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Bally celebrates 75 years

17 July 2007

Bally Technologies has done much to celebrate its 75th anniversary year, including distribution of its hottest product line in the last couple of decades.

But nothing brought the company closer to its roots than June 25, one special day in Chicago that started an event at Navy Pier at which it debuted its new ReelVision seven-reel slot machines for Midwestern casino executives, followed by Bally Night at Wrigley Field, where 10,000 CD-ROMS were distributed to fans attending the Chicago Cubs-Colorado Rockies game.

"The history of this company is fantastic, founded by Ray Moloney in the 1930s here in Chicago, and here we are on the waterfront," said Richard Haddrill, Bally's CEO since 2004. "There's a lot of great history here in Chicago and a lot of great customers, and we're going to launch some new products here as well."

The company got its start when Ray Moloney brought his Ballyhoo pinball game to Lion Manufacturing in 1931. Bally Manufacturing --- today known as Bally Technologies --- was founded as Lion's pinball arm in January 1932.

Bally's first slot machine, the counter-top Bally Baby, came along in 1938, and there followed nearly three-quarters of a century of innovation and slot industry milestones.

At Navy Pier, Bally displayed some of those milestone products alongside the new high-tech games that are Bally's present and future. There was an original Ballyhoo pinball machine, right alongside the 1963 Money Honey slot that was the first electromechanical slot machine. Money Honey also was the first with a coin hopper, enabling bigger payouts since coins were circulated from a large pool rather than limited to the amounts that could fit in coin tubes.

Nearby was a Model 1038 Jackpot Special machine from 1974, a five-reel game that was the first with payoffs on combinations reading right-to-left across the wheels as well as left-to-right. And the Bally Gamemaker was represented, the first multigame video slot system.

What really drew the attention of slot directors attending the event was ReelVision. In the last year, CineVision, ReelVision's older video cousin, has been among the hottest items in the slot machine industry. CineVision features a wide screen in a 16:9 aspect, the same ratio as movie screens and high-definition television, all in an ergonomically designed cabinet with stereo speakers for a surround-sound feel, padded armrests and more.

ReelVision is in that same ergonomic cabinet, with the same 16:9 ratio on the window through which you can see the mechanical spinning reels. The seven-reel format allows Bally to set up two three-reel games with a bonus reel down the middle. Wins on the left three reels can be multiplied by special symbols in the middle, and so can wins on the right three reels.

That CineVision has been so well received by operators and players alike, and that ReelVision has been greeted with enthusiasm by operators eager to get it on their floors, is gratifying to Bally. The company has had its ups and downs with a doldrums in the 1990s being replaced by new excitement in the 2000s.

"We've had a lot of ups and downs in 75 years, so we're a very persistent company," Haddrill said. "In the year 2000, we made a focused effort to acquire the best technology to supply the gaming industry. Then we spent the last two years consolidating all those technologies onto a common technology platform and improving our quality. We now have the hottest products in the industry. And when games and systems come together, Bally is going to be the company for the future in gaming."

Bally has become hot again. Upgrades in slot product and its position as the market leader in gaming systems led Bally to a 31 percent increase in revenues in the six months ended Dec. 31 to $305.6 million.

"Our new products are being very well received, we are growing our international revenues, which were only 5 percent of our revenues two years ago and are 15 percent of our revenues today," Haddrill said. "And we're gaining market share in both the major segments of our business, games and systems. And stock price has gone up.

"We're getting orders now in North America for our gaming devices between 20 and 30 percent of market share. In states like New York, we have a 50 percent market share, in the state of Washington, we have a 75 percent market share. Historically, Bally has been around a 7 to 14 percent market share. So we're getting some really good gains in market share just based on the quality of our product."

Meanwhile, in systems, Bally remains the leader in a market it really started with its Slot Data System in 1976.

"In the systems business, which is the software that manages slot machines and casino floors, we've been winning three out of four deals for the last year and a half," Haddrill said. "We have there a 45 percent market share in North America, where we're the clear leader."

That part of the business isn't immediately visible to players, but CineVision is, and ReelVision soon will be. Together, Haddrill said, they leave Bally "particularly well positioned for the next 75 years."

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski