In this month’s feature, CEM recognizes some of gaming’s brightest visionaries. Hard-working, resourceful, spirited and humble, each exceptional gaming professional profiled here has a host of admirable qualities. The profiles will give you an inside look at why each leader deserves to be recognized and the amazing things they’ve contributed to the industry. You’ll learn about our visionaries’ backgrounds, professional goals, personal mantras and even a few surprising characteristics. Building the industry one day at a time, these inspiring visionaries see what others do not and pour themselves wholeheartedly into their work. We are certain you will learn something from their stories and be enlightened, as we were in writing about them.
We invite you to read on to learn the stories behind Carole Carter, Mark Lipparelli, Bob Luciano, Si Redd and Benny Sum.
Electric Gizmos and Display Systems (e-gads!)
More than a decade ago, Carole Carter had a dream—and from that dream sprouted a company. Carter, then the SVP of information technology for Howard Hughes Estate Businesses, dreamt that gaming floors needed to be merchandised exactly the way a retail space is merchandised. She wished for people visiting a casino to feel an overwhelming sense of anticipation and excitement—a rush—from the moment they drive up to the door to the time they walk into the facility and move throughout it.
“That sense of excitement and the ‘something good is going to happen’ feeling has to be developed through the interior design, lighting, movement and layout of the gaming space,” she said. “I saw it as an opportunity and felt the only way to accomplish those things was to start my own company.”
Executing her dream, Carter founded Electric Gizmos and Display Systems (e-gads!) in 1999 with only her own capital. She had to start slowly and build. “I started the company with a dream, 15 employees and 30,000 square feet of space,” she said. Today, more than 175 employees work in 160,000 square feet of design engineering and fabricating space, servicing customers worldwide.
Before e-gads!, Carter worked in accounting and computer science. She was recruited by Howard Hughes Estate Businesses in 1979 and hired into the executive training program. Carter worked on the management team that was responsible for the divestiture of Hughes Gaming Properties, Hughes Helicopters and Hughes Aircraft.
As the youngest and only female member of the board of directors at Howard Hughes Estate Businesses, Carter had to break up the Good Old Boys Club. “Thirty-five years ago, there were no females in the gaming industry,” she remarked. Regularly called “sugar” and “honey,” Carter would play along, retorting with “I’m great! How are you sport?” “That would make the men pause,” she said. “Over the years, I realized that to accomplish something as a woman, you had to work harder, prove your competency and once that was done, the gender issue disappeared.”
Being the youngest and first woman on the board of directors for Howard Hughes Estate Businesses in a 100 percent male-dominated business is one of Carter’s proudest accomplishments. “I’d like to think people like me who started a long time ago, on their own, made a difference and made it easier for young women to come in after us and not have as difficult a time in proving their competency,” she said. Carter credits her success to her fear of failure and her focused and tenacious attitude—her father once told her she has the tenacity of a bulldog.
One of the first females in gaming, Carter explains there were benefits to pioneering the course. She says the mere fact that she, as a female, was different played to her benefit. “People pay attention to you, look at you and listen to you. It is very important what they see and hear is total professionalism—an indication that you are knowledgeable, focused and intend to make improvements in the organization—an impact.” She notes sometimes the young men hired at the same time as her were equally as capable but she had an advantage because, in the early days, if you were female, “people would focus on you, maybe not for the reasons you’d like, but if you demonstrated your abilities when you spoke, minds changed.”
Now a strong supporter of female executives in the gaming industry and charities for women and children, Carter paved the way for women in gaming. Dona Cassese, VP of advertising and communications for Aristocrat Americas, explains that she is one of the women who has benefitted from Carter’s pioneering. Cassese, who has known Carter since she was a child, considers her an exceptional role model.
“She has amazing passion and drive,” Cassese said. “Her work ethic is fierce! She expects, and gets, 110 percent performance from her staff, and is very involved in every detail of the creative process. From choice of colors, to signage design and fabrication, Carole is fully involved and will not put her name or company name on any project unless it meets her standards of excellence.”
