It would not be farfetched to say that Class II machines are among the foundation items on which tribal gaming success has been built.
Indeed, in the early years of Native American gaming, Class II betting machines were often the only slot-like type of wagering allowed in tribal facilities. And since this type of gaming device can be offered by tribal facilities without extra approvals, the Class II products still play a vital role in tribes seeking to establish or renegotiate gaming compacts with state governments.
“A large majority of states with tribal gaming are either in compact negotiations or on the verge of new negotiations, and this could have a major impact on the Class II market in the coming years,” said Russ Witt, director of Class II operations and business development for Ainsworth Game Technology as well as a board member for the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA).
But even as some tribes have captured the right to offer Class III slot machines through the compact process, many Indian casinos still rely on Class II devices and are constantly pushing for more advanced product.
“Certainly, Class II gaming today is a credit to the tribes and the tribal gaming operators who have supported it for the past 10 to 15 years,” said Greg Colella, vice president of product marketing-gaming division at Scientific Games. “From the Cabazon to the Seminoles, to the Poarch Creek and forward thinking Oklahoma tribes, many played a big role in advancing the industry and technology.”
For those attending this month’s NIGA convention in San Diego, Calif., a quick jaunt through the event’s tradeshow floor will show just how important Class II has become for the tribal gaming industry; once considered a niche item, Class II concepts are likely to be prominently displayed in every slot manufacturer booth. And much like Class III machines, slot vendors are incorporating new features and technologies into Class II gaming systems to attract the younger generations to slot play.
“As technology improves, the bingo game experience displayed through slot machine outcomes gets more advanced and plays closer to its Class III cousin,” said Dean Ehrlich, executive vice president and games business leader at Everi. “I believe our entire industry is working towards developing product that captures younger generations.”
“We are constantly exploring new game types through social gaming,” Witt added. “One thing I will say is that in Class II, there is no limitation to entertaining play on screen, since it’s all driven by the bingo outcome. Skill and pseudo-skill games may be a bit easier to explore in Class II.”
New technologies in gameplay from the online social games marketplace could also be a factor in the development of new Class II concepts, according to some manufacturers. “Our games are evolving every day by introducing titles that are similar to online games,” Colella said.
A potential future path for Class II could lie in combining popular online skill games with wagering concepts and bringing these hybrids to gamblers on tribal casino floors. Everi is attempting to do just this with its Fruit Ninja concepts.
“Everi’s TournEvent product will soon include a skill-based branded tournament game based on Fruit Ninja,” Ehrlich said. “We’re also working on additional products that leverage the natural link between tournaments and skill-based competition, with the goal of bringing new products to the gaming floor that are compelling for younger generations while also capturing the attention of the current Class II player.”
The integration of social game concepts into Class II formats are only one of many technology innovations taking place in this vital industry space. Below you will find more examples of cutting-edge Class II products offered by leading slot machine manufactures:
AINSWORTH GAME TECHNOLOGY
In January of 2016, Ainsworth acquired Nova Technologies, enabling their entrance in the Class II gaming market.
“In a very short time period our engineers were able to add Nova’s content to the Ainsworth A560 cabinet and we debuted our Class II offerings last March at the NIGA tradeshow in Phoenix, Ariz.,” Witt said. “Since then it has been a whirlwind. We now have games in more than 50 Class II casinos across the U.S. We have about 60 available titles on four cabinets—Atlas 100, A560, A560SL and Wideboy. Our product roadmap is very robust and we are releasing an average of two to three titles a month.”
Recently they have had a number of new installations at properties such as Miccosukee Resort & Casino in Florida and Akwesasne Mohawk Casino in New York. Ainsworth also expanded its Class II footprint in other key Class II markets such as Kickapoo Lucky Eagle and Naskila Gaming in Texas.
Ainsworth believes Class II will be one of its main areas for growth going forward. “Our Central Determination Gaming business unit can be a big area of growth in both Class II and VLT systems,” said Witt.
In addition, Ainsworth’s Class II route business has expanded to about 2,000 games.
