As we approach the Nation Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) annual industry gathering—the Indian Gaming Tradeshow & Convention, taking place March 24-27 at the San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, Calif.—it is a good time to take a look at the Class II gaming machine scene.
After all, no matter where you look, Class II slot gaming seems to be on the march. Tribal gaming facilities in Class II-only states, such as Texas and Alabama, are thriving. Indian casinos in jurisdictions that allow both Class II and Class III machine gaming still consider the Class II devices a vital part of their business roadmap, so much so that they are actively negotiating with state governments to keep this form of gaming compacted. In addition, Class II gaming is still a vital lynchpin in ensuring tribal gaming rights and sovereignty remain unassailable going forward.
“In the past, Class II products were targeted at jurisdictions where tribal/state compacts required large taxes on gaming revenue, or restrictions on the number of Class III games they can offer—like restrictions on mechanical reels, bet limits or even wide area progressives [WAPs],” said Damien Greig, executive director, product management for Scientific Games. “In these cases, Class II-style games avoided most compact restrictions, giving those casinos a huge advantage, and even bargaining chip, when dealing with their state regulations.”
Technological evolution has also played a part in the growing popularity of Class II games. “Nowadays, Class II games outperform Class III games in some cases, which has opened the door to new markets that until now have never considered these type of games before,” Greig said. “This is not your grandma’s bingo anymore; the ongoing enhancements and innovations that we have added to our platform, such as new math and the ability to hide the bingo card, make our Class II games look and play like Class III games—to the casual player, there is virtually no difference.”
The evolution in Class II games has been driven by advancements in hardware, content and platform technologies. “I believe that improved performance of back-end server technology, combined with the latest hardware’s ability to support richer media have positively impacted in the Class II space,” said Ryan Reddy, vice president, VLT Class II and systems product marketing for IGT. “This innovative technology enables us to deliver Class II experiences that are on par with Class III casino experiences.”
As a result of technology improvements, many Class II products are becoming highly competitive and perform on par with, or at times even better than, Class III products. “With significant improvements in technology, new Class II products have faster game play, improved graphic capabilities and more sophisticated math models, which provides new and unique experiences for the players,” said Steven Slotwinski, chief technology officer for Eclipse Gaming.
“Technology innovations in the Class III market have spilled over into Class II which has made Class II gaming nearly indistinguishable from Class III in terms of player engagement features, speed of play, and play functions,” added Loren Rosenberg, vice president, product and market strategy for Everi. “In general, suppliers look to other technologies outside of gaming as well as societal trends and players’ motivations to inform game design, which has led to more engaging and experiential gaming for both the Class III and Class II markets—a trend we believe will continue.”
Indeed, the consistent innovations in the Class II market has effectively eliminated difference between Class II and Class III gaming. As a result, the experience a player obtains from a Class II machine is almost identical to the experience they would have playing a Class III machine, aside from the bingo card showing.
The amount of competition in the Class II gaming segment has flourished over the past five years, with mergers among suppliers leading to significant growth, and new smaller manufacturers arriving to the playing field. Below is a list of several gaming suppliers and their latest innovations and games in the Class II gaming space.
AINSWORTH GAME TECHNOLOGY
Ainsworth entered the Class II market in early 2016, following the acquisition of Nova Technologies. Today, Ainsworth offers a variety of unique and high-performing games for the Class II market on its A640, EVO, A600, A560SL Noir and legacy cabinets. The company now has about 2,000 Class II games in operation at more than 50 properties. Each month Ainsworth adds to its library of more than 100 unique titles for the Class II market.
“In the past year or so, we’ve really taken a deeper dive into our content streams,” said Mike Trask, director of product marketing and strategy at Ainsworth. “We are still finding success from titles developed for the Class II market, but we are finding similar success in games that may have been originally configured for another market—Class III, Historical Horse Racing or elsewhere. We must be very thoughtful with how our resources are being used and what is going to work for our Class II partners.”
“Our most popular titles truly encompass both games that were specifically designed for Class II markets and games that were originally Class III titles,” Trask added. “In the case of our QuickSpin brand, games like Super Charged 7s, Super Lantern 8s and Super Crystal 7s have been top performers in both Class II and Class III markets. They were originally made as low-volatility wheel games for Class III. But that math model ported very well to Class II and today they are at the top of our internal charts across every market where we do business.”