Carter’s high standards have proven beneficial. Not only has the company been successful, it’s weathered a terrible economic storm. Starting e-gads!—and keeping it alive—is Carter’s greatest professional achievement. “Surviving and overcoming the obstacles of having revenues drop 35 percent, as a direct result of the economic downturn (recession), which began in fourth quarter of 2008, has been one of the most meaningful personal and professional achievements,” she said. “You have to learn to build a business with limited capital. It forces you to plan better and to manage your risk.”
Carter credits her team of mentors for instilling in her the management skills, persistence and humanitarianism that have molded who she is today. Vern Olson, SVP and CFO for Howard Hughes Estate Businesses, taught Carter how to manage different types of people, and she says she had to “learn some of those lessons the hard way.” Her “crazy Aunt Jane” from Savannah, Ga., showed her the importance of philanthropy. “You must give back to your community,” Carter adds. Lastly, from her Aunt Gwen, who was one of the first doctors at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, she learned how to persevere—“never give up, no matter how difficult things may seem,” she reiterated.
Not giving up—her bullish tenacity to be exact—may well be what landed Carter in the gaming industry. The tech-minded Carter swooped into the industry because she saw an opportunity to advance the industry’s technology—and she had never even stepped foot in a casino. “Everything was handled manually, and technology wasn’t used, so it had an opportunity that didn’t exist in other industries,” she explained. “Casinos owned and operated by corporations was in its infancy, and it was very new.”
First working at the Sands and then continuing on to other Howard Hughes Estate Businesses entities, Carter helped develop a computerized casino/player tracking system that evaluated the play of the casino players. The system tracked wagering and time of play so operators could make decisions that were in the best interest of the casino and player regarding comping.
She lead the team that developed modeling for play performance to enable casinos to establish optimum play strategies for games like pai gow poker and blackjack. “They were all exciting and innovative things,” Carter said. She also lead the team in a collaborative effort with International Game Technology (IGT) for a PC-based slot/player tracking and reward system. The basic system developed more than 20 years ago has significantly advanced with improved technology and continues to operate today in a number of casinos around the world.
Carter’s strong work ethic and values saturated every job she’s held, and e-gads! is no different. Working diligently to live it every single day, her life motto is a medley of inspiring words and phrases that include integrity, focus, plan, achieve, be passionate, be caring, be fair, never forget where you came from, and most of all, every morning when you look in the mirror, be sure the person looking back at you is a person you’d be proud of.
Bruce Rowe, senior vice president of strategy and customer consulting at Bally Technologies, has noticed Carter’s light shining bright in the industry for years. The two worked together when Rowe was on the operator side of the industry. “Carole is one of those people that you meet in life and just smile! Her personality and creativity are represented in her style, her office and most importantly, the products her team creates,” he said. “Casino floors are more exciting, products are better merchandised and design meetings are always a lot more fun when Carole is involved.”
Speaking of her managing style, Carter says she’s “very hands-on, almost close to being a micro-manager, but not.” She uses an approach she calls “letting out the rope, and every once in a while, yanking it back,” commenting that she lets “people run with their ideas, but sometimes I have to pull them back and refocus them.”
Carter has a motto for her business, too, and the simple phrase has a powerful effect—do the right thing. She describes the motto like this:
Remember when you were little, and you were about to reach into the candy jar and steal a piece of candy? But that voice in the back of your head said “Don’t you do that!”? That’s “do the right thing”—the voice in your head when you’re out in the field thinking “Oh, I don’t need to make sure the product is THAT clean.” It’s the voice that says, “Yes, you better clean it!”
When she’s not out meeting customers, Carter cherishes sitting at her desk, listening to the hum of the equipment and the bustle of people working. “I can get up and walk around and see all of the artisans and craftsmen building these wonderful, interesting things,” she explained. “And, when I go out into the shop and talk to everyone and shake their hands, they always say to me ‘my hands are dirty’ and I say, ‘no, that’s not dirt, that’s hard work.’” AL
Nevada State Gaming Control Board
Though Mark Lipparelli has been the chairman of the Nevada State Gaming Control Board since January 2011, he’s been making a big difference in the gaming industry since he entered it in 1988.
