Aug 25, 2023

Indy Gaming: Aristocrat believes line of NFL slot machines will score a touchdown

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One of the features on new NFL-themed slot machines Aristocrat Gaming is rolling out this fall gives players the ability to select their favorite team logo and video highlights to appear on the spinning reels.

Picking a rival team might not go over too well with slot players in some NFL markets.

Aristocrat Senior Vice President of Commercial Strategy John Hanlin, a die-hard Philadelphia Eagles supporter, joked in an interview that there could be trouble if a Dallas Cowboys fan locks in the team’s familiar star logo on a machine at Philadelphia Live!, the casino near Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles’ home stadium.

The NFL slot machine is one of the more anticipated product launches this year from the gaming equipment sector.

The once-anti-gaming NFL changed its stance over the last decade after the Las Vegas Raiders relocated from Oakland and sports betting was legalized throughout the U.S. The league has partnerships with Caesars Entertainment and other gaming operators.

Hanlin said the initial game — Super Bowl Jackpots — will be unveiled at casinos around the country just as the NFL kicks off its regular season Sept. 7, when the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs host the Detroit Lions at Arrowhead Stadium.

Aristocrat has five other NFL-themed games that will roll out by early 2024.

“If you overlay a map of the NFL teams and large casino markets, it's pretty identical, other than a few locations,” Hanlin said. “There's been a lot of partnerships between casinos and NFL teams that create a nice relationship between us who provide great games to the casinos and the NFL.”

He hesitated to describe the slot machine rollout as a “soft launch,” given the interest the deal generated when Aristocrat signed an agreement with the NFL nearly 16 months ago for the exclusive rights to use the logos of the 32 teams on slot machines in casinos worldwide.

“The NFL is one of the biggest brands in the world,” Hanlin said. “The game has a ton of energy so we’re launching in a big way.”

Interest in the game was evident at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas last October, where the Aristocrat booth featured a giant football helmet adorned with the company’s logo that served as the entrance to an invitation-only area where the NFL-themed slot machine prototypes were displayed.

At this year’s G2E, Aristocrat will preview the five other NFL-themed slot machines without restrictions.

Hanlin said Aristocrat’s development team took its time creating the game. The project was led by designer Joe Kaminkow, a member of the American Gaming Association’s Gaming Hall of Fame who has developed many of the casino industry’s most recognizable slot titles.

Aristocrat had some insight working with the NFL, given an ongoing sponsorship agreement with the Raiders. Hanlin said the company had input from the team during the game’s development and other teams have also been supportive.

“[The slot machine] is really about the spectacle of being in the stadium and watching sports, so we're really focused on making sure you feel like you're in the game or playing the game,” Hanlin said.

Some of the slot machine’s bonus features include catchy football titles, such as “two-minute drill” and “kick a field goal.” Recordings of music often heard at an NFL stadium were added to the game experience.

Hanlin said the success of an NFL-themed slot machine might draw interest from other leagues, such as the NBA, NHL or Major League Baseball.

“We’re open to all opportunities in the space,” he said. “We’ve been focused on this journey with the NFL and this portfolio of games. We want to reach all types of slot players on the floor and really serve all the NFL fans that choose to play slot machines.”

The NFL and Aristocrat also have ad resources devoted to responsible gaming programs and are collaborating on that effort.

“The unveiling of the first NFL-themed slot machines represents an opportunity to bring the league closer to our fans in a new area,” said Joe Ruggiero, the NFL’s senior vice president of consumer products.

BetMGM looks to turn profitable in 2023

Online gaming and sports betting operator BetMGM told the investment community the business was cash flow-positive during the second quarter of 2023, the first time in its four-year history that the digital gaming arm of MGM Resorts International was in the black.

The company, which operates online casinos in five states and sports betting in 20 states and the Canadian province of Ontario, released its unaudited six-month overview for 2023 last week. BetMGM said $944 million in revenue from January through June — the only raw financial number the company provided — was in line with projections from a year ago.

“I am pleased with the significant progress we have made during the first half of 2023 as we continue our strong growth and remain on our path to profitability,” BetMGM CEO Adam Greenblatt said in a statement. “Our financial guidance for the year remains on track. We expect to deliver $1.8 billion to $2 billion in full-year revenue.”

The company is jointly owned by MGM Resorts and United Kingdom-based online gaming provider Entain Plc. Greenblatt said BetMGM would “become self-sustaining” in the second half of 2023 and wouldn’t require any investment from MGM or Entain beyond the $150 million the companies previously committed for 2023.

BetMGM expects to launch sports betting operations in Kentucky and North Carolina this year following similar launches in Ohio, Massachusetts and Puerto Rico in the first six months of 2023. The company said its products are accessible to 48 percent of the adult population in the U.S.

Truist Securities gaming analyst Barry Jonas wrote in a research note that BetMGM could achieve profitability far quicker than the investment community expected. However, said the market still views BetMGM “as a duopoly” with limited value for MGM given the joint ownership.

“We'd be more positive if MGM owned 100 percent, though not at any price,” Jonas wrote. “[We] still see meaningful benefits to MGM from advertising and omnichannel play.”

Jonas said BetMGM will benefit from MGM’s recently announced partnership with Marriott International. BetMGM Rewards members can exchange their points for Marriott Bonvoy points.

Boyd’s Northern California Indian casino flourishing and may expand

Boyd Gaming saw $29.2 million in revenue from its managed operations — primarily the Sky River Casino in Northern California — during the second quarter of 2023.

On the surface, it wouldn’t appear to move the needle for the Las Vegas-based company — the figure was just 3 percent of the company’s $917 million in revenue for the three-month period.

