New Slot Games At Mercy Of Understaffed Lab

Terry Bliss is typical of the slot players who visit coast casinos.

"I have favorite machines," the Ocean Springs woman said as she sat in front of a new Monopoly Money slot machine.

"I don't know which one is hot. If they pay me, they're hot. Then I play," she laughed.

The hot slot machines are often the one's with innovative technology. They're developed by companies such as WMS Gaming. Ron Dinula is the company's vice president of gaming operations.

"Getting the games on the floor is certainly important to us," he said while introducing the new Monopoly game at Grand Casino Biloxi. "Getting them out there quick enough is very important to us as well."

But in Mississippi, slot manufacturers had a tough time getting their new bells and whistles quickly approved. High tech slot innovations overwhelmed a short staffed gaming lab.

Part of the staffing problem at the state gaming lab is based on the fact that it doesn't have a director right now. And more problems surfaced when one of its technicians lost his job because of a drug arrest. The understaffed lab couldn't keep up with the slot industry's technological advances.

"We were concerned," Mississippi Gaming Commission spokesperson Leigh Ann Wilkins said, "because we want our casinos to have the latest slots on the floor."

According to casino slot director Robert Williams, the struggles at the lab often put Mississippi casinos at a competitive disadvantage.

"It's made it a little bit difficult," he said. "The gaming business is very competitive. And like with anything, the first one to the market usually has the most advantages."

As Wilkins said, the gaming commission was concerned about the lengthy delays involved in approving many of these games. That's why it temporarily changed its rules, so authorized outside groups could sign off on this technology.

In an October 19 letter to the industry, the gaming commission's executive director wrote that his agency was "authorizing the use of independent test laboratories to perform evaluations on slot machines. Our intentions for utilizing ITLs ar to relieve some of the increased workload on the MGC Laboratory and accelerate the submission and review process."

The independent labs must be certified by the state before they can test Mississippi slot machines.

Williams was encouraged about the change.

"We're hoping that it will speed up the approval process," he said, "that we will start seeing new games, new models, new platforms coming out a lot quicker into the market."

Terry Bliss loves the new games -- especially the ones that ring loudly when she hits the jackpot.

"Whatever pays me," she said with a smile on her face.

Seconds later, a cherry appeared on her machine. And Bliss won a few quarters.