Trask also mentioned that other games really have a Class II following. Games originally designed by the former Nova Technologies engineers—most of whom are still with the company—continue to do very well. This includes Dragon’s Heat, China Gold, Bring the Heat Nitro Stacks and others in that line.
“Of course, I must mention the award-winning AnyBet, which has been our biggest Class II project,” said Trask. AnyBet is a Mystery Progressive Link that enables players at any bet level to compete for a life-enhancing jackpot. No matter the line count or bet level, anybody can win with AnyBet.
The company’s QuickSpin brand is an example of how it uses Class III games in Class II markets. Super Charged 7s has now been nominated for two EKG Slot Awards and has been Ainsworth’s top penny title for about two years. “The game originated as a Class III title but was ported to Class II,” Trask said. “It has been equally successful in both markets. The same can be said for other QuickSpin games like Super Crystal 7s and Super Lantern 8s.”
Ainsworth has also done some Class II exclusive QuickSpin games. The first two were Super Money 7s and Super Volcano 7s. Both games are only available as a Class II product but have very similar gameplay and math to the original QuickSpin games.
The company plans on showcasing its Class II products at NIGA, with at least six Class II-exclusive games in its booth. The feature attraction is anticipated to be a new game called Dragon’s Heat Blazin’ Hot MutliPlay. “We believe it’s a first-of-its-kind in terms of offering players a value-based bet structure,” said Trask.
In the game, players can play the first reel set for 40 credits. But the second reel set is only 30 credits; the third reel set costs 20 credits; and the fourth reel set costs 10 credit. Players can cover all four-reel sets for $1, but they receive a discount for each additional set they choose.
Additionally, on the A640 cabinet, Ainsworth will be showing a new versions of its Firestorm series. Ultimate Festival Firestorm and Ultimate Empire Firestorm feature a gigantic wheel that is certainly going to attack eyeballs on casino floors.
Three recently released games—Lucky Stars, Kona Tiki and Lucky Fu Twins—are planned to be displayed on the dual screen EVO cabinet. The Lucky Stars series offers players a very compelling Symbol Collection feature during free games that gives players a thrilling chase to collect a progressive jackpot.
“Eclipse Gaming is one of a few companies whose core focus is Class II gaming, so all our energy, innovation and passion is focused on tribal markets,” said Slotwinski. “It’s extremely important to our organization that we build long-lasting relationships with our tribal customers, therefore we’ve launched our company’s mission of ‘Going Beyond the Game.’ Our primary focus is to form strong partnerships with our customers and to better understand their needs in order to help bring meaningful impact to their communities, not only through the performance of our games, but through our people and our involvement. It’s a powerful purpose and one that drives what we do.”
Eclipse has reportedly invested heavily in new technologies to provide better entertainment for the players and to continually improve the performance of its games. “We recently introduced our new Impact 27 and Impact 43 cabinets, which are equipped with a high-performance CPU that is extremely powerful and fully upgradeable for long-term usage,” said Slotwinski. “Additionally, we have developed a new code base that allows us to create lightweight software that increases performance and in turn allows us to add more creativity and diversified math models to our current and future product offerings.”
Eclipse is set to launch a steady stream of new games for its Class II markets. “We recently launched our new Anyline Progressive series, with the first game, Cash Lanterns,” Slotwinski said. This line-based progressive game entices players to chase nine progressive levels—each tied to one of the nine pay lines in the game—which dynamically shuffle in order as they are hit and reset. When operators bank these games together, players see a high hit frequency and start chasing specific line progressives, which can create a lot of excitement on the floor.
“Our Super Slots of Cash series has also proven to be incredibly popular,” said Slotwinski. “While the trend on Class II floors has been predominantly a higher line count, we introduced our three-reel video products for this underserved niche and they have been very successful, especially in higher denominations. We are launching two new themes in this family, including Super Slots of Cash-Buck Booster and Super Slots of Cash-Deluxe.”
Eclipse notes that NIGA is always an important event for the company as it comes together with its tribal partners to further strengthen their relationships. “We are excited to continue our commitment to our customers by ‘Going Beyond the Game’—creating games that drive powerful results that benefit not only the casinos, but also their tribal communities,” said Slotwinski.
Eclipse plans to launch a lineup of new Class II games at the NIGA show which are commercially available for placement. All games will be showcased on the company’s new Impact 27 cabinet and its Impact 43 portrait cabinet.
New games debuting on the company’s new Impact 27 game cabinet include:
- Jackpot Spins High Roller, which takes wheel games in a completely different direction. The game has stacked wilds and a unique, horizontal prize wheel that drops jackpots, progressives and various credits into activated chutes on the reels below.
- The Gem Link series, which includes Diamond Mine Madness and Gem of the Nile, can provide entertainment with stacked wilds, a Hold and ReSpin bonus game and the coveted Link UP Plus bonus symbols which increase all Gem Link symbols.
Eclipse will also debut three new games on its Impact 43 portrait cabinet:
- Spin Big Galaxy and Spin Big Mardi Gras incorporate vivid imagery and attention-grabbing oversized prize wheels. Classic symbols on a three-reel configuration offer several ways to celebrate, along with a pick bonus, multiple progressives and a free spin bonus.
- The $ Vault is also a classic three-reel game offered in both a one-line and a five-line version. Players are challenged to land three Bonus symbols—each which unlocks one of the three locks on the vault door—to reveal the riches inside. When all locks are activated the player enters Wheel Spin bonus for the chance to win all three progressives off a single wheel spin.
“Everi began as a Class II supplier, which it still prides itself on and is reflected in its game design, as the company understands the needs of its Native American gaming partners in this rapidly evolving industry,” said Rosenberg. “Our Class II offerings include exciting game content and innovative cabinets that engage players at higher levels and provide them a premium entertainment experience.”
Everi continues to make significant investments to address the evolving needs of its tribal partners, particularly in terms of new game content, hardware platforms, player engagement features and banked solutions. “We continue to introduce new cabinet styles as well as take swings on different play mechanics,” said Rosenberg.
In addition, the company continues to have success with its fully banked product, Empire Arena, on Class II gaming floors with the launch title Discovery Shark Week followed by The Vault, which was introduced in late 2019. The Vault features bank-wide bonus features that create a sense of competition and community-style play and has reportedly been performing well in the field since its release.
Everi also recently introduced Wicked Wheel Panda and Wicked Wheel Fire Phoenix on its new Empire Flex cabinet, both iterations of the company’s Smokin’ Hot Stuff Wicked Wheel game with progressive pick and wheel bonuses.
On the mechanical side, Zoltar 5X Pay and Zoltar Triple Jackpot premium mechanical bank is based on the animatronic fortune-telling machine and features the voice of Zoltar, the great gypsy himself. Double Jackpot Gems Grand Wheel and Double Jackpot Lion’s Share Grand Wheel on the company’s Skyline Revolve cabinet with its 18-inch mechanical wheel are also generating positive response in the field.
Everi has big plans for its NIGA booth this year as well. “The company is excited to demonstrate the extended breadth of our standard and premium games portfolio as well as innovative gaming cabinets that deliver unmatched entertainment experiences for players and a return on investment for operators,” said Rosenberg. “One of our distinct advantages is that fact that nearly 90 percent of our product line is available to the Class II market when we release to Class III.”
Fortune Garden Pearl and Fortune Garden Gold, both persistent games on the new Empire Flex video cabinet, will likely be on display as well as Cash Machine Jackpots and Gold Standard Jackpots on the Skyline Revolve mechanical cabinet, expanding the company’s “win what you see” product line.
“We are also excited to showcase the TournEvent Winner’s Circle which brings the excitement of TournEvent to the Empire MPX cabinet along with the new out-of-revenue theme Star Struck,” Rosenberg added.
IGT has been creating Class II games since 2005. Since then, the company’s Class II portfolio has evolved to include proven Class III titles adapted for Class II. Many of these titles are graduates of IGT’s test bank program and have earned “Proven Performer” status, a distinction given to games that meet certain performance standards.
“IGT continues to gain momentum in the Class II segment,” said Reddy. “Offering our customers Class II versions of our top-performing titles, such as Solar Disc and Mistress of Egypt on cutting-edge hardware, enables them to offer their customers a thrilling gaming experience while diversifying their casino floors. In addition, we recently introduced our 3D technology to the Class II space with player-favorite titles such as Sphinx 3D.”
“With the Ascent game development platform, we can seamlessly migrate widely successful Class III titles to our Class II portfolio,” Reddy added. “In addition, we’re also able to leverage proven hardware such as the CrystalDual 27 and CrystalCurve gaming machines.”
At NIGA 2020, IGT plans to present its expanded Class II product portfolio with new content on a range of diverse hardware. The company also plans to present Class II versions of Proven Performer Class III titles such as Temple of Fire and the award-winning Fortune Coin game.
“I am particularly excited to debut the Class II version of Icy Wilds which brings the excitement of waterfall mechanics to Class II players for the first time,” Reddy said. “In addition, we will present our PeakBarTop cabinet within our NIGA stand. The gaming machine features a curved, 23-inch display, enhanced lighting and sound, a USB charging port, a comp drink indicator and more.”
Scientific Games has been in the Class II market since 2001, partnering with California, Florida and Washington tribes. The company’s main focus has reportedly been to provide a legal and compliant bingo products containing top-performing content and entertainment options for the tribes.
“The Class II market is so diverse nowadays that different games perform better in different jurisdictions,” said Greig. “1,000,000 Degrees WAP, the first custom multi-level progressive developed specifically for the Class II market, is still a player favorite and an outstanding performer.”
Scientific Games continues to add exciting new licensed games to its Class II portfolio, such as Willy Wonka-World of Wonka on the immersive GameScape cabinet, and JAMES BOND-GOLDFINGER on the top-indexing TwinStar J43 cabinet. “In 2019, we also launched the TwinStar 3RM stepper cabinet with player-favorite games 88 Fortunes, one of the top-performing titles of all times on the Duo Fu Duo Cai Link, along with its successor, 88 Fortunes Diamond,” said Greig.
The company also continues to extend the success of unique titles available only in Class II by making these available in a variety of cabinet options. Player-favorite Copper Dropper is now available on TwinStar 24 and TwinStar J43; Lucky Lion Riches, Flying Treasure and Fiesta Fortunes will be coming soon to the top-performing TwinStar J43.
“A large amount of our Class II library comes straight over from our Class III roadmap,” said Greig. “In recent years, with our move to our new ArgOS platform, we have significantly shortened the time-to-market, cutting the conversion time from Class III to Class II in half.
The move towards converting some of our most popular Class III licensed games, like Willy Wonka, MONOPOLY and James Bond, has produced some of our most successful games in the Class II market.”
Scientific Games plans to exhibit a range of products on its TwinStar line of innovative cabinets at NIGA. Popular for-sale titles including Drop N Lock Sweet Tweets and Deep Sea Magic, which features a player-favorite hold and respin play mechanic, are both available on TwinStar 24/24 and TwinStar J43. Flying Treasure and Fiesta Fortunes, which showcase the catalyst-play mechanic, will also be on the TwinStar J43, and Blazing Hot Diamonds and Blazing Hot Inferno, two new high-denomination TwinStar 3RM stepper products, will be on display.
“In our premium games, we will be showcasing Jin Ji Bao Xi-Endless Treasure and Rising Fortune, both on the TwinStar J43,” said Greig. “These games will be the first Class II, player-selectable, multi-denom/multi-progressive games we offer. Scientific Games is excited to introduce Johnny Cash Ring of Fire on the TwinStar J43 as well.”
Also at NIGA, 1,000,000 Degrees WAP will be introducing two new titles: 1,000,000 Degrees Stars & Bars on TwinStar J43 and TwinStar V75, and 1,000,000 Degrees Deluxe on TwinStar J43 iReels and TwinStar 3RM cabinets.
New licensed-content games will also be featured at NIGA. “The James Bond license has been a huge success for Scientific Games and we will be introducing an exclusive title for the Class II market, JAMES BOND-GOLDENEYE, on the TwinStar J43,” Greig said.