Frank Floor Talk: Aruze by any other name is … Aruze

January 23, 2024 8:00 AM
  • Buddy Frank, CDC Gaming Reports
January 23, 2024 8:00 AM
  • Buddy Frank, CDC Gaming Reports

Aruze is back. But it wasn’t really gone all that long. Unexpectedly, the company filed for bankruptcy on February 1, 2023. That move was forced by a judgment against Aruze from the law firm of Barlit Beck LLP. They had defended the company’s original founder, Kazuo Okada, during a lawsuit with Steve Wynn. The lawyers won a $27.4 million award for their past-due legal work. That combined with another $20.8M in general debt led Aruze to call it quits. Subsequently, an auction of Aruze’s assets was held on June 15, 2023.

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A bank group won the bid for a significant portion of Aruze’s slot route assets. But, perhaps the best buy was made by Empire Gaming. Their winning bid of just $7 million landed them the Aruze name, the slot operations in the U.S., Australia, South Africa and Asia, all the slot machine IP, and their library of interactive games.

Never heard of Empire Gaming? It was acquired by Frank Feng in 2015 and originally focused on table game products and technologies. In 2021, the company, together with its sister company Play Synergy, entered the video gaming slot machine market and has successfully designed, developed, and delivered several gaming device hardware cabinets and some of the top performing high denomination game titles.

Empire stayed under the radar of most commercial slot operators since the Play Synergy brand had targeted Skill-Based Games and/or Class II slots aimed at select Native American markets. However, as Bluberi has demonstrated in the last few years with their popular “Devil’s Lock” games, Class II technology can lead to new and exciting game mechanics in all classes.

Muso Curve 55 (Photo: Aruze)

Kelcey Allison had served for a time as CEO of Americas for Aruze. He later assisted Empire and Play Synergy in their efforts to expand into Class II. These two companies were getting ready to launch Class II gaming in December 2022/January 2023. This was about the same time when Aruze filed for bankruptcy.

Allison says, “They had no idea. Zero clue. They began internal discussions and developed acquisition strategies to take advantage of the opportunity being presented.” This all lead to a decision to make a bid at the bankruptcy auction. “We were locked in (the Aruze offices) from 8am to 10pm at night with attorneys going back and forth as the auction is being managed by the investment bankers. Truthfully, Frank and I really had no idea whether we were in the game or sitting on the sidelines. And periodically after waiting minutes or even hours, someone would come in and say okay, you want this, we want that. So, importantly, we only purchased the EGM (Electronic Gaming Machine or “slot machine”) side of Aruze. Later, we finalized the bid for the online business. We did not purchase the Electronic Table Games product.”

Interblock Gaming was bidding at the same time for the ETG side of the business, which included all the electronic table game products along with related IP. Reportedly, that bid was $14M, or double what Empire/Play Synergy paid for the slots.

Suddenly, Feng’s companies went from a handful of employees to nearly 400 with offices in Manila, Tokyo, Sydney, Johannesburg, the Netherlands, Macau, Reno and Las Vegas and elsewhere across the states. They moved their headquarters into the old Shuffle Master building in Las Vegas south of the airport, with major operations in the Philippines. Allison now serves as the Global Chief Operating Officer.

G2E 2023 in September was their major re-introduction of the Aruze Gaming Global company or, simply, Aruze. Their existing cabinet, the Muso Curve 55, remains a hit, ranking 4th on the Eilers-Fantini charts for “Portrait Slants” on the December 2023 report. Allison said they took orders for 400+ of those cabinets at the show. But they also launched several new titles and two completely new cabinets (Hyper Speed and Speed as pictured below).

The new and existing cabinets come with some theme titles that show promise including “Firestorm Bull,” Firestone Lion” and “Fu Lai Cai Lai Fortune.”

Allison added that a key sales point of Aruze going forward will be “performance and value,” with their cabinets priced below competitors. He said, “our core philosophy is to have a ‘value-added’ box, get the player on the machine and have them get time-on-device and enjoy that ride. Because that’s what we’re here to do is offer entertainment, right?”


If there were two consistent trends in the industry in the last decade, they would be that new or smaller suppliers can break through the once impenetrable world of the top manufacturers. Some recent examples are Everi and Bluberi. That bodes well for the new Aruze.

The other trend would be for “changing names” largely driven by mergers and acquisitions. Note that Feng’s Empire Technologies acquired Synergy Blue from the Augustine Band of Cahuilla Indians. They quickly re-branded it as Play Synergy, and then adopted that name and the Empire brand was placed on the shelf. And now they have embraced the historical Aruze brand as the face of the company.

But maybe Aruze isn’t that historic. If you look closely at their original logo, you will see the “u” in their name was always red compared to the other blue letters. That reflects the first company that Japan’s Kazuo Okada founded in 1969 under the name Universal Lease. They were building video arcade and Pachinko games. They soon moved into slot machines and used a half dozen or more variations of the Universal name including Universal Distributing of Nevada (UDN) for their entry into the U.S. and later Universal USA. At one time in the late 1980s, Universal had the most popular game in Nevada with the “Magnificent Sevens” reel spinner.

