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Rod Smith

Casino Industry Technology: Open wide

2 September 2003

LAS VEGAS -- Alliance Gaming Corp., live, from the stage of the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow.

Well, not quite.

Bally Gaming and Systems, an Alliance subsidiary, went live Wednesday with a wide-area progressive system that brings a new gambling selection to Russian customers but lets operators in a control center at the company's Las Vegas headquarters monitor the play on its Playboy video slot machines in Moscow.

Robert Miodunski, president and chief executive officer of Alliance Gaming, called the link-up a "significant milestone" for the company.

The new system took four years to develop and provides international customers with operations in their native currency, real-time notifications and automated reporting, system development director Vince Heyworth said.

Using technology developed in-house by Bally Gaming, the games on the wide-area progressive system are tracked from a remote site in Moscow and are operated from Las Vegas through a "virtual private network."

That network application allows for an international connection to an unlimited number of games, operated from any location.

Network systems director Prakash Phalke said the system uses the Internet, a public network, just as if it was private.

The network is set up so operators in Las Vegas can monitor play in Moscow real time, just as if they were in the casino, he said.

With the link successfully tested and now operating in Russia, Bally Gaming has started exploring additional wide-area progressive opportunities in other international markets.

"By proving this VPN technology with the link in Russia, we are uniquely positioned to capitalize on the strong interest we have received in other countries around the world," Miodunski said.

Expressions of interest have been received from operators in Argentina and the Philippines, and more interest is expected after the system is demonstrated at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas Sept. 16-18.

Ultimately, progressive slot machines in Moscow could be linked to slots anywhere in the world, Heyworth said.

"It's very conceivable we can try to put (the system) anywhere in the world to allow any player anywhere to play any game. It's technologically possible now, but there will be tremendous hurdles," he said.

Two critical issues that had to be overcome in getting the Moscow Playboy machines online involved real-time currency conversions between the United States and Russia and the use of two languages and alphabets, with the Cyrillic alphabet being used in Russia.

The games on the Russian link are owned and administered by Belco GmBH, Bally Gaming's Moscow-based slot machine distributor.

Belco buys at least 1,000 slot machines a year for the "very rapidly growing Russian market," Heyworth said.

The Playboy video games feature a 2-ruble denomination, with a nine-line, 45-credit maximum bet. The progressive jackpot resets at 3 million rubles (approximately $100,000) and will be paid instantly by Belco to the winners.

International media have reported there is a surge in gambling in many Russian cities, which the government said reflects a new form of post-Soviet social vice away from the traditional scourge of vodka.

Phalke said Moscow was selected because, with more than 100 casinos in operation, it is second only to Las Vegas in terms of the number of gambling sites.

Soviet-era gambling was limited to lotteries with modest prizes, a handful of racetracks and gaming tables in parks and on beaches.