Leading the cutting edge
by Andy Holtmann
June 1, 2008
A look at 10 of the gaming industry’s top technology professionals
The gaming industry, once a dinosaur in terms of innovation and
implementing technology, has now become one of the best proving grounds for
able technology professionals. Over the past decade, spurred by risk-takers,
pioneers and an influx of executives from other industries, gaming companies
have taken a leading role in developing new technologies. Among them: player
tracking, bonusing, ticketing, customer relationship management applications,
community gaming, server-based gaming, streamlined management and accounting
systems, and of course, long-overdue standards and protocols that make technology
development and implementation more efficient and valuable.
Over the next few pages, 10 of today’s leading technology professionals in the gaming industry are profiled — a veritable “who’s who” of movers and shakers that have made, and are making, the biggest impacts in recent years. They come from a bevy of backgrounds and all lend something different to the gaming industry’s technology advancements.
Though this is only a look at 10, there are literally hundreds of others that are worthy of recognition for the dramatic steps forward the industry has taken. Among them, and an honorable mention: Tim Stanley, CIO and senior vice president of innovation for Harrah’s Entertainment. Due to his busy schedule, he declined interview for this feature.
Here they are in alphabetical order — 10 technology professionals to watch:
John Acres always liked electronics and started tearing radios and TVs apart when he was eight years old. At 18, he began working part time in a small casino fixing sound systems and soon moved on to slot machines. After enrolling in college and getting a degree in math, he went on to become an early pioneer of progressive jackpots, player tracking and bonusing. His storied career includes founding Electronic Display Technology (EDT), Mikohn Gaming; Acres Gaming; and today, a new venture that combines Acres’ latest company — Acres Concepts — with Rich Fiore & Associates (RFA) to create Acres-Fiore.
Acres said it’s impossible to name his favorite achievement. “It’s kind of like choosing a favorite child, and inventions are like children: They start off bright, shiny and full of promise. As they grow, unexpected capabilities and limitations appear and eventually they take on a life of their own … I’m also proud of the Gaming Standards Association (GSA) idea, which, like my four human kids, grew to become far more than I ever expected.”
Acres said he’s excited to work with Rich Fiore. “Together, we’re working on an idea called ‘Personalized Gaming,’ which more closely ties game performance to the loyalty system to deliver a custom gaming experience to each player.”
Personalized Gaming will require a huge amount of work and many years to complete, Acres said; no different than player tracking (many casino managers said they’d never install card readers and displays on their machines), progressive jackpots (many casino managers said they’d never have more than one progressive link in a casino) or bonuses (many managers said they were simply unnecessary).
“I think Personalized Gaming will be a standard casino staple in 2018, though I hope its sooner — I’m getting old!”
Tim Britt’s background in technology started very early as his father was the hardware engineer for Univac I. Britt said that, as a result, he has always been around computing and technology. That exposure eventually led him to GE where he specialized in real-time factory floor data collection systems and very large distributed systems.
“I was first exposed to gaming systems in 1997, and the need for slot systems based on the technologies and architectures of a factory floor system seemed obvious to me, so it seemed like fun,” he said. “I founded Paradigm Gaming Systems and have been in gaming ever since. It is an intriguing and challenging industry with many quirks that keep it interesting.”
Britt, who recently joined Las Vegas Gaming Inc., believes that company’s technologies — unique slot “add ons” like PlayerVision, AdVision and BonusVision that give additional options for players and more marketing reach for operators — are going to be the future of the gaming industry. He points to work done during the formation of the Gaming Standards Association and the original BOB (now G2S and S2S) protocols as enabling technologies. “I believe strongly that open, interconnected systems from multiple vendors are the key to any industry’s growth and paramount in bringing innovation into any environment,” he said.
Britt said the thing he is most proud of with LVGI’s technologies is the reaction of the people that use the technology.
“When they utilize our technology, it seems natural and intuitive to them, and you see that twinkling of surprise and delight that lets you know you have the right thing going on. I usually get excited by the elegance of a well designed back-end, or an architecture that scales to the largest customer you can imagine. We have that as well, but this is the first time a user interface platform has excited me. If you are exciting and pleasing the player, you are exciting and pleasing the operator as well — who is our customer.”
Britt said he still maintains interests with and does work for technology companies outside of gaming as it allows him to bring existing robust technologies and platforms into the gaming arena that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.
After graduating college with a degree in electrical engineering and spending four years developing a range of products in South Africa, Peter DeRaedt got his start in the gaming industry in 1986 upon moving back to his native Belgium. There, he started the development of table management systems and the automatic roulette display, reader systems and analysis software. After 11 years, he moved to Sydney, Australia were he became involved with slot machines and their protocols.
