Renato Ascoli heads up IGT’s highly successful North American operations, and during his tenure has overseen critical acquisitions, divestments and marquee product launches. Gambling Insider caught up with him to discuss the firm’s recent accolades and its future product map
A large part of your career has been spent in the transport sector before moving into gaming. What was your first impression of this industry and how did your previous experience prepare you for the move?
Given the highly regulated nature of the railway industry in Europe, my transition from the transportation sector to the gaming sector was relatively seamless. Building and maintaining positive relationships with regulators, and being mindful that the consumer experience is dependent on an entire ecosystem of products, services and touch points, are fundamental commonalities that are shared across both sectors.
IGT has been the first supplier to be awarded the Responsible Gaming Certificate from the Global Gambling Guidance Group. How important is this kind of accolade to IGT?
Providing technology and services to our customers that supports responsible gaming has always been immensely important to IGT. The recent Global Gambling Guidance Group (G4) certification was further validation of IGT’s leadership and commitment to this meaningful topic.
You recently accepted two Global Gaming Awards for Land-Based Product of the Year for Cardless Connect and Land-Based Innovation for Sphinx 4D – do you feel this is a result of your product strategy paying off?
Yes, I believe we are seeing early signs that IGT’s commitment to innovation, market research and our ‘quality over quantity’ approach are being recognised by our customers and their players. Having SPHINX 4D and Cardless Connect honored in the Global Gaming Awards was a reaffirmation that the gaming industry values IGT’s commitment to evolving the slot experience, and to developing intuitive mobile technology that can enhance the land-based casino environment.
The full-scale roll-out of 4D gaming technology should be a game-changer for the company, how does IGT plan to make the most of this?
We believe we have something very special with 4D; a product that can generate wide and varied demand, and something that is both familiar and unique for players. We view TRUE 4D as the natural evolution of our TRUE 3D product line; a game family that launched as a niche slot experience and quickly matured into a widely-placed product line with more than 3,000 units in the field.
We are inspired by the customer feedback and early results that we have seen from SPHINX 4D. We have engaged our product, sales and marketing teams in educating operators about the depth of the game’s content and the many ‘hidden’ features within it to help ensure the success of this important launch. We also grant our customers advanced visibility to our TRUE 4D roadmap - when they place an IGT game on their floor, they can be confident in the content pipeline to follow.
With the increasing number of US states looking to legalise online gaming, does IGT plan to put more resources behind the interactive side of the business?
We are closely monitoring discussions surrounding the expansion of the US online gaming market and have a leadership team and organisational structure in place that can quickly respond to new market opportunities. Through our experience as a B2C operator with Lottomatica in Italy, we have gained a deep understanding of the online betting ecosystem, and amassed valuable insights into online player preferences and behaviours. Furthermore, our content delivery mechanism, the Remote Game Server (RGS), currently serves more than 90 operators in 13 countries and enables us to be very agile and swiftly service new customers
with a compelling online portfolio.
How has the sale of Double Down benefited the group?
It was an important development in supporting our strategy of leveraging our substantial content catalogue across multiple distribution platforms. Through this partnership with DoubleU, we continue to participate in the social casino market, and are collecting ongoing royalties on our casino game content. Inherent in our relationship with DoubleU Games Co. is our true vested interest in their success and growth through strong, profitable game content.
A number of US gaming companies are readying themselves for the repeal of PASPA by acquiring sports betting companies. Will IGT be looking to make a similar move? Or is IGT preparingin a different way?
IGT has not announced the acquisition of any sports betting companies. We are very experienced in sports betting and would be well-positioned for opportunities that could arise from US legalisation. I identify our PlaySpot mobile technology as a solution
that our customers could leverage to give their players a proven, easy-to-operate mobile sports wagering solution.
You signed a cross-licensing agreement with Scientific Games this year, what does this bring to the company, and are there further such agreements in the pipeline?
We have worked with most of the major slot manufacturers to execute game feature IP cross-licensing agreements. This enables the entire industry to benefit from IGT’s game patent portfolio, which is the largest in North America, and also the portfolios of our cross-licensing partners. We’re very pleased that this program has come to fruition and delivered such significant results for IGT.
With growing interest in skill-based games, how will IGT respond to this?
The impact of skill-based games on the gaming industry still remains to be seen. We have introduced several slot games with skill-based components and are actively analysing those early performance results. We have a number of skill-based solutions on our roadmap and we are working with our partners at Chill Gaming to bring their skill-based games to market. We remain attentive to this space and inspired to gain continued insights from our customers.
IGT was recently recognised by the CDP for its commitment to the environment, is this the result of a long campaign?
IGT’s impact on the environment and the communities that our employees call home is something we consider at every turn, and at sites throughout the world. IGT views environmental stewardship as an ongoing commitment and something that we are continuously assessing and improving – even the smallest adjustment can yield big results over time.
What advice would you give to a rising CEO in the gaming world?
The first piece of advice that I would offer up is to remain passionate about serving the customer, and maintaining a customer first approach. I believe it’s critical to wake up each day with that target in mind and constantly work towards that goal. My second piece of advice is more personal in nature: Never rest on one’s laurels. I believe it is wise to destroy your past glories, or as Yoda wisely suggested years ago, “You must unlearn what you have learned.”