Networked Gaming Guide: Open Standards

In this second installment of CR’s exploration of all things networked gaming, industry insiders and innovators tackle open standards. Are they working? Are they enough? Should architecture be open, too? Is it about time gaming went the way of IT and the Internet? Only one thing is for sure already—this is a very open discussion. Join us as industry-leading contributors share their thoughts on open standards, starting with the Gaming Standards Association’s (GSA) System to System (S2S) and Game to System (G2S) standards and how they will affect the future of the casino floor.

GSA

Ethan Tower,
Protocol Director, GSA

Over the past few years, we have seen steady movement toward network gaming and open standards. Prominent within this movement has been the G2S (Game to System) protocol developed by the members of GSA. Sometimes, it seems as though network gaming and open standards go hand-in-hand. Network gaming requires that systems and machines from different manufacturers coexist and interoperate. The open standards—in particular G2S—provide the vehicle for accomplishing that goal.

However, open standards can provide a much richer opportunity than just network gaming. They can redefine how applications such as player tracking, TITO, bonuses and progressives are deployed on the gaming floor. By asking the right questions and planning in advance, open standards can provide the opportunity for a truly open gaming-floor—a floor that minimizes the barriers to entry, and at the same time, helps foster innovation.

Open standards are available to all on an equal basis. Both system manufacturers and gaming machine manufacturers can implement open standards. Thanks to testing and certification, they can have a high degree of confidence that their new systems and machines will interoperate with other systems and machines that support the same standards.

A new gaming machine can be placed on the floor without concern over the existing systems that it will be communicating with. Likewise, a new system can be introduced to the floor without concern over the manufacturer of the gaming machines or systems already present on the floor. For example, a new progressive or bonus server can be added to a bank of machines without affecting any other systems or machines already on the gaming floor. Open standards create an environment where new systems and new machines can be easily introduced, reducing the barriers to entry.

Similarly, older equipment can be easily replaced with newer, more competitive equipment. The G2S protocol allows a gaming machine to communicate with multiple independent systems—for example, a player tracking system, an accounting system and a progressive controller. This feature broadens the choice of manufacturers to an operator and eases the transition process from one system to the next. For example, during the transition from one accounting system to another, gaming machines can send end-of-day meters to both systems. Once the new system has proven itself, communications between the gaming machines and the old system can be terminated, ending parallel operations. Open standards create an environment where systems and machines can be easily replaced, reducing the barriers to exit.

Most importantly, open standards foster innovation. Features within the standards can be combined to create novel and unique products. Extensions to the standards can be introduced to create new products that are not possible today.

One of the key features of the G2S protocol is a well-defined method for extending the protocol. Extensions can be integrated into the protocol as part of an official release. Alternatively, private extensions, which can coexist with the protocol, can be deployed in an orderly and unambiguous fashion. For example, a new type of bonus can be easily added to the G2S protocol without affecting on going bonus operations. Open standards create an environment where new products can be easily introduced, encouraging innovation.

With the delivery of G2S 2.0, most of the questions and issues encountered by developers have been resolved. The vast majority of the protocol has been reduced to practice. The protocol is running in gaming machines and in gaming systems. Third-party developers have created comprehensive toolkits for testing the protocol. These toolkits can be used to test gaming machines as well as gaming systems. And, most interestingly, manufacturers have introduced extensions to the protocol that support compelling new products. G2S and open standards have moved from concept to reality.

This marks an important milestone. The push from manufacturers to create and implement the G2S protocol can now be replaced by a pull from operators wanting to see the benefits. An open floor is one benefit—barriers that may have prevented new machines or systems from being introduced into an operation may start to disappear. Other benefits—such as cost reductions, productivity improvements and captivating new products—may start to materialize. The Operator Advisory Committee of GSA is actively working on proposals for extensions to the protocol, driving the protocol in the direction that best meets the needs of operators.

One new area of functionality will be player tournaments. As currently drafted, the new class will support tournaments that are based on a fixed number of games, a fixed amount of time, or both. Players can be presented with a list of tournaments to select from. Some of those tournaments might be free; others might require a buy-in. Buy-ins can be deducted from the credit meter and winnings can be paid back to the credit meter. In addition, tournaments can be constructed that simulate actual game play. Wagers can be deducted from the tournament meter, providing a more realistic and challenging experience for the player.

Beyond the ongoing development of extensions to the G2S protocol, the members of GSA are also working on extensions to the S2S (System to System) protocol. The S2S protocol extends the functionality present in the G2S protocol beyond the gaming machine. For example, the S2S protocol supports ticket redemption at self-service kiosks and bonus awards for table games. In addition, it supports the consolidation of machine meters, progressives and bonuses for end-of-day reporting.

The S2S protocol also goes beyond traditional gaming activities. It supports non-gaming activities such as player registration, player comps, point redemption and financial transaction reporting as well. Over time, the S2S protocol will become an increasingly important part of an open standards environment, extending the benefits of open standards to more and more aspects of gaming operations.


Aristocrat

Gareth Phillips,
Chief Technology Officer, Aristocrat Technologies

Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) is an emerging information technology paradigm that supports the development of rapid, low-cost, distributed applications. Services are self-contained programs that can be described, published, located and accessed using XML-based technology that reflect a “service-oriented” approach based on the idea of describing application programs as services that can be delivered—usually over the web—through a well-defined interface. The goal of Web Services is to allow applications to automatically work together over the Internet using a “technology stack” of agreed standards. The Web Services technology stack consists of a number of layers, starting at the lowest level, the Transport layer, and ultimately concluding with the top-most Business Process layer. These layers consist of agreed standards within the information technology industry, HTTP/XML/SOAP/DNS/DHCP/UDDI, etc., which represent many man-years worth of effort in their standards committees.

What does this have to do with gaming? GSA has adopted most of the SOA model as its method of connecting gaming machines to the server-based Business Process layers that populate the gaming networks. G2S connects the gaming machine to the servers, while the new S2S v2.0 standard that GSA is developing will interconnect Business Process to Business Process. (It is important to note that G2S and S2S are not just “sophisticated protocols.” They scope a whole architectural approach to communications at all levels.)

Is this important? The adoption of the SOA model by the gaming industry has been a massive undertaking that has had a major effect on all parts of the technology used in the industry and will shape how the industry progresses over the coming years. Through the work of GSA, the gaming industry is being moved rapidly from its historical proprietary approach, where each manufacturer did its “own thing,” to an approach based on information technology standards and the SOA model. This transit represents millions of dollars in investment by the gaming manufacturers and systems suppliers, and it is a journey that will take many years to complete.

Is the journey worth the effort? Hereby hangs the tale. Why would a manufacturer, such as Aristocrat, make this investment? One reason stands out: CHANGE—and the gradual realization that the proprietary approach had become the significant barrier to delivering that change to the market in an effective and cost-efficient way. The gaming industry, like the music industry, is all about change and the knowledge that the trends that offer entertainment to the consumer are the ones that will be successful. When we see iTunes and the revolutionary effect it has had on the way the public purchases and listens to music, we get jealous and inevitably ask, “Why can’t we do that?” The answer is because we are an industry based on a proprietary approach. SOA offers us the future of the web and the ability to join and take part in the revolution that is shaping our “connected” futures. Ultimately, through G2S and SOA tools, we could offer players access to gaming databases that effectively hold every game that Aristocrat has ever developed—for that jurisdiction—and allow the player to select the game they want to play, no matter how obscure. In the web world, they call this the “Long Tail Effect,” and it has seen a revolution in the way that music and books are priced and distributed. All Aristocrat asks is that in this new world we are paid a small fee if our games are played (fee for play), rather than the one-off sale that we make today. The journey is very hard and financially difficult, but the goal is for the industry to join the WWW—and that has to be worth it.

So, is this a “cozy” journey? Is it all light and sunshine in the garden? No, not really. We would be self-deluding if we were to state that, as manufacturers, we had given up our competitive drives and our need to carve up and protect market share. Standards are, by their nature, standard, and they reduce the barrier to entry dramatically. If our networks and our gaming machines are all SOA and Web Services-based technologies, how do we differentiate our networks? Remember, even Apple could not resist encrypting the music it delivered over iTunes in a way such that you could only access it on their own technology. Aristocrat is working with Bally on a joint project to deliver to the market a product that will manage the download and configuration of a G2S-based network. Both companies have a history of cooperation, so a joint approach of this nature was an obvious thing to do, particularly as together both companies cover more than 60 percent of the U.S.-installed systems business. This product will allow gaming binaries and peripheral firmware to be downloaded and configured on any manufacturer’s G2S-based gaming machine. To achieve this has required cooperation and agreement between manufacturers at a detailed level. As an industry, a real level of maturity has been demonstrated by the manufacturers on this issue, and remarkably, to date there has been a high level of interchange and communication on how, technically, G2S/S2S should be implemented. At the moment, there is no reason as to why this interchange should not continue.

However, there is another issue where cooperation may be less forthcoming. There is a problem with SOA that will affect gaming in the same way it currently affects information technology. One of the key notions in SOA is that the different business processes can reside on various servers and other machines on a network, yet work together to provide the data and services that the operator needs to run their business—in this case, the casino. For such distributed and disjoint architectures to work properly, it is important that the servers can exchange information; i.e., there is a need for a data interchange standards and an overall data architecture. If an SOA-based network has a player loyalty database on one server provided by a certain vendor, and a different database for player credit provided by a different vendor, then the question is, “Where does the player’s data actually reside?” Is it distributed between the two databases or does it reside on some form of master database in the network? Why do I care? Simple. What happens when one of these databases malfunctions? Now where is the player’s data and how are you going to explain to the regulator that you just lost a player’s records because you were running a distributed data architecture? Or just as important, when you come to drill the data for business intelligence, which database do you drill? Or do you have to consolidate that data first? Resolving this meta-data architecture problem within the bigger SOA model of the gaming network will not be as easily resolved as the issue of implementing the G2S connection between the gaming machine and the servers. Manufacturers spend millions of dollars developing business processes in their server-based technologies that are an integrated offering—player loyalty, cashless, business intelligence, monitoring, etc.—there is little incentive to redevelop all of this technology to a Web Services standard and then offer it to the market as a “pick and choose” opportunity. Spending time, effort and money on making data exchange more IT efficient may not necessarily solve the business problem the operator was trying to resolve, and there needs to be awareness that a “pick and choose” strategy at the server level may make the situation far worse. It needs to be recognized that it may not be in the manufacturer’s interest to have server-based products that are fully compatible with their competitor’s…
technology and for the industry to think that it can be forced to make this investment may be a little bit of wishful thinking.