“Maintaining the different versions and languages, almost per casino property, was a true challenge and a loss of valuable engineering resources. When I finally moved to Reno, Nev. in September 1997, I discovered that a group of engineers were meeting in Las Vegas to address the issue of standardization. I joined them, and the rest is history,” DeRaedt said.
Just under 10 years later, the Gaming Standards Association, under DeRaedt’s direction, has revolutionized and organized technology in the gaming industry, creating sets of standards and protocols that make technology development much more efficient and advancement all the more possible.
DeRaedt has a host of technology achievements he’s proud of: simulating the sound of a Banjo on a self designed electronic keyboard using Inverse Fourier Transformations; developing a unit while in South Africa that, using the power lines, remotely controlled all the lights and equipment in his house; the design and development of a cost effective, KIS, automatic roulette reader and display system; the creation of the Advanced Gaming Interface in 1997; and co-developing a casino chip-sorting machine that used a single motion to separate.
But the work he has done with GSA will have a long-lasting effect on the gaming industry, DeRaedt said.
“These open standards are the driving force behind a lot of innovation still to come. I am very excited about the future of gaming and the technological advances that will take place,” he said. “Personally, I am most excited about a product for the gaming industry that I have been working on since 1989. Although I am unable to provide more details at this point in time, I am very much looking forward to seeing this product being introduced into the marketplace, as I tend to refer to it as ‘The Missing Link.’”
Technology has been of great interest to Jeff Kaplan for a long time. He explained his turning point was his years evaluating systems and technology M&A deals for GE Capital where he was a financial deal analyst. It was during this time, while conducting due diligence on a company, that he discovered predictive analytics and the incredible potential/upside it presented.
“Coincidently, Paul Bradley, Ph.D., an old college friend, was at that same time building the first algorithms to ever ship in a database as a researcher in the Data Management, Exploration and Mining Group at Microsoft Research. We joined forces at a predictive analytics start up where I was able to leverage my financial expertise and my passion for innovative technologies by raising the rounds of funding, developing the product vision, and the go to market strategy,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan and Bradley grew that company from five to 100-plus employees. Clients included Nordstrom, Ford, Jcrew, Barnes&Noble.com and AT&T. The duo soon formed Apollo Data Technologies and set out to build a solution that could automate data mining and the predictive analytics process.
“Apollo Data Technologies is a predictive modeling platform that is innovative, delivers great return for our clients and fills the gap where other analytic software falls short, specifically in the area of automation. The feedback we’ve received has been tremendous.”
Today, Kaplan is leveraging Apollo’s Predictive Modeling Platform to take server-based gaming to the next level.
“Think about it: offering casino operators with a much more automated and accurate way of understanding player worth, setting the optimal floor mix to maximize revenue for a given night, and predict what offers will have the highest redemption rate,” Kaplan said. “The predictive technology embedded into SB Apollo will allow an operator to provide personalized game recommendations and offers to each player in real-time … by tailoring customer experiences through predictive analytics and the service window, operators will be able to differentiate their properties and amenities through tailored offers that speak directly to their players.”
Larry Pacey said that, throughout his career, he has focused on anticipating future player needs and developing products to satisfy those visions. Prior to joining WMS Gaming in 2001, he developed videogames for the home entertainment industry with Atari and Sega, in addition to developing titles for PC, Nintendo and Sony PlayStation. During those formative years, the technology underwent major transitions, initially from 8-bit to 16-bit, then 32-bit, 3D and, in the mid/late-90s, incorporated online capabilities.
“As a developer, I learned that technology brings new challenges and with them incredibly exciting possibilities. In fact, the most successful products effectively achieve an appropriate balance of new advancements while staying true to the players’ expectations,” Pacey said. “If you look at the category-creating products which WMS has introduced, you’ll note that the player focus philosophy is consistent throughout the efforts of our WMS team: consider Community Gaming with our Big Event titles, Sensory Immersion products such as Top Gun and The Wizard of Oz, Transmissive Reels experiences with Monopoly Super Money Grab and Jackpot Station, and of course our latest Adaptive Gaming series, debuting with Star Trek.”
Pacey said these solutions are designed from the ground-up, incorporating game-changing play experiences and never-before-imagined operator benefits. Many have already advanced into second-generation executions. “Consider how we have combined our Transmissive Reels Mechanical platform with Community Gaming-based network technology, in our Bigger Bang Big Event product, the first mechanical reel-based communal gaming experience. Combining these advanced platforms allows us to offer players more entertainment opportunities, enhancing their experiences beyond their imaginations.”
