This week’s Indian Gaming Tradeshow and Conference means far more than an opportunity to show off products, according to Mike Darley.
The CEO of Next Gaming looks at the U.S. gaming industry’s first in-person major event in more than a year as a sign of optimism and economic resurgence, as well as a long-awaited chance to reconnect with fellow professionals in person instead of virtually.
“Sure, we all have product and we’ve worked hard all year long,” he said. “But many of us are really looking forward to being with people face-to-face instead of on Zoom, instead of looking at everybody in their libraries and bedrooms, and having that personal contact.”
The National Indian Gaming Association’s 35th conference and trade show, at the Caesars Forum Convention Center in Las Vegas, is expected to draw more than 5,000 people from throughout the country. It’s the American gaming industry’s first gathering since the pandemic forced cancellation of in-person versions of NIGA’s annual tradeshow, the Global Gaming Expo, and a host of other related events in 2020.
The 2021 NIGA show is also something of a groundbreaker for Next Gaming, which specializes in skill-based slot games.
“This will be the first NIGA that we’ve already got placements in multiple jurisdictions, plus our certification in Nevada,” Darley said.
The company’s skill-based slots — Asteroids by Atari, BUST-A-MOVE and Arkanoid from Taito, and Next Gaming’s own shooting game, Zforce — are on casino floors in Durant, Okla., Albuquerque, N.M., Blue Lake, Calif., Laughlin, Nev., and Las Vegas. After NIGA, eight of the company’s machines will be installed at the new Circa casino in downtown Las Vegas, with additional placements in New Mexico and California, Darley said.
The company gained certification for its machines last year from BMM Testlabs and Nevada regulators, despite pandemic-related restrictions and cutbacks.
“We feel victorious in some respects to be able to come to NIGA with those certifications,” Darley said. “We really put our nose to the grindstone. My team worked relentlessly to go through all the requirements.
“We don’t have to hang a ‘Coming-Soon’ sign on our booth anymore. We’ve got product. We’ve got certifications. We’ve got everything we need to entertain solid conversations on placements.”
Play on the company’s skill-based games differs from that of traditional slots. Instead of just pushing a button to spin reels, Next Gaming machines require a player to first accomplish a task. On Asteroids, for example, a player must blast an object before a bet is initiated; in BUST-A-MOVE, a player must pop at least three balls. While a player’s skill at the video game can lead to larger wins, the machines use a random number generator to ensure a casino’s long-term return.
Darley said many tribal casinos welcome new slot titles and games. “They want to pull people in for a different gaming experience and they’re finding that skill-based gaming fits that niche.”
He said the company’s placements at tribal casinos in Oklahoma, New Mexico, and California and at commercial casinos in Nevada provide valuable feedback, given that customer demographics vary at each.
“We’re learning the balance of the demographics of casinos and where they’re going to be the most productive for both the casino and us. It can’t be one-sided. It has to be a good fit for the casinos and it has to be a good fit for us.”
He said all manufacturers of skill-based games rely on customer feedback to learn how to make the games appeal to a broader swath of customers.
“We’re on the leading edge of slot technology, not only Next Gaming, but the other skill-based companies. (The games) are so unique that it’s going to take some time to get a larger population that enjoys that experience and understands that they’re not traditional slot machines, but nevertheless are gambling devices that allow you to have an engaging amount of play with opportunities to be rewarded.
“We just need to get out there and have more people get acclimated to that new experience.”
Next Gaming is at Booth 1431 at the NIGA Tradeshow.