He’s held positions at several significant companies in the industry, including Bally Technologies, Shuffle Master and Casino Data Systems, and has played major roles at each.
If it wasn’t for Dr. Bill Eadington, Lipparelli’s thesis advisor in graduate school, he says he would have never contemplated the gaming industry as a professional career. While still in grad school, Lipparelli took a job with the State Gaming Control Board in Nevada. “I was working for the board as a securities analyst, which gave me great insight to how public companies really functioned. You do not get that kind of experience in grad school nor in the trenches, but I hadn’t really thought of gaming from a career standpoint,” he said. “My interests were more in the financial sector.”
After completing grad school from the University of Nevada, Reno, in 1993, Lipparelli made the move from Reno to Las Vegas, and took a position with Casino Data Systems—a start-up technology company. It was at Casino Data Systems where Lipparelli met one of his mentors—Steve Weiss—who drew him even further into the gaming industry, and he says he hasn’t looked back since.
Lipparelli left Casino Data Systems in 1998 and took a senior vice president position at Bally Technologies (then Alliance Gaming), establishing a new division in the company they called entertainment systems. One of the division’s initiatives included Bally’s first wide area progressive (WAP) products, a task AGEM Executive Director Marcus Prater calls impressive and notable. At the time, Prater was head of marketing at Bally and worked closely with Lipparelli to promote the new WAP division. “Those were some fairly lean times at Bally, in the early days,” Prater said. “The launch of the WAP network certainly helped Bally turn things around, and Mark had a lot to do with it. He oversaw the structure and the launching of the WAP program from scratch, and it was very successful.”
After two years and some tough corporate times at Alliance, Lipparelli was recruited to a technology start-up outside the gaming industry, working for an Internet-based retail company. He was then recruited back to the gaming industry by Shuffle Master, and spent two years at the company, eventually ending as president.
He then did something fairly uncommon in the gaming industry—went back to a company he had previously worked, Bally Technologies. During his time in the Internet space and at Shuffle Master, Alliance Gaming had made a number of changes that brought the company back to a stable financial footing. Included in those changes was a decision to increase its focus on its technology assets, and Lipparelli was recruited to run a newly formed and expanding worldwide systems division, a task he was willing to undertake. “During my prior tenure at Alliance, the Bally technology assets were not getting the attention they deserved. When I returned, Bally’s systems business was in pretty tough shape,” he said. “We had great assets, great people and the company had just initiated an acquisition strategy. Unfortunately, most of those resources were scattered without a central business mission. Correcting the course of the business while at the same time, substantially growing and integrating acquisitions was a grand challenge. We knew we had to dramatically improve customer satisfaction, and our team did so to fulfill our goal of becoming the leading systems company in the industry.”
While he lists his broad roles at Casino Data, Shuffle Master and Bally all as proud accomplishments, he focuses on the fact that his roles resulted in strong financial outcomes. “It’s one thing to be creative and send products to market, but producing products that result in real financial returns is the challenge and the measure of success,” he said.
He also notes that each position he’s held has brought a great deal of insight and industry experience. “I think each position has provided, in its own right, a great learning experience,” he said. “For example, in my last two years at Bally I spent a good deal of time on investor relations, operations and intellectual property matters, which gave me an even greater appreciation for the challenges that can impact a product rollout.”
When asked about his mentors, Lipparelli said he’s had really good fortune. While some may consider him a mentor himself, his list includes some of the most recognizable names in the industry. “I’ve worked for and around the industry’s best and brightest—from Steve Weiss, to Rich Schneider, to Bob Miodunski to Bob Luciano and Joe Lahti, and most recently Dick Haddrill,” he said. “In each of my positions since 1998, I reported directly to the CEO. This vantage point exposed me to several different management styles, all very talented, all very insightful and all with a high degree of integrity. They’ve all, in their own way, helped shape the thoughts and ideas I have about the best ways to manage a business.”