So where do we go from here? Some networks are based around the idea of presenting a single integrated form for the gaming network and then using an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) to provide the link between the various Business Processes that an operator might want to deploy. The idea behind an ESB is an open standards-based message backbone designed to enable the implementation, deployment and management of distributed SOAs. The GSA V2.0 S2S will go some way to provide structures that could be used as part of an ESB, but there are also a number of commercial buses available that deal with most of the popular heavy-lifting information technology protocols. The ACE “smart terminal” gaming network deployed in Northern Europe is a good example of an approach to the management of meta data using an ESB. ACE links an integration server to the JCAPESB to interface its gaming network to the Norwegian government’s Responsible Gaming network and the Norsk Tipping Lottery network. Through the ESB, players at the gaming terminal can access their player account to look at credits available, play limits, play history, self exclusion levels, etc., or purchase a lottery ticket that is printed by the gaming terminal. The ESB is a serious IT infrastructure, but it is an approach that  casino chains or WAN operators may want to consider when they come to look at how they are going to answer the meta-data question in their distributed network.

In conclusion, Aristocrat takes part in all GSA Standards committees and is represented on the GSA Board. As such, we see ourselves in the van of this movement both as contributors and authors. In fact, we developed the original GAMMA Industry Standard protocol, GAMPRO, and are happy to continue that contribution through GSA Standards. We have chaired the GDS Committee for a number of years, and through ACE, we have the first implementation of the GDS Standard commercially released in the field in Northern Europe. Aristocrat is also very active with GSA “down under,” and we are now in the process of helping GSA represent its standards to the various Australian regulators and state and federal governments. For us, standardization has always been at the forefront of our thinking and we are always happy to participate in any way we can, from workshops to presentations to promote the standards movement. We recognize that there is a long path before us, but as with any long journey, steps are taken one at a time. Aristocrat is taking these steps and looks forward to an exciting few years.


Bally

Bruce Rowe, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Business Development,
Bally Technologies

At Bally Technologies, we understand and embrace open standards and interoperability. Our commitment is reflected in the technology that we develop, in our cooperation with gaming operators as well as other manufacturers, and in our unwavering, long-standing commitment to GSA.

As one of the founding and consistent leadership members of GSA, we welcome and support all GSA protocols in our products. We are a platinum member of GSA and are represented on the GSA Board of Directors as well as nearly every technical committee, holding leadership positions on several of these committees. We were the first to implement GSA’s System to System (S2S) communications protocol and make Game to System (G2S) protocol coexist with SAS in a single casino.

Today, our systems products are currently connected to approximately 38 other systems using S2S protocol, and we have 15 Bally Systems casino customer sites currently using G2S protocol.

In addition, we have had a full, live G2S-based casino floor using our products for a more than two years, and a second becoming operational this calendar year. Our support for GSA is unflinching and absolute. We are completely committed to immediately and unconditionally donating to GSA any extensions to any GSA protocol that we create due to customer requirements. We have abandoned our older proprietary protocol (BESS), and donated our Game Authentication Technology to GSA. We recognized early on that without widespread industry support of GSA protocols, their pervasive adaptation would never be possible.

Our significant involvement with GSA over the years, as well as our commitment to open standards and interoperability, has strengthened our relationship with gaming operators. Our customers—the gaming operators—are increasingly and with greater frequency seeking partnerships with vendors who provide interoperability in the area of networking, applications, hardware and even intellectual property. They are investing significantly in a number of disparate systems for their casino and hotel enterprise and need to ensure that their investment is protected and that these systems will be able to work together using common, open industry standards. Our customers know that Bally’s focus is on protecting their investments, delivering technology that helps them drive revenue, and most of all, helping them develop the most efficient, streamlined casino operation.

As we have worked on open standards and interoperability initiatives, it has also been a pleasure to work closely with some of our competitors. Bally has partnered with Aristocrat Technologies and Konami Gaming to offer picture-in-picture capability through Bally’s iVIEW™ Display Manager™ (DM) on each manufacturer’s gaming machines. This technology will be used to display IGT’s Service Window when CityCenter opens in the fall but can be seem today running at the Pechanga Casino Resort in California. This system-driven CPU in the game is what allows both SAS and G2S to coexist and work together. This technology has been integrated into games as old as 10 years that use open protocols, and when we have access to proprietary protocols, it can be made to work on any game within a matter of days.

Aristocrat and Bally have been working together and built an application that uses GSA standards to allow casinos operators to view, examine and manage their floor and the customer experience. Each company will market this individually, but the technology shares a common code base to ensure ease of interoperability.

These standards help the manufacturers optimize their development to use the universal standards, as opposed to complicating their development with supporting many proprietary or one-off protocols. Most important, it allows us—the manufacturers—to continue to extend our product offerings with technology that supports GSA protocols, which, in turn, avoids proprietary or non-standard protocols that will not interoperate. We all see the value of having interoperable products based on GSA standards and recognize that the success of our customers, as well as the future of the casino floor, will be positively impacted by us working together.

Over and above cooperating with our competitors, Bally has made a commitment to open standards a major priority in product development and system enhancements. In keeping with our philosophy of “walking the technology walk” rather than “talking the talk,” we have invested significantly to create the Bally Integration Gateway (BIG) that enables gaming operators to convert their complicated and troublesome point-to-point interface landscape into a much more efficient, streamlined and elegant hub-and-spoke method of communication across disparate systems.

Bally’s BIG makes it faster and easier for casinos to seamlessly integrate their third-party host/legacy applications. BIG also serves as a Networked Message Bus for all of a casino enterprise’s systems. This timesaving, plug-and-play solution links different hospitality, POS, accounting and casino enterprise applications—even if each of those applications supports different protocols. BIG converts these protocols to GSA’s S2S or any other protocol required to allow the applications to exchange data.

Our customers said that they needed to increase efficiency, streamline their operations, and as such, be able to connect and interoperate multiple casino and hotel systems. We listened. Bally’s BIG operates to each casino’s specifications, with built-in password controls and integrated functions that tie together hospitality, casino and slot management in a powerful and user-friendly environment. This allows a gaming operation’s systems to communicate with each other without significant custom modifications. Bally developed BIG in the spirit of GSA’s open standard protocols, S2S and G2S.

Open standards and interoperability will become even more important as more and more casinos upgrade their floors and move to a fully networked environment. Currently, Bally has more than 200 casinos on high-speed networks and more than 50,000 networked games. Enhanced versions of GSA Transport, S2S, G2S and GDS protocols are actively being worked on by GSA members, including Bally. These enhancements are driven by GSA member companies in accordance with GSA bylaws, which means that enhancements are designed and agreed upon to be interoperable. This type of coordinated effort by the gaming manufacturers, coupled with strong partnerships with the gaming operators, will ensure that open standards and interoperability will eventually become the norm, a key toward advancing the Networked Floor of the Future.

BetStone

Paul Miller, EVP of Business Development, U.S. and Canada, BetStone

Dogs socialize at the dog park, small children have play dates, and President Obama hosts a bipartisan “time out” dinner at the White House for congressional leaders. It’s all aimed at the same thing: learning how to play well with others.

For decades, the gaming industry was a hodgepodge of different protocols, wiring harnesses, software standards—you know the drill. But now the gaming industry has its own dog park, sponsored by GSA. Using the standards of G2S, S2S and GDS, network gaming companies such as BetStone can coexist reliably and usefully with all slot machines and systems on the gaming floor, or even across tribal, state and country boundaries.

BetStone is a technology company that creates game content, SBG platforms and management software for the gaming industry. And there are a great many benefits associated with a mature server-based gaming platform, including powerful content management; real-time flexibility with floor configurations; adaptable machine configuration options; superb customer experience management; and lower cost, more responsive support.

In other words, if you can imagine it, then SBG lets you implement it. But without a common way to interface with all the legacy slot machines and systems already in place, this wouldn’t be very convenient. Enter GSA protocols. BetStone has worked closely with systems vendors that have successfully and seamlessly integrated with upward of 15 different vendors, using the protocols of G2S and S2S. So, in the end, the BetStone platform just becomes another cog in the whole machine.

To help understand BetStone’s point of view, think of the DVD industry. Recently there was a choice between HD-DVD and Blu-ray. Those that wanted both formats needed two players—double the wires, double the trouble. The industry eventually moved to a single standard (Blu-ray), because ultimately the format (or protocol) was not the thing people wanted to buy. People wanted to buy movies and they wanted the process of buying movies to be simple. This is why BetStone supports open industry-standard protocols. We want to deliver great games to players in the easiest way possible for our operators.

There are two reasons for BetStone’s commitment to GSA standards: (1) GSA represents real-world, pragmatic solutions to problems that almost every operator and supplier faces in terms of integration on the floor; and (2) GSA protocols have been successfully adopted by most manufacturers. A “standard” is truly only a standard when it achieves widespread adoption.

BetStone is a pioneer and true technology leader for SBG and welcomes the opportunity to become part of establishing new standards. The GSA S2S standard is an excellent start for systems-to-systems integration, but extra thought can still be applied to questions of managing game content, machine configuration, integration with non-gaming systems (such as lighting, signage, sound systems, etc.), and the whole one-to-one casino-to-customer experience. BetStone is a thought leader in many of these areas.

