The Gaming Standards Association (GSA) is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Over those two decades, and through the efforts of volunteers from its member companies, GSA has created gaming industry standards that are being used world- wide. However, even as GSA standards are being mandated by regulatory authorities in many countries, utilization in the United States has stagnated.
As part of its 20th anniversary activities, GSA has launched a casino operator educational campaign, aimed at reintroducing GSA standards to operators and with a goal of reinvigorating adoption and utilization.
This campaign started with a roundtable discussion with a small number of current and former casino operators, and a candid discussion of the issues and challenges that they faced—and an equally candid review of whether GSA standards could help address them. The meeting was eye-opening, and all participants agreed that GSA needed to do more to educate operators—and not just slot operations, but also IT and marketing—on the value they could derive from GSA standards.
A second, larger roundtable was held a few months later with operators from around the U.S. The discussion focused predominantly on the game to system (G2S) protocol that connects electronic gaming machines (EGMs) to casino management systems (CMS). As the meeting progressed, it became clear that operators had very little information of how G2S could be deployed, which suppliers had implemented G2S, and how IT and marketing could also benefit from a G2S-based slot floor.
As a result of these meetings, GSA interviewed operators in North America who had deployed G2S to understand from their perspective why G2S was better, whether it had addressed operational needs, and what impediments they encountered as they sought to implement G2S. These very candid interviews provided incredible insights, which GSA is now planning to share with other operators.
GSA learned that the operators implementing G2S had very successful conversions, and that in their words, the technology was solid and, both on the CMS and EGM side, things had never been as stable as they are now. As expected, these operators were taking advantage of the additional EGM data that G2S enables and which other protocols do not. Equally important, they have a greater level of transparency of the data being communicated between the EGM and CMS. Simple but time-consuming tasks, like progressive reconciliations, are now automated through G2S with greater accuracy and with minimal labor expense.
Some of the operators had implemented peripheral devices using the GSA Game Device Standard (GDS). One of the functions enabled by GDS is the ability to download bill validator and printer firmware. This one capability was providing significant operational benefits and helping to eliminate regulatory and operational risk by quickly and accurately replacing obsolete or revoked firmware. As one operator put it, the operational efficiencies resulting from the use of G2S and GDS were saving them millions of dollars across their organization.
The marketing groups of operators deploying the Player User Interface (PUI) picture-in-picture on-screen player messaging functionality were also seeing significant benefits. This functionality has improved player communication and expedited the delivery of marketing messages via the EGM’s main screen. Now campaigns could be created and deployed quickly across the casino floor.
The information technology groups were also seeing benefits from operating a truly networked floor. As one operator said, “The networked slot floor needs to be managed by IT while the purchasing, pricing and placement (and operational) decisions are still made by slots.” IT can use the same tools and processes to manage the slot floor network, improving security and operational uptime.
IT has also been instrumental in automating tasks that can help troubleshoot individual EGM connectivity to CMS, and in many cases being able to remotely resolve those issues in minutes instead of hours. Additionally, they have been able to extract data that can only be provided by the G2S protocol, providing it to slot analysts for more complete analytical capabilities.
This is just a small sample of the benefits that the operators shared with GSA. However, they also spoke of the challenges they had in deploying G2S. The challenges can be broadly categorized into knowledge and interoperability buckets.
Learning the Ropes
Operators described the lack of knowledge their suppliers’ sales staffs had with regards to G2S. In some cases, sales staff had no idea that their companies were selling EGMs using G2S in other jurisdictions. Operators tend to let suppliers drive the technology-related decisions because slot operators tend to operate in silos, and the knowledge and expertise of other groups such as IT and marketing is often not considered.
Perhaps most significantly, and applicable to both operators and supplier sales staff, is that “they don’t know what they don’t know.” The lack of knowledge with regards to GSA standards, where they have been implemented, by whom and what the benefits are, is staggering, and is creating, as one GSA staffer calls it, “a technology backwater” in parts of the U.S.
Interoperability challenges stem from the fact that the industry has not adopted a single tool to ensure that, for example, G2S implementations are identical on the EGM and CMS sides and across suppliers. The result is that differences in the implementations cause interoperability issues.
These are most frequently addressed by tweaking the EGM programming to work with a specific CMS. However, the result is that there are several “unique” EGM G2S operating system versions instead of a single standard. The fact that GSA has created a Certification and Validation Tool (CVT) is largely unknown to operators.
In addition, suppliers seeking competitive advantages are enhancing G2S and creating proprietary extensions which are protected via non-disclosure agreements. These extensions, while innovative and adding value, are counter to the idea of a standard.
It was clear from the information provided by operators using GSA standards that these standards are providing an extremely compelling value proposition that is by far exceeding even their own initial expectations. These operators, working in conjunction with other groups within their organizations, see the value for the organization, and not just slot operations.
The lack of knowledge is a significant barrier to adoption of GSA standards. Operators who do make the decision to implement G2S-based products, but who do not demand that G2S products be tested via the CVT to ensure sameness, run into interoperability issues. Suppliers’ sales staffs are focused on selling the EGMs that have the best math, that are exceeding “house average” and are not at all equipped to discuss technology.
In conclusion, for operators to leverage their investment, they need to learn and to be part of the only organization that is working on furthering innovation and transparency and seeking to create change that will benefit the operators (industry domain) as well as the regulators (policy domain).
Mark Pace has over 35 years of gaming industry experience, mostly with Harrah’s Entertainment properties and corporate. He later joined WMS Gaming and then Scientific Games after the acquisition of WMS. After 12 years with WMS/Scientific Games, he formally joined the Gaming Standards Association as the managing director of GSA Europe in 2017. Pace has spent more than a decade working with GSA, and divides his time between Europe, working with the European Committee for Standardization, and the U.S. working with regulatory authorities and operators to further standards in the gaming industry.