Faces of Gaming: Tom Jingoli — From gaming enforcement agent to COO of Konami Gaming

August 26, 2023 3:25 PM
  • Tom Osiecki — CDC Gaming Reports and Raving Partner
August 26, 2023 3:25 PM
  • Tom Osiecki — CDC Gaming Reports and Raving Partner

As a young man, Tom Jingoli thought he was headed for a career in the family construction business. Instead, his life took a path from gaming enforcement and compliance to operating one of the largest gaming manufacturing companies in the world.

Story continues below

His path has been as unique as it has been remarkable.

Konami Gaming, Inc.’s Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, and member of the board of directors, Thomas A. Jingoli has been with the company since June 2003. He directs and coordinates company activities domestically and abroad, spanning its sales, marketing, technical and regulatory compliance, customer service, facilities, security, and human-resources departments, in addition to overseeing finance and accounting and research and development.

Working with other senior management, Jingoli provides strategic leadership for Konami by establishing long-range targets, outlooks, plans, and policies to achieve annual fiscal goals and results. As executive leader of compliance for Konami Gaming, Inc. and Konami Australia Pty Ltd, he ensures the company is compliant with gaming laws in all jurisdictions in which the company currently conducts business. He also serves as the liaison between Konami Gaming, Inc., and Konami Group Corporation on matters such as licensing, SEC filings, and legal issues.

Jersey Shore to gaming agent

“I grew up in an Italian family in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. We had a family construction business and I thought I’d go into that. We had a summer home on Long Beach island. I spent my summers down at the Jersey Shore doing odds-and-ends jobs. Probably the best job I ever had was a sanitation engineer (garbage man) for the summer in Beach Haven with my friends, which was a blast.

“Going into my college junior year, I came home at Christmas and my father said, “You’ll do something different this summer. We got you an internship at the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE).” And I’m like, geez, am I gonna put trout in the ponds or something? I didn’t know what it was.

“We had a family friend, Bill McElroy, who was the chief at the DGE at the time. I went to work for him and that was my initial exposure to the gaming industry. In fall of 1990 after I graduated from Bethany College in West Virginia, Bill called me up and said, ‘Listen, we’re going to have some open positions if you’d be interested.”

“I was in the CLS, the Casino Licensing Section. We were responsible for doing the backgrounds of the companies and key employees. I had some pretty interesting investigations. I started out on the Trump units. I spent a good deal of my time in New York, doing background checks on Trump executives there and in Atlantic City.

“During my four years, I was exposed to two key people who had an important influence on my career, Dennis Gomes and Shannon Bybee. Both are no longer with us, but they were both affiliated with UNLV and the hotel program. That’s how I went from the DGE to the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration, where I received a master’s degree in hotel administration.”

Jingoli is a longtime supporter of UNLV and has served on the university’s Board of Trustees.

From College to Konami

“After I graduated from UNLV, I worked in compliance at Station Casinos for a couple of years for John Pasqualotto, the senior vice president of regulatory compliance. Now, John serves as outside member of the Compliance Committee here at Konami, so it’s full circle,” Jingoli said.

“I joined Konami in 2003. We’re a subsidiary of Konami Group Corporation, a publicly traded Japanese conglomerate founded by Kagemasa Kozuki in 1969. We’re one of the leading slot and system providers in the world.

“Steve Sutherland, now our CEO, hired me as the director of compliance, because of my background and a reference from Konami’s gaming attorney Anthony Cabot. I was brought in to grow our portfolio and the compliance department. Konami has grown organically. Our industry went through a period of mergers and acquisitions. We stayed out of that and built the business from the ground up.

“When I first started, we had 30 or 40 employees. We were in a little facility on an industrial road. Now we’re in this wonderful half-million-square-foot facility. We probably had twenty licenses worldwide. Now we hold over three hundred licenses worldwide.

Compliance before Commerce

The pathway from compliance to chief operating officer of a worldwide company is rare. I asked Jingoli what he believes made that happen.

“That’s a fair question. When I started, we didn’t have that many employees, so we were all doing different roles. I learned the whole business that way. And I’ve always had a pretty outgoing personality, the ability to meet people and sit down face to face.

“Also, compliance exposes you to all the different departments in a company, from the manufacturing to the casino sides. We have a motto, “Compliance before Commerce,” that resonates throughout our entire organization.

“In the gaming space, employees are the most valuable asset for sure, along with patents and games. If you don’t have a good regulatory environment to work in, it’s impossible to succeed in this space. We put an extremely high value on regulatory compliance.”

I wondered if there are any differences working for a Japanese company.

‘We’re a subsidiary of a publicly traded company. Certain departments, like mine, interact with the parent company. For the balance of the organization, most don’t have a lot of interaction. A handful of us have to do things a certain way. But not in a way that is a hindrance to the business. It’s a definite advantage for us to have such a significant and successful parent company supporting us.”

Hiring on the supplier side

One of the hot buttons for casinos has been the changing nature of hiring and retaining people. I asked what it was like on the supply side.

“In the last six months, we’ve starting to see some movement in hiring. We’ve taken an aggressive approach and we want people back in the office. We were probably one of the first companies to mandate people being back in the office.

“Certainly, we had to implement flex schedules and things of that nature. But when it comes down to our business, we can’t build or test slot machines remotely. Certain departments just cannot work remotely. We thought it was important to get everybody back in the building.