BetStone is also absolutely committed to using open protocols. BetStone has always adopted industry standard architectures and methods. Not only does this attract the best talent, but it also makes it far easier to build robust and highly scalable software that can be deployed worldwide and even be seamlessly integrated worldwide. The benefits are there for the customer as well, because it demystifies the concepts and lingo behind the product.

Aside from the usual discussions about product benefits, game content and commercial aspects, the conversations we have with our customers quickly turns to integration issues. The tribal casinos have been quick to adopt GSA protocols because of the flexibility it offers them. They are fully aware that if they adopt GSA as the standard for their property, then they should have no trouble integrating any GSA-compatible vendor.

The software industry has determined that true interoperability boils down to five well-recognized factors.

Product Testing: Products produced to a common standard depend on the clarity of the standards, but there may be discrepancies in the implementation that black box or unit testing may not reveal. This requires testing in a real-world environment, or integration testing, to ensure they will interoperate as intended.

Product Engineering: The key is to implement the product to a clearly defined interpretation of the standard. Areas of ambiguity should be avoided as Vendor A’s interpretation could be very different from Vendor B. When engineering the product, adhering to a clear specification and not straying into gray areas ensures robust conformance.

Industry Standards: Industry standard partnerships, such as GSA, sponsor standards work groups with the purpose to define a common standard. At times, such a group will utilize an existing standard produced by another organization to reduce options, thus making interoperability more achievable.

Common Technology and IP: The use of a common technology or IP may speed up and reduce complexity of interoperability by reducing variability between components. This common technology can come through an open source organization or even quasi-industry standard organizations. In essence, if standards are adopted from the grassroots level, there is a higher likelihood of compliance.

Standard Implementation: True interoperability starts with a strong standards definition, created by the standards body, in this case GSA. The GSA is well supported by the industry; its standards have been well devised and documented, and by now, the protocols have been thoroughly road tested.

Ultimately the proof of the pudding is in the eating. BetStone has successfully integrated its SBG gaming platform into casinos running legacy systems using standard industry protocols. In these instances, the Casino Management System integrators have been pleasantly surprised at how easy it is for platforms to coexist. While we would like to think this comes down to the quality of BetStone’s architecture and software development team, a very strong factor has been the ability to use a common protocol for the systems to talk to each other.

For any one vendor to try to create its own standards smacks of reinventing the wheel and being wasteful of development energies. So for a company like BetStone to be able to implement well-developed and highly supported standards, it’s a great benefit. It certainly helps pave the wave for seamless floor integration. And BetStone has found that GSA protocols have found their way into places you wouldn’t first think of. For instance, recently in a casino in Latin America, multiple vendors had to integrate with an independent systems company. For most of the suppliers, the common thread was S2S.

Several years ago, many people who had come from the technology sector wondered how long it would be before the gaming industry would go the way of industry standards, interoperability and well-proven software development methods. Thankfully, these concepts are now a reality in the gaming industry, and companies such as BetStone can offer their customers the full suite of benefits that SBG has to offer—with none of the concerns regarding integration or interoperability. It’s truly the best of both worlds.

Cadillac Jack

Hari Vadapalli, (left) Senior Director of Systems Development, Cadillac Jack


Don Miller, (right) System Software Architect, Cadillac Jack

For the past six and a half years, Cadillac Jack’s Evolution Gaming System™ has employed a proprietary, Ethernet-based protocol by which game systems and servers communicate with one another. This methodology has given Cadillac Jack the flexibility to rapidly reconfigure game systems over the network, to log detailed information about every event that occurs on a game system, and to provide up-to-the-minute reports on game play activity. Our networked gaming environment predates the current G2S standards, and this experience positions Cadillac Jack well as we make the transition from a proprietary protocol to a standard protocol.

The importance of adopting standards is well-established in many other industries. G2S, in particular, provides smaller system vendors the ability to compete with much larger vendors by providing customers with extensible, durable and industry-compliant solutions that will interoperate with software created by various companies but can also be tailored to individual needs.

Cadillac Jack is firmly committed to providing our customers with configurable, reliable game and server software. While our proprietary protocol has served us well for the last six and a half years, the maturation of the G2S protocol and adoption of it as a standard by the gaming industry has recently led us to begin implementing G2S in our game and server software.

In the past, when communication between our system and the system of another gaming vendor was necessary, Cadillac Jack had to create a specialized “protocol gateway” application that was aware of the idiosyncrasies of the other vendor’s software. Similarly, when other vendors needed to communicate with our system, they were required to write their own specialized application that “knew” how to communicate with Cadillac Jack systems. During the development cycle for these specialized applications, any ambiguity in the protocol specification had the potential for interoperability issues. A widely accepted standard potentially eliminates such ambiguities and corresponding delays in regulatory verifications.

Although operators are actively participating in setting GSA standards, they have not yet required manufacturers to meet these standards. As G2S standards become widely accepted and implemented, it is likely that casino operators will view conformance with these standards as an entry card for their site, and vendors that do not conform to the standards will simply not be given the opportunity to compete.

Cadillac Jack’s experience with high-speed computer networks and its commitment to the needs of our customers is the basis for our focus on implementing GSA standards across our product line. In the near future, Cadillac Jack’s Slot Management Systems, Player Marketing and Bonusing products will all be based on GSA’s G2S protocol.

IGT

Rich Schneider,
Executive Vice President
of Product Strategy, IGT

IGT is the thought leader in the gaming industry and is committed to bringing the power of the open network to casino floors using GSA protocols. IGT Network Systems products are designed to help operators enhance the player experience, differentiate themselves from the competition and increase profits.

IGT’s involvement with GSA is an example of the importance of widespread adaptation of open protocols for the industry. “We stand behind open in our actions,” said Rich Schneider, executive vice president of product strategy and an original founding member of GAMMA. “IGT is a major contributor of technical resources within GSA and collaborated with members to create the open protocols.”

IGT has as many as six employees who sit on GSA subcommittees on a weekly basis. IGT is consistently involved with much of what GSA is working on in terms of adding features to the open protocols via committee work and extensions.

“When IGT rejoined GSA, we started by helping with the unification of BOB and SuperSAS into the G2S protocol,” said Adrian Marcu, vice president of architecture and a GSA Board of Directors member. “If you look at the time it took to make the G2S protocol, IGT authored more than 50 percent of the significant classes, which are the protocol’s technical functions. We put a bunch of people on that and definitely had the highest amount of participation.”

IGT authored the G2S classes, and then that work had to be approved by the GSA community as a whole. Other members spent hours at GSA technical meetings working together to determine how the protocol needed to be built and rebuilt, according to Marcu. “The GSA community is like the U.N.—diverse,” said Marcu. “And like the U.N., companies are like countries and technical backgrounds like cultures, so we all worked hard to gain consensus. IGT only has one vote at the end of the day, so we took our dual roles as leader and member seriously so we could come up with something worthwhile and lasting for the industry.”

IGT is committed to fulfilling the vision of the open network to deliver value to both players and operators. “IGT takes the open network very seriously,” said Marcu. “It’s literally become the cornerstone of our business. We believe in a clean interpretation of each protocol. G2S means Game to System, period. No devices in the middle to cause problems. IGT doesn’t have to rig anything or creatively interpret the protocols. sbX is built to be a genuine representation of the open network in the purest sense. Customers should know that IGT has taken a pure approach to G2S, regardless of what they are told by others.”

“Once the open infrastructure is in place, the industry will evolve toward an ecosystem of third-party killer applications providing the ultimate personalized player experience,” said Javier Saenz, vice president of sbX product management. ”This will accelerate industry innovation and will change the way casinos interact with their customers.”

IGT’s Service Window exemplifies open and is built into new AVP games without any unnecessary hardware and associated costs. This allows operators to invest money in applications that drive revenue and enhance the experience.

In March and April, IGT successfully installed the sbX Tier One package at Ameristar Casino in St. Charles, Mo., and at Barona Valley Ranch Resort in Southern California. These installations were a prelude to commercial installations anticipated for the second quarter of 2009. In partnership with Ameristar and Barona, IGT has completed testing for the industry’s first G2S game management solution.

“This year, we are releasing the first fully G2S-compliant system, represented in slot accounting, player tracking, ticketing, bonusing and floor management,” said Schneider. “It’s not just parts of it, but the complete product line, We’ve made a substantial investment in R&D to develop these initiatives, and I don’t think any other manufacturer can match the level of commitment that we have made.”

Beverage on Demand, a third-party application created by LVGI, provides an example of how open applications plug into IGT’s Media Manager to display on the Service Window. Because of the open protocols, integration was seamless and efficient. sbX Media Manager will help foster an ecosystem of third-party applications, providing operators with more choices when it comes to differentiating their casino experience.

IGT donated all the extensions needed to run the Service Window on gaming machines to everyone in GSA in the spirit of openness. “If you need to add a functionality that isn’t covered by the current standards, based on the customer’s needs, which was our case with ARIA, you have to create extensions,” said Marcu. “And because we knew all along that we were going to donate the extensions, we accepted a lot of feedback from other GSA members during their development.”

Marcu said this wasn’t a mandated part of the process, but IGT knew it was the right thing to do. IGT even set up a website that the members used to provide their comments to make things as convenient as possible. Based on those comments, IGT revised the extensions many times to make them universally acceptable and beneficial to everyone—to IGT, to its customers and to the other members of the open network.

Schneider also said IGT is the first to publish use cases for the industry that give implementation details for a download and configuration system. “After all this effort, I find it ironic that we are still accused of not being open,” he said.

The Global Technology & Interoperability Center is celebrating its first year of operation with a variety of new customers and partners all around the world. The $10 million, 6,500-square-foot center is a neutral testing site, open to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), strategic partners and system integrators. It illustrates IGT’s commitment to open, strengthening relationships within the gaming industry in the spirit of collaboration.