And this is just the beginning, Pacey said. The company is also leveraging its technology partnerships with companies like Intel, ATI and Bose. And with WMS’s WAGE-NET (Wide Area Game Enhanced Network), the company’s development teams have already laid the groundwork for smooth adoption of new network gaming solutions. WMS’s Bluebird gaming devices are ready for remote configuration through simple software upgrades, while enabling software download capabilities by updates to the new CPU-NXT2 platform. “In fact, our Community Gaming architecture was designed to bring the benefits of a networked gaming floor to market today,” Pacey said.
Thomas R. Peck Jr.
Thomas R. Peck Jr.
Thomas R. Peck Jr. holds the technology keys for one of the gaming industry’s largest companies: MGM Mirage. Peck has operational and strategic responsibilities for all technology supporting the company’s 70,000 employees across 17 global mega-resorts and numerous other investments. He and his team drive technology initiatives across hotel, casino and banking, food and beverage, retail, supply chain, corporate and entertainment divisions.
Peck started his career as a Marine Corps financial management officer serving in numerous finance roles, and ultimately serving as a deputy CFO at Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, N.C. and later as a financial systems project leader in the Marine Corps CFO’s office in the Pentagon. He made a major career decision to accept a Six Sigma role with General Electric working within their Information Technology Department. “The breadth of experiences positioned me for larger and more progressive technology-specific roles within GE,” he said.
Prior to joining MGM Mirage, Peck served as executive vice president and CIO at NBC Universal’s global entertainment business, a position Peck said gave him great experience for his current role.
“I have had the opportunity to work with many great people on many important initiatives throughout my career,” Peck said. “Within the past 18 months, our team has opened up three new resorts featuring some really innovative technologies. Our Beau Rivage resort in Biloxi, Miss. was largely rebuilt after Hurricane Katrina. MGM Grand Detroit has our first full IPTV implementation and a fully integrated VoIP PBX. And MGM Grand Paradise in Macau features many localized Chinese-centric solutions.” Additionally, Peck said that MGM Mirage’s $8 billion, 76-acre CityCenter resort in Las Vegas is laying enough fiber optic cable to wrap 4.3 times around the equator. This bandwidth will provide a tremendous amount of guest services to compliment the world’s largest full IP-based hospitality PBX, a 13-million-square-foot distributed antenna system, and many other solutions.
“Our world is changing,” Peck said. “Our customers are seeing their lifestyles converge, and they are becoming more sophisticated. Technology must enable that seamless connectivity and experience between work, home and pleasure. They are demanding an enriching, yet simple, experience via any device and any network. We are delivering it for them.”
Carol Pride said her technology background is somewhat non-traditional. As an engineer, she spent the first part of her career in manufacturing. A sales rep position with IBM was her transition into information technology, and she soon discovered the new role she could play with shaping a company through technology.
Today, as CIO of Pinnacle Entertainment, Pride is shepherding her company through a remarkable growth and expansion phase. It is her job to ensure that all of the systems and technology at Pinnacle, which owns and operates casinos in Nevada, Louisiana, Indiana, Missouri, Argentina, The Bahamas and is planning a massive property in Atlantic City, remain not only functional, but cutting-edge. To do so, Pride leverages her experience as an engineer.
“The common threads in my technology career are: team creation, project delivery, business partnerships, the business use of the internet and data driven decision making,” she said. “Throughout my career, I have been most proud of the teams I’ve built and the value they have delivered to the businesses.”
Among her proudest accomplishments: the delivery of a critical Web time sheet application for 50,000 distributed employees using RAD (rapid application development) and a newly deployed data warehouse in under 30 days with integration to PeopleSoft.
“Pinnacle offers several opportunities for me — opening new properties, development of marketing analytics and great people to work with at headquarters and at the properties,” she said.
A Las Vegas native, Richard Schneider earned his bachelors in engineering from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, working his way through school via employment with and around casinos. After college, he went to work in the defense industry designing missile guidance systems.
“This experience taught me the importance of good engineering discipline in developing high quality, reliable products,” Schneider said. “Although I enjoyed the intellectual challenges of this highly technical industry, I did miss the excitement and faster pace of the gaming industry. So when the opportunity arose, I took the opportunity to return to the gaming industry.”
Over the last 18 years, Schneider has designed and developed cutting-edge systems and games for the gaming industry. His career included stints as director of engineering for United Coin Machine Company, vice president of game development for Casino Data Systems and chief operating officer of Acres Gaming, which IGT acquired in 2003.
Today, as IGT’s senior vice president of network systems, Schneider is responsible for driving the definition of the systems business and initiatives, including IGT Advantage, IGT Mariposa and server-based gaming products.
