Aristocrat launches video gaming in Illinois after coronavirus halts the initial introduction

Aristocrat Technologies was a day away from launching its first batch of new slot machines designed for the booming Illinois video gaming terminal market when the state became the first in the U.S. to shut down its gaming industry in response to the growing coronavirus pandemic.

Kurt Gissane, Aristocrat’s vice president of sales for North America, said the company wasn’t discouraged, even with the closure of Illinois’ 10 riverboat casinos and the statewide video gaming market, a shutdown which wound up lasting 106 days.

“We were going to flip the switch and go live the next day,” Gissane said, recalling the moment the order came down. “It actually gave us more time to build our gaming terminal strategy and be ready for a stronger opening.”

Kurt Gissane, Aristocrat

Aristocrat announced last week that it has installed more than 300 machines in Illinois video gaming terminal locations. Each machine contains eight game choices, including the company’s trademark Buffalo product.

Having provided slot machines to Illinois’ riverboat casino industry for years, Gissane said the Australia-based Aristocrat – which has its American headquarters in Las Vegas – has gained a strong understanding of the state’s gaming landscape.

Last year, Illinois passed gaming expansion legislation that allowed video gaming locations to add one additional slot machine, growing from five games to six. The bill also allowed six new casinos – including one in Chicago – several additional slot machines for the existing riverboats, and two slot machine-only operations at Chicago’s two airports, Midway and O’Hare.

Gissane said the additional video gaming terminals gave Aristocrat the opening to develop games specific to Illinois.

The video gaming terminal market in Illinois is one of the nation’s largest, with 7,137 locations around the state – although none, currently, in the city of Chicago – with a combined 35,680 games. The locations include bars, taverns, restaurants, convenience stores, fraternal lodges, gas stations, and truck stops – anywhere with a liquor license.

In 2019, video gaming terminals accounted for $1.677 billion in revenues, having grown from $12.3 million when the activity was legalized in 2012. At the same time, revenue from Illinois’ nineteen casinos have declined more than 17%, from $1.638 billion in 2012 to $1.354 billion last year.

In July – the first month Illinois gaming was back in business – gamblers wagered more than $2 billion on video slots, resulting in $634.6 million in gaming revenues.

Two casino operators, Penn National Gaming and Boyd Gaming, acquired Illinois slot route distributors to enhance their casino operations.

Gissane believes Aristocrat’s games have attracted a following on the riverboat casinos that will be replicated in the video gaming market. He said it was part of Aristocrat’s “deliberate strategy of continued investment to grow our company and our reach as we explore markets adjacent to our (casino slot machines) business.”

He said Aristocrat is working with all the major video gaming machine distributors in Illinois.

“When we challenged (the design team) with the task of taking eight of our most popular titles and creating new gaming experiences to meet Illinois’ VGT guidelines, the team responded with an exciting new game suite,” Gissane said.

Aristocrat provides machines to the video gaming market in Oregon and the video lottery terminal business in Canada.

Aristocrat and other slot machine providers unveiled upgraded bar top slot machine products at the 2019 Global Gaming Expo that are used in many restricted gaming locations, such as Nevada. But Gissane said none of the bar top machines are used in Illinois.

Eight other states have legal video gaming terminals or slot machines routes, including Louisiana, Nevada, and Oregon. The activity is also legal in Montana, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, which operates under a non-traditional semi-cashless approach. Missouri, Mississippi, and Indiana have been exploring legalization.

Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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