The center features five private testing rooms, eight work stations, a 30-rack server room on uninterrupted power supplies (UPS), and storage arrays with sufficient space to house customer data. Badge-only access and 24-hour surveillance ensure security. The center is separate from IGT’s Reno facility and operates on its own network, allowing for confidential testing.

The center’s mission is to conduct real-life testing on full-scale systems, exposing the technology to large-scale interoperability load, performance and stress tests. “Most OEM and partner labs use small-scale systems,” said Mohammad Entezari, director of software product assurance. “Those types of sample systems aren’t capable of imitating real-life casino environments. Because of that, the casino floor often becomes the real testing ground. Testing at the center can avoid that scenario and all the headaches it can cause.”

“The testing capacity of the center is unparalleled,” he continued. “For example, a multi-site casino operator with thousands of machines running a variety of IGT and non-IGT products wants to be sure every component is going to work together smoothly. Our engineers re-create the customer’s operational environment, run the simulation and identify potential problems.”

In a nod to its global mission of gaming system testing, the center now services customers from four continents. Exposing products to multinational testing is a critical component of modern system preparedness. IGT and its partners are committed to breaking down the boundaries of domestic versus international technology to produce systems and applications that meet a worldwide standard of stability.

Last October, the center was accredited by the A2LA (American Association for Laboratory Accreditation) to certify IGT products according to the GSA’s Protocol Certification Program. This was the first such accreditation granted to a gaming manufacturer.

Under GSA’s program, manufacturers can ensure consistent GSA protocol implementation, and operators can easily search for products that have been tested and certified to meet GSA protocol standards.

As a testament to working together, the center has many partners: Agilysys, Cisco Systems, Dell, Enterasys, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Marathon Technologies, Microsoft, Network Appliance and VMware are just a few. NCR, a peripheral manufacturer of kiosks, is also testing S2S protocols in the center. The center has successfully “IGT tested” products from Touch Dynamic, Dell, Lenovo and Motorola.

Five gaming manufacturers—Bally, WMS, Aristocrat, Konami and Rocket Gaming—are already using or planning to use the facility for interoperability testing. “Because of the ARIA project, this is the first time IGT, WMS and Bally have come together to test G2S and S2S protocols for implementation,” said Allen Liu, manager of IGT’s Global Technology & Interoperability Center. “Currently, we’re working with Bally to mutually interpret GSA protocols. It’s about working with a common goal in mind—for the customers and for our industry.”

When it comes to the open network and interoperability, IGT is the right choice. “I would tell our customers that if they are looking to purchase a server-based network, they just need to remember—you get what you pay for, so do your research,” said Marcu.

Just like the Internet, IGT’s systems and applications are built on open protocols. In an open environment, intellectual property is respected as it is on the Internet, much like Amazon’s patented “one-click” checkout system. Vendors like IGT do not restrict access to any operators’ Ethernet network.

“Understand your options and the differences in the systems,” said Marcu. “Find out the true cost, which means understanding the direct price, the technical challenges posed by the system and its flexibility. IGT is serious about its server-based products, and we’re ready to stand behind what we offer to the industry. No one else has developed an implementation plan that allows all other manufacturers, not just alliance members, to communicate to their system via the new protocols. No one else is as inclusive or as forward-thinking as IGT. We are the trailblazers.”

WMS

Mark Pace,
Vice President of Engineering, Services & Network Gaming Operations, WMS

Saying that the gaming industry has been lagging in the creation and adoption of standards would not be considered by most a controversial statement. Many industry insiders, in fact, would agree, and would point out that GSA is seeking to rectify that and to the successful creation of the System to System (S2S) and Game to System (G2S) protocol standards. However, dare to suggest that the industry should not only adopt standards but that this should eliminate proprietary non-interoperable systems, and controversy swirls unbridled.

Late last year, right before the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, WMS took a bold step. We authored a document that challenged the gaming industry to reflect on the state of the technology currently used, to clearly understand the pervasiveness of proprietary versus truly open standards-based solutions, and to evaluate whether this existing state would support the industry’s future needs. Under the heading Freedom of Choice, WMS sought to bring attention to an issue that needed, and still needs, a great deal of thought.

Freedom of choice put into focus four main points:
1. We can’t get there from here—the dynamic gaming floor of the future demands rethinking of industry practices around technology standards.
2. Best practices already exist—the hard-fought battles around standards-based interoperable systems have already played out in the technology industry and the Internet.
3. All the talk about “open” is just talk—operators need to look beyond marketing-speak to see what technology vendors are really offering as it relates to interoperable systems and technology.
4. Industry standards mean industry growth—lack of standards means operators are being forced to reinvent the wheel or bet on systems that limit their ability to grow efficiently.

Those four main thoughts can be boiled down to one statement: Standards-based development practices enable interoperability and support freedom to select best-of-breed applications, creating tailored solutions that empower growth.

And growth is what every ongoing business concern seeks—market share growth, revenue growth, shareholder value growth, etc.

The Freedom of Choice document created a stir not because it was controversial but because it dared to put into print and highlight the white elephant that we all have been choosing to ignore for so long. In fact, the document created a stir because it resonated with operators, regardless of discipline—slots or information technology or marketing, with regulators, and with vendors. It started a dialogue that is still going strong.

In our opinion, standards are the foundation that will allow this industry to continue growing in an efficient manner. Let me be clear: When I say standards, I mean gaming industry standards and technology industry standards as well.

At WMS, standards-based development is the norm. However, as is obvious to anyone looking at the game concepts that we have been introducing year after year, innovative, revenue-maximizing applications cannot be solely developed using G2S or S2S. Therefore, we look to use standards that have been developed, implemented, vetted and proven to be successful in the technology industry at large in addition to standards developed in the gaming industry.

Our Wide Area Game Enhanced Network® (WAGE-NET) applications have all been developed using a standards-based methodology. They all interoperate with each other, and they are all ready to interoperate with any third-party vendor’s standards-based applications. We have demonstrated this level of interoperability, and our products are currently in the labs, undergoing regulatory testing of interoperability.

This commitment to standards has been in place for a long time. WMS was a member of the Gaming Manufacturers Association (GAMMA), the precursor to today’s GSA, and we have been a GSA platinum member since its inception. Our engineers have been instrumental in the development of G2S and S2S, acting as chairs or co-chairs on a number of committees and earning GSA awards for their commitment, dedication and efforts in leading the development of these standards. We have also participated in the ongoing support of SAS, which continues to be widely deployed as the industry migrates to the newer protocols.

Under Peter DeRaedt’s leadership as president of GSA, we believe great strides have been made in addressing the lack of gaming industry standards. We also believe that the involvement of more and more operators, many of whom are joining GSA, is adding incredible value and further fueling the momentum toward open standards-based application development.

The operators are becoming ever more vocal in their demand for open standards and interoperability. A short time after we published the Freedom of Choice whitepaper, the North American Gaming and Hospitality CIOs authored an open letter to the industry that further defined and clarified the issues we raised. They continued to sound the call to action that WMS’ document started.

It is this pressure, brought to bear by our customers, that has led to what I would call an unprecedented level of cooperation and collaboration related to interoperability between competing vendors in our small industry. This is a huge accomplishment, one that we should all be proud of. However, much work is still to be done.

Our industry has to change the way we have been operating. As we move toward networked gaming, and as we continue to use technology to address issues of efficiency, data accuracy and immediacy, the commitment to using open standards and to develop interoperable solutions is paramount.

Our customers are getting more vocal telling us that we must:
• Develop applications that use standards—not just GSA standards, but technology industry standards as well.
• Develop applications with interoperability in mind, publishing the means for this to occur—use standard data structures that expose information that needs to be shared.
• Develop applications that can coexist and operate over the same network—just as applications from multiple vendors run on any administrative (office) network.
• Develop solutions and gaming devices that utilize off-the-shelf standard hardware—network interface cards, servers, routers and switches that are already in use within the technology industry.
• Help work with regulators to craft regulations that address technology uniformly across all gaming jurisdictions—with the same security requirements and same communication requirements, for example.

We could not agree with them more.

WMS is committed to developing interoperable applications using existing and emerging standards and off-the-shelf components, allowing our customers to leverage their existing infrastructure to the greatest extent possible.

Acres-Fiore

John Acres, CEO,
Acres-Fiore

Thanks to 11 years of hard and diligent work by everyone at GSA, we at last possess an open standard for gaming machine communication. Sadly, those standards won’t support the truly open processes essential to your future success.

This isn’t a shot at GSA—they built exactly what we asked, but, excepting the automobile industry, ours is the largest practitioner of denial. We believe future success is certainly modeled upon the past—a mistake that has led to many tragic endings.

Consumers are creatures of habit; they repeat the same behavior over and again—until a better offer comes along and is presented to them again and again. Inevitably, habit is confused with loyalty and we come to believe we’re indispensable to our loyal consumers’ lives. We behave in protectionist and bureaucratic ways in order to protect what’s ours. We’re surprised, shocked and betrayed when consumer whims shift and their business goes away.

Just ask General Motors or Chrysler.

Most of us do realize players will go wherever the best deal is to be found, especially if it’s priced well and conveniently located. The situation is made tolerable because gambling venues in any given area are subject to similar rules. We’ve come to believe consumers are loyal to casino gambling, even if not to our own casino, and our industry bands together to create restrictive rules meant to preserve the status quo. We’ve learned to work within this reality and, economic downturn notwithstanding, life’s been good.

Gambling taxes are on the rise, as is the proliferation of gambling casinos, and that’s a real threat to casino gambling’s future—especially your ability to serve customers well and retain their business. Add to that the inevitable certainty of Internet gambling and you’ve got a true crisis pending. If consumers can wager from home, many won’t bother visiting your casino. Lower customer volumes diminish or eliminate profits, causing levels of service to drop further and thereby making Internet wagering even more appealing by comparison.

