The evolution of Gaming Laboratories International has mirrored the evolution of the gaming industry

When James Maida and Paul Magno founded Gaming Laboratories International in 1989, the idea was to provide suppliers to the gaming industry with an alternative to what was then a time-consuming process in getting new slot machines approved by the overworked state-run labs in the only two legal casino jurisdictions at the time, Nevada and New Jersey.

Maida, who had worked at one of those overworked agencies, had the solution—create a private testing process focused on the highest quality while providing greater efficiency and cost saving than can be provided by a single state bureaucracy.

“Private testing produced economic efficiencies that cannot be replicated in single-jurisdiction government labs,” Maida says. “By using test results and applying different standings from multiple jurisdictions, GLI has been able to save the industry untold millions by leveraging the outcome of testing results and applying those scientific outcomes against the various standards jurisdictions adopt for slot machines and other gaming devices.”

With longtime friend and New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement colleague Magno, Maida launched GLI as the first private testing option for industry suppliers.

Of course, the forming of GLI was perfect in its timing, coming as it did only a year after passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. GLI instantly became the go-to lab for the new Native American gaming industry, with nearly all of the eventual 28 U.S. Indian gaming jurisdictions accepting GLI certification for approval of both Class II and Class III gaming devices.

But the advent of Indian gaming was only one of the monumental changes that would meet the young GLI—technology was changing in ways that would continue to redefine the slot machine, and the systems that control them.

The company has dominated the worldwide testing market by making sure its own staff maintains the highly specialized expertise needed to evaluate new technology, creating the fastest path to market for suppliers without diminishing regulatory control.

Maida says GLI has remained the leader in testing by closely watching the market, hiring top engineering talent as needed to handle all the new technologies, and most of all, by listening to its customers and fulfilling their needs.

“Here at GLI, our first core value is really to provide the best quality in testing,” Maida says. “We keep our quality extremely high. We also want to be experts in every jurisdiction that we are in around the world.”

The quality of the testing itself, he adds, is matched by quality service. “Those core values require us to go out and have face-to-face meetings, and provide over-the-top daily customer service,” he says. “There’s no excuse here at GLI if a customer calls and does not receive a call back. We are almost neurotic as to getting back to clients, to getting them what they need, because we know that in the gaming industry, time marches on.”

The service culture does not end when GLI certifies a game for a supplier. According to Maida, the company routinely is called upon to ensure games on casino floors are in compliance with the applicable regulations. “In the mid 1990s, we started our services practice involving on-site inspections—inspecting all the games that were on the floor,” he explains. “Many casinos have us in each year to inspect the machines on the floor, to make sure that they are in compliance with what we’ve certified.”

It’s one of the ways GLI has both defined and expanded the nature of testing gaming devices and systems. Gaming testing is still the core business of GLI, and Maida maintains that testing to ensure integrity of gaming devices and systems is the common pathway to everything else GLI does.

And GLI does a lot.

The testing organization Maida started with two employees some 27 years ago is now a global network of 20 offices on six continents, with 900 employees, speaking more than 50 languages. In Canada, where the company has been active for 20 years, GLI recently opened an expanded instant scratch-ticket testing lab, and in June announced the acquisition of Bulletproof Solutions, a trusted Atlantic Canada IT solutions provider.

Bulletproof will allow GLI to expand the professional services it has offered in addition to the basic testing services—from consulting with government officials setting up new regulatory regimes to bringing professional regulators in various world gaming regions together for its GLI University series of roundtable seminars.

North American operations are joined by GLI offices in Latin America, Europe, Asia/Pacific and South Africa.

As for the core testing services, the areas of GLI’s testing expertise have swelled with requests for additional services from its worldwide clients. “We found out that regulators and operators alike were looking for much more robust services from us,” Maida says, “like, for instance, network risk assessment. How secure is the casino?”

 GLI has added cybersecurity and network security to its testing services. Compliance audits in connection with anti-money laundering requirements, responsible gaming programs and other services have been added as well. “Around five years ago, we started to add much more to the basic testing,” says Maida. “Testing is still our core business, but we’re bolting a lot more services on top of that—pre-compliance services, on-site professional services.

“Many casinos are now upgrading their online systems. It’s been years that they’ve been running with the same online system, so we provide consulting work in terms of, from a regulatory point of view, how do you upgrade from a previous version of your slot system, to the most recent version?  Or, do you switch slot systems all together? It’s really a natural expansion. We do these professional services not only for the regulators, but also for the operators.”

It’s all about protecting the client’s profitability, he says—from preventing loss from security breaches to ensuring games perform in the field like they are supposed to perform. “For many suppliers, we provide them feedback with everything that was submitted and every failure that they had in those submissions,” says Maida, “and then we quantify them in terms of what they need to work on going forward.

“We feed back to them all the errors we’re seeing coming out of their development process, so they can focus on correcting them to allow for more first-pass yield (quick regulatory approval). Since we implemented that process two years ago, we’ve seen most major suppliers actually increase their first-pass yield.”

Tools of the Trade

Through the years, GLI has not only constantly maintained its expertise in testing as technology has advanced, but along the way, has invented or acquired unique tools to accomplish every extra service its customers have sought.

One of the biggest successes has been the company’s patented GLI Link technology, which essentially eliminated the requirement that a gaming device be physically in the company’s main Las Vegas lab to be tested and certified. “GLI Link allows us to remotely test machines,” Maida explains. “If we have a machine in Australia today, and we have to test it on an online system that’s sitting in our Las Vegas office, we can hook that up and remotely do it. We don’t have to pick the machine up and move it. That saves suppliers a lot of time and money.”

(He adds that all testing of online gaming systems can be done remotely.)

“GLI is efficient in moving work around the world, to our offices where they’re licensed to do the testing. We can quickly jump on it at 3 in the morning in Asia, or whatever the local time is in New York, and be able to test things 24 hours a day and get it done.”

He estimates that remote testing has turned GLI’s average turnaround time from 33 days to 15-19 days. “The one thing we do pride ourselves on is that nearly 100 percent of the time, we make the customer’s request dates,” Maida says. “If something comes in today and has to be out in seven days, we’ll have our team work through the weekend, work overtime. At the same time, we consistently ask whether we are meeting or exceeding what the customer needs and wants.”

Other new tools have been developed through a partnership with Kobetron, a third-party testing company in which Maida and Magno invested last year. The first success of the partnership was Verify+ by Kobetron, a plug-and-play verification tool that uses a computer’s USB port to verify virtually every signature method to maximize compliance efficiency.

In June, Kobetron acquired Gaming Informatics, which produces a software suite that tracks inventory of electronic gaming equipment.

Kobetron “houses all of our tools,” says Maida. “GLI is out of that business, and Kobetron will be picking it up. It avoids conflicts, and allows us to have a dedicated team of professionals thinking about the tools the customers need.”

Working Together

Maida says GLI has expanded its services directly in response to those customer needs, and to changes in the nature of the business confronting its customers.

As for customer feedback, GLI’s methodology is simple: Ask them, face to face, what they need. “We are the only lab in the world that actually has a full-time global development team,” Maida says. “We have approximately 40 people globally, who are traveling each week to go see clients. We see virtually every tribal casino in the United States, up to three times a year.

“We also communicate with gaming regulators constantly, and not only here in North America. We have a team dedicated to Latin America and the Caribbean, traveling to every country and meeting with operators and suppliers and testifying where laws are changing. We also have a team that travels throughout Asia-Pacific.”

GLI has done pre-regulatory work—consulting with new jurisdictions—from Saipan to Japan. In the U.S., the company recently consulted in the startups of gaming jurisdictions in Maryland and Massachusetts. “I would say we do 99.9 percent of all the consulting for new jurisdictions, on a technical basis,” Maida says. “We also have an anti-money laundering unit, and we bring in FinCEN and the Treasury Department (to help in consulting), especially in South America.

“We’ve been consulting the Mexican government for years. (Government Relations VP) Kevin Mullally and (Director of Latin America Government Relations and Business Development) Karen Sierra-Hughes have a special working relationship with governments in the Caribbean. Regulation isn’t just born in one big step; it’s a continual process. Look at Jamaica—a client of ours for more than 10 years, and now they have implemented a great deal of good, innovative regulation over the last year.”

Maida says each new jurisdiction has to be approached from a unique perspective.

“We realize each jurisdiction is unique and has its own culture, politics, policy goals, strengths and weaknesses,” he says. “Our job is to tailor a solution that specifically meets the needs of the jurisdiction rather than cutting and pasting policies from established jurisdictions that may not fit the situation.

“At the same time, we want to create global efficiencies that make it easier for suppliers and operators to conduct business on a global basis. It is hard work, but we have people that are uniquely qualified to do it, and our clients recognize that.”

Meanwhile, the company takes its customer road show everywhere to make sure GLI is providing customers what they need. “We’re in Macau, we’re in Singapore, we’re all throughout Australia and New Zealand,” Maida says. “In Europe, we have a dedicated team that travels from Ireland all the way through to Eastern Europe, meeting with suppliers and regulators.”

Educate and Inform

One of the most productive ways GLI keeps its finger on the pulse of all the various world jurisdictions it serves is by bringing all the regulators together for Regulators Roundtables, the popular educational events created under the banner of GLI University.

The main Regulators Roundtable event, which has been staged annually for more than 12 years, “started out as 35 people in a conference room in Colorado,” Maida says. “Last year, it was well in excess of 200 people in Las Vegas.”

It wasn’t long before GLI addressed the fact that regulators in many regions are under government travel restrictions or tight budgets. GLI University expanded to hold regional roundtables and seminars around the world. “Not only did we host our Regulators Roundtable in March of this year in Las Vegas, but we will be holding a Latin American and Caribbean roundtable in Curaçao, the third week of August,” says Maida. “We’re presenting a Midwest Regional Gaming Regulators Seminar for state regulators this month. That event currently has regulators registered from 12 states and many different tribal jurisdictions.