However, CEO Keith Smith said the casino managed on behalf of the Wilton Rancheria Tribe near Sacramento has become one of the company’s three growth initiatives, along with online casinos and sports betting in partnership with FanDuel.

“Sky River Casino continues to perform at an exceptionally high level,” Smith said on Boyd’s quarterly conference call last week, adding that it generated $17 million in management fees between April and June.

“This property has consistently exceeded expectations since it opened last August, and it did so again in the second quarter,” Smith said.

Boyd opened the $500 million Sky River property last August. The casino, which does not have a hotel, has 100,000 square feet of gaming space that includes 2,000 slot machines, 80 table games and a food hall with 17 food and beverage venues.

The property’s initial success has allowed Boyd to pay down a loan to build the casino more quickly than originally anticipated. Smith said the outstanding loan balance of $31 million would be paid off by the end of the year.

Sky River includes a vacant 64-acre site owned by Boyd adjacent to the casino, which includes 36 acres of tribal land along Highway 99. Smith said the tribe is now considering plans that would potentially expand the casino by adding a hotel, meeting space and other amenities.

“The success of Sky River has been a tremendous benefit for the Wilton Rancheria Tribe, allowing the tribe to finally realize the vision of self-sufficiency,” Smith said. “While neither a timeline nor scope for this project has yet to be finalized, we share the tribe's optimism for the potential of this expansion.”

Boyd operates 28 casinos in 10 states, including nine in Southern Nevada.

The company’s other ongoing expansion project is a $100 million effort to move the Treasure Chest Casino near New Orleans off a riverboat in Lake Pontchartrain to a single-level land-based property in the same location.

Boyd recently completed renovations at downtown Las Vegas’s Fremont Hotel and Casino.

Smith told analysts the company is considering plans for other properties it operates to increase their performance. “We don't have anything to announce right now,” he said.

Atkinson lands at Virgin Hotels as new CEO of JC Hospitality

Virgin Hotels Las Vegas has a new CEO more than four months after its founding executive stepped away.

Cliff Atkinson, a former corporate executive with MGM Resorts International, took over as CEO of Virgin Hotels' parent company JC Hospitality on Monday. He replaces Richard Bosworth, who stepped down in March but retains an ownership stake.

The management group oversees the off-Strip property, which includes a 1,500-room hotel and resort that is part of Hilton Hotel’s Curio Collection, a 60,000-square-foot casino leased to Mohegan Gaming, the business arm of Connecticut’s Mohegan Indian Tribe, and restaurants managed by eight operators.

“The iconic off-Strip property is a legendary resort with a rich history and bright future, and I look forward to working with the team to help realize Virgin Hotels Las Vegas’ full potential,” Atkinson said in a statement.

Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, which is part of the ownership company, acquired the former Hard Rock Las Vegas on Paradise Road and Harmon Avenue for $500 million in 2018. The property was closed in February 2020 and reopened in March 2021 after a $200 million remodeling project.

Atkinson, who served as president of Luxor and held executive roles with Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and Gramercy Park Hotel, spent a year as president of the under-construction Fontainebleau Las Vegas before departing in January.


Via press release from Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights

The 2023 Global Gaming Expo (G2E) will include a discussion on smoking in casinos, the first time the topic will be part of the industry’s largest tradeshow and conference. The talk will take place Oct. 11 at The Venetian Expo. Panelists include Andrew Klebanow, co-founder, C3 Gaming; Cynthia Hallett, CEO, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights; Eric Hausler, CEO, Greenwood Gaming & Entertainment and Brian Christopher, CEO, BC Slots.

“Concerns about the serious health consequences of indoor smoking at casinos for workers and guests alike have grown dramatically in the last several years as the pandemic brought greater awareness to our health and safety in public spaces. In response, many casinos, both commercial and especially tribal casinos, have gone smoke-free – and have continued to thrive, including Park MGM in Las Vegas and Parx Casino in Pennsylvania.”

- Cynthia Hallett, CEO, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights

Via VICI Properties second quarter conference call

The real estate investment trust is the Las Vegas Strip’s largest landowner with roughly 660 acres covering 10 resorts operated through lease agreements with MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment, Apollo Global Management and Hard Rock Entertainment. In response to an analyst’s question last week, VICI leadership said the company is still looking to grow in Las Vegas.

“There are some fabulous operators in the downtown market of Las Vegas that we [would] love to be partners with. We're also not in the regional market of Las Vegas, where we'd like to own real estate over time. As you've seen in our first five years, some of these happen quickly. Some of these deals move fast and others take the long game.”

- John Payne, president, VICI Properties

Via Golden Entertainment second-quarter conference call

Less than a week after closing the $260 million sale of Rocky Gap Casino and Resort in Maryland to VICI Properties and Century Casinos, Las Vegas-based Golden Entertainment used $175 million of the proceeds to pay down debt and $8 million to fund hotel room renovations at the STRAT. The rest went toward a $2 per share dividend to investors.

“It seems like the right time to accelerate [a] return of capital to shareholders and we do that both in the form of dividends and buybacks. I think that's something that we'll evaluate going forward. We clearly are focused on closing the [slot route operations sale] that [was] announced this year and we'll continue to evaluate regular dividends as we move forward through the year.”

- Charles Protell, president, Golden Entertainment

BetMGM looks to turn profitable in 2023Boyd’s Northern California Indian casino flourishing and may expandAtkinson lands at Virgin Hotels as new CEO of JC HospitalityQuotableVia press release from Americans for Nonsmokers’ RightsVia VICI Properties second quarter conference callVia Golden Entertainment second-quarter conference call