Michael Pace – A Professional History
Michael Pace was raised in northern Atlanta, Georgia during the 60’s and early 70’s, a significant era in our history. Michael is a tried-and-true Baby Boomer. His parents were heavily involved in the arts. Michael got involved in laser light shows for 6 Flags and other locations until he got the opportunity to repair pinball machines. From there he started designing his own computers and Michael’s strong inventive nature drove him to develop advanced automated call and answering systems as well as powerline based control of commercial Air Conditioning systems in the late 70’s; This lead Michael to start Digital Controls in 1980.
Michael has always been an electronics genius with a strong bent towards productivity. He does not see invention for its sole purpose, but as a means to a commercial end.
Digital Controls made it big – not in industrial controls, where the company got its name – but in coin operated amusement video games. Michael designed, built and wrote all the software for the world’s first countertop video game, the Little Casino. It played non-gambling versions of casino games. Later, he added Trivia, which captured the lion’s share of the play. Michael Pace hired Michael Macke to run the company for him and Al Cofer to head up sales.
Michael started out of the gate with Industry Firsts:
a) First countertop video game
b) First player-selectable Multi-Game system
Digital Controls grew into a multi-faceted company, reaching outside the video game industry and into education. The company was stretched thin by overwhelming development costs and a tragic accident that killed key personnel at IBM, the primary customer for the education product. The company eventually went into insolvency.
In 1986, Michael started U.S. Games, Inc. to continue his venture in countertop video games. He designed a new, full-color character-based video control board. It was the core of the Super Duper Casino, a very successful product that allowed the company to grow into larger quarters and expand into other products. You can see Michael Pace on the left of the brochure below. Al Cofer is on the right.
While the Super Duper Casino sales paid the bills, Michael had been designing a new video controller called the Turbo 340 for the next generation of his countertop video game, based on a powerful bitmap graphics controller. The board was way ahead of its time, with hardware-optimized transparency and heavy use of programmable array logic devices. As it developed, it was designed for the requirements of gaming, with heavy serial communications, battery-backed data storage and lots of discrete I/O. In 1989, the first cut of the device was to be sold into the regulated market of the South Dakota Video Lottery. This market heralded Michael Pace’s first Gaming License.
When the South Dakota Lottery decided to deny U.S. Games an opportunity to sell its machine into the market, (it was a video slot that the Lottery was not ready to use) Michael decided to take the new product, freshly dubbed Pot-O-Gold into Indian Country. A number of exciting things were happening at the time, and U.S. Games was at the technological forefront of a new market; video pulltabs.
As time went on, the Pot-O-Gold became a touchscreen-based multi-game with many features worthy of patenting. Below is a short list of Firsts on the Pot-O-Gold:
1) First video-based Electronic Pulltab System based on networked, player-against-player shared deals.
2) First networked Lotto / Bingo system, where two players were required for play, and jackpots could be split within a single multi-bingo-card game.
3) First Integrated Progressive, where the progressive base was funded directly by a game’s paytable, with all accounting and other statistical data fully integrated into the main system.
4) First embedded Bill Validator in a casino gaming machine. Prior to the 19CSTS (19” monitor, Casino Style Touch Screen) cabinet, all slot machines had bill validators in a box attached to the side of the machine.
5) First fully integrated bill validator accounting, including integral stacker inventory statistics.
6) First cabinet to integrate both a printer and a hopper in the same machine. The 19CSTS also had the aforementioned bill validator, a card reader, full diverter coin channeling and an LED Progressive display, all in a cabinet that fit on standard 27” wide casino bases.
7) Buy-A-Jackpot tables for Keno, where higher bet levels opened up higher frequency opportunities to hit a progressive jackpot. Used in the very successful SuperBall Keno™.
8) First Draw Poker with a bonus screen. Shamrock 7’s™ was the first ever draw poker that included a 2nd screen bonus.
9) First Blackjack with a bonus screen. SpinJack21™ was the first blackjack game with a 2nd screen bonus. It afforded a higher value prize in a blackjack, with a separate weighted table.
Pot-O-Gold machines were sold all over the country; never operated or leased. There was no revenue sharing for U.S. Games, although others were doing it. Michael Pace always took the more conservative position, playing strictly by the rules. By late 1994, Michael Pace held personal gaming licenses in SD, MN, WI, NY, NC, MS, CA and other states. The Pot-O-Gold was the first machine installed in Foxwoods Casino in CT, a full year before other machines arrived. For each of the jurisdictions the Pot-O-Gold went in, Michael made sure his software and hardware complied with the regulations and got GLI certification letters for every one.
