Incredibly innovative gaming solutions.

Connecting the Dots – Part I

A first glimpse of networked gaming

by Russ Ristine

Note: This article originally appeared in the May 1, 2009 issue of Slot Manager magazine.

Casinos will soon undergo an incredible technology transformation, and everyone you talk to is burying you in acronyms (G2S, GSA, TCP/IP, SSL, sb, DFC, BIG, etc.). You’re not really sure why you need server-based gaming or remote configuration of your slot machines, or if these features will really justify the cost of this new network infrastructure.

Maybe you’re operating a “locals joint,” and you’re pretty sure your players won’t go for pay tables and bet denominations automatically changing if it means they can no longer find their favorite games. Or maybe you’re running a large casino that is under constant pressure to innovate. In either case, the technology decisions you make now will have implications for years to come in terms of cost and your casino’s ability to offer the latest in gaming technology to its customers. You need to get a handle on G2S and this emerging networked gaming environment as soon as you can so you can make informed decisions that will affect the future of your property for years to come.

This series of articles is designed to provide you with the information you need to understand the possibilities and technologies of this new world, giving you the straight scoop in easy-to-understand bites – with as few acronyms as possible. Unfortunately, there are some you’ll just need to learn because they’re an integral part of the new technology.

This first article outlines some of the benefits that you get when you move to a high-speed, Internet-style network to communicate with your electronic gaming machines (EGMs). In future articles, we will walk you through many of the benefits of the Gaming Standards Association’s Game-to-System (G2S) protocol, give you examples of how it can be implemented, discuss the basics of networking and security (with some help from my friends), and finally, we’ll talk a bit about Internet features that may soon be appearing on gaming floors (in hopes of getting your creative juices flowing).

First, the technologies that are involved in implementing G2S on your slot floor:

  • The G2S messaging protocol – G2S is the new Web-service-based game-to-system messaging protocol, created by Gaming Standards Association members to define communications between an EGM and multiple servers. Most of the EGM and system manufacturers have been actively involved over much of the last 10 years to make sure that they understood this new protocol and to make sure that their current and emerging needs will be handled by G2S.
  • The Internet – we’ve all used the Internet. Most of us don’t really understand or care how it works exactly, but we’ve all been amazed by the developments and fascinating new features that have appeared in our various browsers over the last 10 to 15 years. The technology used to connect you to all of the web sites in the world is the same networking technology that will soon be used to connect your EGMs to servers in your casino.

What this means for your slot floor

More speed to every EGM – Speed is always good. I’ve never had a PC that is too fast, nor have I had a connection to the Internet that was fast enough. In this new world, each EGM gets a connection to the network that is at least 10 to 15 times faster than the DSL or cable modem connection you are using at home. This is similar to upgrading a walking path to a modern highway – you immediately benefit because there is a lot more capacity to move a lot more stuff, at much faster speeds. You will be able to stream audio and video to each EGM, download programs, remotely configure EGMs, provide your players with shared gaming experiences, and take advantage of many other advances we don’t even imagine today.

The caveat? Your network must be designed to handle this new world. The good news is that, since this is a standard high-speed network using standard technologies, you can get competitive bids from several companies that specialize in network engineering to make sure that your network is the best available. In a few years, when hundreds of new applications are being developed every year, it would be most disheartening to have to rebuild your slot floor network because you took some shortcuts the first time around.

Internet technology on your gaming floor

G2S was developed to work with off-the-shelf technologies. In fact, the G2S Technical Committee Charter requires that the G2S protocol “use commonly accepted computer industry standards whenever possible.” The result of this requirement is that you can now easily connect an EGM, through the Internet, to a system located hundreds (or thousands) of miles away, as long as both EGM and system are speaking G2S. You can even use SSL (security certificates that encrypt the conversation) in the same way it is used for business transactions on Web sites.

What you will have on your casino floor will more likely be an Intranet, which is a secure private computer network that uses Internet technologies. However, since the underlying technology is the same, innovation in this space will happen at an incredible rate, using commonly available tools from the Internet space to build incredible new applications for your casino.

G2S for all

G2S handles every gaming-related activity that occurs at an EGM, so it can do everything you are currently doing and much more. Accounting, vouchers, electronic money transfers, bonusing, progressives, and player-related transactions are the normal messages used on your floor. Add to this the ability to configure EGMs (and their peripherals) from your desk, manage the download of new software modules, print anything you want on an EGM’s printer, and access the data locked inside of the EGM whenever and wherever you want to, and you start to see the possibilities. Of course, all of this runs over that incredibly secure high-speed network.

Multiple servers per gaming device

Today, your computer’s browser can connect to any Web server on the Internet, but the EGMs on your gaming floor can only talk to one server. When an EGM can talk to multiple servers, you will have more choices from many vendors, resulting in incredible innovation on casino floors. G2S allows each EGM to communicate with as many servers as needed – all under your control.

With G2S, when you go to a gaming show and see a wonderful new feature that would be just perfect for your casino, you can try it out first. Simply set up a server with a trial version of the application and configure the participating EGMs (from your desk) to talk to that new server. Now, you can see how your players respond to the feature before rolling it out on your entire floor. As long as the EGMs and the new server talk G2S, it should be that easy.

Much better security

As mentioned before, the new network will use SSL. This is the same technology as is used for banking transactions on the Internet. The messages between EGMs and host, software downloads, and other standard operations will all be conveyed securely using SSL.

G2S adds the ability to ensure that your EGMs are properly configured.You can verify that the digital signatures of the software are correct and track of which version of software is being used in all of the devices in each EGM. Most importantly, you can control exactly which servers each EGM talks to and which EGM features they are allowed to monitor or control. Finally, to make sure that everything is extra safe, your network engineers can include network security features in your new network that will not allow any EGM or server to communicate on your network unless it is granted access.

This new high-speed off-the-shelf network – using G2S – will provide more choices for your casino. All games and systems communicating through G2S will speak the same language, regardless of vendor. No go-betweens. No gum and paperclips required for making products from multiple vendors work together (and no finger-pointing if they don’t). All of the thinking has been done. All of the major manufacturers are moving forward with implementing G2S.

A new casino opening at the end of this year is requiring that all EGM manufacturers have a G2S solution in order to place EGMs on their floor (not unlike the approach Barona Valley Ranch Resort and Casino took in 2000 to kick-start ticketing). The good news for the rest of the slot managers in the world? You no longer have to worry about being first.

The future is coming toward you at Internet speed. Make sure you’re ready.

Read Connecting the Dots – Part II