If you are an American slot machine fan, then it is unlikely that you have not heard of the Bally Gaming company. Bally is one of the biggest fruit machine manufacturers in the United States at the present time. Bally has been something of a chameleon throughout its long history in the U.S. gambling market, changing its name and business model several times. The outcome has been nothing but success, however. You probably recognize the Bally name from several other places. The company has purchased the Six Flags chain of theme parks located in different states from coast to coast, as well as the beautiful and massive MGM Grand casino resort in Las Vegas. Many Americans exposure to the Bally name has come from its fitness chain of health clubs and its line of exercise equipment pieces.
This American slot machine success story was the creation of an entrepreneur named Ray Maloney. Maloney founded the Bally Manufacturing Company as a subsidiary of Lion Manufacturing in 1932. Bally began as a pinball machine manufacturer. The first years of the Great Depression marked the heyday of the pinball machine, foreshadowing the rise to popularity of Bally’s destined star product, the slot machine. Pinball machines began to appear in stores across America, and part of the reason for their ubiquity was the Bally company’s diligent marketing. The company’s name actually came from one of their most successful products, the Ballyhoo pinball device. Bally’s pinball domination was contained to just the Midwestern segment of the nation initially, before the company’s success brought its fun and popular pinball games to a nationwide market.
By the end of the decade, Bally had expanded its manufacturing to include slot machines for the very first time. The company was a groundbreaker in the field of mechanical slot games. Their first footsteps into the field came just before these gambling devices exploded in popularity during the 1950s. By the middle of the nineteenth century, fruit machines had attained their current status as the star attractions on casino gaming floors, earning as much as seventy percent of the income for gaming establishments. Bally was right there on the forefront of the trend.
It would seem that the story of Bally and its slot machines was nothing but a rosy American success story, but that simply was not the case. The company’s eventual spot on top of the United States’ gambling industry seemed like a distant and unrealistic dream in the late 1950s and early 1960s, which saw dark days for Bally. Lion Manufacturing, which still owned and operated Bally, entered a prolonged state of financial decline that ultimately led to its obliteration. Of course, their parent company’s troubles could not help but affect Bally. Compounding the disaster was the death of Bally’s founder, Ray Maloney, in 1958. Maloney had been a key figure in Bally’s early success, and his demise ushered in a period of plummeting revenues and market share. On its last legs, Lion manufacturing sold Bally to an outside investment group. This was the end of Lion, but the start of a bright new era for the slot machine company.
In less than ten years, Bally had again skyrocketed to the top of the slot machine business in America, and had sold a full ninety percent of all the fruit machines in the nation. The 60s were when the Bally company went public, and its shares were bought and sold for the first time. The money that flowed in from the success of the first sales fueled Bally’s diversification into other industries than gambling for the first time. Bally’s first venture outside pinball and slot games was into the video game industry, which was just in its genesis in the 1970s. Space Invaders was one the first video game titles to achieve widespread popularity (think the Nintendo Wii for your parents’ generation). It was licensed by Bally. Think that that was a coup? Well, you may have heard of Bally’s next purchase once or twice: a little Atari game called Pac-Man.
Based off the epic popularity of Pac-Man, Bally set forth with plans to develop and produce their very own video game console (system), called the Bally Astrocade. Despite the company’s apparent flair for developing console games and the system’s nifty and futuristic-sounding name, the Astrocade was a flop. Part of the problem was that the system’s technology was miles ahead of its contemporary competitor, the Atari 2600. Subsequently, it was priced much higher. The high cost drove away buyers, and the slot machine company was forced to withdraw from the video game biz. A string of similar failures in other arenas led Bally to turn its focus back to its old standby, slot games. That, at least, was an area in which Bally could rest reasonably assured of success!