It’s clear that Lipparelli has indeed taken what he’s learned from those mentors and applied it to his current position at the Nevada State Gaming Control Board. He says that his efforts as chairman have advanced Internet gaming in the U.S. dramatically over the last 12 months, even making this bold statement: “It’s very likely that Internet gaming will be legalized and in operation in the U.S. sometime in the next 12 months.”
Prater agrees that Lipparelli is doing great things for the advancement of the industry. “He’s the perfect person to be leading the GCB at the moment,” he said. “He brings practical business experience along with a sense of overall fairness and strong integrity to the board.”
His passion for online gaming reflects his favorite aspect of the gaming industry—entertainment. He says it’s a growing and changing industry, and maintaining products that hold customer interest is one of the biggest challenges. “Some industries are very mature, and it’s harder to distinguish yourself from your competitors,” he said. “We’re an industry that’s evolving quickly and, at its core it’s a form of entertainment. It comes down to providing attractive products for customers.”
Lipparelli does mention, though, that there are several natural challenges that come along with being in the gaming industry. He says it’s important that individuals in the industry stay focused on integrity, keeping in mind that it is a regulated space. He emphasized that growth, while exciting, has to be matched by a similar attention paid to the trust established with patrons, which he feels can be undermined quickly. “One scandal driven by careless goals can undermine decades of hard work,” he said.
Overall, through both challenges and successes, Lipparelli says he’s happy to be in the industry, and enjoys the people he works with. “The primary motivator for me is being surrounded by and working with a group of people that have high integrity and share the passion for working hard and working smart,” he said. “Those are the things that are valuable to me, and provide me with satisfaction.” JM
President and Founder
Sierra Design Group
Though the company has since been acquired by Bally Technologies, one of this year’s gaming visionaries founded his own company that came up with many of gaming’s core concepts. Sierra Design Group (SDG), which Bob Luciano started in 1996, was a leading supplier of Class II and Class III gaming devices, systems and technology, and also did research and development.
Many innovative games and products came out of SDG. Its initial offering, the highly successful Raining Diamonds™ slot machine, actually dispensed genuine diamond jewelry as the top jackpot award. And at a 2003 G2E, SDG debuted a bonusing concept that allowed all of the players on a linked bank of machines to receive additional bonus payouts when one player initiated the bonus round.
Bally purchased SDG in 2004, and Luciano went on to become the chief technology officer there. Before that though, he was the vice president of engineering at IGT for 14 years and held several engineering positions in a variety of non-gaming companies such as Soabar, a division of Avery International and Mobil Oil Corp.
Luciano suffered a series of strokes in the time since, but has maintained a consultant relationship with Bally Technologies, and the executives there think of him very fondly and with great respect.
Bruce Rowe, senior vice president of strategy and customer consulting, describes Luciano as a man that sets a goal, adjusts along the way, and then gets there. “Bob is a very rare individual in so many ways,” he said. “He is an extroverted engineer. He can envision a solution and build it, and he speaks well, but listens better. Many of us are better people for knowing and working with Bob Luciano.” But, Rowe maintains that whether Luciano was having fun or working hard, it was always intense, which was evident when Rowe and Luciano launched Raining Diamonds together and went fishing in the Amazon.
Bally’s Chief Executive Officer Richard Haddrill shared a story that well illustrates Luciano’s work style: “Back in 2004, at one of my first management meetings as the new CEO at Bally, the company had some debt and some financial problems. I remember telling the management team that we were in a real knife fight for our survival. I gave each member of the management team a pocket knife. The next day Bob came into my office with a big military commando knife and stuck it in a piece of wood and he said, ‘Now Dick, this is a knife for a knife fight!’ It was funny, and it was using Bob’s unique style of doing things. He worked hard to play hard.”
And worked hard he did. Haddrill says that a lot of the DNA of Bally Technologies today came from Sierra Design Group and the work that Luciano brought from it, including the culture of innovation and being very high-tech. “Within Bally, at the time of that significant merger, we tried to transform our entire corporate culture to be more of a fast growth technology business, which was what SDG was,” Haddrill explained. “We used that acquisition as a catalyst to transform the company.”
