As Vice President of Business Development and Tribal Government Relations for International Game Technology PLC (IGT), Knute Knudson is responsible for the company’s business opportunities and its business footprint in Indian country. It is a job he is eminently qualified for, given his lifelong experience in all matters tribal gaming, which includes service in Washington, D.C. as a political appointee at the Department of the Interior where he worked on tribal government gaming issues during the very early days of IGRA; three terms as a South Dakota state legislator, where he rose to the majority whip leadership role; and a stint at Sodak Gaming, a company that financed $1.5 billion in equipment and systems sales to gaming tribes.

So suffice to say that when Knudson talks about the state of tribal gaming in the U.S., people should listen. I met with Knudson at last month’s NIGA trade show and convention in San Diego, Calif., to discuss some tribal gaming trends and how IGT was responding to them. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

Online gaming and tribes: “This is something every tribal government is looking at. It’s interesting that in the past few months we have seen multiple, substantial and very profitable tribes launch their own social gaming sites… Pala, Pechanga and San Manuel just to name a few.

“More and more tribes are also looking to bring more talent into the iGaming space as they figure out how to best position themselves in the space and how to best make money from it. Some are offering for-pay iGaming, others are offering free-play online gaming; they are either developing their own platforms to accomplish this or partnering with suppliers that offer established systems—the strategy is all over the board.

“This creates a lot of opportunity for IGT. We have an iPoker platform that is live, and in addition to it, we offer slots online in Italy and sell in markets that are legal throughout the world. We have talked to dozens of tribes about the availability of that platform in some sort of shared relationship. We also have DoubleDown, our social gaming platform. It is enormously popular and maintaining steady earnings.”

Increased competition within the tribal gaming marketplace: “Really, our job is to just build good products in all categories for everyone involved with legalized gaming—it is our obligation to sell to all equally. For tribes seeking marketing help, I recommend IGT’s Advantage system, which has a robust set of analytics and other applications that can help develop really good marketing capabilities.

“That said, it takes a lot of brainpower to operate, maintain and properly utilize all the capabilities of this system. It is incumbent on all the individual operators to develop those skill sets in their own organizations, which are to say they need strong marketing and information systems divisions.”  

The importance of Class II gaming: “Class II is still enormously important… just look at Oklahoma, which is the second largest Indian gaming market, only behind California in size. Upwards of 40 percent of the gaming revenue in Oklahoma is from Class II product. Their casino compacts are up in 2020, and the state has made it clear they want more of the machine revenue. The only leverage the tribes really have during this and other negotiation processes is Class II products, since tribes do not need a compact to offer them.

“IGT has just reorganized and put more emphasis and investment into Class II products, and are showing some new Class II prototypes to select customers away from this show floor. It is an exciting new platform and we have invested a lot in it.”