Some character in some play or some bard wrote: “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.”
Which is sage advice if you’re catching a bus or a movie, or you’re exacting revenge on the man trying to make you his cuckold (The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 2, Scene 2), but which is not if you’re conjuring consumer products for a living. Because in that world, the world of ideation and innovation, of experimentation and mutation, tardy often beats early to the punch. Yessiree, some concepts fail simply because they have committed the unpardonable sin of being ahead of their time.
Now let’s pump the brakes for a second. We said some, not all, and not even the majority. The cause of death for most ideas—in gaming or whatever industry you cite—is that they stink. Maybe they cost too much or do too little; maybe they provide scant value to the user and scanter ROI to the middleman; maybe they are simply ill-conceived or poorly executed.
In other words, maybe they are simply ri-goddamn-diculous.
True that; for the moment let’s focus on one particular idea that’s been incubating for about 15 years, like those cicada bugs, but that finally seems ready to hatch. Like those cicada bugs. In the mid-2000s, Mark Yoseloff, then CEO of Shuffle Master, predicted, repeatedly, emphatically, incessantly, that a seismic shift was in the offing in the world of table games. And that the continental drift in its wake would result in essence, in three future form factors, separated by physical distance as well as cost of entry:
- Fully electronic for low-limit play.
- Hybrid (real dealer and electronic wagering) for mid-level play.
- Traditional games (real dealer, real cards, real chips) for high-limit play.
Upon hearing this—repeatedly, emphatically, incessantly—the typical observer rolled his eyes or shook her head. E-tables, while fully evolved in Europe, Australia and Asia, were just crawling out of the primordial ooze in North America. How could they, with their glitchy, Max Headroom animation and blocky button panels, take such a Cookie Monster bite out of the casino’s, uh, cookie?
Fast-forward to today and you’re starting to see this vision come into focus. E-tables are indeed the fastest-growing segment in land-based casinos, encroaching not only into the table games pit but the slot floor as well. So, now that we know Dr. Yoseloff was right all along, let’s jump on this bandwagon.
And then highjack it.
Where are we headed? Keep scrolling to find out.
Low-limit blackjack has been under assault for years. Six or seven $5 bettors playing some semblance of basic strategy can’t generate enough money for a casino to break even, let alone win a few bucks. Unless, of course, you pay blackjack at 6-to-5 and you gaff up the game with a menagerie of high-holding side bets, even if you force players to make them.
True story. They’re out there.
Enter virtual table games. These have a video or animated dealer, electronic cards and five or six betting terminals. They’re basically a slot machine with table content like roulette or Three Card Poker. With more hands per hour and minimal operating expenses, casinos are able to run $5-and-less games—which tend to attract those coveted younger players—and run them in the black.
Look for this segment to grow, but the big push will come from single-player games. You see these already in the slot halls of Macau, or the gaming clubs of Australia, where players play at what amounts to their own virtual baccarat table. This will expand into other game types, like blackjack and roulette, aided by the elegant cabinetry already being marketed by the major slot companies.
Stadium gaming is the next great juggernaut, and it’s not just the post-Covid winds filling its sails. This form factor, which features a live dealer and terminal wagering, was already on the march. Throw in the benefits of social distancing and remove the drawback of sanitization (look Ma, no chips) and stadium setups are ready for their close-up. They take dead aim at the mid-level customer, the fattest part of the Bell Curve.
It’s not uncommon to see an array of 20, 30 or even 100 terminals encircling one of these platforms. Add high-definition betting interfaces that let players bet on more than one game at a time, along with multimedia video walls and dealers that act like entertainers, and you have the perfect concoction to attract and retain players.
Ninety percent of electronic table games, be they fully electronic or hybrid, are either roulette, blackjack or baccarat. There’s not much in the way of diversity. Sure, sure, you’ve got a few of those craps and sic bo games where the dice bounce around in one of those bubbles from the kid’s game “Trouble,” and you can find the odd Ultimate Texas Hold’em or Three Card Poker out there.
But, moving forward, this will change. You will see e-tables not only with progressive jackpots, but with progressive jackpots that tie into the felt games in the pit. You will see roulette and baccarat games with proprietary features, something that can only work when wagers are resolved electronically.
You will see community bonuses that will turn stadiums into, well, stadiums, where everyone roots for—and roars for—the same outcome. You will see more side bets than you can shake a stickman’s stick at. And speaking of the stickman, you will see a craps game that looks like and plays like a craps game.
And you will see all of this sooner than you think, because for these ideas, the time is now.