It used a unique mechanic where spins that the RNG/CPU determined to be a losers were instead visibly displayed with several winning symbols on the payline, but with one reel having the last winning symbol just a stop or so away from the jackpot. It was called “near miss” since it seemed the jackpot was just a hair from hitting. The players loved it, but the competition didn’t. IGT alerted the Nevada Gaming Commission to the game play mechanic and asked that they either let them use the same technique or to stop Universal from using it since they argued it was deceptive to players. The Commission, in a 4 to 1 vote, chose the latter option and banned Universal from using the concept. That marked the beginning of the end for the Universal name in the U.S.

Rebranded, Aruze entered the U.S. in 2006 and pioneered many new concepts, including a brightly-lit reel spinner known as the “Innovator”. It surprised many by becoming an overnight hit. While the popularity of that game faded in successive years, it changed the segment forever with every manufacturer now adding more bling to their mechanical reels.

Aruze had several moderate EGM hits on their videos and some good ETG products, but the most recent attention came from their innovative “Roll To Win Craps” game introduced in 2021. It promised to solve the staffing issue of finding skilled dealers for the popular dice game through automation. Aruze seemed to offer the perfect solution – until scammers (dice-sliders) found several methods to cheat the new system. Progress has been made to eliminate the potential for abuse, and it is expected that Interblock will continue to improve the security features and that this product will remain a game changer in the category.

On the slot side, Aruze’s 2023-2024 Product Catalog substituted the red “u” for a red “e” and matched that with the second “e” in the title “Legacy Reborn”.

As mentioned above, it is fascinating that few slot machine providers can stick to one name. Consider the story of International Game Technology (IGT). Did you know that it began as Northwestern Music Company in the late 1930s? It was founded by a smooth-talking jukebox salesman named William “Si” Redd. Name No. 2 was Redd Distributing Company. Next came Bally Distributing, and then A-1 Supply. Sircoma1 was formed in 1979 when they launched the video poker revolution. That was the name just before the first incarnation of IGT in September 1981. That name stuck for just over 32 years, before changing to GTech in July of 20142.

But, the IGT name made a comeback when the merged company reverted to that more prominent name. That’s seven names in 87 years. Stay tuned, as we wait for the outcome of the announced review of strategic alternatives (unconfirmed rumors point to a sale of the slot assets).

Sometimes names just get absorbed. Along the way, IGT sucked up Dale Electronics; Fortune Coin; Silicon Gaming; Mikohn; EDT, PGIC, Anchor Coin; Atronic; Lottomatica SpA; Acres Advantage; Spielo and a few others.

Everi evolved in 2015 from Global Cash Access (GCA), which itself was formed by the trio of BA Merchant Services, First Data and USA Processing. GCA soon acquired other firms including eCash Holdings Pty. Ltd.; Western Money Systems; Future Logic; and Multimedia Games (MGAM). That latter company began as two firms: Gamma International Ltd. and the TV Bingo Network (TBN). Confused yet?

But maybe the name champion is Light & Wonder3. In 1932, a few years before Si Redd started his company, Ray Moloney owned Lion Manufacturing and built a pinball machine called the “Ballyhoo,” which they named after a popular humor magazine. The game was a big hit, so they changed the name of the company to Bally Manufacturing. They built their first slot machine four years later.

The Bally name, or a version of it (like “Bally-Wulff;” “Bally Records;” “Bally Total Fitness;” “Bally Entertainment;” or “Bally Technologies”) stuck around for over 60 years before a brief stint as Alliance Gaming. Like the folks at IGT, they too reverted back to the iconic Bally name until 2014, when they were purchased by the lottery company Scientific Games.

Almost from the beginning Bally acquired, assimilated and sometimes discarded countless other companies along the way, including: Lenc-Smith; Palmer Industries, Wulff-Automaten; Sierra Design Group; Midway Manufacturing; Six Flags Corp.; Aladdin’s Castle; Lancer Yacht Corp.; Lifecycle Inc.; Cool Sign; ACSC; Mindplay; Casino Marketplace; Micro Clever Consulting; Play On; Barcrest; ShuffleMaster; Stargames; WMS; and multiple brick-and-mortar casinos. But the “SG” logo was only on EGM cabinets for a few years before the Light and Wonder name change was made in the spring of 2022.

Aruze’s ETG products that survive will adopt the Interblock brand. They are the current leader in the category, but like the others, started with a different name: Elektroncek.

Aruze Gaming Global now holds the record for “The Most New Names in the Shortest Time” with four in just three years. Hopefully, with that title, an energized team, aggressive pricing, and new Class 2 & Class 3 games, this will truly be the start of a “legacy reborn”.

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1 – This was an acronym derived from SI Redd Coin Machines.

2 – A great source on IGT’s history is “King of Slots” by author Jack Harpster.

3 – “Bally’s 75th Anniversary” edited by journalist Marian Green is another good source.