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Game Time

Table game technology moves into the future with electronic advancements

Game Time

Folding tables and dog-eared card decks are still the norm at neighborhood poker nights, but casinos have long since upgraded. Gaming manufacturers have used technological advancements to transform table games into seamlessly automated experiences.

From player tracking systems and radio frequency identification chips to table management systems and electronic games, the world of table technology just got a little more interesting.

Selling Solutions
New technology has been molded and shaped to fit the needs of the gaming industry, effectively ensuring that table games flow smoothly and quickly. From automated deck shufflers to touch-screen monitors that make betting as simple as touching an embedded monitor, gaming manufacturers are always one step ahead.

Roger Hawkins, TCS John Huxley’s CEO for the Americas, said his company’s TouchTable products meld electronic advancements and live-action play with a touch-screen betting process monitored by a live dealer.

“With its unique ability to fuse technology and traditional products, TCS John Huxley has been working closely with numerous operators to develop a range of touch-screen multi-player table game products that still uphold the true essence of live gaming,” Hawkins says. “All these games feature hybrid electronic game platforms and live game content that allows players to play against a live roulette wheel, dice shaker or card shoe, but strike the perfect balance between the thrill of live gaming and the advantages of electronic betting.”

Bally Technologies provides another touch-screen solution for a busy casino floor, though its TableView product is a system intended to aid operators rather than table game players.

“Our host CMS system is all intelligence, all the backbone that they run their floor with,” says Jerry McGowan, Bally Technologies’ regional sales manager for table management systems. “(TableView) is really the access point for that. The nice part about it in terms of the guests is the guests are now getting more accurate ratings. The floor supervisor is given more time to concentrate on them.

“Everyone has spread their floors so thin. We used to watch one table, and that kind of evolved itself to where we watch six tables. They did that over the years to save money, but there was never a tool in place to help them do that. TableView is that tool.”

Solutions like TCS John Huxley’s TouchTable and Bally Technologies’ TableView are evidence that table game technology is being successfully implemented across the board, helping everyone from casino moguls to poker players enjoy the table game experience.

Safe and Sound
Radio frequency identification technology has been used in retail establishments like Wal-Mart to aid in loss prevention, and gaming operators are now putting the technology to use on casino floors. RFID chips assist with both security measures and player tracking for marketing purposes, yet some tech experts think RFID may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Those companies that have successfully used RFID technology to produce gaming solutions for the casino floor include Gaming Partners International, a company that has had huge success supplying RFID chips to international properties, including the recently opened City of Dreams resort in Macau. GPI Executive Vice President and COO Greg Gronau says RFID chips make table games more secure and prevent counterfeiting activity.

“RFID chips play a dual role,” Gronau says. “First and foremost is security at the table. Chips are the currency of the casinos, and what the RFID does is allow the casinos to make sure that they’re authentic and prevent counterfeiting, similar to the serial number on the dollar bill. This is a serialized chip.”

IGT Director of Table Games Tim Richards says the company has used RFID technology for player-tracking purposes, an aspect of implementing the technology that has been a challenge for gaming manufacturers.

“IGT has been putting out a system for slot purposes that covered the majority of the casino but not table games,” Richards says. “We provide software quickly and easily that covers the accounting aspect, the tracking aspect and the management of table games at the table game itself. The second step in teaming up with PGI initially with the RFID technology is how do we begin to combine bonuses between tables and slots, how do we get accurate play on table games and how do we expand our bonusing concept across table games? How do we take those same winning ideas to table games?”

Gronau says the confusion surrounding implementation of RFID technology is similar to the early years of server-based gaming for slot machines. It took years, but manufacturers and operators have successfully brought server-based technology to the casino floor. The same could hold true for RFID chips.

“When people first heard of RFID, they said, ‘Holy cow, it’s going to be in every casino—you can see who the player is and what he’s betting,’” Gronau says. “You have to step back and look at that and say, ‘Does the end user really want his name out there, and all his information?’

“It’s taken a few years to determine how this technology should come to market. I think it will be successful as the cost of the chips comes down, and it will be integrated more and more. From a security standpoint, it’s been very successful. That’s what’s driven a lot of this, up to today. We’re getting into the next stage, which is how do we fit this into the player tracking and what does that do for the operator?”

Bally Technologies is one company that considered using RFID technology to supply casino operators with better security, but then turned its attentions to optical technology.

“We are still actively looking for a solution for bet tracking, and we feel optics are still the best way to go,” says Jerry McGowan, Bally product manager for TableView. “Domestically, it seems in a lot of ways RFID has been abandoned for bet tracking, not for cage security. It’s good as far as inventory goes. Internationally, I find there is a lot of belief in that still.

“In terms of Bally, we feel more strongly about an optical solution only because the percentages that I’ve been told are in the 93 percent range for accuracy for RFID bet recognition. There are a lot of variables, chips not being read, too many. Our optical was giving us about 99.6 percent accuracy. It depends upon line of sight, but we still believe more strongly in that for table games as a solution. The price point is high because they have to re-chip their floors. What we’re actively working on is a way to use optical technology, but in a way that you don’t have to re-chip your floor.”

Bally is currently working to further develop its optical technology, and has already found several willing sites to beta test the product.

Electric Avenue
With new technology streamlining the table game experience, it seems only fitting that manufacturers turn to automated tables to bring a new generation of table games to life.

Shuffle Master has delivered its i-Table to the market, combining both electronic and personal touches to simulate a live table game. The i-Table is comprised of touch-screen stations embedded within the table itself. While automating the betting process, Shuffle Master emphasizes the presence of a live dealer to provide a traditional table game experience.

“The i-Table is a good example of using technology to its best to enhance the experience for the table and security aspects and benefit for the operator of the property,” says Nathan Wadds, Shuffle Master’s senior vice president of research and development. “It’s quite unique in that it’s been integrated in a fairly seamless fashion. Other products that have been developed over time generally don’t feel and operate like a real table game would.

“Shuffle Master has brought a lot of their expertise in table games and experience to the i-Table product, and the engineering talent in creating a table that plays and looks like an actual table. It breaks down barriers for players. The i-Table gives you that experience of being at a real table and the rubbing-elbows aspect of playing a game of blackjack and seeing what other people’s hands are, and the full experience of playing the game. That’s a unique aspect of the i-Table.”

IGT is also deep in the world of electronic table games, having recently introduced the M-P Series for multi-player table games. The company also distributes DigiDeal, which is another electronic solution. Both the M-P suite and DigiDeal fulfill a niche market—one that needs electronic answers to gaming problems. Many jurisdictions prohibit live table games, and electronic tables circumvent those stipulations with automated betting and dealing. According to Richards, there is a time and place for both electronic and live tables.

“I think live games will continue to exist, especially on the higher-denom tables and in more competitive markets,” Richards says. “Electronic table games are great in slot-only markets, racino markets, lottery markets. That provides a lot of exposure for folks who don’t go to live table game casinos, so when they do go, they’re comfortable with the games. In the live table game casinos, many of the properties are obviously struggling on the lower end; they offer a $5 game as a loss leader just to get people in the door. Today’s pressure is certainly to be profitable, and they’re very much looking at how to make those games more efficient or how to make those products that don’t have the overhead of a live game.”

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