Internet gambling will most certainly be legalized. California’s budget crisis and our growing national deficit are but the beginning of shortfalls that make it impossible for any legislator to resist.

If casino gambling is to survive this new reality, we need all the creativity and innovation we can possibly muster. And that’s where our current “open” technology standards fail to support. Today’s casino is built upon proprietary, closed gaming machines connected to a relatively thin communications network. That network simply records actions taken at each gaming machine and compiles accounting reports and marketing lists from the result. Indeed, the network has virtually no capability to modify or personalize a player experience at the machine.

Even with full access to GSA’s standards, independent teams of creative people are unable to modify the behavior of the game itself. If a manufacturer comes out with a new game title, you’re required to purchase a box from that manufacturer on which to run the title, even though machines already on your floor have virtually identical bill acceptors, computers, displays and stepper motors. This problem extends not just to games from different manufacturers but also to changing game models from the same manufacturer.

Similarly, you cannot purchase a system application or bonus from one manufacturer and run it on another’s system. Indeed, you often cannot purchase a system application from your current system vendor without having to first install an extensive—and expensive—upgrade. Not exactly efficient!

Now consider the Internet’s architecture. Chances are that the Dell computer you bought two years ago can run the latest Internet browsers. Better yet, you can choose from a half-dozen browser providers and even run multiple browsers from different manufacturers simultaneously. That’s because the Internet has truly open and dynamic standards. Anyone can write a browser program for any operating system and any browser can connect to any website.

That’s another huge advantage of Internet architecture. The consumer interface—the browser—is kept as simple as possible. Its sole task is to efficiently present audio-visual information that’s obtained from remotely located servers.

Innovative thinkers are creating new server applications at an incredible pace. It doesn’t require a lot of time or capital, which is good because most new ideas are commercial failures. But failure is an essential part of innovation and exploration. The trick is to fail quickly and cheaply. Then failure isn’t failure at all, it’s simply a valuable lesson learned.

Critics say the Internet is the Wild West revisited, that anything placed there is instantly stolen or infected with lethal viruses. Certainly the Internet is not a perfect place; no frontier is. But the idea that the Internet cannot support legitimate business activity is absurd, as is the myth that business success is not obtainable there.

Google, all by its lonesome, had a market cap significantly greater than all publicly traded casinos and gambling suppliers combined. And 11 years ago, when GSA started its relatively straightforward mission to create a gaming technology communication standard, Google was little more than a twinkle in its founders’ eyes.

This is the technology you will be competing with in the next decade, and when it comes to rapidly adapting to consumer whims, your casinos doesn’t stand a chance.

Is it possible to adapt the Internet’s technology to casinos? In many ways, Class II gaming (central determination) already uses key elements of the architecture. As for Class III games, you should ask Robert Piechowiak. His Las Vegas-based company, Advanced Gaming Solutions, has developed a gaming machine architecture—approved in Nevada— that embodies many of the Internet’s concepts and technologies. Robert’s system separates critical and regulated elements of a gaming machine from the customer interface. Game designers are free to create audio-visual experiences without touching regulated components. Similarly, mathematicians and engineers are free to create new means of game outcome selection without involving customer interfaces.

Robert’s architecture mimics the technology already used by Internet gambling operators, and Robert’s is but one example of how a truly open “system with game as peripheral” could be structured. This new architecture will finally make possible the promise of personalized gaming, where every player has an experience customized to his personality.

In closing, I want to emphasize how much respect I have for GSA protocols. The upcoming games and systems from Bally, IGT, Konami, etc., that utilize GSA protocols are superior to those implemented with older SAS protocols. That the technology is not open, not conducive to independent creative development and not competitive with the innovation is in no way the fault of GSA. That said, GSA can rise above the narrow thinking we exhibit today toward how gaming floors are configured and regulated.

If our industry can refocus GSA to develop and standardize truly open systems, if we can convince our regulators that new methods of licensing game code creators is required, and if we can convince our suppliers and ourselves to more openly consider new ideas, we can look forward to a future every bit as bright and profitable as our past.

Grand Casinos

Robert Allen,
Corporate Vice President of Slot Operations, Grand Casinos

The great swing-era musician Count Basie once said, “If you play a tune and a person don’t tap their feet, don’t play the tune.” Applying that bit of simple but sage wisdom within the context of our world in gaming, for networked gaming to ultimately have any real meaning and relevance, it has to be designed and built from the very beginning to deliver substantive value that creates heightened levels of enjoyment and satisfaction for the end user—the player. One might then ask, “How does the topic of open standards and interoperability fit in with the objective of creating increased player enjoyment and satisfaction?” That is an excellent question, but the answer to it may or may not be readily evident.

Perhaps the most fundamental core affliction of virtually every contemporary casino floor is the simple fact that all gaming hardware, gaming peripheral hardware, specialty casino equipment and gaming systems don’t communicate with one another via one common language. The proprietary languages that prevail today greatly stifle innovation, significantly increase costs, reduce quality, limit choices and ultimately thwart the evolution of the player experience. The profoundly limiting technologies that rule the gaming business today have effectively homogenized the gaming entertainment experience. The net result is that gaming operators have almost no ability to offer an experience that is differentiated from their competition and even less of an ability to customize the experience to the particular wants and needs of each individual player.

For the gaming industry overall to continue to grow and prosper over time, it is essential that all gaming products and systems be interoperable and based on open standards that are embraced by all parties. Achieving this will drive explosive growth in creative innovation, leading to levels of customization of the gaming experience that is unimaginable today. Uniformity of standards will result in reduced product costs due to increased competition. Product innovations will make it to market much more rapidly as development, testing and certification processes become more standardized and efficient. All of this will yield a richer and much more variable gaming entertainment experience for the player.

As gaming operators, we must convey a unified message to vendors that we will not permit our capital investment dollars and professional credibility to be wasted on products and systems with limited and/or impaired functionality that are not truly interoperable and built on open standards. Vendors must be challenged to prove that they endorse full interoperability, not just with a single product but with their full range of products. All gaming hardware, software and applications must seamlessly talk to each other with full data transparency. We must insist on and verify that all products and systems are tested and certified by GSA-certified independent test labs.

As fundamentally important as open standards and interoperability are, what is equally important is the need for gaming equipment and system OEMs to develop their products so that the core player experience with specific regard to functional utility (call it “game utility” as opposed to “game play”) is designed with technical impartiality. The way that a player funds game play at the slot machine through a cashless account, for example, should be the same for every type of slot machine. Player interface windows or portals should be designed with web-service functionality across the full network, and they should offer an equal level and range of functionality on every networked slot machine regardless of manufacturer. Slot system providers absolutely must not deliberately engineer into their systems functional impediments, disadvantages or disablers for slot machines that are made by all other slot manufacturers. This approach will diminish the player experience and result in a loss of value for everyone. For the player, game utility functionality should be the same regardless of the type of slot machine being played. When it comes to the development of application or game play content, let the competition rage.

Morongo Casino

Marlon Ortiz,
Director of Information Technology, Morongo
Casino Resort & Spa

The gaming industry, like any other industry, over the years has followed and implemented the evolution of computer technologies, from the installation of the first accounting systems in the early ’80s to the latest high-speed network infrastructures with collaborative software applications.

During the early years, each computer manufacturer company developed its own computer technology in-house and sold that technology as a package—think IBM, Unisys, Digital, etc. These were great technologies for the time, but the user was locked in with an expensive proprietary hardware and a very resource-intensive support system. The next evolution, or revolution, if you prefer, was the mass-production of low-cost personal computers and departmental servers using an open standard (the IBM PC Intel architecture). This created the opportunity to formalize standards for information exchange and networking—think Word and Excel documents and Ethernet networks.

The speed of this evolution in recent years has drastically increased, thanks to the development of ever-faster microprocessors and new and improved methodologies in software development. The next step of this evolution is the adoption of open standards. I recently read a great quote from Jorma Ollila, chairman of Nokia’s board of directors: “… Open standards and platforms create a foundation for success. They enable interoperability of technologies and encourage innovativeness and healthy competition, which in turn increases consumer choice and opens entirely new markets.” This quote truly captures the spirit of what open standards are trying to accomplish.

What this means in our gaming environment is that if all gaming manufacturers’ hardware or software follow open standards, we as the end users should see a casino environment where the integration of any new technology should be seamless, with minimal or no interruption of service. This should apply to everything from whole systems or modules to a single hardware component or device.

The good news is that gaming manufacturers are embracing the concept of open standards; GSA is providing the needed direction for the standardization of equipment and protocols. These are great achievements and perfect first steps in the right direction, but this only addresses the physical components of the gaming environment. The next step is addressing the lack of data portability and interoperability of systems and applications.

We have all these systems and applications addressing all areas of the gaming/hospitality environment, but all are what I call “islands” of the lock data. Even now, in the first years of the 21st century, trying to unify all this data into an organized set to provide useful information is difficult, expensive and time consuming. We need to remember that data is just facts, not useful information on which to base business decisions. Let’s look at one real-world example of these problems: integrating data from different vendors and different system platforms into a unified Data Warehouse System (DWS). In this case, each vendor will have developed its own ETL for modeling and mapping its own data structures for its own environment (SQL, Oracle, DB2). Trying to port data from a different application/system requires custom design, third-party middleware and a lot of high-level communication between vendors. This is detrimental for any business in which there is more time and resources allocated to the unification, translation and extraction of useful information than to driven business decisions.

What I’d like to see is direction and directives from GSA for data portability and interoperability. Then it will be up to us, the end-users, to push the gaming software development community to embrace proven open standards. Some of the tools and standards are already there—think XML, Opendocument, UML, W3C. Now the only thing that is needed is the motivation, and we need to provide this motivation by investing and deploying systems that meet these standards. This will make integrating, expanding, developing and generating timely, useful information less difficult.