The respect is mutual. Luciano said it was at Bally that he met some of the best people he knows, naming Laura Schmidt, Lars Perry, Craig Bullis, Tom Taxon, Loren Nelson, Warren White, Bryan Kelly, Robert Crowder, Rob Miller, Walt Eisele and Becky Bolt. “These individuals are talented and contributed to the success of Bally,” Luciano stated. “I worked with few other people that caused a success, too, such as Rich Fiore, John Acres, Randy Hedrick and Dan Waller.”
Luciano was a clear industry leader for Class II gaming as well, helping various tribes get started in gaming. “I would have to say that SDG was founded on Indian gaming,” Luciano commented. “Barona was a real start for us, then Washington had us form together as a tight group of people ready for the world. We had a hand in the gaming successes in Austria, Florida, New York, Oklahoma and Mexico.”
“He’s really a complete industry leader in Native American gaming,” Haddrill added.
Professionally, what’s most impressive to me in learning about Luciano was his overall vision. Haddrill said he was one the few people who really understands players, profitability, and hardware and software. Meaning while building great games with innovative design that would appeal to players, he made sure that it would lead to a profit for both their customers, the casinos and for Bally itself.
“He also had the skill of igniting people; he was a bit of a glass breaker,” Haddrill shared. “He wasn’t orthodox in his dress, in his delivery or in his daily work routine.” Stating that he would often shake things up, he explained how Luciano innovated several cabinets, including Bally’s widescreen cabinet.
But above his work, Luciano has a big heart. From his friends and family to co-workers and employees, he’s always looking for a way to help someone who is struggling. This was one of the ways Haddrill said Luciano built tremendous loyalty to the company. Aside from his hardworking nature and proven products anyway.
Luciano’s stroke affected his ability to work, but not his spirit. He recounted the story of how it happened, where after asking his wife for a Tylenol for a bad headache, he awoke in the hospital, could not talk, had trouble remembering things like math, music and English, and was paralyzed. After years and numerous doctors, he’s slowly recovering, and can finally speak and walk again. He was a motorcycle fanatic before the stroke, and even after, he rode a three-wheeled Harley to Reno to get stem cell treatment. “I have been very successful, but, I had willpower,” he says. “Look at me—I am talking, I can read better, I can type, my math is getting better, I am walking, my right arm is better, but I think willpower is a great gift.”
A great gift especially when applied by a great man. Luciano was for sure an inspiration to those who worked with him, and in fact still is today to those who still know him, and also to a CEM editor telling his story. AH
International Game Technology (IGT)
You can’t talk about gaming visionaries without talking about Si Redd. Easily one of the most influential and recognizable names in gambling history, there is absolutely no doubt about it. Si Redd is a legend. He even had a whole book written about him (“King of the Slots” by Jack Harpster). Not to mention a few other small achievements such as creating video poker, participation games and founding slot machine giant International Game Technology (IGT). Former Nevada Gov. Bob Miller, and current IGT board member, once described Redd as the state’s “most innovative gaming device pioneer.”
Born William Silas Redd in 1911, he commonly went by the name of “Si.” But you probably knew that. One thing you may not know is that he was a true Southern gentleman, growing up in Mississippi as the son of a sharecropper and preacher. Learning a hardworking mentality as a young man, he began his own pinball business in his 20s, later moving to Illinois, then Boston, as he entered the jukebox distribution business. Naturally, he was drawn to the casino industry, when he became a shareholder in Bally Distributing Co. while distributing jukeboxes. This step led him to a move to Nevada, which really started it all.
At Bally, Redd is credited with “Big Bertha” slot machines—the custom-built, oversize slots that are still on casino floors today. But instead of selling the machines to casinos, he convinced them to share in the profits from the cash box, leading to what we now know as participation games.
He then went on to found a company called Sircoma (which in itself is a play on his own name—Si Redd Coin Machines), which a few years later became IGT. It was at IGT Redd saw his vision for video poker machines come true as the first game of its kind called Draw Poker debuted. It was the start of IGT’s empire.
