Nevadan at Work: Ex-UNLV quarterback continues to make big plays

As a former college football quarterback, Rob Bone is comfortable running the offense for slot machine manufacturer WMS Industries.

On Jan. 31, however, he needed to huddle up the team.

The announced sale of WMS to lottery industry giant Scientific Games Corp. for $1.5 billion caused some concern among the 145-person staff headquartered at WMS’s Las Vegas sales and manufacturing offices.

Bone, 37, the senior vice president of North American sales and marketing for WMS, calmed the nerves.

The deal, which is expected to close by the end of this year, gives Scientific Games a foothold in the slot machine side of the casino business. The New York-based company is acquiring one of the top three gaming equipment manufacturers based on market share.

“This is the first time I’ve gone through an acquisition like this and it’s the first time for many of our employees,” Bone said. “There are things you can control and things you can’t control in this situation. We have taken a very proactive role in sharing with our employees whatever we can and what we know.”

Bone has spent the bulk of his gaming industry career in various positions with WMS.

He worked in slot machine sales between 2000 and 2004 in Las Vegas. In 2005, he moved to WMS’s corporate headquarters outside of Chicago to oversee company wide marketing, market research, public relations and promotional campaigns. He returned to Las Vegas in 2010.

Bone started out on the operator side of the gaming business and was ready to climb the corporate ladder. But he took a leap of faith when WMS approached him with a sales position.

“Sales has been in my family’s blood for a long time and I always shied away from it,” said the Dallas native. “In retrospect, it’s one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Bone played football at UNLV between 1995 and 1997 and was a back-up quarterback on teams coached by Jeff Horton. He was the holder for extra points and field goals, and also played on special teams.

Question: How will Scientific Games and WMS work together once the transaction is finalized?

Answer: When you look at the two entities, there is very little duplication in their revenue streams. Scientific Games is very formidable and one of the market leaders in lotteries and lottery systems. We have visited their facilities, and when you get immersed in their business and see what they do and what we do, you quickly see how the combination between the two companies is extremely opportunistic. When you walk through the metric of the combined entity, the transaction is an extremely easy thing to justify.

Question: How do you keep WMS employees focused as the buyout moves forward?

Answer: We continue to work together as a group and not lose our eye on the ball. It is business as usual. We have two of the hottest products on the market right now and my team is not distracted. I think everyone is excited. They understand that Scientific Games bought our technology, our management team and our structure. People understand that the combined entity provides them more opportunity long term.

Question: Has competition in the slot machine industry changed?

Answer: It’s absolutely more competitive than ever before. You go back to 2004, there were really just four big slot machine makers (International Game Technology, Bally Technologies, WMS and Aristocrat Technologies). The other slot machine makers were getting about 3 percent to 5 percent of the market. Today, that other category represents up to 10 percent. There are some good, smaller companies in the manufacturing space now. It’s gotten more competitive in the way of game offerings and pricing. We’re a growth company and we need to be focused in that regard. The operator has the buying power right now.

Question: What does gaming expansion across the U.S. mean to the slot machine industry?

Answer: There are new casinos in the Northeast that are doing very well. It’s great to be partners in their openings and to provide them with products. But on the flip side, there is more pressure on casinos in other markets that are cutting capital and reigning in costs. That is what happens during expansion into new markets. If Texas were to add casinos, that would come at the expense of Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico. The same kind of thing is happening because of Massachusetts in the Northeast.

Question: How can slot machine manufacturers help casinos in older markets?

Answer: We have evolved the business so that it is not so dependent on box (slot machine) sales. We are trying to partner with our customers in helping them grow their business. The easiest way is through our new product sales. When a casino buys the new products, it gives them access to all of WMS’s game content for up to two years.

Question: What is the life span of a slot machine game?

Answer: It depends on the market. On the Strip, the life cycle of a game is higher than it would be in comparison to a Las Vegas locals casino because of the frequency of visits. Games in a locals casino are consumed quicker. In a destination market, like the Strip, players only see those games three or four times a year. The same might apply to Pennsylvania, which I would consider a locals market. Player interest in a game is something like six to 12 months on the average.

Question: What are some of the changes you’ve seen in 13 years at WMS?

Answer: All the manufacturers have had to change our approach to development. It’s not just about having a good theme, but it’s about having a robust pipeline of themes that can support the (slot machine) cabinet.

I feel we do the most and are the best at market research, not only with operators, but more specifically with the players. Every product that leaves our walls is tested in some capacity with players, especially with a big introduction like a new game cabinet. They go through numerous iterations of testing. There are many ingredients and we touch them all.

Contact reporter Howard Stutz at hstutz@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3871. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.

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