“For Australia, we’ll be working with the International Association of Gaming Regulators in Sydney in October. We partnered with the International Association of Gaming Advisors in Malta, in conjunction with the Gaming Regulators European Forum. Our goal is to host between four and seven of these events around the world every year.”

GLI University draws speakers from all over the world to conduct seminars for regulators on responsible gaming programs, new technology, network risk assessments, cybersecurity, mobile gaming, even eSports and daily fantasy sports. The agendas change with the issues. “We work hard to provide content that is current,” Maida says. “There are some core things that we do, like a new technology update, but the agenda changes depending on what’s happening in the industry.”

For instance, last year, GLI brought in people from the U.S. Treasury Department and the American Gaming Association to advise attendees on anti-money laundering issues that were the hot-button topic at the time. “We bring in the people who are experts, whether we’re talking about Brazil, Peru or the U.S.,” says Maida.

Future-Proof

GLI’s testing and assessment services have adapted to the changing industry perhaps more effectively than any other sector of the industry, and as a result, the company has been a major player in just about every big technological and regulatory change the casino business has seen since 1989.

The next few years promise to provide the company many more opportunities to be at the forefront of a new era in gaming.

The company already is in the thick of the worldwide online gaming industry, providing testing and consultation services in  mature iGaming jurisdictions in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. It has used this expertise to guide new iGaming jurisdictions in the U.S., from its New Jersey home base to Nevada, Delaware and, most recently, Pennsylvania.

GLI not only does all the game testing globally for iGaming jurisdictions, but in mature European online gaming markets, regularly checks the system security. “We do most of the security audits in Italy for all of the online sites,” Maida says, adding that GLI performs annual security audits for iGaming jurisdictions around the world.

“We are licensed to do that in Atlantic City, so we’re hoping we’ll be able to do security audits with the casinos there,” he says. “We not only do the annual assessments, but we also can perform network risk and cybersecurity audits. All those professional services that we can offer to land-based casinos, we actually offer to the online casinos as well.”

Online testing applies not only to the casino business, but to the worldwide lottery industry as well. As the casino and lottery worlds continue to converge, GLI is ready.

“For lotteries, we conduct a great deal of World Lottery Association audits,” Maida notes. “We’re the only lab in North America that can do a WLA audit for lotteries—not only for security controls assessment, but for responsible gaming controls. We run that as a completely separate division from our certification and testing.”

It’s one of the services provided by GLI’s Professional Services group, which was established in 2011 and has been expanding ever since. Its recently acquired Bulletproof group provides management oversight, software testing, quality assurance testing and other services. Maida says with the acquisition, GLI will further enhance its existing professional services capabilities to lotteries, regulators and operators.

Moving forward, GLI is ready to address the new casino world, from cybersecurity to skill games to eSports, daily fantasy sports and new payment technology for the casinos.

The latter is a natural progression for GLI, which was at the forefront of certification of payment technology from bill validators to ticket-in/ticket-out. “Now, we’re going to get to electronic cards or swipe technology as a way to transfer credits,” Maida says. “There are a lot of ways to make this industry more cashless. In our own lives, we have things like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and other mobile solutions. You don’t even have to have a wallet with you; you just carry around your phone, watch or other device.

“There are policy issues with all that, and I think regulators are looking at it. Because they see it in their daily lives, they’re all saying, ‘How might this apply to the casinos?’”

Asked to pick out the most significant new development facing the industry, Maida says he can’t even select one. “I pick out four or five things and watch them all at the same time,” he says, although the current legislative climate would suggest that internet gaming, daily fantasy sports and eSports will provide some of the near-term regulatory challenges to the industry.

Whatever the systems and devices that will be involved in the next era of gaming, GLI will be testing it. (“GLI is capable of testing everything we throw at them,” said one of the company’s long-term clients.) The company maintains its mastery of new gaming technologies by constantly adapting its own workforce to handle new developments.

“The really great thing about being a private company, and not having rules that government often has, is that we can hire people, and we are constantly in a state of hire,” Maida says. “And, as new technologies come on board, we adapt by hiring smart computer engineers, electrical engineers—we’re able to adjust our workforce by adding more and more skills.”

Maida adds that suppliers are “very open” with GLI with respect to new technologies. “They meet with us regularly ahead of anything that they’re going to do that’s a major technological shift, so we actually can see it, touch it, understand it, and then make sure we have the appropriate people to be ready when it comes in,” he says.

“At this moment we are working on new technology ideas that probably won’t be out for the next 18 months to two years, but we already know what we’ll need in terms of testing. And, we’ve been doing the same thing now for more than 27 years—talking to clients, knowing what their needs are going to be before they actually need it, and then making sure that we have the right team here to perform it.

“We work every day to make testing faster, more efficient and less expensive while never sacrificing quality. Our focus is on great customer service, integrity and delivering the best possible value.”

Frank Legato

Author: Frank Legato

Frank Legato is editor of Casino Connection and also editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the recently published book on gaming, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying.