Cornell Balagot: Influencing the Industry

In an industry where duration often equals impact, it’s surprising that one man can have such an influence in a short six-year span, yet Cornell Balagot has done just that. As the product development manager for the Oregon Lottery, Balagot came to the gaming industry after spending more than 30 years in telecommunications. Through his work at the Oregon Lottery and with the Gaming Standards Association (GSA), Balagot has played a large role in driving open standards in the lottery industry. Though he retired on June 29, the industry will continue to feel the influence of his time spent there.

Balagot held managerial positions in the product management function at manufacturing companies selling products to service providers such as Verizon and AT&T. After living on the East Coast for 13 years, he decided to move back to the West Coast. He’s originally from San Jose, Calif., but instead of moving back to California, decided to move to Oregon without a job prospect. “The need to work forced me to consider different industries,” he said. “The lottery position seemed like a fit, and over the recruitment process, the hiring manager decided my background and experience addresses the Lottery’s business objectives. More than six years later, I am influencing Oregon’s business and the gaming industry in a positive fashion.”

The influence he mentioned has certainly been significant, as he’s become a well-known committee chair and participant in the GSA. In fact, GSA President Peter DeRaedt had nothing but praise for Balagot’s efforts. “I do believe he’s played an instrumental role in driving standardization in the lottery industry,” DeRaedt said. “He has been instrumental in evangelizing the benefits of open standards in the lottery industry.”

One notable endeavor DeRaedt mentioned was that of Balagot’s involvement between the Canadian gaming operators and the GSA. Because of the similarities between Oregon’s and Canada’s wide area network communications system models, it was a natural fit for the two organizations to work together.

“As an Operators Advisory Committee (OAC) advocate, I helped to increase membership and awareness of the GSA and OAC by promoting the benefits of the GSA to several Canadian gaming operators, and trade organizations such as NASPL and LaFleurs,” Balagot said. “This year, Oregon increased its membership level to Gold, which allowed me to run and be elected as chair of the OAC.”

His work as the chair of the OAC was also something DeRaedt called attention to, saying that he did a great job in a very important role within GSA. The committee facilitates collaboration between GSA member operators and manufacturers and system providers, focusing on functional requirements to ensure that GSA standards are meeting market demands.

Balagot brought his background in telecommunications to his efforts in the OAC chairman position. “The chair position gave me the ability to influence the growth and maturity of GSA and the gaming industry in the areas of product standardization and integration of products and systems,” he said. “It is important for the gaming industry to embrace standardization because the evolution of gaming products is dependent on technology. Innovation in the telecommunications industry resulted in technology advances that enabled enhanced services to consumers. In the telecom industry, products are designed to standards, which results in multi-vendor compatibility, quick to market products and industry growth. The gaming industry needs to adopt a similar business model.”

Another thing Balagot sees a need for in the industry is the further integration of mobile phones and tablets into gaming. He notes that in Oregon, player observations show that while a machine initially attracts a player, an enjoyable playing experience is what generates sales over time.

“Today, mobile phones and tablets are products that can enhance gaming,” he said. “In the future, products using smartphone and tablet technology still to be invented will drive gaming. We’re trying to appeal to the millennial demographic. Those people don’t embrace slot machines and VLTs like the current player base. If we’re going to survive as an industry, what we’re going to have to do is provide these entertainment features for wagering that a younger player would be more inclined to play.”

He also mentions the opportunity that the GSA has in this market, pointing out the importance of integration between the back-end mobile and Internet gaming systems and traditional brick-and-mortar systems. “Gaming product of the future must be designed to the standards and guidelines defined by GSA,” he said. “Right now, a lot of the mobile and Internet gaming systems are deploying leading-edge technology. Gaming technology relies on more traditional protocols, and these are hard to connect.”

Balagot was heavily engaged with a group of operator members who helped to define business requirements, resulting in the following GSA initiatives: G2S protocols to support WAN operations; the Informed Player Class; S2S interfaces between brick-and-mortar systems and Internet gaming systems; the need for GSA certification and interoperability between supplier products; and the player-user interface.

Through Balagot’s influence in the lottery operator collaboration in the GSA, he says they’ve been able to significantly influence the way industry suppliers view lottery operators, offering the following example: “As an operator, Oregon believes in a multi-vendor VLT network in order to provide its players with a diverse selection of gaming experiences. Compatibility between products is crucial for this business model to work. For example, several years ago a major manufacturer introduced a feature for slots that allows a casino operator to interact with directly with a player on the slot’s game screen. The feature offered multiple ways to interact with a player and to market services. Soon after this introduction, other gaming vendors introduced their versions of the application. The problem this caused operators was that each vendor’s product was incompatible with other supplier products offering the same feature. Recognizing this dilemma, OAC members identified how we wanted the feature to work and developed requirements for a Player User Interface. Over a period of about two years, working with the GSA resulted in an industry guideline that’s been accepted by the supplier community.”

Balagot says that he has a few things planned post-retirement, including some trips, and giving back to his community through volunteer work. He also plans to spend some time adapting to a significant lifestyle change, sharing that he’s heard from retirees that they have less time to pursue their interests than when they were working because of commitments made.

After a period of time, he says he would like to stay engaged in the gaming industry in a consultative capacity, and the industry would be happy to welcome him back.

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