“The majority of our Class II products are part of revenue sharing agreements, although we offer our casino partners several different arrangements,” Witt said. “Right now, our first Class II games on the A560SL cabinet—Rumble Rumble and Flying Horse—have been very popular. These are two of the most successful titles in Ainsworth history in the Class III market. It’s very exciting to see them perform in a Class II environment. On the Atlas 100 and A560 cabinets, which both use the same library of more than 70 titles, each market can be slightly different. But games like Mustang Fortune, Nitro Stacks, Cash Cave, Dragon’s Heat and China Gold are among our most consistent performers.”
Ainsworth has also focused on adapting Class III game features and bonusing products for its Class II offerings. “Right now, our ‘win at any bet’ two-level progressive jackpots have done very well,” Witt said. “Next up will be bringing our Quad Shot product to Class II.”
Quad Shot enables players to win any one of four progressive jackpots at any bet level.
“In the coming months we’ll begin offering ‘hit before’ jackpots in Class II game,” Witt added. “These jackpots are displayed on screens that tell the player they are certain to hit before they reach a certain amount, increasing the excitement as the jackpot increases closer to the ‘must hit by’ level.”
What’s next for Ainsworth when it comes to Class II improvements? “Certainly Mystery Progressives have been a huge part of Ainsworth’s success in North America,” Witt said. “We are currently working on ways we can translate that to the Class II market. It’s an exciting project and we’re eager to share some good news on it later this year.”
Everi operates two primary segments: payments and games. The games segment offers a variety of gaming machine products in most product categories including TournEvent, Everi’s proprietary tournament solution. Everi has provided Class II bingo slot machines since 2001 and operates over 24,000 gaming devices, making Class II a substantial and growing part of the company’s games business.
Class II continues to play a significant role at Everi. “Class II is a part of each and every product decision made in our company,” Ehrlich said. “We are constantly looking for ways to push the boundaries and innovate within the class II paradigm. Most recently, we launched our first wide area progressive game, Jackpot Lockdown, exclusively in Class II to grow our business. Next month we will launch Jackpot Jump into Class II, our linked progressive bank concept which won a lot of praise at G2E. This is all on the heels of launching super Jackpot Series in Class II in December.”
“In addition to launching a Class II Wide Area Progressive system and games, we have added telemetry to the EGM that allows Everi to gather more granular performance and operational data than ever before,” added Keith Riggs, senior vice president of linked gaming at Everi. “This EGM data, in conjunction with a state-of –the-art centralized analytics system, allows us to automatically create support tickets, dispatch technicians and trend issues before they become problems; with the continued goal of providing the highest performing, most robust and stable Class II offering in the business.”
With their large and robust Class II footprint, Everi is constantly looking at ways to increase game performance and efficiency in delivery of new game product. The Money Man Jackpot Wheel is a great example of combining technology with innovative game design, the underlying technology was developed with flexibility and extendibility in mind, giving Everi’s game development studios the ability to innovate within and around the EGM, increasing speed to market and laying a foundation for the future that is not limited by current operational constraints.
So, what stands out in Class II products for Everi? “Our most highly placed Class II product is our newest hardware form factors which include Core HDX, along with some of our premium cabinet offerings,” Ehrlich said. “At the end of the day, performance sets the competition apart and our newest platforms do very well. Some of the latest technologies are an enhanced CPU, new hardware including top boxes and a brand new premium cabinet. One of the latest games to hit the floor is our Tower 370 series with 9 Diamonds and 7 Spins which are off to a solid start.”
Like most Class II manufacturers, Everi is constantly upgrading various platforms and technologies to keep up with the desires of game developers. In the future, expect to see more top box enhancements and more robust game platforms from Everi.
Scientific Games has been in the Class II market since 2001, when it started to partner with California, Florida and Washington tribes. “We not only focused on providing a legal and compliant bingo product, we made it our mantra to seek the widest scope of content and entertainment options for the tribes, thus, we licensed many of the Class III manufacturer’s game themes, combined them with our own, and provided a very viable gaming product to our Class II tribal customers,” Colella said. “Our commitment to quality and compliance in this market was also demonstrated by us being one of the first manufacturers to have our Class II games NIGC certified, even though it wasn’t required at the time.”
And over the years and in many ways, the Class II bingo product has gotten stronger and more robust. By listening to its customers, Scientific Games is able to provide more of the features they look for in gaming machines, and now offer the Class II market state-of-the-art platforms, high-definition displays, stereo surround sound and third party licensed brands such as Titanic, Friends and Willy Wonka.