“Decades later, I asked why he picked Draw Poker,” Tom Nieman, VP of marketing for JCM Global, explained. “He said it was because that’s what the guys in the back room played. Everyone could understand it. His ability to see the future, that video poker would be as popular with people as it was, really makes him unique.”
Redd continued innovating casino floors with the introduction of Megabucks slot machines to Nevada in 1986. By networking the machines, a wide area progressive system was developed that boasted life-changing million dollar jackpots and allowed even smaller casino properties to offer big wins. Megabucks continues to be a popular game today and has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars to numerous winners. It can be found on floors worldwide from Nevada to Macau.
Nieman first met Redd in an interesting way. Growing up, Nieman was friends with Bill O’Donnell Jr., whose father was president at Bally. One night when Nieman was 15, the O’Donnells held a party at their house, which both Redd and Nieman were at. A blizzard hit, and since many were unable to leave, Redd stayed the night there. Representative of his colorful personality, years later when Nieman worked with Redd at Bally, Redd joked that he had slept with Nieman. “If you knew Si, that would be the typical way he’d tell the story,” Nieman laughed. Their relationship blossomed later when Nieman often drove Redd back and forth from the airport for his meetings with Bally, and where they would have conversations about the industry.
Another trait of Redd’s was his bravery and willingness to take risks. And there were some not so successful projects among the bunch, including a boat in Texas that would cross the border to gamble, sometimes referred to as the “boat to nowhere.”
One of his most notable traits, though, was his ability to sell. A natural born salesman, Redd loved people and the art of a deal. In fact, Tyler Sciotto, director of sales, Northwest region for IGT, described one particular sales call he went on with Redd, where the customer didn’t want to buy anything from him. Before walking out the door, Redd got tears in his eyes. By the time they did leave, he made the sale. “We never walked out of a place where he wasn’t able to cut a deal with a customer, and the customer generally felt good about it when he left,” Sciotto said. “He made people feel good about trying our products.”
A well-known quote from Redd supports Sciotto’s memory and defined Redd’s customer service philosophy as such: “I have always believed if we look after our customers so they can make more money, then they will continue to have confidence in our products and buy our machines.”
Redd was also known for his distinctive fashion sense that matched his larger-than-life charisma. As Nieman says, “He was a rogue character in a day of characters.” He wore outfits that consisted of checkered pants and red sports coats, and always had a smile on his face. “He exuded that positive personality when you were around him,” Sciotto noted. “It was very difficult to be around Si and not get excited about whatever Si was excited about.”
That was a trait Redd was able to transfer to the business, always working hard, being upbeat and very passionate. He instilled a similar work ethic at IGT. Sciotto said: “We, as employees at IGT, have always been passionate about what we’re doing. That’s what makes IGT so successful—the dedicated, passionate people and that attitude was exuded from the beginning from Si Redd, himself, and continues today.”
Both Nieman and Sciotto echoed similar sentiments about the kind of person Redd was, and what they most miss about him. Driven more by numbers and the bottom line, today’s industry is more serious and corporate than it was in Redd’s days. Whether it was the time period, or Redd himself, he was definitely the visionary type of person this industry needed, and though he has since passed away, he is truly missed. “To me, IGT is Si Redd and it always will be,” Sciotto said.
Nieman also shared one of Redd’s most commonly used phrases to describe Redd and his mentality. “I think universally when his name comes up, everybody has a sense of a smile. That’s quite an accomplishment—that’s a legacy. It was a rough-and-tumble business back then, and the man knew how to survive. His quote he always said was ‘keep on keeping on.’ That’s Si in a nutshell.” AH
Founder and Chief Design Officer
Global Gaming Group (G3)
Benny Sum is a man with an interesting past and an impressive outlook on the future. He’s currently the head of Global Gaming Group (G3), a game content design and technology integration company, and it wasn’t by luck that he made his journey through the gaming industry.
