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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Slots testers spread out in new lab

25 June 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Travis Foley is a happy man these days.

Foley, the newly promoted chief of the state Gaming Control Board's technology division, oversees the vital process of testing slot machines and other gaming technology, such as marketing and accounting systems for games.

A few weeks ago Foley moved most of his 50-member team into new digs near McCarran International Airport. The new laboratory is three times the size of the division's former home in the Sawyer State Office Building. Besides its new car smell, the slot lab has more than enough space to accommodate the flood of new systems and games vetted for Nevada's casinos.

Like smog testers in a cramped garage, engineers in the old space dragged around diagnostic computer systems, tripped over power cords and bumped into slot machines stuffed in every available nook and cranny. The cluttered space reflected a sometimes disorganized testing process that has been rectified in recent years by improving communication between regulators and manufacturers.

More space and more people (the state has filled about half of its nearly dozen new auditing and engineering positions) have speeded up the testing process for accounting systems, which can take months. The vetting process for new game titles is about a month.

"Our setup time is so much faster," Foley said.

He succeeds Joe Bertolone, a former Silicon Valley management consultant who left his state job for Walker Digital, a Connecticut research and patent lab that's developing products for International Game Technology, a minority owner.

The former lab was so small that engineers had difficulty setting up banks of games used to test new slot systems - software used to keep track of transactions for tax purposes and market to gamblers, Foley said. The state-of-the-art facility also allows engineers to channel power - neatly tucked behind ceiling panels and column supports - to the devices.

Compact discs containing source code for new games and systems are securely stored in a locked room. Another room houses a newly formed criminal investigations team of computer forensics experts from the board's investigation, corporate security, enforcement and technology divisions. The team has specialized equipment that can extract information from computers to assist in investigations, of both the licensing background check and criminal variety.

"We didn't have the space - or the funding - to do this before," Foley said.

What else makes Foley happy?

Conference rooms to discuss technology and testing progress with manufacturers (versus stealing time in cramped office space) and pallet lifts to move around the heaviest machines, which beats waiting for the manufacturers to do it themselves.

"We want to make sure we can keep up with new technology over the next five to 10 years," he said.