Inside look: Pennsylvania gaming regulators’ testing lab
There's a hidden casino of sorts hidden away behind three closed and locked doors on the top floor of an ordinary office building. It is a place where only a select few can play.
Every game and accessory in use can be found in these Pennsylvania casinos, albeit the machines are typically silent and give out money that the operators are unable to keep. It's the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board's testing facility.
All games and equipment must go through this process to get approved by the board and ensure compliance with the state's regulations regarding gaming integrity. The majority of the 16 workers at the Strawberry Square-based gaming laboratory spend their days investigating the intricate mathematics and engineering of various gaming machines, including slot machines, table games, sports wagering, VGTS, iGaming, card shufflers, and player ticket redemption kiosks.
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board laboratory in Harrisburg is where casino games of chance are displayed. There, the devices are put through testing to guarantee the reliability and integrity of the machines used in licensed establishments.
Standing in the crowded room where machines, some disassembled and some intact, sit in rows like a casino floor sans chairs and fancy decor, Heather Worner, director of the gaming lab, said, “The main purpose of all this in here is to test to make sure all the equipment is meeting all the laws, regulations, the technical standards.”
The manufacturer provides a permanent loan of all of the lab's hardware, gaming software, and testing supplies. As a result, statisticians and engineers may fix issues with machines or software in the lab by simulating the problem and coming up with a solution without needing to visit the location where the issue happened.
Approval of new games takes up much of the time for the lab workers. They are receiving 130 new game entries a month on average this year. The engineering group's manager of the gaming lab, Mark Dinse, stated that 1,800 permits were granted over the entire previous year.
According to Doug Harbach, a spokesman for the gaming regulatory board, the game producers provide the lion's share of the funds needed to run the gaming lab. They pay the agency back for the time that staff members spend using their tools. He stated that the remaining agency operating expenses are covered by the casinos.
What occurs in the lab is kept in the lab
The workers at the lab, who test every part of what powers the machines and how they function, are privy to all information regarding casino games and equipment.
The first step in the clearance procedure is a mathematical examination of the game to make sure it complies with state regulations, such as ensuring that its theoretical payback is between 85% and 100%, over millions of spins.
The games are then given to Dinse's engineering team. There, the team essentially ensures that the game's written description and its actual gameplay correspond. For instance, the engineering team ensures that a slot machine spin that displays three sevens pays $100 when the paytable advertises that it pays $100.
They ensure that the results are always arbitrary and that responsible gaming safeguards are in place to prevent players from becoming compulsive gamblers in an attempt to win large sums of money. They check that the data on the machines' assistance screen is accurate and not deceptive, among other things.
The state's casinos are not permitted to use games or equipment that doesn't adhere to its criteria.
Assuring that the gaming software communicates to the state's central computer system, which counts the money from the 27,000 games that are playable, is one of the lab's most crucial tasks.
According to state officials, two-thirds of the money made from casinos and online slot machines is used to lower general property taxes and, in Philadelphia, wage taxes. The horse racing business in the state is also sustained by gaming money.
Inventiveness keeps the work engaging
The majority of the work done by the lab is completed internally, although some, like the more laborious parts of game reviews, are outsourced to an independent testing lab that has been approved by the state. This allows the employees of the lab to concentrate on subtleties in games that fit into any ambiguities in the state regulations that were drafted almost twenty years ago.
When Dinse reveals his workplace, some people mistakenly believe he works for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. He clarifies that he works with casino games, not animals, as an employee of the gaming control board.
Employees of the Gaming Control Board are only allowed to play games in the lab because they are not allowed to play any games that are licensed in Pennsylvania in any casino elsewhere in the world.
“Not just fun and games: State’s testing lab for casino machines ensures fair play is no roll of the dice” , Jan Murphy, altoonamirror.com, November 28, 2023.