Schneider credited his role in the development and implementation of bonusing technology while he was at Acres Gaming and his role in the founding and success of the Gaming Standards Association as two of his proudest achievements. “[Bonusing] really did change the way operators differentiate their offering from their competitors,” he said. “The protocols fostered by [GSA] allowed for the widespread implementation of bonusing. The new G2S and S2S protocols will foster the widespread implementation of server-based technology. That is why I, along with the entire IGT management team, continue to be fully committed to the Gaming Standards Association and its mission of delivering open standards.”
Schneider said he is a firm believer that the widespread application of high-speed networks on the casino floor will fundamentally change the way casinos operate on virtually every level.
“The fun part about this is that so many of our casino operator customers really get the potential that this technology promises,” he said. “I compare this situation to the early days of bonusing where only a very small group of innovative, risk-oriented operators really bought in on the whole bonusing concept. In those early days, most operators did not think bonusing was important or relevant. Our competitors all deemed bonusing as worthless. Now, bonusing is part of the ‘must have’ checklist of any new casino opening. Seeing the lights come on and brainstorming with our operator partners on all the possibilities is really the most fun and rewarding part of my job.”
As the chairman of VCAT and the operational head of the Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino near Lakeside, Calif., Speer has been instrumental in keeping the property — and the Barona Tribe of Mission Indians — at the forefront of innovation.
“While I’m not a technologist, I am certainly a technology advocate and have been an active participant in developing and implementing gaming and other technologies for the past two decades,” Speer said. “I have long believed that the right talent and the right technology exists in the gaming industry. However, the incredible competition between the technology developers and providers, combined with some reluctance by the end users, has resulted in an extremely slow adaptation rate for technology in the gaming industry. My focus at VCAT is on merging and combining efforts to strengthen existing technologies as well as perfect technologies still in development.”
At Barona, Speer took a then-giant risk in creating the first successful, casino-wide ticket-in/ticket-out casino floor. By convincing Bally, IGT and Sierra Design Group to work as partners at Barona in 2000, Speer was able to combine existing technologies and deliver what many still view as the best ticketing system in the industry. Speer also oversaw the development of Mariposa Software, the highly-acclaimed customer relationship management (CRM) software system which was purchased by IGT in 2007.
So what has Speer excited today from a technology perspective? In a word, networks. “That is a broad word, but it is the answer to gaming’s future. Barona is the first test site of IGT’s server-based gaming network and is also becoming the premiere site for Bally’s iVIEW network. We also are working on many other types of networking, from existing cell phone networks to property-wide enterprise networking.”
The Barona slot floor is connected by a gigabit Ethernet network. By extending the power of high speed networks to the gaming floor at the property, Speer and his team have extended the reach of all types of networks to the player. “It is an exciting time for technology in the gaming industry, and I’m committed to continue to work with the most important technology developers and providers in order to stay ahead of the innovation and maintain Barona’s position as the most technologically advanced in the industry.”
After completing his engineering degree (metallurgy) in India in 1982 and his MBA in 1984, Ramesh Srinivasan spent the first three years of his career in general management before making the switch to application software in December 1987. Since then, he has been associated with application software development and implementation and support for four major corporations: Mattel Toys, Bugle Boy, Manhattan Associates and Bally Technologies.
For five of his seven years at Manhattan Associates, he worked for Richard Haddrill (current CEO of Bally Technologies and then CEO of Manhattan Associates). When Srinivasan decided to leave Manhattan near the end of 2004, Haddrill offered him an opportunity with Bally.
“I am most proud of the rapid and significant improvements in virtually every application software/technology product I have been associated with during the past two decades, along with the simultaneous growth in revenue and profitability of the organizations during my tenure,” Srinivasan said. “While I will gladly admit that all such improvements have had more to do with the remarkable and talented colleagues I have had the good fortune of working with than my own presence, just the association with such success is a satisfying feeling.”
Srinivasan said that Bally’s phenomenal growth and overall resurgence during the past three years have made the hard work and improvements in the company’s systems products, services, processes, innovation and customer satisfaction all the more satisfying.
And there’s still plenty of more work to do. The Bally Systems products that have long been a staple of the gaming industry are all set for massive enhancements in the upcoming version releases this year which will be offered to customers as upgrades, Srinivasan said. Newer, innovative products like the Download Configuration Manager, iVIEW Display Manager, the Bally Business Intelligence solution and GameMaker will help casinos make rapid strides toward the Networked Floor of The Future this year, he added.
“I am a strong believer in the mantra: ‘It does not matter how good one is today; the only thing that matters is how good one is at improving,’” he said. “This march toward being a world-class systems and technology provider is a wonderful ride, and I am very lucky to be a part of such an innovative organization.”
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