#1207 – Amusement Wagering in View

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Continuing the coverage of a crowded last few months and we point to events such as FIJMA, Amusement360, SINDEPAT Summit, SNELAC Meeting, and Asia Amusement & Attractions (AAA) Expo, to name a few. The Stinger Report will attempt to capture a snapshot of the trends and developments seen at these events in this coverage.

Amusement Wagering Impact

Racing across the globe to follow developments across the social and leisure entertainment scene, and we attended the Madrid International Game Fair (FIJMA). Taking place at the same time as SEA’24, this event in Spain was the 40th edition of the International Game Fair, an anniversary for Spain’s largest gaming and casino show. The show was interesting, as it marked the crossover of casino business in the region and the growth in representation of amusement.

Many of the booths at FIJMA’24 included a strong amusement machine representation. Sources revealed that the event organizers had been instrumental in the blocking of Madrid as a possible location for the International Casino Expo (ICE), that was now relocating from London to Barcelona. This trade event representing the changing Spanish landscape to new entertainment offerings, and how the gaming and entertainment markets were converging.

The convergence was best illustrated by the news that Dave & Busters’ the “Eatertainment” chain, was evaluating the possibility of wagering on games in a partnership with corporation Lucra – supplier of a peer-to-peer cash contest app with real money contests (only operated in 44 US States). Their ‘Lucra Sports’ app allows players to bet on the outcome of competitions, bypassing State legislations, while targeting loyal members of their audience, driving new adoption, and ensuring longer retention. This is aimed at players over 18-years of age and is described as a game including real-money contests or challenges. Strenuously avoiding the terms betting or wagering, the promotion of the scheme used the term “destigmatize cash-based competition” for the application. D&B is launching a digital competition platform for their patrons, with full rollout in Q4 of the year, as they follow through with their gamification software.

This development moved amusement into the area of social gaming, while social betting is calculated as a $6b industry through social gaming apps. Some media reporting the D&B announcement also pointed to the rise in gambling problems across the US, charting numbers like 5m to 8m reporting a moderate problem. As the news broke, the lawmakers in numerous States were approached on their position regarding this possible wager capability within the chain. The Ohio Casino Control Commission, approached by media, stated that the Dave & Buster’s proposal appeared to violate State law, and they would be looking very closely to see if the system was implemented in their jurisdiction. Illinois lawmakers went further, filing a bill against the plans by D&B, proposed as the “Family Amusement Wagering Prohibition Act” if passed.

Some media had reached out to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (PGCB) with questions about the D&B plans regarding stores in their territory, and it was confirmed that investigations will be considered when more information on the plans is revealed. This comes on the back of news that the Pennsylvania area has been embroiled in addressing skill gaming legislation in the State. Soon after this, it was revealed that the Nevada State commission had also announced their plans to block D&B in their catchment from employing a wagering system, citing the dangers and concerns of underage gambling. It will be interesting to see how the planned Q4 2024 rollout of the planned wagering system will take place in the face of such a reaction, and we will be keeping a close eye on the results.

Added value concerning new entertainment and leisure investment into the international sector was also reflected in a number of trade events and summits dedicated in spreading the word. One such was the holding of the Competitive Socializing Show – organized by Home Leisure Direct, the event gathered many in the social entertainment landscape to the London venue for the one-day event. One new exhibitor was Base Productions Simulation, who presented their racing simulators as a social entertainment option to the attendees. Also, AR darts and selected amusement pieces were shown, while a lineup of leading Competitive Socializing executives presented during the conference part of the event. All concluded this year with a new awards ceremony.

Also holding their regular event, Amusement 360, organized by Creative Works, saw record registration of 117 new startups and existing operators. The event offering a boot camp for new developers and operators. The valuable gathering saw several manufacturers present their platforms to the assembled attendees. The holding of training seminars, towards helping share industry and operational intelligence, has grown in recent years with several leading developers and operators depending on this gathering to share experience. One such example was held by LBE VR franchise veteran Zero Latency. The company held, in May, their ‘Zero Latency University’, inviting key franchise operators and venue managers to a series of days sharing information on how best to operate their arena VR businesses. The company was linked to a major announcement of a new licensed property for October, which was leaked to The Stinger as being linked to the Warhammer 40k universe. Meanwhile, the company was also linked to the announcement of a new, smaller, VR free-roam arena configuration for six players, as they entered the crowded VR arena sector. More information to follow soon.

Asian Expo and China Roundup (Part 1)

One of the biggest amusement and attraction events took place in China during May, with the Asian Amusement & Attraction (AAA) Expo. The 20th anniversary event was also supporting the World Culture & Tourism Industry Expo 2024, all held at the China Import & Export Fair Complex in Guangzhou, covering some 3,000 exhibitors. A vast number of exhibitors covered the disciplines of amusement, attractions, leisure, billiards, and even social entertainment, crammed into a number of halls within the complex.

The key exhibitors from the Chinese scene included WAHALP, holding their usual prominent booth. Included on display was their new release ‘Monster Eye 3’. The third instalment of the monster shooter, developed by IGS, was presented in an Environmental Cabinet comprising a 4k 65’’ display along with a 5D motion platform, for the two-player shooting action. Another new release was ‘Kingdoms Fantasy’, developed by IGS, offering a four-player battler supported with an extensive collectable card system (Card Battler) – similar to what we have seen with Raw Thrills titles ‘Injustice Arcade’ and ‘Minecraft Dungeon Arcade’. This WAHLAP title is. aimed at the same audience, but with a stronger Chinese focus – with some 83 different trading cards for players to collect. The investment in releasing a card battler follows the sudden appearance of the trend back in amusement. In the West, BANDAI NAMCO Amusement had bet heavily on the traditional card battler format being popular again, having released their ‘Animal Kaiser Plus’ remake.