Growing up in Ghana, West Africa, Sum came from a humble, artistic family. In fact, his passion for art and design is what propelled him into the industry designing games. “He just has a natural ability to draw,” said Ki Chan, G3 chief technology officer, and Sum’s lifelong friend. “We grew up together, and I used to pick on him to draw stuff. We would make him draw things for our girlfriends! He brings things to life.” Chan is six years older than Sum, and both said they’ve always been more like brothers than friends.
A combination of his passion for art and his desire to learn about computers is the reason Sum came to college in the U.S. “I was probably one of the last people that graduated high school without learning computers,” Sum said. “I felt an urge to use a computer after that.”
During his second year of college, an opportunity presented itself that would turn out to be one of the biggest and most influential decisions of his life. He was 20 years old, and saw that Bally Gaming (now Bally Technologies) was hiring for a new computer graphics division. “At the time, I was putting myself through school,” he said. “When I realized that somebody was willing to make me learn, and pay me, instead of me paying somebody to try to teach me something they didn’t know, I jumped on the opportunity.” He didn’t end up graduating from college, saying that he graduated from, “the school of Las Vegas.”
Since he had little experience, one of the only things he brought to the table was his impressive artwork, along with the number of awards he had received for his work. “I was excited and humbled that they would give me a chance,” he said. “I was just a student!” Sum says he then went on to become one of Bally’s first—if not the very first—computer graphics designer.
Besides providing Sum with his very first job in the gaming industry, the company was also the vehicle through which he met some of his greatest challenges and achieved some of his greatest accomplishments. “As young as I was back then, I wasn’t even sure I had what it takes,” he said. “They were asking me to do something, that at the time, was very challenging. You had a company that was already in operation for decades, who am I, the little guy, to come in and improve upon their ways?”
He went on to do just that—improve upon Bally’s already impressive array of products. In fact, he helped design Game Maker®, the world’s first touchscreen video slot machine, a product that many in the industry thought couldn’t be created. Sum says that was one of his proudest projects, not because it brought him money or glory, but because he prevailed in creating a product no one expected him to accomplish, the first successful green game.
In 1994, Sum formed his own gaming design company, Benny Sum & Associates Inc. (BSAI), which went on to become a leading vendor to major casinos and gaming manufacturers. Then, in 2004, he and his partners launched G3, a company he couldn’t be more proud of. “A lot of people don’t realize the amount of talent here,” he said. “We’re a small company, and our people have a very strong vision and ambition.”
One of the challenges that naturally presents itself to Sum and his team is technology, along with Internet gaming. “We are heading into a world that we aren’t in control of,” Sum said. “Now that gaming and Internet are blending together as one, the biggest challenge will be—and we welcome it—that the demographic of players has expanded in a big way; the casino floor has now stretched as far as their bedrooms and pockets. The biggest challenge is to embrace the technology of tomorrow and blend it with today responsibility.”
Meeting challenges is something that Sum has done his whole life, with the help of a few people closest to him. He lists his father as his first mentor, and someone he’s continuously looked up to. “My very first mentor in life is my father,” he said. “He taught me to make the very best out of what we have.” His father, an engineer and artist, taught Sum that it’s necessary to think with both sides of the brain, not just right or left. This inspired Sum to become a designer that engineers could accept.
Another highly influential person in Sum’s life is Chan. “He taught me to be a self-made man,” Sum said.
After watching his best friend make the move to America for college, Sum was inspired to do the same. “I told my father I wanted to come to America and pursue an education,” Sum said. “He offered to arrange it, and I said, ‘I don’t need any arrangements, just a plane ticket,’ I said to my dad, ‘If Ki Chan can do it, what makes you think I can’t?’”
Sum is of Chinese heritage, and is a first-generation American. He speaks English and Chinese, and some Afrikaans. “I haven’t spoken that in 25 years, but they better not talk about me because I still know what they’re saying!”
Besides his passion for designing and creating games, Sum loves to teach and inspire others to do the same. “Game design is always my No. 1,” he said. “But I also love to teach. I love to see these young people come in here with these crazy good ideas, but they don’t know how to apply them. Inspiration is something that you nurture, not something that you force.”
Having already created a company with 40 employees, there’s no doubt that Sum will continue to inspire many more. JM