‘XP’ marks the spot for Bally-Microsoft alliance

April 17, 2001 6:13 AM
by

share

Bally Gaming last week signed on with a Microsoft development program that is expected to enhance its slot operating system.

A division of Alliance Gaming, Bally Gaming’s EVO slot machine platform currently uses a Windows NT Embedded operating system. Under the Microsoft program, the NT system will be replaced with the cutting-edge XP Embedded Rapid Development system.

The new system will be available later this year. It is expected to provide advanced graphics, audio and bonus-screen capabilities to Bally machines and games.

The XP program also is designed to gather in-depth technical feedback from industry partners and Microsoft customers who are developing products and services on XP Embedded.

Robert Saxton, Alliance’s Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, noted some other advantages of using a Windows-based system.

Saxton said that one reason for the switch to Windows is that there are more engineers who are familiar with Windows’ environment.

Saxton added that, in the past, most of the operators designed their own operating systems. Alliance had a Bally system (Game Maker video platform), "and we had to train the engineers to work on our system."

The second advantage, according to Saxton, is that the new system allows Bally to design games faster than in the past.

"Under the old system," Saxton said, "it would take 12 to 14 months to get a game to the regulatory bodies. We received the rights to Popeye following Christmas of 2000, and that game goes to regulators in the next two weeks. It is our first game fully designed on EVO."

Popeye will be released first in video slots and video platform, and by the end of 2001 it will be ready for regular slot machines. The game was submitted to three gaming commissions last winter.

"We expect that by the end of the summer all these jurisdictions should approve it," Saxton said.

"Nevada has a (kiddie slot law), so we’ll license Popeye in other jurisdictions outside Nevada, and if our research shows that kids are attracted to Popeye, we won’t submit it."

In a related development last week, Alliance announced record earnings of $6.8 million for its third fiscal quarter ended March 31.

Earnings guidance for fiscal 2001 has been increased to $2.12 per diluted share, which will result in the company’s first profitable fiscal year since its acquisition of Bally Gaming International, Inc. in 1996.


Playboy to develop site

Christie Hefner’s interest in getting her Playboy Enterprises Inc. (PLA) into gaming was obvious again over the weekend when her company announced an agreement to develop, with Penn National Gaming Inc. (PENN), an online pari-mutuel wagering site for horseracing.

The site is called PlayboyRacingUSA.com, and the online wagering operation is expected to be operating by the third quarter of this calendar year.

Last month, Playboy announced a relationship with a gaming company in the United Kingdom to develop an Internet betting site.

Under the terms of the agreement, Penn National will be responsible for the service’s development and day-to-day operations. The site will be licensed in Pennsylvania through Penn National’s wholly-owned subsidiary, eBetUSA.com.Inc.


Magna proposes track

It’s been 17 years since Missouri voters approved pari-mutuel wagering on horse races. And subsequent legislation permitted limited simulcast betting.

But there were no takers, and the state’s racing commission was disbanded in the mid-90’s.

Now comes Frank Stronach and his Magna Entertainment Inc. (MIEC), whose voracious appetite has resulted in the acquisition of nine horse tracks in the U.S. during the past 18 months. Additionally, the company recently took over the Call-A-Bet telephone betting system from Ladbroke in the U.K.

"Give us the opportunity of having year-round simulcasting," said Magna’s COO Don Amos, "and we’ll spend $25 million to build a track where we will conduct 50 days of live racing annually."

No details were given as to just where the track would be located.

Stronach’s game plan is to control off-track betting, either at designated sites or through home telephone betting, by owning the product. Owning properties such as Santa Anita and Gulfstream, has placed Magna in the forefront of simulcasting activities.

Recently, Stronach and partners, Greenwood Racing of Pennsylvania, made a strong pitch to acquire the New York City Off-Track Betting Co., which was placed on the auction block by New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

Trading publicly, Magna Entertainment Inc. closed before the Easter holiday at $4.25 a share.


Will hotel-casinos use a surcharge for hotel rooms?

BY ADAM SOBOLESKI

As if it’s not tough enough to be a gambler in Las Vegas.

It’s getting just a little bit tougher at two Las Vegas hotel casinos.

Harrah’s International Inc. added a $3 per-night, per-hotel room surcharge to its Harrah’s Las Vegas and Rio properties.

However, other casinos are not planning on room surcharges.

"We’re not going to have surcharges at our properties," said Debbie Munch, Park Place public relations director. "Our conservation committee is working to cut back (energy). We’re monitoring our energy costs. We’re trying to conserve energy to protect the environment."

Munch added that the properties "have had people working on this problem for months."

The surcharge is to help pay for the rising energy costs throughout the West. Nevada Power Co. has increased rates as much as 25 percent since last year to meet increasing energy costs.

Also, The Orleans hotel and casino is not planning surcharges.

"I know a lot of different casinos have considered it," said Kerry Burke, The Orleans Hotel Director. "We’ve talked about it, but not to the point where we will be doing it."

And, according to Nevada Power, there was a 17 percent increase on March 1. That was due to Nevada Power starting a comprehensive emergency plan due to the energy crisis.

According to Nevada Power spokesperson Sonya Headen, large customers (hotel and casinos included) will get a rebate incentive called "Voluntary Curtailment" if they cut back during peak hours (summer afternoons and evenings).

"It’s a good thing. It should help the hotels and Nevada," Headen said.

The Orleans general manager Horst Dziura said this summer will be a challenge for hotel-casinos to keep energy costs low.

"It’s going to be hot, but you have to keep the casinos cool and the hotel rooms cool," he said. "How successful will we be? We don’t know. It is on our minds. How we do it? I just don’t know."