WAHLAP also promoted their manufacturer partner’s new release, with the BANDAI NAMCO Amusement title ‘Taiko No Tatsujin’ – with several pieces based on this Chinese drum playing game franchise. The company also had a new children’s version of the game, as well as themed air hockey. Also represented was ‘Kamen Rider – Transformation of Justice’, again developed by IGS. It is represented with a computer vision body tracking system, aimed at a younger audience (“Kidtainment”). The game development is based around the Japanese Masked Rider IP, with the machine also having an image capture feature to act like a photo booth after each game.

Meanwhile, following on from last year’s AAA, WAHLAP promoted the SEGA JP amusement properties, including the street racer franchise ‘Initial D The Arcade’ in Chinese colors. Another IP-based racer represented by WAHLAP at the show was a Chinese version of the Adrenaline Amusement ‘NFS Heat Takedown’, based on the popular videogame property. Also represented by WAHLAP at AAA’24, BANDAI NAMCO and card battlers were seen and, in Japan, it was revealed that BANDAI division Banpresto and their amusement unit are rolling out a new game based on their popular franchise with ‘Dragonball Super Divers’. This is another card battler (defined by the company as a “Digital Card Game”), with a series of collectable cards based on the franchise. The game is played on a unique cabinet comprising three screens and a card recognition system. It is doubtful this will receive an international release but does point to the resurgence of card battler amusement releases as a growing trend this year.

Speaking of the Asian market’s impact on the traditional amusement factories, and there were reports from BANDAI NAMCO China, who announced they were opening ‘VS PARK’ at Ion Mall Hiroshima, China. Planned to open in July, this version of the company’s venue comprises over 20 “Active Entertainment” experiences ranging from tracked screens, soccer goal kicking, and inflatables. This comes after news that BANDAI NAMCO Amusement will be rolling out the chain in other territories. It was revealed that the new ‘VS CHALLENGE’ concept Indonesian store will be opened in June – a smaller version of the original concept, comprising a more condensed selection of activities.

Speaking of new facility openings, and it was revealed that in North America, BANDAI NAMCO Holdings USA was undertaking a partnership with the BMO Stadium to open an entertainment arcade in The Fields LA space. The venue, to open in July, is called ‘Level Up by BANDAI NAMCO’ and will comprise several amusement pieces covering the PAC-MAN video and prize lines, along with a full-service bar and burger and pizza concessions – all this and a Gashapon vending area too. This is a first–of-itskind offering from the US holding corporation of the Japanese corporation. BANDAI NAMCO Holdings includes the divisions BANDAI NAMCO Toys & Collectables (toys), BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment America (videogames), BANDAI NAMCO Amusement America (arcade) and other South American interests. It is through this division that we have seen the development of new initiatives, including this new venue. However, the division may want to think again on the branding, as there are numerous amusement sites using the “Level Up” moniker.

BANDAI NAMCO’s “Active Entertainment” approach is being emulated by other Japanese amusement developers. We have already reported on the ‘JOYPOLIS Sports’ brand from the CA SEGA group, but a new entrant in this theater is TAITO. Constantly experimenting with more immersive entertainment approaches to the amusement mix, the corporation announced the plans to open, in July, their new ‘BOOTVERSE’ concept – described as a “sports entertainment facility”. Targeting a Gen-Z audience, the venue is far removed from a traditional amusement site, and comprises immersive entertainment based on their previous CUBE platform, as well as more active game platforms such as bowling and climbing walls (some 15 games in all, with a party sports feel). The name is a construct of “Boot” meaning start-up, and “Universe” meaning world – offering entertainment that is highly engaging and energetic, with a digital mix. There are also plans to import other content in time. All eyes will be on the Kanagawa, shopping center mall (‘ViNAWALK’) opening to see if TAITO has gauged the market’s needs correctly. Developments will be seen in the coming weeks from another Japanese amusement facility giant, which we will cover in greater detail in our coming report.

Returning to the AAA’24 show floor, with the WAHLAP booth and their involvement with SEGA JP and, along with the already mentioned ‘Initial D The Arcade’, several of their music game series (including the popular ‘maimai DX’ machine), WAHALP was showing a special Chinese version of the ‘maimai DX Buddies International’ release. The series of touchscreen music rhyme games has proven strong in Asia, with only a very limited Western representation. This is about to change, with the news that Round1USA (R1USA) would be carrying out a Loc-Test of the maimai platform at their flagship Californian store in the USA.

The test is seeing a special US version of the music game created in a two unit, connected version, for four-player competition. It is expected that, following this test, R1USA will evaluate rolling out the platform across their chain of US sites – supporting the machines’ mainai DX network for players. No word if SEGA Amusement International (SAE) is directly or indirectly involved with this Loc-Test, as Round1 Japan was working directly with SEGA JP and WAHLAP for the creation of the US version (not the first time an arrangement like this has been undertaken by R1USA). Although, if successful, there will obviously be interest from other venue operators to have access to the music game release.

Another card battler presented to the audience was from UNIS Technology, showing ‘Picture Book Land’ – with a four-player cabinet, offering 78 collectable card variances, the children-themed battler saw the cards and system equipped with QR codes linking collected cards to sync with Chinese social media platform WeChat. AAA charted the trend of card battlers as a new investment by the Chinese amusement scene, following closely behind Western investment in this direction. By its very nature, this genre offers interest to a much younger audience than other titles and sees the trade doubling down on hoping this trend is what the audience wants. Next part of the AAA’24 coverage to follow.

About the author call_made

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The brainchild of two location-based experience enthusiasts, Christine Buhr and Brandon Willey, the LBX Collective aims to inform and educate, create opportunities to connect with industry peers, and to spur collaboration, discourse, and cross-pollination of ideas.

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