The Gaming Life: Bill Oliver

As the chief information officer, or “head computer guy,” overseeing both information technology (IT) integration and administration for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Bill Oliver is online a lot. In fact, Bill Oliver is probably, in all likelihood, online right now. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Oliver doesn’t just do IT work for a living; he lives IT. Case in point: When asked about his hobbies outside his IT life, he says, “My hobbies include spending time with my son, watching movies and IT.” What specifically does he like about movies? The technology, of course. “I am a die-hard fan of all movies and love the new technology of 3-D movies and high definition cameras that bring the movie entertainment to the big screen,” he says. “I have had a fascination with movie making and movie production.”

He points to Avatar as an example of how movies are starting to get CG right. “Avatar changed the way high-definition movies are made and how [CG] can really affect the experience of the consumer,” he explains. “The fact that Avatar had a great storyline also helped as well.”

But would he want to see a 3-D film set in a casino? Not really, as “your normal casino patron wants true, instant stimulus, which a casino game can give and a 3-D movie cannot.” But Oliver does say that if a casino found a way to capitalize on 3-D technology, it would create an “unstoppable revenue generator.”

Oliver began his IT career with Harrah’s Las Vegas. But unlike many who wander into the gaming industry by happenstance or on a lark, Oliver was by no means a stranger to a casino floor. He explains: “My mother was an avid gambler, and I have been around casinos since I was very young. While going to college in Las Vegas, it was obvious the casino industry was the major employer in town. I needed a job while going to school, and I was able to sign on with Harrah’s Entertainment.”

Oliver worked there as a support specialist, handling first level desktop and software support calls.

The need for a job later became the love of a career. Oliver says, “My favorite thing about casino IT is the development of new technology that can generate revenue and create a better experience for the guest.”

Oliver is adamant that technology is our friend. It is especially the friend of any gaming interest, be it a manufacturer, a property or a guest. One example of how tech can improve the gaming experience? Mobile apps. “In my current role as chief information officer for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, I oversee a group of developers that has created, among other things, an iPhone app that includes mobile access for gamers to access their accounts,” Oliver says. “To see internal development from beginning to end is so rewarding.”

After seven years at Harrah’s, Oliver’s expertise had blossomed to impressive levels. As IT adoption by casinos exploded, it was expertise much in demand. Soon Oliver was the property IT manager at The Rio.

Yet, to a lot of people in his life, he’s still just “the computer guy.” Oliver says, “When my family and friends ask me what I do and I tell them that I am a CIO, their faces usually look perplexed. When I try to explain it from a responsibilities standpoint and let them know that I run information technology from a strategic level, I still get the same confusion. Most of the time, I will tell them that I am the head computer guy, and the ‘Ooohhhhh, I see’ comes out.”

The character of Oliver’s IT experience makes his brain especially interesting to pick. Unlike industry IT experts who came to gaming from another tech background, Oliver began at the bottom, in the early days of adoption. He has seen the evolution, warts and all. Of his years in IT, Oliver points to both technology and the boom in the mega-resorts being the biggest changes, observing: “Technology has put gaming on the forefront of hospitality innovation and development for guest service. From property management systems to tracking capabilities and loyalty programs, technology has made tremendous strides over the last 15 years.”

Oliver says these complex woven technologies made the mega-resorts viable. “Because of the trend in technology related to gaming, mega-resorts were able to spring up and the implementation of bleed-edge technology could be introduced.”

Of course, no current examination of the gaming industry and information technology would be complete without a look at server-based gaming. Oliver doesn’t believe server-based games will save the industry, but he does think the industry will tinker with the products and find a good place for them. “The evolution of games is what the gaming industry is all about, and this will provide those guests another way to access games,” he explains. “It will not save gaming, but it will maintain.”

And, naturally, any discussion of server-based gaming begs the question: What about the G2S protocol? Like all IT experts worth his salt, Oliver sees both the good and bad with G2S adoption. He says, “G2S is a good deal for systems integration and interoperability because it will maintain one accepted protocol and provide a basis for all vendors and manufacturers to follow.”

But, and there is always a but, he adds, “On the flip side, it will limit those vendors and manufacturers to only one protocol. Vendors and manufacturers provide goods and services to their clients, and if they find better ways of doing it, then of course, the direction should be followed on how to provide the best goods and services.”
Oliver worries that, at least in the beginning, casino properties that adhere to the G2S requirements will be committing themselves to those vendors, and only those vendors, who comply with that G2S protocol. This commitment to a single system is a leap of faith Oliver sees as not without significant risks. He explains: “For example, Microsoft Windows has been around for the past 40 years and the consumer has always known Windows. But now Apple has come along and provided the same function of Windows, and in some ways it does things better for the consumer than a Windows computer. If you limit yourself to one, then you will have to ensure that the learning curve will be met when you change, because in the end we all will change at some time.”

Speaking of Apple, is Oliver a Mac or a PC? He admits that’s a good question. “I use a PC for work because of the business applications, however, I do have a Mac for my personal use for working with video and pictures,” he says. “Do I believe that a Mac can be as good as a PC in the gaming workplace? Not yet, but it’s getting close.”

As for the future, Oliver sees growth as the industry’s greatest challenge, especially for Vegas. He explains: “With almost all of the states now creating compacts with local Indian governments, more casinos have popped up. The days when you saved up all your money for a trip to Las Vegas because it was the only place you could gamble are gone. Plus, Indian casinos have taken on the Las Vegas style in architecture and entertainment, giving Sin City a run for its money. I expect growth to become more difficult unless your business ventures outside the United States.”

With businesses challenged for growth, how will technology fit in? Internet. Internet. Internet. Oliver is convinced a double-whammy of both Internet and mobile gaming will transform the industry as we know it—and it will do so in the very near future. “In California, the potential of doing online poker is real and will provide more revenue to the state,” he predicts. “The technology that will support mobile and online gaming will be tremendous because of how we provide content to the guest. The mobile phone has far exceeded anyone’s expectations in the guest service. Whether it’s checking into a hotel or making a reservation for a restaurant, mobile technology in the gaming industry and hospitality world will be changing—and it will be sooner than later.”

Though Oliver admits that the exact future of Internet gaming is difficult to predict because of its many moving parts, he says, “In my opinion, online gaming is something that will be good for the business and bring more people who never gambled to start using their disposable income.”

Oliver also predicts that this may mean low times for destination gaming, saying, “Mega casino resorts will no longer be built and the motivation to go to a casino location will be less regardless of how much marketing you do.”

He compares the impact to what video game consoles did to mall arcades in the early ‘90s. “Casinos will have to provide more than just gambling to the guest outside of the norm to get the average guest into the property,” he says.

In the meantime, you can find this “computer guy” online, probably playing his favorite game, poker.

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