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Dancing on the Table

Can the electronic table game growth spurt be sustained?

Dancing on the Table

The allure of the table game environment at casinos is legendary, whether it’s the crowd behind the hot hand at the craps table or the entertaining small talk that occurs between a player and dealer at the blackjack table. With technology driving a growing amount of social interaction within the general public and in corporate environments, it is not a surprise that this trend has quickly penetrated gaming operations in recent years, as electronic table games (ETGs) have experienced growing popularity in both domestic and international markets.

“Electronic table games have become more popular due to technical developments that allow for improved operational flexibility, greatly increased player choice and ease of play while delivering a truly live game experience,” says Tracy Cohen, vice president of marketing for TCSJJohnHuxley, which has earned a reputation for providing a wide variety of electronic multi-player gaming systems in the industry across a spectrum of casino floor setups.

“Electronic multi-player products have made a massive impact on table games. Operators can make available any combination of live, automated, virtual-casino multi-player games on a traditional-style table or via individual electronic player terminals.”

In a time when the casino industry is rapidly expanding around the world, electronic table games are widening the base of potential players, allowing for a new player segment that casinos should be able to count on for decades. For many younger gaming patrons, casinos featuring electronic table games scattered across the floor is all they know.

The ability to meet the younger demographic’s need for a more interactive experience has given companies that produce electronic table games an extreme amount of confidence about their ability to grow market share and the acceptance of future innovation that will be developed within their games.

“We are excited about the growth of electronic table games,” says Ron Marks, vice president of sales for Galaxy Gaming, whose brands include the popular Lucky Ladies card game. “We fundamentally believe that we are creating a ‘new’ segment of players that love skill games but want to have a relaxing atmosphere to play their game of choice. Our vision is that electronic table games of today are going to be vastly different from the electronic table games of the future. With electronics and software, the sky is the limit when it comes to creating fun and exciting games.”

Industry Evaluation

There is mixed reaction from the gaming industry about the growing popularity of ETGs. All industry insiders agree that ETGs are an efficient way to introduce new and lower-limit players to a gaming table environment without feeling intimidated by the speed of the game or other players.

“We’re seeing the increased popularity of electronic table games because beginning players shy away from live dealers, and they can move at their own pace,” says Steve Walther, chief marketing officer at Aruze Gaming America, manufacturer of the Shoot to Win craps game. “It is a nice transition from the standard slot machine to a table gaming environment.”

It is a transition that can be a lot more difficult for casino operators and manufacturers of the games when there is a lack of communication during the development phase of ETGs. While developers, engineers and technology consultants may have the smarts to create these lifelike electronic games, it is necessary that they consult casino operators during development to create a final product that complies with operational and regulatory policies.

“I urge all ETG manufacturers to get someone involved who knows the game from an operator’s point of view,” says Kathi Meci, a gaming operations consultant who has worked as a casino executive in both the U.S. and Asian markets. “It has to be someone who has physically operated a live table game.”

Meci points to an experience she had while working at a Pennsylvania casino where the ETG manufacturer built a slot-style money drop within the game.

“Nobody working on the (table game) floor of a casino knows how to pull a slot machine drop box,” she says. “Instead of rushing to get a product out to market, all ETG manufacturers need to spend time fine-tuning their product, conducting gap analysis and identifying the needs for the machine to function properly.”

Along with proper function, ETG manufacturers and casino operators alike have to take in the regulatory environment in the given jurisdiction. In jurisdictions where government places a limit on the number of live table games, ETGs have become a vital component for increasing revenue while attracting players who would usually shy away from the casino’s live table games.

Casinos are faced with the dilemma of whether to leave ETGs on the floor if they are able to increase the number of their live table games. Although the decision depends on the individual property, many casino operators keep their ETGs at lower limits to continue to reach out to beginner and lower-skill players.

“The advantage of ETGs is that we offer an added experience in offering players a more dynamic environment, with more side bets and complexity in a simplified way,” says Luke Alvarez, chief executive officer of Inspired Gaming Group, which manufacturers the popular Sabre Electronic Roulette product. “In Europe and Asia, we see the popularity of electronic table games based on cost-driven factors, like minimizing employee overhead.”