“When it comes to collaboration to develop slot machines and certain gaming devices, we feel you need to be in a room together. We’re starting to see encouraging signs of people wanting to get back to work in an office environment.”

Future of Konami

I asked Jingoli where he sees the future of Konami.

“We’ve been laser focused on Class III video slots and our casino-management system. During the pandemic, we acquired a small Class II company in North Carolina. We’re trying to get into some verticals that we haven’t been in, such as Class II VLTs and historical horse racing, to try and diversify some portfolios.

“Certainly, the systems business is evolving. SYNKROS is a first-class casino-management system. We have significantly grown our footprint over the last two and a half years. At G2E, you’ll see more of a diversified platform on both systems and games than you’ve seen from Konami in years past,” Jingoli declared.

I asked what sets the Konami SYNKROS system apart.

“One thing we focus on is continually advancing SYNKROS customers to the latest version. We try to keep customers on the same two or three versions. That allows us to do upgrades without having to worry about so many different versions. By doing that, we can roll out advanced technology to everybody.

“I tell this story that we have Resorts World, a multibillion-dollar property on the Strip, and the version they’re running is the same one that could be running in a neighborhood tavern. The taverns aren’t using all the bells and whistles at Resorts World, but it is important to know that that’s what we try to do on our software package.

“We had 60,000 connections two years ago. Today, we have over 125,000 connections, and it is not like we went out and secured some big corporate account that had 30,000 or 40,000 machines. We’ve done it one brick at a time. As a company, we’ve done an amazing job of building up that footprint and we continue to grow in that space,” Jingoli explained.

Future of Slots

“It’s funny. The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same when it comes to slot machines. It all comes down to performance. Look at the size of the machines when you walk into a casino floor now. You see a lot of larger cabinets, larger-format games, dual seats and people sitting two at a cabinet playing the game together.

“Certainly, linked-progressive games with life-changing jackpots are always popular.

“What’s next? Continue to develop games that provide entertaining value to end users. We like to refer to butts in the seats and what keeps people at the games. The cabinets attract the players. But it’s all about content and content drives time on device.

“Really, that’s what differentiates certain games from others. A lot of community games and multi-station games are somewhat successful. The bread and butter on casino floors is still the slot machine. While things have changed and the graphics have changed, at the end of the day, it’s still content.”

I asked Jingoli to consider the changes looming over the horizon in the slot and systems space.

“There are a lot of challenges to overcome using facial recognition at the gaming device. A lot of thought and conversation are still need to ensure customer acceptance. Operators certainly would like it for many reasons. They could track uncarded play and associate it to the unique “face,” i.e. the uncarded customers, via facial recognition, that is actually playing the machine. Certainly, operators would like the ability to track uncarded play and associate it with the player, as it opens up many new player-loyalty opportunities. Moreover, it could aid in ensuring self- and casino-barred players who slipped through surveillance are not allowed to play the machine, by locking the game upon positive facial recognition.

“Konami debuted facial recognition three years ago at G2E. We’re still having conversations with a couple of operators that are willing to try out this technology. However, they most likely would limit it to certain areas of their floor — for example, the high-limit rooms.

“They may have to give the customer the option to opt in/out of the program. That’s where some of the challenges will be. Obviously, surveillance has been doing facial recognition in casinos for years and years. It is being done in airports, it’s being used almost everywhere, but it’s typically done for security reasons. Where people have challenges is when I’m going gambling, what are operators planning to do with that data? A lot of people don’t want to have a player loyalty card and want to play anonymously. They don’t want people to know they’re gaming. I think there has to be a balance,” Jingoli stated.

Cashless systems

“Konami has been facilitating cashless wagering for cruise lines, like Norwegian and more recently Carnival, through SYNKROS for well over 10 years. However, we don’t directly connect to any of the banking or credit-card networks to perform the actual financial transaction, nor are we the ledger of record for the transaction. Rather, we enable players to download and upload the funds after the payment-processing system has completed the transaction to and from the gaming machine and to buy or cash-out chips at the table games. We’ve partnered with Gary Ellis and his team at Marker Trax, a cashless payment solution that allows payment of casino markers at the slot machine. We’ve seen encouraging numbers from some of the early adopters of this technology,” Jingoli indicated.

“For land-based casinos, some of the challenges involve regulatory restrictions, such as requiring that you have to go in and sign up in person to use cashless wagering. Currently, there’s a lot of friction around that. I guess it’s going to evolve eventually. It’s similar to the challenges I described with facial recognition, getting over some of the hurdles and friction points that surround all the signups. It’s just another thing that will evolve over time in the industry.”

Success Secrets

I asked Jingoli where he thinks his secret to success lies.

“We have a really great team. That resonates throughout our entire organization. We have a great deal of tenured employees. We have good, loyal, and dedicated team members throughout the organization. For me, it begins and ends with our team members,” he said.

Entries in the Faces of Gaming series:

Tom Osiecki is a casino consultant who writes an occasional column for CDC Gaming Reports called Faces of Gaming, about interesting and engaging people in the gaming industry.

Tom Osiecki is a marketing and management consultant for Raving Consulting and can be reached for consulting engagements at 775-329-7864.

If you know of a fascinating personality in the gaming industry you would like to see profiled, please send Tom Osiecki an email at tosiecki@cdcgaming.com