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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Slot route operator United Coin takes moves to distinguish itself

4 September 2012

LAS VEGAS -- United Coin Machine Company spent nearly 18 months developing new slot machines and upgrading management systems for its bar, tavern and convenience store route customers.

Good thing the company's engineers started early.

In February, rival operator Golden Gaming acquired the bulk of Affinity Gaming's slot route business in an asset swap. The transaction made Golden Gaming Nevada's largest slot machine route operator, a position once held by United Coin.

Last week, United Coin leased out convention space at The Orleans, set up a showroom display of its five new products and had what amounted to a "mini Global Gaming Expo" for the route gaming industry.

Existing and potential United Coin customers were invited to play the games and test the management systems.

"We knew in the long term that we had to do something to differentiate ourselves," United Coin President Steve Arntzen said. "We also wanted to make sure we had all our products ready to go at once rather than rolling them out piecemeal. We're confident we hit the mark."

The slot route industry was hit hard over the past few years: first by a voter-enacted statewide smoking restrictions; then by the recession, which slowed construction of new taverns and closed older businesses.

Arntzen, whose Montana-based Century Gaming acquired United Coin in 2004, believes the company has the products that will level the Nevada playing field with the competition.

At least one United Coin customer agreed.

"I think United Coin leaped ahead of the industry," said Nick Hubber, whose Magoo's Gaming operates 13 taverns under the Magoo's, Chicago Brewing Co., Loose Caboose and Golden West brands in Las Vegas and Mesquite. "We've been a United Coin customer for a number of years, and they took it to the next level."

Arntzen said United Coin, which launched Gamblers Bonus in the early 1990s as the route industry's first cardless slot club system, said the products use the players club, which has more than 30,000 members.

"Basically, the first premise was to maintain what we had with Gamblers Bonus," Arntzen said. "We couldn't lose anything we had with that product."

United Coin developed PowerVision, which include both stand-up and bar-top multigame, multidenomination slot machines with a variety of video poker titles, slot machine games, video bingo and video keno.

The games, which the company manufactures between its plants in Las Vegas and Billings, Mont., have several bonus rounds and high-tech graphics.

In large locations, such as taverns, the system uses large flat-screen terminals that announce to the entire bar when a jackpot has been won. Another bonus system offers spinning wheel prize opportunities and contests for bonus jackpots, such as animated pig races, where players can wager on which animal will come in first.

"The system can be tailored for whatever the location has in mind," Arntzen said. "We listened to our customers and we're confident we hit the mark."

The new system also gives slot machine players and keno players the ability for bonuses normally found with video poker. Arntzen said the locals customer base is gravitating away from video poker to video keno.

Management products allow players to instantly sign up for the Gamblers Bonus with a simple swipe of their Nevada driver's license. The system has been improved to allow tavern operators to better manage their games and player, and even allows bartenders to offer customer comps, such as meals and drinks, for increased play at game.

A cash management system lets the operators collect winnings and account for slot revenues at the tavern, without having to bring United Coin representatives in to make a cash disbursement.

"It seems like they took into account what we need to manage our own games," Hubber said. "The bonusing is far and away different than anything we've had."

Barry Yost, a franchise owner for five 7-Eleven convenience stores in Las Vegas, said the new games might keep customers playing in his locations longer.

"We have customers that prefer coming here rather than going to a casino or bar," Yost said. "The new games are a nice enhancement and the (driver's license) scanner makes its easier for a store employee to sign up a player."

The new slot machine games and systems still need approval from Nevada regulatory testing labs, but Arntzen is hopeful the first games could be in front of customers sometime this fall.

United Coin operates roughly 4,500 slot machines in 450 locations statewide. Golden Gaming now has 8,500 slot machines in 650 businesses, including most of the state's grocery chains.

United Coin doesn't have any grocery customers, concentrating on bars, taverns, restaurants, and convenience stores.

Arntzen said United Coin's other advantage is that the company doesn't own its own line of taverns. Golden Gaming is the state's largest tavern operator with more than 40 restaurants under three brands in Las Vegas and Reno.

"We don't own any bars or c-stores," Arntzen said. "We truly partner with our customers."