When James Maida and Paul Magno launched Gaming Laboratories International (GLI) in 1989, the testing of gaming equipment primarily revolved around the mechanical reel slot machine—the prevalent and staple product of casinos across the United States and around the world.
But fast forward 25 years and my, how things have changed. Today, industry leader GLI and other independent game testing labs have to examine increasingly sophisticated video slot products, server-based and other technologically-advanced gaming systems, online and mobile game platforms, and ancillary gaming products ranging from ticket printers to bill acceptors for a growing number of local, state and federal regulatory authorities. Few would argue that life for the labs has become exponentially more difficult.
“When Paul and I launched GLI, we didn’t know if we would have three clients, 10 clients or 20 clients,” said Maida, who is president and CEO of GLI, which is headquartered in Lakewood, N.J. “Today we have 20 plus labs and over 850 employees who deal with thousands of clients. This additional bandwidth is needed since so many things have changed. Games are so much more complex now—the math is much more advanced, there are extended game features and all kinds of games within games.”
Nick Farley, president of Solon, Ohio-based Eclipse Compliance Testing concurs that the game testing and approval process has become more difficult, which is not necessarily a bad thing for the gaming industry as a whole.
“Issues that are coming to the forefront of compliance testing include the advancement of gaming technology and new forms of gaming that are emerging,” Farley said. “These new forms of gaming are creating new opportunities for revenue to enter state coffers. The technologies evolving from these new forms of gaming are changing the complexion of gaming.”
And the make-up of compliance testing laboratories as well. From humble beginnings, Eclipse has expanded and is now authorized in 250 jurisdictions and has an alliance with an overseas lab to expand its reach around the world, according to Farley. It now services the compliance testing needs of the casino gaming industry (both Class II and Class III); the amusement industry; state lotteries; charitable gaming; Internet gaming; and legal professionals. The lab specializes all areas of electronic gaming, including, but not limited to, Class II and Class III gaming systems; charitable gaming systems, including bingo and electronic pull-tabs; and internet gaming, including mobile gaming.
“Eclipse has established a reputation for tailoring our services to meet our customers’ needs in the most efficient manner of any lab,” Farley said. “Our testing services… [offer] faster throughput and lower costs to our customers without sacrificing quality or cutting corners. We do this by establishing efficient testing procedures to ensure thoroughness in a timely fashion.”
BMM Testlabs is a third independent lab whose growth parallels that of the gaming industry. Originally established in Australia in the 1980s, BMM now has 14 offices in 13 countries, employs 200 people and is licensed or recognized in over 400 jurisdictions, according to its website. The company provides testing and certification, regulatory consultancy and field services to customers throughout the globe. It also offers insight and engineering expertise within gaming certification.
The company remains active as well. So far in 2014, BMM has opened an office in Bologna, Italy, started to accept submissions for Colorado, and added former American Gaming Association president and CEO Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. to its board as non-executive director.
GLI, which has certified more than 1,757,470 items and has either consulted on and/or tested equipment for more than 455 jurisdictions, also remains active in transforming and tweaking its enterprise to conform to today’s increasingly complex gaming environment. The company continues to emphasize its commitment to customer service, hiring 250 people over the past two years, and dedicating 75 employees to do nothing but “go and visit clients,” according to Maida. “Our development people physically go to the reservation or lottery or charitable gaming division or state gaming agency; not only in the U.S., but in Canada and around the world.”
The goal of this endeavor, according to Maida, is to not only cement relationships, but to get boots-on-the-ground feedback about local market and regulatory conditions that is disseminated to the entire GLI staff through the company’s global knowledge network. GLI then formulates strategies aimed at alleviating these issues. “We don’t phone it in,” Maida said. “We want the relationship, and the only way to do that is to go to their office, meet face-to-face, and listen to what they want and need.”
These one-on-one meetings also help GLI, in that they provide a glimpse into the technologies and issues that could impact gaming going forward, giving them a chance to proactively respond for both themselves and their customers. For example, five years ago, when GLI executives realized jurisdictions and regulators were once again warming toward online gaming, the company purchased Technical Systems Testing (TST), an internationally recognized testing facility offering a full range of testing and consulting services to the iGaming and land-based markets.
“We were the first major, global lab in the online space and we did that by purchasing TST and bringing those people on board,” Maida said. “We went from zero to a hundred instantly, instead of trying to build it all internally.”
The insights garnered from these meetings also form the backbone of GLI’s annual Regulator’s Roundtables, a regulators-only meeting where gaming trends and issues are discussed. It has also led to theintroduction of dozens of new GLI products and services designed to make day-to-day communication and business practices between the lab, regulators, operators and manufacturers easier and more efficient These items include the Interops Center, which tests the ability of gaming devices to communicate with each other; GLIAccess, Point.Click.Submit. and Point.Click.Transfer., which help expedite and track the product approval process; JIRA, a new service that alerts clients to bugs in their software in real time; and GLiCloud, a Cloud-based technology that empowers regulators to track the software and hardware that comprises the slot machines on the casino floor and relates the components to their regulatory approval status.
Perhaps the biggest challenge facing all gaming labs going forward is the ongoing jurisdictional push toward online and mobile real-money wagering legalization. Both provide unique testing challenges.
“Regulatory compliance testing of online gaming systems is quite different than testing traditional gaming devices, but the underlying regulatory matters are the same: ensuring fairness and integrity to the gaming public,” Farley said. “So, testing paradigms in traditional gaming can easily be transferred to online gaming testing.
“The impact that mobile gaming has had on compliance testing is in the form of software verification,” Farley added. “Many of the mobile devices in use today do not have a means to have the software installed on the devices independently verified. Further, downloadable apps for mobile devices to engage in Internet gaming are difficult to track and verify.”
Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem. “Software associated with game outcome determination for mobile gaming is often housed on servers communicating with mobile devices, so verification of the mobile device software becomes more focused on the server software and the communication with the mobile device,” Farley said. “Thus, validation of the mobile device software can be managed by the server, once the server software has been verified.”
Maida also thinks all or most of the testing issues involved with online and mobile gaming are solvable as well. Since many of the new Internet games are based on popular terrestrial slot games, Maida believes previous testing done on the math, paytables and other aspects can be grandfathered forward to eGaming versions. However, for each eGaming solution, other issues and testing needs pops up, such as New Jersey’s desire to test the geolocation devices used by its online gaming providers.
“Fortunately, we also have lots of bandwidth,” Maida said. “We have network engineers and protocol engineers and that is all they work on. We are not a bunch of general practitioners. We have teams of specialists who drill down into what they have to know.”