The faster we as an industry accept and embrace these standards, the easier it will be to implement and integrate the new gaming technologies awaiting for us just around the corner—social-gaming, server-based gaming, etc.—and that’s a winning position for players, vendors and gaming operators.

BMM

Ken Golda, Director of Technical Compliance, BMM Compliance

Maybe it is just the tech geek in me, but does anyone else get excited about seeing open standard protocols in action on a live gaming floor? Before you answer that, let me explain a little about my perspective. Having tested protocols and systems for independent testing laboratories (ITL) for the last 10 years, it is easy at times to become a little isolated from the real world. The testing of protocols is done methodically, bit-by-bit, and in an extremely controlled manner to test the full communication capability of a gaming machine and/or system. In the lab environment, the magnitude of the impact that a new technology can have on the gaming industry is not always obvious; however, the power and flexibility of open standard protocols in gaming falls into this category.

In the past few years I have spent quite a bit of time in Oklahoma, where I have had the opportunity to see System to System (S2S) in action at many prominent tribal gaming facilities. S2S, the open standard protocol, has matured under the guidance of GSA. My experience with S2S protocol to date had involved the small isolated laboratory in which I worked, but in Oklahoma I was seeing S2S operating on a grand scale and in real time. Seeing S2S operate virtually flawlessly in a large commercial application was an amazing experience. Knowing how this product evolved, seeing the changes as they were submitted for review, and understanding this new environment from its concept was, for me, awe inspiring. I know what you are thinking: This guy needs a life. But it was similar to seeing a car being assembled and then watching it being driven away—it really works!

In Oklahoma, the mix of gaming machines on the floor is usually somewhere around 60/40 compacted games to Class II gaming systems (with anywhere from four to eight separate Class II gaming systems). In the past, this type of mix caused major headaches for patrons and for the operation—and still does at some locations not yet incorporating S2S. With each Class II gaming system operating independently of each other and all of the compacted games connected to one online accounting system, there were issues for functions as basic as ticket-in and ticket redemption, making them complicated and burdensome. Prior to implementing S2S on these casino floors, patrons playing on Class II games had to redeem their tickets either on that same manufacturer’s games or go to the cash cage to redeem their tickets. Although patrons are flexible, this process does not make for an enjoyable gaming experience. For these mixed system environments, the cashier cages must have individual POS equipment for each of the unique Class II gaming systems. All this absence of communication between systems causes confusion for the patron and the operator for several departments, including the cash cage, slot attendants, auditing and accounting, as well as information technology. In addition, revenue audits required extracting meter information from each of the different systems, with each having its own method of acquiring the information, ultimately being consolidated to present the true operating results for management.

The S2S implementation offered a solution to this complex problem by integrating the entire floor into one system. This integration for the separate Class II gaming systems made possible cross validation of ticketing among different systems and enabled the consolidation of accounting results for all machines. Like the compacted games, S2S enabled communication of data between all games, their respective systems and the online monitoring system with which all the compacted games communicate. The most significant impact to operations was the cross acceptance of tickets between different manufacturers’ games and consequently the elimination of multiple POS configurations at the cash cage. The implementation of one open source communication protocol overcame multiple problems, all stemming from the proprietary nature of each individual manufacturer’s product. This integration of information also solved the accounting audit issue by having all of the accounting information reported to the online accounting system instead of having to collect that information from multiple systems.

The Greek philosopher Plato is credited with saying, “Necessity is the mother of all invention,” and that saying rings true for the gaming industry. To understand why open protocols are the key to unlocking future growth and innovation in the industry, it is important to discuss how the industry arrived at the point we are today.

Currently, the predominant protocol used for system-to-game communication is the serial based Slot Accounting System (SAS) protocol developed originally as an in-house proprietary protocol by IGT. When the industry had a need to have some sort of standard protocol to accomplish game and system communications, IGT offered up their protocol for use by all. When the SAS protocol became the industry standard by which all systems talked to games, the reality that the protocol was not designed to be used by all set in. The protocol specification itself had some areas where it was ambiguous and other areas where the features were not applicable to all users. The reality of turning a proprietary product into a quasi-open protocol was the first attempt to bring the industry together with a common protocol and the implementation details were challenging to all parties involved. Manufacturers were interpreting and implementing aspects of the protocol in slightly different manners for systems that have unique communication requirements. Elements like timing and data structure were wreaking havoc on the successful transmission of data for that first generation.

Needless to say, the different interpretations and implementations by the games and systems caused interoperability issues on gaming floors everywhere. The plug-and-play goal for multiple vendors to operate seamlessly on the same network was not yet achieved. These differences caused anomalies such as tickets printing with the wrong amounts, data synchronization issues on startup, complete failures to communicate, and other issues. In the last couple of years these issues have been mitigated through the SAS protocol being a part of GSA meetings and a concerted effort to clarify the document in certain areas.

So how will open protocols affect how games and systems are tested for compliance with regulatory standards going forward? The nice part of the industry using open protocols is that through years of GSA meetings, the industry has put forth protocol specifications on which everyone can agree. It is very similar to how a product is developed to work with a Windows-based system: There is a set of standards or a framework to work within to ensure that product will be able to work on the Windows platform. It doesn’t catch all the issues, but it greatly reduces them.

This simple fact of implementing this same philosophy to gaming protocol largely eliminates the different interpretations for protocol standards and the different implementations of those protocols by the system manufacturers. ITLs will have similar testing criteria for different systems, and the systems will all communicate the same on a basic level.

Open protocols are also changing how ITLs test protocol. In the past, ITLs were free to develop their own proprietary testing methods and there was no oversight for how products were tested. Now, ITLs are required to obtain ISO accreditation with a GSA Scope for testing GSA protocols. The ITLs are individually accredited by an International Standards Organization (ISO) recognized Accrediting Body to the ISO 17025 standard with a GSA scope. When games, systems, peripherals and other devices are submitted, these products … are independently tested and certified by the ITL to ensure that they operate in accordance with the standardized protocols.

This certification process relates exclusively to testing protocol communications and is not a certification as required by regulatory testing standards and does not replace regulatory testing. This process does provide a level of oversight over ITL testing that previously did not exist.

Open protocols will bring more consistency to testing services offered from independent testing labs. The emphasis from open protocols will be on the ITLs to hone their review methodologies and efficiencies to assist manufacturers in becoming compliant with the expected standardization of protocols and to bring a higher standard of assurance to both the operator and regulator for the product being certified.

This is the kind of stuff that gets tech geeks like me excited about the future of open standards protocols in gaming because the possibilities are endless.

Eclipse

Nick Farley (left),
President and Co-founder,
Eclipse Compliance Testing

Ron Rollins (right),
Business Manager,
Eclipse Compliance Testing

True open standards and efficient interoperability have been synonymous with finding the Holy Grail or the “missing link”—it would be historical, but more importantly, it would be extraordinary and valuable. For casino operators, freedom of choice, so highly touted, would render the slot floor a limitless plethora of possibilities—mix-n-match electronic gaming machines (EGM), bonus schemes, community play, redemption terminals—while not being  “locked-in” to proprietary back-end systems indefinitely. At Eclipse Compliance Testing, we understand the flexibility this brings to casino operating companies, but what does it mean for regulatory compliance?

The simple answer today is not much. There remain very few regulatory compliance standards governing interoperability itself. After all, interoperability essentially relies upon the distribution channel used to send and receive data communication. There are certainly Minimum Internal Control Standards (MICS) to consider, but most of this relates to data analysis and report generation. The present focus is to implement aspects of network gaming, which are less sensitive to the regulatory road blocks that exist—areas such as accounting, player tracking, ticketing and floor management.

When you look at the elements that raise issues regarding regulatory compliance, you primarily look at making game changes, pay percentages and where the random number generator (RNG) resides. The ability to make changes on the fly, which may affect fairness, for example, is a concern of regulators. However, getting machines and systems communicating together in a more seamless way, via open standards, does not necessarily impact the regulatory environment. As games and systems converge, the reliability of the network and the interoperability of the respective components on the network will be of high importance; avoiding EGM and system crashes will be critical. This is an area in which testing labs, such as ours, focus a lot of effort.

Interoperability, in its basic form, focuses primarily on the standardization of the protocols used to communicate within different environments: GDS (Peripheral to Game), G2S (Game to System), S2S (System to System). The advantage for labs posed by standardization is the opportunity to more fully focus, or specialize, on specific protocols. It also allows for third-party developers to build tools and other applications that might benefit a variety of users, including test labs, peripheral suppliers and operators. For example, in the proprietary protocol environment, labs must work with the EGM manufacturer to obtain tools, such as a host simulator. If this is not within the plans of the EGM manufacturer, it is left to the lab to find ways to test equipment and systems using basic testing devices. This is not necessarily the most efficient process.

As regulatory standards for networked gaming and interoperability are developed, Eclipse Compliance Testing sees its role as reviewing and offering constructive feedback on implementation. We work within the standards to find weaknesses and, as necessary, provide advice on how to improve them. This has been done numerous times with testing standards we have reviewed as issued by other labs or agencies. As compliance guidelines are established, we develop testing methods and procedures to fully capture the ability to test equipment to meet those standards. From this, we can offer advice to our customers on what may be necessary to meet the compliance requirements for their equipment within a given standard.

Development of a standard has its challenges, in particular, how a protocol is implemented. In many instances standards can leave the way in which a protocol might be implemented “open to interpretation.” This means that there exists the possibility that multiple varieties of “standards” may exist that are subtly different from one another. The effect and risk of this is compatibility, which will only really be proven in the field. As this gets addressed, the reality of open standards may emerge.

