High-tech guru fills Alliance’s top slot

Jan 18, 2005 6:31 AM

By Lou Filardo

Richard Haddrill should have this CEO business down pat by now. The relatively new chief executive officer of Alliance Gaming was also CEO at his last two companies, Powerhouse Technologies and Manhattan Associates.

Haddrill will need whatever skills he developed at those two stops at Alliance, a gaming manufacturing company that at one point in 2004 saw its price-per-share slip by almost 75 percent.

Alliance and its Bally Gaming division, which Haddrill estimates produce about 13 percent of the equipment used in the gaming industry, "did not take good enough care of our customers. We got out of touch with the customer. We’re back on track. There’s a difference between listening and listening carefully."

A Detroit native and University of Michigan graduate, Haddrill has been the top man at Alliance since October. The direction he takes the company will have no small impact on the gaming industry overall.

In discussing the company’s revenues, he talks in terms of half a billion dollars and says the company has 1,700 fulltime employees, with about 600 working in Las Vegas, 400 in Reno, 500 in Mississippi and the rest scattered around the country.

Alliance labors in the shadow of industry giant IGT, but Haddrill says that the disparity in size actually works to Alliance’s advantage.

"I like our position," he said. "We have enough market presence to be respectable yet we are small enough and nimble enough to move quickly."

Haddrill should have the moxie to navigate the marketplace minefield successfully. His company biography says Manhattan Associates, described as a leader in software solutions to the supply chain industry, more than tripled its revenues to almost $200 million and increased its share price more than eight fold.

The story was the same at Powerhouse, a technology and gaming company before it was acquired by another gaming company, which in turn was acquired by IGT. Haddrill was the CEO at Powerhouse from September 1996 until June 1999.

At Alliance, Haddrill oversees the production of slot machines, video poker and technology that manages table games like baccarat and blackjack.

An optical scanner that Alliance executives are quite proud of seems like the product of the overheated imagination of a science fiction fan — it actually reads cards and chips, and thereby enables the casino to keep tack of the dealer’s accuracy and the comps that a player might have earned. Called Mindplay, it is inserted in the chip tray and it also tracks how long a player stays at a table, so a dealer who can’t hold an audience might come to regard it as a personality adjuster.

Haddrill says that while the company produces a wide range of gaming machines — "Nobody else has all the stuff we have" — the future is all about the convergence of entertainment and technology. He adds that the gaming industry is two to five years behind other industries in technology and one of the reasons is the limited number of competitors in the gaming technology field.

The other reason, he says, has been "regulatory compliance" process.

"Our industry has been a little slower to approve new technology because of the cost and (lack of) speed of the regulatory approval process," he said.

The kind of technology Haddrill envisions will allow casinos to flip a switch to change their video poker machines to blackjack or reel spinning games, or to limit the availability of their video poker machines to certain nights or specific games at the denominations the casino wants established.

Looking into the future, Haddrill says he expects the -international market for gaming equipment to increase from 10 percent to 20 percent in three years, and that Wynn Las Vegas will be a catalyst for new business in Las Vegas.

Haddrill says the most frustrating thing in his new job is how much he doesn’t know.

"There’s a lot to learn when you take the saddle of a new company," he said. "I’m excited about 2005. Running a company is more fun and challenging than any game I know (of) in the gaming industry."

However, the married 51-year-old golf and traveling enthusiast has a couple of other challenges. He is the father of two boys, ages 7 and 4.