC will be leading the charge.