Bally Gaming celebrates 70 ‘amusing’ years

August 06, 2002 8:56 AM
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And to think it all started in 1932 with "a little Ballyhoo." That was the name of the original, wooden pinball game that young entrepreneur Raymond T. (Ray) Moloney used to launch Bally Manufacturing Company in Chicago.

By the mid-1930s, the success of the Ballyhoo and other pinball games propelled Moloney’s Bally Manufacturing Company to the forefront of the rapidly growing amusement game industry.

But it was Moloney’s decision to enter the slot machine business that would forever change the fortunes of his company. Although Moloney did not invent the modern three-reel slot machine, he found overnight success with Bally’s "Reliance" automatic dice machine, created in 1936.

That same year, Bally introduced the first of what was to be a long line of successful slot machines. Called the "Bally Baby," this little tyke of a slot measured just five inches by seven and a half inches and weighed only eight pounds. It predated its earliest competitor, the Mills Vest Pocket Bell, by two years.

World War II delayed the company’s expansion as Moloney converted his plant’s operations for the war effort. The return to peacetime in 1945 thrust Bally Manufacturing headlong back into building gaming and amusement devices, including the "Hi Boy," an upright console-style slot machine featuring a new electromechanical mechanism that would become the primary success behind Bally slot machines for the next 30 years.

Bally Manufacturing, under the imaginative leadership of Moloney, lifted itself to the top of the coin-op amusement world. However, the roller coaster ride of success after success changed with the death of Moloney in 1958.

In the years following his death, the company began a slow descent into uncertainty and fiscal insolvency, ending in 1963, when the assets were sold.

Happily, a new chapter in the company’s history would be written by the heir apparent to Moloney, one William T. (Bill) O’ Donnell. A close associate of Moloney, O’Donnell worked his way up to head Bally Manufacturing’s sales efforts. He orchestrated the purchase of Bally Manufacturing’s assets by himself and a group of investors. Bally was back, and a radically new slot machine product, called "Money Honey" would set the stage in 1963 for the company’s turnaround.

Like Henry Ford’s Model T, this three-reel electromechanical slot machine broke new ground, forever changing the landscape of the gaming industry. The two innovations that the game brought to the casino industry were its reliable electronically controlled construction and the incorporation of a "bottomless" motor-driven payout hopper capable of automatic payouts of up to 500 coins without the use of an attendant. For the next 12 years, Money Honey in its many variations would become the flagship game of Bally Manufacturing’s slot machine division.

By 1968, a whopping 94 percent of all slot machines sold in Nevada, the preeminent gaming market in the world, were Bally machines.

That same year, 1968, saw Bally Manufacturing Corporation incorporated as a publicly traded company. The company acquired Wulff-Apparatebau, Germany’s leading manufacturer of wall-mounted amusement devices, Midway Manufacturing, a manufacturer of coin-operated arcade amusement games and Nevada-based Bally Distributing, giving Bally a foothold as a licensee in the lucrative Nevada casino market.

In 1975, Bally’s ticker symbol "BLY" flashed across the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), marking the first time a gaming company joined the illustrious ranks of the nation’s corporate elite on the NYSE’s trading floor.

By the end of 1976, Bally Manufacturing sat atop the gaming and amusement industries as the preeminent supplier of slot machines, coin-operated arcade games and slot accounting systems. However, stormy days loomed ahead for the industry giant.

In a bold move, the company in 1978 began construction on Bally’s Park Place Hotel and Casino. The hotel opened with great fanfare under a temporary gaming license. Unable to obtain a permanent gaming license from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, O’Donnell voluntarily stepped down from his post as president and CEO of Bally Manufacturing.

Bally also purchased the MGM Grand hotels in Las Vegas and Reno, the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City and the Health and Tennis Corporation, a major health club operator. Almost overnight, Bally had refocused its corporate identity from that of a slot and amusement game manufacturer to that of a global leisure industry giant.

Eventually Bally’s debt, magnified by its far-flung and cash draining gaming investments, was hurting the company. Nevertheless a milestone was reached in 1989 when Bally Gaming, the slot manufacturing arm of the company, moved from its cramped Reno facility into a new 150,000-square foot plant on Bermuda Road in Las Vegas.

In October 1990, New Jersey financier Arthur Goldberg became president and CEO of Bally Manufacturing. Goldberg undertook a massive restructuring of the company, creating Bally Gaming International, Inc. (BGII) as a separate subsidiary of the newly renamed Bally Entertainment, Inc.

In 1992, the corporation restructured, with the original Bally Manufacturing Company completing its metamorphosis into Park Place Entertainment, having merged with Hilton Hotels Corporation’s gaming division in the mid-1990s to create the world’s largest gaming corporation.

In the meantime the company returned to its core business of manufacturing slot machines. In 1994 it debuted the "Game Maker," the world’s first touch-screen video slot machine. This breakthrough game allowed players to enjoy up to 10 different games, from video poker and keno to blackjack, just by touching the screen.

The latest chapter in Bally Gaming’s 70-year history began on June 18, 1996 with the merger of Bally Gaming International, Inc. and Alliance Gaming Corporation. Alliance is a Nevada-based gaming company that owns and operates two casinos, the Rail City Casino in Sparks, Nev., and the Rainbow Casino in Vicksburg, Miss. Alliance Gaming also operates United Coin Company, the gaming industry’s largest slot route operator.

With the advent of a new century, Bally Gaming has indeed come full circle. A new management team, headed up by former United Coin president Robert Miodunski, is forging ahead with a variety of exciting and innovative games and slot systems for the global casino industry.

Among them is Thrillions, a wide-area linked progressive jackpot system, to the casino industry, with cartoon icon Betty Boop as the initial game theme on the link. Currently there are nearly 2,900 games on separate Thrillions links in casinos throughout Nevada, Mississippi, New Jersey and various Native American casinos.

Alliance Gaming, meanwhile, continues to build on a turnaround that took the publicly traded company (Nasdaq: ALLY) from the brink of Nasdaq delisting in 2000 to record revenues and profits just two years later.