The recent round of headlines alleging that defects in a slot machine in Missouri resulted in insufficient payouts is a fresh reminder of the ongoing public scrutiny our industry faces over the fairness and operability of electronic gaming devices. As anyone who works in this industry knows, these concerns could not be more unfounded. Like every other aspect of our industry, development and maintenance of electronic gaming devices is highly regulated. But what exactly is involved in this process to ensure the integrity of our games?
Every slot machine produced must be licensed in a given gaming jurisdiction before it ever hits the casino floor, meaning every component of each machine in operation is put through a lengthy series of technical compliance tests to ensure fair play. Once the machine is licensed and placed on the floor, continuous checkups ensure it continues to operate properly.
Slot machines were not always so well regulated. When Charles Fey introduced the first coin-operated slot machines to the San Francisco saloon culture in the late 1890s, cheating on the machines was commonplace. Consisting of little more than three reels, a pay-out schedule, coin acceptor and giant pull handle, it was easy for players to tamper with the mechanics of the device to manipulate a winning outcome.
With the introduction of electronic slots in the 1960s, regulation of the increasingly complex devices evolved, a trend that continued as video slots and video poker machines gained acceptance and popularity in the mid-1980s. Today, the regulation of slot machines relies on a complex and integrated process that involves the cooperation of manufacturers, regulators, testing laboratories and casino properties to keep every game on the casino floor operating properly—and fairly.
Before an electronic gaming device ever makes it to the casino floor, manufacturers must submit the game for licensing and verification by the regulatory body governing the jurisdiction where the game will be placed. Since each gaming jurisdiction individually oversees the verification and licensing of the games in its casinos, slot manufacturers must often submit a single game for approval in as many as 240 separate international licensing jurisdictions.
While administered separately, most gaming jurisdictions follow a similar process to ensure the integrity of its electronic gaming devices. It is instructive to examine these licensing processes to highlight just how much the gaming community is doing to ensure that gaming patrons are treated fairly each time they place a coin or ticket in a slot machine at one of our properties.
While some gaming regulators include a game testing laboratory within their organization, others contract with independent testing laboratories to test the compliance and operability of gaming machines that will eventually be placed on the casino floors throughout the state.
Gaming manufacturers are required to submit for testing anything that will appear on the casino floor. When a manufacturer submits a game, lab analysts, engineers and statisticians conduct a sophisticated mathematical analysis and check the game against their own exacting system of compliance standards, as well as against the manufacturers’ standards of operability and the specific standards of the jurisdiction where the game will be placed. This testing ensures the fairness of the game, making sure payout and other functions are all operating within regulation.
The comprehensive testing covers every aspect of the game, from its individual components to the operating systems that support it. This includes tests of bill validators, coin acceptors, coin hoppers, progressive game components, electronic funds transfer systems and more. That means that for every machine on the floor, every aspect of the game and its accounting system, software and other support systems have been tested and retested to ensure proper operation. If problems are identified during the testing process, the game is sent back to the manufacturer for adjustment, then resubmitted for new testing.
Individual gaming regulatory bodies also employ a complex system to ensure that slot machines cannot be tampered with. Once the computer chips that govern the memory and operations of the machine are approved in the lab, each is assigned a unique signature. Regulators utilize a device to verify the chips’ signatures. Many regulators then seal the chips to the slot’s internal control board with special tape or seals. The board is then locked into a separate compartment within the device, which is also sealed by regulators. Only regulators are permitted to break the seals.
The compliance process doesn’t end when the slot machines reach the floor. Casino operators are required to submit to the regulatory agencies detailed reports of machine payouts and other operations, which are verified against regulatory standards. Regulatory compliance auditors also frequent casino properties to test the games on-site. If any of these reports or ongoing lab tests reveals a problem with any aspect of a game, operators are notified and required to remove the machine from the floor or correct the malfunction within a given amount of time, according to the severity of the problem.
This merely touches on the complex and coordinated systems that go into making sure our products are as fair as possible. We take pride in the integrity of our games. Our customers can take comfort in knowing the regulation of our industry ensures their entertainment dollars are being spent on games that are tested and can be trusted.
Special thanks to Ed Rogich, vice president of marketing at IGT, and Clarence Greeno of the Missouri Gaming Commission for their assistance with this editorial.