A look back over two decades of service to the industry

I met a man who had been married for 66 years. “Amazing. 66 years!” I said. “What’s the secret to such a long, happy marriage?” He said, “Well, it’s like this. When we got married, we decided that I would make all the big decisions, and she would make all the little decisions.” “Really?” I responded. “Does that work?” “Oh, yes,” he said proudly. “Sixty-six years, and so far, not one big decision!”

I guess what the man was saying is that life, and business, is a collection of small decisions that look large when you look back. Really, it’s not until you look back that you see how far you have come. When you’re going through it, living in the moment, what you do appears as just day-to-day activity.

The same could be said for GLI’s incredible journey with the gaming industry. GLI will mark 20 years in business this June and my 24th year since joining the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement, to do one simple thing: test gaming equipment. As I look back on this two-decade journey, I realize that, in one page, it’s difficult to recount all of the technological developments that have forever changed our industry for the better.

Even harder is to count how many times we knew that what we were looking at was a “game changer.” It’s often not until years later that the point of inflection is clearly pinpointed. In other areas this is true, such as politics and presidential history. When a president leaves the White House, it’s often not until years, sometimes decades, later, that it becomes clearer how much he did and how history would treat him. 

We have taken steps in various jurisdictions and with various manufacturers that were incremental at the time, and now looking back, we realize they each have added up to this big, dynamic, amazing thing we call the modern gaming industry. Think about how big it was when bill validators were put on machines, or the emergence of wide area progressives, TITO, Class II gaming or bonusing. Did we know how popular game show branding would  be when the first Wheel of Fortune games were released?

Early days

When GLI signed its first contract with the South Dakota Commission on Gaming, the state was just entering the world of gaming, becoming the first state in the union to have a video lottery system. Today, of course, VLTs are common throughout the United States, and GLI exclusively tests a wide variety of electronic gaming equipment for South Dakota, including slots, peripherals and, of course, VLTs. South Dakota was just the third state with casino gaming, and now nearly every state has some form of electronic gaming devices.

The continual march of technology has brought us to an incredible moment in time. When GLI first started, the gaming floor was dominated by spinning cherries and 7s that were either blazing or painted in red, white and blue, and customers exercised their biceps and shoulders by pulling a handle.

EPROMs and electro-mechanical games began to change the casino floor landscape, and before we knew it, customers could actually insert a dollar bill directly into the game. Card readers began to track customers’ play, and eventually customers began to realize we weren’t being Big Brother, we were just trying to reward them for their play.

A friend of mine tells a story about when Excalibur Hotel/Casino opened. Then, it was the largest hotel in the world, and players’ clubs were still a relatively new notion, even to the people working in them. She tells me, “We walked up to everyone on the floor and asked if they wanted to be a VIP. We weren’t really sure what that meant or what we were going to do with all our new VIPs, but it sounded good to them and to us, so we started signing people up.”

I recall a time when Palace Station in Las Vegas had very deep slot trays, so as the coins dropped from the machines, the sound would be very loud, and therefore very exciting. (Truth be told, they were specially made trays that were really stainless steel salad bowls.) Of course, ticketing has changed a noisy casino into a sleek, technologically based, server-driven environment.

Class II servers brought tribal casinos out of sprung structures and into modern-looking casinos with “Las Vegas-style” gaming. Now, bonusing and networked gaming are usher in a new era of games,  for a new era of players.

The same could be said for the arc of development that GLI has followed. People ask me all the time: “Did you know where GLI was going to be today when you started? You must have had an idea?” The reality is, our growth paralleled the industry’s. As new technology was added, we added more people. As jurisdictions opened, we opened offices and test labs to help regulators and manufacturers on the ground locally respond to new developments. We made small decisions every day to help regulators do their job or do their job a little easier. When five o’clock came, we stayed, if it meant an install could occur that night or that weekend. 

It’s not so much that there was this great plan to take GLI from two employees to more than 500 in 13 offices around the world. It’s more that we had a plan to help regulators and to do whatever we needed to do to accomplish that one goal. We added people and labs as needed, to best serve our customers as locally as possible. When regulators needed a standard that they could test against, and needed it quickly, we helped them.  That collection of works around the globe eventually became what is known today as the GLI Standard Series, including GLI-11, which is now used in almost every corner of the world, including, most recently, in Australia.

Finding solutions

When suppliers (and regulators too) were frustrated that their equipment would not connect to systems and communicate correctly, we strung together a few systems and a few machines to work out what was happening. Was the problem with the system? Was it the machines? Both? When this kind of analysis seemed to be asked for over and over again, we came up with the concept of an Interoperability Center, a place where everyone was equal, there was an air of neutrality and fact finding, and the goal was not to assign fault. Today, the world’s largest Interoperability Center runs in our Las Vegas, the only such center run by a private laboratory, where all can come and share, advance the ball in the search for openness, and to make operators and regulators’ jobs easier. 

When clients needed to get information on-line, we first gave them FTP site, then emails, then lists of approved items. Later we packaged it into a single portal called GLIAccess.  When regulators and suppliers became concerned that their latest software could not be read by the current verification tools, and this meant that installs needed to stop or regulators felt uncomfortable about what to do next, we made a series of ad-hoc tools so they could do their job. Honestly, the first few tools had crude interfaces, and it wasn’t pretty. Over time, as prompted by regulators, we combined our tools into a single product provided to regulators around the world, which is now known as GLI Verify. Even after it was released, regulators tired of carrying around huge reports listing software and signatures and asked us to combine it into one tool to help them. We completed that early this year.

Before there was FedEx, there was the mail, and then we had faxes to get request letters to the lab. If the mail got lost or the fax machine didn’t work, things didn’t get done. Then overnight shipping occurred, and that became the default standard. In recent years, electronic letters and notifications became the rage. So instead of spending money getting the request to GLI, suppliers asked for a better way. We created “Point.Click.Transfer.” (online approval requests with a receipt) to help the entire process be more efficient and more cost effective for our clients.

So from handle-pulling to electronic spinning, from spinning cherries to wide-area progressives, from player tracking systems to full server-based systems, from an idea of a private testing laboratory conceived in the St. Charles Hotel in Pierre, South Dakota, one March afternoon in 1989 to that same laboratory serving than 450 jurisdictional regulators and more than 300 suppliers, we truly have had the privilege of growing with the industry.

Like the man who has been married for 66 years, we have all made those little decisions together that have brought us to this, the most exciting time in gaming, until tomorrow, when that will become the most exciting time in gaming. Of course, we won’t know that tomorrow was the most exciting time until 20 years from now, when things will be even better than they are now!

For allowing us to be a small part of the industry’s success, we extend our deepest thanks and most sincere gratitude.