The designer of some of the most successful slot machine games in history — Blazing 7s and the Black and White slot series — has died in a traffic accident in Las Vegas.
Robert Phillip Manz, who had a 23-year career with the predecessor companies of Bally Technologies and served as president of Las Vegas-based Rocket Gaming Systems, leading it from a small start-up operation to one of the leaders in the production of a class of casino games used extensively in tribal casinos, reportedly suffered a medical emergency while driving Saturday and lost control of his vehicle. He was 65.
“People in the industry would come into our office and just want to shake his hand,” said Ron Harris, CEO of Rocket Gaming Systems, who credited Manz for turning his company into a billion-dollar operation in four years. “He hated the spotlight and didn’t like accolades. When I would introduce him as the person responsible for making our company what it is, he would interrupt me and correct me and say it was the result of the efforts of the team.”
Manz was instrumental in the development of Rocket’s Gold Series of slot machine games used in several tribal casinos nationwide. The devices are in a class known as video lottery terminals, which are designed to meet legal requirements specifically related to tribal gaming and are connected to a central computer that determines the outcome of each wager — unlike Las Vegas-style slot machines, which generally are operated with random number generators in individual machines.
But Manz was best known for his development of Blazing 7s and its subsequent variations, a design that has continued to be a casino floor favorite since its introduction in 1987.
“He had a knack for knowing what players like to play as well as what casinos wanted,” said Terry Daly, vice president of game design at Rocket.
Manz used a simple concept — the knowledge that players like to see several winning “7” combinations. He also teased players with near-wins when spins would produce 7-7-blank on the screen.
Manz designed the 7s on the reels with flames to designate it as a “hot slot.”
But the most popular concept was the generous payout and bunching several of the machines together on a casino floor. While the hit frequency was roughly one jackpot in every 4,096 plays, casinos would place 10 Blazing 7s machines together. At an average 10 plays a minute, players could expect to see a jackpot every half hour with the top winning combination paying 1,000 coins — $1,000 on dollar machines and $250 on quarters.
Longtime friend and game-designer colleague Charlie Lombardo said Manz was successful because he pioneered the concept of allowing a game’s entertainment value to be the driving force in a design.
“He had a gambler’s mentality,” Lombardo said. “He believed if you take care of the player and give him value, he would eventually give you his money. He firmly believed that you had to let the player win once in a while and that it was OK to let them go home with money in their pockets.”
Lombardo, who met Manz when they were part of the team rebuilding the MGM Grand casino — now Bally’s — after a tragic fire in 1980 that killed 87 people, said he never thought Blazing 7s would catch on with the public.
“When Bobby introduced the game and it was in its raw stages, he called it Blazing 7s and he had a bunch of story boards to explain it,” Lombardo said. “I was the only one who said the game would never make it. I told him, ‘You’re wasting your time.’ After it became such a big success, we always got a laugh out of that.”
Manz was an avid hunter, fisherman and golfer. His industry travels took him to all 50 states and nearly every continent.
He began his slot-designing career with Bally Manufacturing in Chicago in 1970 and moved to Las Vegas in 1983.
Manz retired from Bally and met Harris at an industry trade show, where he matter-of-factly told the Rocket CEO he needed his help. Harris concurred and hired him as his company’s president. In 2006, Manz stepped down from the executive position but continued to design games for the company, spending his latter years mentoring young game-development talent.
“He was always listening and innovating and letting people take a chance,” Harris said. “He would always say, ‘Let’s try it,’ and provide the opportunity.”
Manz is survived by a brother living in Las Vegas and a sister in Chicago.
A visitation is scheduled from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, with a funeral service to follow at the chapel at the Davis Funeral Home and Memorial Park, 6200 S. Eastern Ave. Interment will be at 10:40 a.m. Monday at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City.