Scientific Games also recognizes that the Class II market is so diverse that product performance is not consistent across all jurisdictions. “Class II also has many different revenue models ranging from pure sale to revenue splits,” Colella said. “If I had to pick one product, our Million Degrees WAP link is still a player favorite and an outstanding performer. It was the first custom multi-level progressive developed specifically for Class II and now has 12 game titles available on the link today.”
When it comes to enhancements and technologies being integrated into their next generation of Class II products, Scientific Games Class II offerings are moving to the TwinStar platform, the same hardware that the company currently uses for Class III games. This new platform, which allows content streams from both the Bally and WMS brands, will streamline the development process, bringing more new content to customers in the coming years.
Another example of technology enhancements in the Class II market is the recent introduction of the Bingo iDeck, technology that moves the bingo card onto the player interface button area, which augments the experience for the player on the larger display screen. This enables Scientific Games to expand game mechanics, bonus features and themes, ultimately creating a more diverse library.
AGS is a full-service designer and manufacturer of gaming products for the casino floor, with company roots in the Class II Native American market.
AGS recently expanded its product lines to include top performing slot games for the Class III commercial marketplace, as well as live felt table games and mobile gaming. That said, 90 percent of their business still involves Class II products. “Everything that we do, we do in Class II… if we build a product as Class III, we also build it in Class II,” said Andrew Burke, vice president of slot products for AGS.
Increased slot titles and jurisdictional licenses have made AGS the second largest supplier of Class II games in the world, according to company literature, and its presence in Class III casinos continues to keep the pace. To help grow this sector of their business, AGS is focused on continuing innovation. “We are bringing in some of the best technologies and the brightest technologies into that space; all of our new hardware and cabinets that we are designing we are bringing into Class II, and all of our titles as well,” said Burke. “We are always trying to innovate what is allowed by the Class II standards, so for us this is a really important part of our business.”
Although the legacy title games at AGS continue to engage customer loyalty and shine on the casino floor, the new title Golden Wins has produced great numbers for the company. Golden Wins as an Asian-themed PowerXStream game that includes two bonus features—a progressive pick and a free spins bonus. It is also the first game on the Da Ji Da Li Multi Linked Progressive.
Other new Class II games include Golden Guardians, an Asian-themed concept available on AGS’ high-performing ICON cabinet that features striking golden lion statues on the top screen along with four progressive meters. Using the PowerXStream pay evaluation, Golden Guardians offers 576 ways to win. Also new to the ICON cabinet is Queen’s Riches, an Egyptian-themed game.
A division of Aristocrat Technologies, Video Game Technologies (VGT) is focused on continuing and increasing its success in the Class II tribal gaming operations market. VGT was founded over 20 years ago and has been a member of the Aristocrat family for two and a half years. According to their website, VGT’s Class II products often outperform their Class III counterparts, prompting many tribes to become even more interested in the benefits of Class II gaming.
VGT’s ongoing success VGT in the North American tribal gaming market derives from the popularity of its library, which includes popular and strong performing game titles such as Hot Red Ruby, Lucky Ducky and Mr. Money Bags. “We have a tremendous following for our mechanical stepper legacy games such as Lucky Ducky, Mr. Money Bags, Hot Red Ruby and Polar High Roller,” said Jay Sevingy, president at VGT. “These are three- and five-reel mechanical stepper games that, I would argue, have the best payback in the industry for the player… the return to player is very high. They all feature a proprietary game feature called Red Screen Free Spins, where you can go into a series of free spins that are all guaranteed to be a winner and they all payout in ascending order. This has been one of the most popular features of our games; and because of their high return to player, VGT has been featured very prominently in high-limit areas.”
One of VGT’s recent Class II products enhancements is a WAP option for operators. “We modified our Super Hit Jackpots concept, where we have 12 titles that offer jackpots starting at $250,000, going up as high as $900,000,” Sevingy said. “They are our best jackpots so far, have been a very popular product with our customers and we can offer them across the country.”
Last December, VGT introduced Ovation, a new Class II video slot product that utilizes the award-winning Helix cabinet from Aristocrat. Ovation has already been placed at tribal gaming properties in Alabama, Wisconsin, Michigan and Washington. “We plan on expanding into Oklahoma this summer, and we are targeting California for the end of this calendar year,” said Sevingy