As with many gaming trends, the popularity of ETGs first appeared in markets outside the U.S. With their popularity firmly established in U.S. markets, ETG manufacturers are confident their popularity is here to stay.

“In the beginning it was mostly slot players, but as everyone becomes more at ease with the electronic world we live in, the electronic table games are a natural for all players,” says Dave Krise, senior vice president of game development for DigiDeal, whose most popular games are Classic Blackjack, Classic Baccarat and the new Pik-it Poker game. “We are very conscious of the player’s needs and strive to make every game easy to understand and play. We definitely think the electronic table games market will continue to grow.”

A Glance at the Games

All of TCSJohnHuxley’s products feature hybrid electronic gaming platforms and live game content, allowing players to compete against a live roulette wheel, dice shaker or card shoe while striking a balance between the thrill of live gaming and the advantages of electronic betting.

TCSJohnHuxley’s MultiPLAY platform is able to identify individual players and specific bets with its Touch ID technology. There are two versions. Quad HD Live features a live dealer and wheel, where the HD Auto version is fully automated and offers a cashless configuration.

One of the industry’s most innovative mobile games is TCSJohnHuxley’s Tablet Roulette, which allows customers to play live roulette tables on a touch-screen tablet device anwhere in a gaming venue. For multiple-bet gamers, Sabre Multi-Win Roulette gives the player a choice of up to four wheels (where legislation allows), and can be connected to live wheels with real dealers, both in the venue and remotely. The first North America placement of the game occurred at Revel Atlantic City.

“We work very closely with our customers when developing any of our products,” says Cohen. “We will certainly showcase products during the development stage to understand how operational procedures and other issues might alter the final execution. Although our R&D teams are highly experienced gaming specialists, there is no substitute for operational and therefore ‘end user’ knowledge.

“Casinos will continue to demand products that satisfy the craving of the table game player while enhancing the playing experience, simultaneously driving cost and error out of the operator’s business. These types of products enable the dealer to interface with the player more and create a much better playing experience than just sitting at a table.”

All of DigiDeal’s games are available on various electronic platforms. The DTS-V platform is popular because it is all virtual and hosted by a live person acting as the cashier and dealer. The DTS-X is a stand-alone, eight-player system with the ability to be expanded to any number of player terminals, while the newest DigiDeal platform, the Automated Virtual Attendant, can be played with a live host or a choice of virtual AVA hosts.

“Attractive graphics with simple and fun interaction by the player is the goal in every game we design,” says Krise. “If players do not understand the game or know what to do next, they will walk away.”

Galaxy Gaming’s new product is the Model E Virtual E-Table that is pending regulatory approval. This new model will be available to casinos in both three- and five-seat configurations. Galaxy is focusing its initial content on blackjack-style games with multiple side bets, capitalizing on their popular brands Lucky Ladies and 21+3.

“It is very important to produce an e-table that is very intuitive to all players or you will lose a potential loyal player,” says Marks. “The machine also has to be attractive and maintain its competitive space among the ever-changing slot product on the floor today. If you create an attractive machine that is intuitive to the player, you should do very well.”

Krise agrees on the value that multiple side bets bring to ETGs.

“Players today have that lotto mentality where they are looking for multiple bonus bets or secondary bonus plays that could pay big like they are used to getting on a slot,” he says. “These type of games slow down traditional table play and are difficult for dealers to administer, where electronically it is very fast and simple to determine an accurate outcome every time.”

The ability for ETGs to produce gaming scenarios impossible by live human operators is also what brings many people to experience them for the first time; it is a true novelty effect. Inspired Gaming Group offers a four-wheel roulette game that has become very popular. The company used extensive player research in developing its newest electronic roulette product, the Sabre Multi-Win Roulette.

It features a 26-inch primary widescreen to deliver all the information a player might need on one screen. Players can see all four wheels on the right-hand side (color-coded to avoid confusing players), and they can bet via the traditional or racetrack layouts (both of which are available at the same time). There is a variety of easy bet options, including repeat bet, favorite bet, complete bet and double bet.