An example of the need for standardization comes from work done in a tribal casino a few years ago. The tribe wanted to be able to “connect” its various casino games and systems through a single back-end system. Eclipse Compliance Testing was contracted to help with the coordination of the various EGM manufacturers’ products, the system company and other testing labs. This was in the early days of S2S. Numerous conference calls were arranged as we worked through the issues; they weren’t the most comfortable situations, but in the end, it worked. This is very similar to how VLTs operate today, whereby game manufacturers are required to communicate to specific protocols established by the system provider. There is no choice; the EGM must communicate to the specification of the system. Standardization would make this process simpler. Today, as companies adopt standards for interoperability, the difficult days of the past may be behind us, technically speaking, but will the suppliers fully meet open standards with open arms? The casino operator will indeed have tremendous flexibility in games and systems that can be interchanged, for they are no longer locked into companies. They have the freedom to choose.

As interoperability continues forward, as games are downloaded and configured remotely, as central determination and multiple-RNGs are used, and as authentication becomes more complex, the need for compliance standards for networked gaming will increasingly grow in order to ensure the fairness and integrity of what customers are playing. It is our role to participate in this process to ensure that as standards are implemented they are followed correctly so that regulators can be confident that the games people play will indeed be fair.

GLI

James Maida, Co-founder & President, GLI

When asked how open standards will affect the testing end of networked gaming or how they already do affect the testing end, it’s important to understand that it is a combination of the protocols and the products that the new protocols enable that affect the testing process. Looking over GLI’s 20 years in business, it’s easy to say that this is the most exciting time in gaming to date. The new protocols have opened up an incredible world of potential for manufacturers and for operators. Devices will be able to do much more, meaning operators will be able to offer much more to an increasingly sophisticated and demanding player base. However, this exciting potential is coupled with distinct challenges. After all, these aren’t your grandfather’s protocols; they are much, much more complex than anything we have seen before. These new protocols and devices require teams of dedicated testing professionals—both electrical engineers and mathematicians to ensure that testing is completed properly and thoroughly. They also require regulators to take a very serious look at their current regulations and to adjust when necessary to prepare for these new devices. This all means that the role of the lab is increasingly important, both as a consultant to regulatory agencies and as an independent test lab. Labs will not be able to simply “get by” when faced with these new protocols; they will have to ramp up staff to be able to accommodate demand from manufacturers and regulators.

Suppliers are in a very fortunate position right now. Because open standards are open, they are available for free download on GSA’s website; GLI also has our set of regulatory standards available for free download on our website. This means that established and new manufacturers can theoretically approach the business from a common starting point with open, standards-based off-the-shelf technology. Manufacturers do need to understand that because of the protocols’ complexity, their choice of lab will be significant. Suppliers need to seek out a lab that has the staff and the capabilities to accomplish the wide range of testing that needs to be done with the new generation of devices without holding up time-to-market. Suppliers also need to understand that regulators are adjusting to these new offerings as best as possible. There will be learning curves on both sides, but just as we did with ticketing, for example, working together, we can create solutions that are good for the entire industry.

GLI has been involved with GSA for years. GLI was the first, and is still the only test lab where suppliers can test products for interoperability in the safety and security of the lab, as opposed to the live, exposed environment of the gaming floor. Later this year, we will release a new program that will make interoperability testing even more convenient, efficient and cost-effective. Further, when GSA launched its Protocol Certification Program last June, GLI became the first test lab approved by GSA to test products for the program. The primary focus of the program is to ensure consistent implementation of standards by manufacturers to ensure improved interoperability. Of course, all of this makes life easier for operators who can search GSAÕs website for a listing of certified products that will ultimately “plug and play.” GSA didn’t just randomly select GLI for testing; we were individually accredited by an International Standards Organization (ISO)-recognized Accrediting Body to the ISO 17025 standard with a GSA scope. It’s important to note that the certifications in this particular program exclusively relate to protocol communications, and are not certifications as required by regulatory testing guidelines.

We are a test lab, and testing is what a test lab should do. We don’t create protocol standards, we don’t tell manufacturers what protocol they should use, and we don’t tell operators which products they should buy. We test products against standards put forth by regulatory bodies and the GSA certification program. Further, we consult with our regulatory clients around the world to help answer any questions they may have about how the standards or the new products may affect their jurisdictions. In our GLI University program, we offer training for regulators, either at one of GLI’s offices, onsite at their agency or at one of our roundtables to help regulators constantly stay ahead of the curve.

NIGC

Norm DesRosier,
Vice Chairman, NIGC

I was happy to accept CEM’s invitation to contribute to this Networked Gaming Guide; however, it should be made clear that the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) has a very limited role in regulatory oversight of “network gaming.” Further, many of my opinions are heavily influenced by many years of hands-on experience as a tribal governmental regulator.

First, it is appropriate to provide my understanding of the terms used in this guide. I view networked gaming as server-based systems, and for the purposes of a federal perspective, must limit my comments to Class II electronic bingo gaming systems.

“Open standards” means technical standards open for common use by any and all manufacturers of those Class II systems. “Interoperability” means what I used to refer to as “compatibility” between products of various manufacturers for simultaneous functionality of all products, including electronic communications with online accounting systems and player tracking systems. (Perhaps oversimplified.)

Class II electronic bingo gaming systems are widely regarded as the “pioneers” of networked or server-based gaming. Until very recently, with the exception of a few NIGC legal “advisory opinions” relating to the functional parameters of the Class II electronic bingo systems, no standards existed.

This lack of standards created a significant three-way dilemma: for manufacturers, what standards do I build to?; for testing labs, what standards do I test to?; and for regulators, what standards are allowable in my jurisdiction? The NIGC sought to resolve this dilemma. With the participation of manufacturing representatives, test lab representatives, operators and tribal regulators in concert with the NIGC, a working group was established to produce technical and relative internal control standards for manufacturing, testing, operation and regulation of Class II server-based gaming systems.

In the latter half of 2008 these standards were finalized and published as federal Class II gaming regulatory standards. Although it is too early to yet fully know what the beneficial effects of this monumental effort are or will be, preliminary indications seem to point to having successfully achieved a significant degree of standardization and clarity in the Class II gaming market for all of the previously mentioned stakeholders.

Turning now to the issue of “interoperability,” I would split the focus into two areas. First, the compatibility of player terminals from different manufacturers operating on a single server; second, a system of various products able to communicate with a single online accounting, tracking and reporting system. (Let me first qualify my comments by clearly stating that I do not remotely qualify as a technical expert.)

Obviously open standards will contribute significantly to the interoperability of multiple product lines functioning together as a single system. I would speculate that there has been more progress on this front in the world of Class III machines than with Class II bingo systems. However, there is little doubt that “necessity will be the mother of invention” in this arena.

In my humble opinion, the more important issue is the interoperability that allows multiple player terminal product lines to seamlessly and reliably communicate with a single online accounting, reporting and tracking system. Of course, the most obvious need for this capability is to allow for accurate revenue accounting and auditing. This is critically important to both the operator and the regulator.

There are, however, other considerations that make this compatibility a necessity from a regulatory perspective. The system’s program should have security features prohibiting unauthorized intrusion or manipulation and alerts for such attempts. The regulator is also frequently called upon to investigate such things as malfunctions, significant accounting variances, and the common and dreaded “patron dispute” over payouts.

Without a functional, reliable and compatible accounting and reporting system, it would be virtually impossible for a regulator to fulfill these important responsibilities. Easily retrieving recorded information in a timely fashion is critical in assisting with these investigations.

This capability provides considerable benefits to two primary stakeholders. First, it instills a strong sense of public confidence in the integrity and fairness of the game for the players. Few would disagree that this is essential to safeguard the continued success of Indian gaming. Second, it provides necessary protection for the operator (tribe) by quelling attempts to fraudulently claim prizes that a player may not have won, and it allows for early detection of internal improprieties or malfunctions that could unduly affect revenues. The protection of tribal assets is equally essential to the continued success of Indian gaming.

The NIGC technical standards published in 2008 were not intended to stifle continued technological innovation. We fully expect a rapid continued evolution of technology in Class II gaming systems, and we fully realize that this will require us to regularly revisit the regulations to keep pace with the technology.

In reflecting back on the development of our technical specifications, nothing springs to mind that would inhibit open standards or interoperability. However, I must admit, at least for my part, I am not sure that significant consideration was given to the compatibility of multiple product lines in a single system. This is due in part to the perception of protections of proprietary interests. However, as previously stated, “necessity will be the mother of invention.”

FutureLogic

John Hilbert,
Vice President of Systems Development, 

FutureLogic

Currently, we see three GSA protocols that are significantly changing the industry and enabling new technology. First, the S2S, or System to System, protocol provides a common, secure standard for communication between applications of all types and the casino floor servers. This may include bonusing, POS equipment, bill breakers, promotional systems or any other client application that must connect with the casino floor servers.

Second, the G2S, or Game to System, protocol provides a common, secure standard for communication between the gaming machines and the casino floor servers, as well as all G2S servers. This development was a major step in standardizing a very complex communications protocol, since it ensures that all games are able to speak the same “language” to the floor servers.

Third, the GDS, or Gaming Device Standards, is actually a number of separate documents, each describing a particular type of peripheral equipment. These include printers, bill validators, card readers, coin acceptors, coin hoppers, touchscreens and connectors.

The benefit of these protocols is that they provide the open, standard communications that will make integrating GSA peripherals much easier for the game developer. The other advantage is interoperability. In a GSA casino, these protocols will allow the movement of peripherals from game to game without changing the connectors or firmware.

Standardization can also improve time to market and streamline the regulatory process by reducing the number and variety of firmware versions that must be developed. Standardization and plug-and-play functionality ensure that if both devices are certified, they should work together as soon as they are connected. This means that casinos can now trial a new peripheral, such as a kiosk, printer or card reader, with an expectation of interoperability. And if they are not satisfied, they can return the equipment to the manufacturer and re-install the prior device.

FutureLogic’s Commitment to GSA
FutureLogic is committed to GSA because we realize that open protocols are critical to the advancement of the gaming industry. EGMs and peripheral manufacturers benefit from standardization by reducing complexity and being able to use their R&D resources to develop new features and functionality. This ability to innovate quickly provides obvious benefits to the casino operator. From ease of integration to the ability to install GDS peripherals in any GSA game, open standards clearly serve the equipment manufacturer, the casino, and ultimately, the players.