In 1995 Michael decided it was time to retire to the west and he sold U.S. Games to Al Johnson and a group of investors that – within 5 years – managed to take the company public and bankrupt it all in one fell swoop. While Leisure Time Technology (the company that came out of the merger / acquisition) was profitable, all the other ventures Leisure Time Casinos and Resorts attempted were financial failures, costing tens of millions of dollars.
When LTC&R / LTT went bankrupt, Michael’s deferred compensation and non-compete stipend stopped abruptly. He was left with little choice but to get back into the business, building upon what he knew; software running on the T340. He started over from scratch, not using anything from what had been developed before, but with the knowledge that comes with experience.
Michael started Gigawatt Labs and later renamed it to Pace-O-Matic in 2001. With LTT coming out of bankruptcy as Vision Gaming, the new entity completely lost control of its IP. The high security device used to license the software and the method to program it was out on the open market. Hundreds of thousands of boards flooded into markets all over the world.
So, Michael’s drive was to create software for those boards that would fill a need for compliant features, tailored to a specific emerging market. With Pace-O-Matic being a small company, Michael felt he could move more quickly to fill niche market needs. Oklahoma Class II.5 was his first successful stab. He was able to deliver product months before any of the big companies like IGT.
Ohio was in a state of transition in 2003 and 2004. The legislature had recently outlawed Video Pulltabs but there was an emerging market for skill-based amusement redemption games as long as there were no cash payouts. Michael worked with an operator / distributor and Mr. Kurt Gearhiser, a well-respected and trustworthy attorney to tailor a game concept called AteUp that was branded Tic-Tac-Fruit specifically for the Ohio Skill Game Market. It was challenged but prevailed with multiple court victories and offered the Ohio coin-op industry a way to legally operate a video-based skill game with lawful redemption.
One of the important features of Tic-Tac-Fruit was the complete elimination of chance through the ability of a player to see the next game outcome on-screen before ever making a financial commitment. This eliminated any Hope of Gain, a key gambling requirement in Ohio law. To protect the investment in time and effort that it took to develop this proprietary technology, Michael was awarded US Patent number 7,736,223.
Continuing in his belief and understanding that direct participation in the revenues generated by coin-op operators could put Pace-O-Matic and himself at risk, Michael devised a way of selling plays in a detached and secure way that would not require any hardware replacement. Called a Fill, it could be programmed via an interactive cypher code exchange. Again, it was revolutionary and worthy of another US patent, filed for under 2015/0119,133 and recently published.
Other inventive features used in Tic-Tac-Fruit included the skill-based timer, where the higher the prize value available, the less time the player has to solve the puzzle; and Follow Me, a Simon Says style game that ensures the player always has the opportunity to win more than they played on any game in which they exhibit perfect skill.
Michael continued to be the sole developer of the code in 2005 and felt – just like he did in 1989 – that a new platform was needed to replace the T340 and T340+. He hired a team of engineers to develop a “NexGen” game platform but Michael was so busy developing new software himself he could not properly manage the team and they were unsuccessful in getting something up and going, and were disbanded.
Michael’s software grew to support other emerging markets and by 2009 revenues again allowed him to bring on additional developers to build a new platform. By 2011 Michael’s software was branded Platinum Plus and the new platform was called Cutting EDGE for Electronically Driven Gaming Entertainment.
Michael wanted to be sure that the Cutting EDGE platform could replace Platinum Plus and Pot-O-Gold systems in the field, so the form factor of the hardware was very important. He also wanted the ability to support team development, so standard, modern languages and software libraries are used.
Over the last few years, the coin-op industry has seen a shift from pure amusement to redemption across the boards. The value-add for non-cash merchandise redemption is proving the strongest attraction to get players off the home console systems and back into the bars, restaurants and arcades.
Additionally, technology is making its way into every part of our daily lives and the consumer demands a more interactive, immediate kind of experience. Amusement and entertainment are taking on different meanings and Michael Pace is leading in many ways.
To stay away from the legal restrictions of outright gambling, Michael has been able to leverage past work to create NexPlay, an Entertainment With Prize (EWP) system that removes Chance and Hope of Gain. His Preview Patent allows Pace-O-Matic to provide the most advanced features, like showing to-the-penny the amount that will be awarded in the next play, right on the screen before any financial commitment is made by the player.
It remains Michael Pace’s commitment to develop legally compliant amusement games for all markets supported by the Coin-Op Operator. This is the market segment he has supported since his earliest professional days, and he stands by the operators and the products he sells.