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Working Together Casino Life Interview with AGEM Executive Director Markus Prater

AGEM Working Together for the Common Good of the Industry

Marcus Prater is Executive Director of the Association of Gaming Equipment Manufacturers (AGEM), a non-profit trade organization comprised of the world’s top gaming industry suppliers.  AGEM is a sponsor of the Global Gaming Expo (G2E), the preeminent international gaming industry trade show and conference held annually in Las Vegas. It also sponsors G2E Asia and partners with SAGSE, South America’s premier gaming trade shows in Panama and Buenos Aires. 

Under his leadership since 2008, Prater, with more than 32 years of professional communications experience, has grown AGEM membership from 32 members to a high of 134.  He previously served as Senior Vice President of Marketing for Bally Technologies where he directed Bally’s global advertising, trade show, machine and systems sales support, media relations and special event functions. Previously, Prater served as Director of Marketing for Las Vegas-based slot supplier Sigma Game, Inc., and was Marketing Communications Manager for Las Vegas-based casino operator Ameristar Casinos, Inc.

Jack Bulavsky, Special Assignment Correspondent for Casino Life in Las Vegas, sat down with Prater for a conversation.

What did you want to do when you came on board and what have you accomplished?            

When I started in 2008, the immediate goal was to broaden the membership to reflect the overall diversity of the suppliers, and to show how the gaming industry as a whole was rapidly growing on a global scale. The large slot machine companies with large operations in the U.S. were the driving force that founded AGEM and they still are. But my plan was to take advantage of the contacts that I had made globally during my time at Bally Technologies and see if we could take the organization to the next level. I also felt it was important to increase the overall visibility of AGEM so we could continue to grow in influence as we pursued our initiatives.

 What organizations would you approach to join AGEM?          

There are really only a small handful of machine or equipment companies that are not members of AGEM at the moment so membership will not continue to grow at such a rapid pace. We reached a high of 134 member companies with about half of those true Voting Members of AGEM and the other half Associate Members. There is still room for growth at the Associate Level for those companies that benefit from the business the Voting Members conduct. There’s a definite ripple-down impact. And then as the industry evolves and new activity in the online space adds new players to the game, there will be some good membership activity there as well.

JCM/AGA Golf Tournament  

How does AGEM participate in the online gaming market?     

AGEM participates in the online market because our members participate and it will serve as an important driving force going forward. The larger slot companies, for example, have already jumped in with systems partnerships and game content deals and that will only continue to increase. And with any kind of new expansion, online or traditional, AGEM is well equipped to help in the process from a market review and regulatory standpoint. Our members have become true technology providers across all platforms.

 Where do AGEM members see increased and/or new business?          

Along with new business in the online space, gaming will continue to grow globally. There are expansion opportunities looming in New York, Massachusetts, Asia, tribal markets – actually throughout the world. Also, the slot floors in the U.S. are quite dated compared to the replacement rates of the past and that will be good, steady business in the future. The rate at which the operators are increasing their capital spending is increasing, not at a rapid rate, but it is steady. The overall health of the sector is solid and chasing that business is the reason the number of suppliers competing as licensed vendors has never been higher.

 How would you describe the player base for gaming equipment manufacturers?

Slot players continue to evolve but not at a rapid pace.  Today, just about all slot companies do player testing to stay ahead of trends. They’re doing it more now than in the past. There is still a certain core demographic slot player that has remained fairly constant for the past 15 years. But slot companies want to know what appeals to younger players because there is a concern that their core demo will eventually move on. It’s a real challenge trying to discover what will appeal to the next generation, so the jury is still out on trying to determine who the next generation will be and what will be their interests.

Will there always be a place or room for traditional slot machines?

Mechanical reel spinners and other traditional slots will always have a home as long as there are players who want to play these machines. One traditional standard is Bally’s Blazing 7s, which is a three-reel mechanical reel spinner. I can tell you that whenever a new casino opens anywhere in the world, this game, released more than 20 years ago, will find a place because it still has a following. Players have a loyalty to a title. Many familiar titles now have a more futuristic look compared to their original design and that helps to keep them popular. 

Are themed games still popular?

Themed slots are on a comeback. From 1999 to about 2004, themed slots and licensing was at its peak. Then there was a lull due to overpricing but there has been a comeback in the past few years. There are a finite number of licensed titles that will be appealing to the industry going forward with a natural ebb and flow. Equipment manufacturers are always looking for ideas that will attract players and licensing themed games and turning them into slots is one way to do that.

How healthy is the industry for suppliers?

Business will remain steady and solid for the next few years. Between expansion opportunities, and the need for a replacement cycle that is overdue in North America, I think suppliers will do well. The difference is that there are more suppliers now than ever before and that will mean more companies fighting over a piece of the same pie. Our message is that within our industry there is solid growth. And typically what’s good for one company is good for all suppliers. That concept is one reason why AGEM is so successful – everyone works together for the common good of the industry.