“We pride ourselves on providing the maximum entertainment and excitement to the player, which appeals to all types of roulette players from beginners to high rollers,” says Alvarez. “Regardless of their playing level or experience, they are actively seeking out the electronic table game experience, and they enjoy it very much.”

Along with the popularity of Shoot to Win craps, Aruze Gaming has also found a hit with its Lucky Big Wheel product. Lucky Big Wheel is different from its competitors because it is not based on a traditional casino game like roulette, blackjack and baccarat ETGs.

“Consumers have been very responsive to our craps product because people are very hesitant to walk in and play a live dice game,” says Walther. “It makes for a nice transition to the live dice game. Lucky Big Wheel has great ambiance, and can run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year without being manned.”

In Asian markets, Aruze Gaming is seeing success in baccarat and a popular Chinese three-dice game. “As shooters make points in craps, the theme of the game goes from blue to green to red, signaling a hot shooter,” says Walther. “The announcer states that there is a hot shooter rolling, and that is how we duplicate the experience from the live game. The more realistic the scenarios are, the more loyal of a following we will earn.”

Popularity with Players

As described by Walther, the ability for advanced 21st century technology to duplicate the experience of a live casino table game without the distractions or intimidation factor is a large part of why ETGs have seen such a dramatic rise in popularity over the last five years.

“The goal of the electronic table game is to do its best to replace the live environment,” says Walther. “You have to complete your due diligence and duplicate the live game down to audio effects, visuals, lights and player experience.”

Inspired Gaming Group’s Sabre Electronic Roulette product incorporates a high-definition camera feed display of a live roulette wheel, appealing to visual senses, while the game history information provides hot and cold numbers for the player’s cognitive side. Inspired Gaming also offers a virtual sports product line, very popular in international markets.

ETG manufacturers also keep the social aspect of play in mind, as many games have larger bench-style seating so couples or friends can enjoy the experience simultaneously.

Initially, ETGs were often placed in quiet areas of the casino floor. However, as they have become more mainstream, their visibility on the casino floor has increased along with their player demographic.

“We are definitely experiencing more of a mass-market phenomenon as popularity increases,” says Alvarez. “Our player base is becoming more diverse in age, gender and ethnic background. Younger players who grew up on video games are more comfortable with electronic table games.”

“Novice players and the younger generation players are not necessarily low-limit players,” says Marks of what he calls the “iPad Generation.”

Even if the players are gambling lower limits, ETGs are beneficial because their increased hands per hour will earn as much for the house as a higher-limit table.

“We believe that the popularity of ETGs will continue as gaming grows in both domestic and international markets,” says Marks. “Social media and the internet will be sure to help companies capitalize on brand recognition in this space.”

An Excellent Future?

Whether discussing domestic or international gaming markets, the future looks bright for ETGs and their manufacturers. Although the source of the demand is different for each market, the long-term viability of ETGs in the casino marketplace has been established.

“Electronic table games offer the player all the popular games with the exciting features and bonuses they want while the house gets more productivity, security and accountability that is available 24 hours, seven days a week,” says Krise.

The direct correlation for ETGs to increase a casino’s bottom line, no matter the game type or the regulation of the local jurisdiction, is what gives it staying power in the gaming industry.

“We are very optimistic and bullish in regards to ETGs in the marketplace,” says Alvarez. “You see these games throughout larger U.S. casinos, and we have started working with emerging markets, as well.”

From a casino insider’s point of view, Meci sees specific areas where ETGs can continue to thrive.

“In areas where there is no live gaming available or a limit to the number of live tables, electronic table games will definitely fill a niche,” says Meci. “The racinos in New York that offer slot machines and horse racing offer a quality example of where these games fit in. However, many of these markets want to expand directly to live table games.”

While the trend for the increasing demand for live table gaming grows steadily across the U.S., the regulations in international jurisdictions may lead to the strongest demand for ETGs in the near future.

“The U.S. may not be the center for growth for electronic games,” says Meci. “Macau and the Asian markets may lead that charge of demand, but whether the players come and play as much as they are expected is another story.”

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