Game on as DIA hooks up 20,000 pokies ahead of schedule

EMS will monitor how much money is gambled on each machine; what each machine pays out to gamblers and how much should be banked

The Department of Internal Affairs has hooked-up over 20,000 gaming machines to an electronic monitoring system ahead of schedule, allowing for better and less time-consuming pokie check-ups.

The Gambling Act 2003 required all non-casino gaming machines, or pokies, to be hooked up to an electronic monitoring system (EMS) by March 19, 2007. The DIA completed the compliance project ahead of schedule, connecting 20,289 gaming machines, in 1,613 venues, to the system, hooking up the last venue on the March 9.

Machines in New Zealand’s six casinos are already connected to a monitoring system.

“To the department’s knowledge, this is the largest number of gaming machines to be connected to a single system anywhere,” says Keith Manch, internal affairs deputy secretary of regulation and compliance.

Most electronic monitoring systems are rolled out when gaming machines are introduced to a jurisdiction, and few jurisdictions have attempted to introduce monitoring into existing gaming-machine venues, he says.

EMS is also the largest CDMA-based “private” network in New Zealand, he adds.

EMS will monitor how much money is gambled on each machine; what each machine pays out to gamblers and how much money should be banked, says Manch.

The system will also make sure that the software on the machines is identical to the approved versions, and it can detect tampering with the software or the machine, he says.

EMS collects, store and processes information on every machine, but it will also be used for remote control of machines.

“If a gaming machine reports an incorrect increment or software malfunction then the system will automatically disable it,” says Manch. Intralot New Zealand, a subsidiary of Greece-based Intralot, was selected to implement and operate EMS. The six-year deal, which was inked in 2003, should generate $35 million in revenue. Intralot has installed all the on-site equipment, the central processing system and operates the helpdesk. The project also involved building an interface between Intralot and the DIA’s systems, as well as upgrading DIA’s licensing and financial systems, says Manch. The gaming machines connect to site controllers via fibre-optic cabling. The site controllers collect data from all connected machines and send it to the EMS host system, which is in Wellington, using a standard protocol for communication with gaming machines called the QCOM protocol. This was developed by the Queensland Office of Gaming Regulation, says Manch. QCOM allows for configuration of gaming machines, confirmation of software and disconnection of gaming machines, he says. A secure VPN connects all the site-controllers to the EMS host system. This is a managed network which uses a dedicated wireless connection to the site controller, via a router at the site, says Manch. Venues and societies can access information from the EMS reporting website, which also provides daily statistics and accounting reports, both to the DIA and to the venues. EMS replaces the time-consuming manual collection of data, says Manch. The manual system involved daily check-ups of jackpot system information and weekly calculations of profits on a per-machine and per-venue basis, he says. It also involved periodically reconciling the cash float maintained by venues and carrying out a full reconciliation for each gaming machine operated every month, he says.

The DIA will publish data from EMS in its quarterly gambling licensing statistics, starting with the period ending 30 June, says Manch.

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