As a platinum member of GSA, FutureLogic has been deeply involved and supportive of this organization for the past several years. Nick Micalizzi, FutureLogic’s vice president of sales and marketing, is involved in marketing support, and as vice president of systems development for FutureLogic, I have served on its board of directors for two years and have been elected to serve as the chair of the GDS committee for three years.

The main task of the GDS committee this year is to develop certification standards that will allow both peripheral suppliers and game manufacturers to submit their products for testing and certification to ensure that the GDS protocols are properly implemented.

As a technology-focused individual, I have found working on the technical committees a distinct pleasure. The GDS committee includes members representing peripheral manufacturers, game manufacturers and testing agencies and provides ample opportunity to discuss technical issues. Because it is a diverse group and every member is willing to participate in the committee process and prepare the protocols for member approval, we are able to reach a consensus on solutions. As with all committees, GSA provides a great opportunity for individuals with diverse interests to come together in a joint effort to serve the industry.

Implementation of GSA Protocols
FutureLogic developed the first TITO gaming printer in collaboration with IGT more than 10 years ago. Although the advantages of TITO were immediately evident to casino operators, the lack of standardization certainly slowed implementation. Working with one of our EGM customers, we began implementing the GDS protocol in our GEN2 Universalª printers several years ago.

The GEN2 Universal printer is server-based ready and supports both SPC (IGT) and GDS protocols, providing a migration path for the next generation of networked games. The device can be configured to communicate with multiple hosts at the same time, such as RS232 or Netplex, and USB 2.0. For example, the printer can communicate with the game and with a USB SMIB system interface at the same time, without the need for additional connectors, adaptors or hardware.

Our PromoNetTM couponing solution utilizes an S2S interface. This technology allows casinos to automatically trigger a marketing campaign based on game play metrics, player tracking information, POS systems and redemption terminals. For instance, a player who has just hit a number of predetermined triggers may be issued a bar-coded coupon that can be redeemed at any of the bars or restaurants within a resort.

By using a secure system approach, the PromoNet couponing solution ensures that casino servers are in full control of all communication with the printers and promotional coupons. It also offers casinos of any size a flexible, cost-effective, real-time method for delivering targeted promotional campaigns.

Bottom Line

We believe that promotional printing, along with server-based gaming, will provide the next big lift in gaming over the next several years, and we fully support GSA’s effort to develop standards for these new technologies. We are proud to be a member of the GSA, and our affiliation with the GDS committee is a critical element in our marketing efforts and technical presentations to our customers.

We believe that the development of open standards will allow many new applications to enter the casino space, and will give EGM and peripheral manufacturers the opportunity to divert resources that might have been used for maintaining protocols and obtaining approvals into new technology development.

MEI

Bob Mackenzie,
Engineering Director-Gaming,
MEI

MEI is dedicated to supporting our customers and contributing to industry progress. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Clearly, the development of open protocols will create inertia that will allow manufacturers to work together to collectively improve equipment performance and, ultimately, the player experience.

There is a tremendous amount of creativity in our industry. Our long standing association with GSA has allowed MEI to see that firsthand. Taking an active role as a GSA board member in the development and creation of the open GDS protocol has been rewarding. Working alongside major OEMs, who are moving in lockstep, has provided a great opportunity to see a team turn commitment into the acceleration of GDS adoption over the past two years.

Our involvement in GSA, and our resulting participation in open protocols, is a direct result of our belief in efforts to eliminate protocol barriers. MEI was an early adopter of GDS, and we have supported USB for more than nine years. With open protocols, all note validators will speak the same language and will be evaluated on performance instead of accessibility to protocols.

The gaming industry will move toward open protocols as operators demonstrate the new features enabled because of GDS. Interchangeability of peripherals, without changing software, is but one advantage to casinos. A lower cost of ownership will result from labor savings from not having to load new software into games. The adoption of open protocols is already underway. We are proud to see that the first new casino with 100 percent GDS-compliant peripherals is scheduled to open at the end of this year.

OEMs and peripheral companies agree the developer’s toolkit vastly simplifies the integration process. What used to be a long, drawn-out process of integrating into several platforms is now only a few steps. Using the developer’s toolkit, MEI was able to develop the GDS protocol, validate our GDS protocols, and have a common test platform between MEI and the OEMs implementing the protocol. The integration process is now expedited because when the OEMs implement GDS protocol on the games, the peripherals are ready.

MEI recognizes that the conversion of slot floors will be a process. The key is flexibility. We created dual port CASHFLOW SC, a transitional protocol, which will speak GDS and legacy. Moving forward, we are now introducing a tri-port unit that will enable future features. Ultimately, the single most important benefit of GSA is that it is legacy free.

Open protocols are the way of the future—GSA has paved the way with GDS. We expect to see a cottage industry evolve, developing plug-in systems to enhance the player experience. It is an exciting time for open protocols. We now have customers who will only purchase products that support GDS. Not long ago, MEI bill validators supported 12 different protocols, which all required special testing and verification. GSA standards reduce that to two or three industry-wide protocols.

It is refreshing that simplicity can lead to progress in a technology industry. That is what GSA is building through the implementation of GDS. And we will all benefit from working toward that common goal.

TransAct

Tim Moser, Product Marketing Manager,
TransAct Technologies

Open standards like the GSA protocols are the foundation that allows application and hardware vendors to focus on providing solutions being requested by operators. Historically, the lack of standards has been problematic for operators when trying to select the best products for their operational needs. Rather than focusing on product benefits, operators were limited to solutions compatible with their current assets.

With technology initiatives such as server-based gaming and the delivery of promotions to a game, the network is becoming more important than ever. However, the focus should be on providing solutions that provide real benefits to casino operators. Adoption of the GSA protocols by systems and hardware vendors is a key factor to staying focused on market needs.

TransAct is committed to providing the best possible solution to operators by working closely with gaming machine manufacturers and systems developers to ensure that products like the Epic 950® and ServerPortTMcontinue to lead the industry with ticket vouchers and the future of promotional coupons while at the same time providing a clear, defined upgrade path to the technology solutions of the future.

TransAct Technologies provides a clear, defined upgrade path from a serial slot floor to the future of server-based gaming and feel that open standards, including the GSA protocols, are key to driving innovation in the gaming industry.

TransAct continues to deliver innovative, market-driven solutions for the gaming industry and fully supports standardizing the way games and systems communicate with game peripheral devices. The introduction of ServerPort provides a modular, seamless upgrade opportunity for existing Epic 950 users. You can easily upgrade the existing games on your casino floor by adding the ServerPort device to your current Epic 950s. This add-on module will expand your current printing capability to drive the ability to print promotional offers and coupons in a networked gaming environment. You will be able to monitor printer events and configure the printers to suit your operational needs. In addition, with ServerPort you will be able to download printer firmware, saving both time and money.

TransAct Technologies is actively leading the effort to define standard for the gaming industry with a chair on the GSA Board of Directors. We think that casino operators should have the ability to choose the best possible products for both current and future needs without concern for things like compatibility and protocols. In addition, much of complexity associated with providing solutions for multiple markets with unique regulatory requirements can be reduced through the adoption of open standards. This has the potential to put regulators, manufacturers and operators on the same page when understanding how to address requirements and restrictions by market.

Open standards should also provide operators with the ability to scale or phase in implementations based on current needs and budgets. This means solutions are not only required to support operators with open standards solutions as their enterprises grow, but they must also provide products that can be implemented on a bank-by-bank or even machine-by-machine basis when needed. Combine this with the fact that technology implementation should be seamless to casino operations and provide a consistent experience for casino patrons, and the adoption of standards is very important.

The introduction of ServerPort  at G2E in Las Vegas in November 2008 exemplifies TransAct’s dedication to understanding customer needs. ServerPort upgrades your existing Epic 950 printers and turns them into even smarter printers that allow operators to monitor printer events, configure the printer for special functions, and print promotional offers at the gaming machine. ServerPort provides a clear upgrade path to server-based gaming and supports GSA’s Gaming Device Standard (GDS). We are committed to working with both game and systems manufacturers to ensure that the promise to support the delivery of promotional coupons to games can be delivered to meet operator demands. In addition, TransAct offers extensive pre- and post-sales support and has established excellent working relationships with all major game and systems manufacturers. We are committed to making sure that casino operators have the tools and training to keep their operations running with minimal disruption.

Open standards are a critical part of our products and product strategy both now and in the future. Open standards streamline our integration process with game manufacturers and system vendors. Firmware versions can be reduced as industry adoption of open standards proliferates. This increases operator flexibility when utilizing our patented quick disconnect feature to move printers from game to game.

Our entire gaming product offering utilizes industry standards adopted by game manufacturers. These standards extend beyond the GSA protocols and include the adoption of other standards such as USB (Universal Serial Bus).

We are committed to working with gaming machine manufacturers to provide solutions utilizing standards and protocols that provide seamless integration of our Epic 950 printer. In addition, our ServerPort product reflects our commitment to the GSA by fully supporting the GDS protocol. Open standards, when generally adopted, ultimately benefit the marketplace. They allow new and innovative products to focus on the needs of the market place and the benefits to customers.

Customers want solutions that openly work with other products and provide a hassle-free environment for casino operations and a consistent gaming experience for their players. This is often brought up by customers when discussing products and how they work together. Operators have experienced for quite some time products that are not compatible. So their focus appears to be on the promise that open standards with ultimately provide them choices.

Lack of open standards, at the end of the day affects the casino operators. Historically, open standards were not defined and proprietary technology was seen as competitive advantage. As products and product features become more dynamic and market focused, many operators have been unable to integrate these products without significant cost and/or disruption to operations. The general adoption of open standards across manufacturers, platforms and products provide operators with something that they have been requesting for quite some time—choice.

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