Gaming’s revitalized pit draws varied inspirations.
A daring, cutting-edge trend boosts the area long known as two rows of gaming tables arranged back-to-back. Space between rows, often reserved for dealers or supervisors, may now include a DJ, personal terminal, or chip reader. The pit has become younger, saluting the new breed that steadily sparked its resurgence.
Classic games have a twist, augmented by flickering lights, loud music and upbeat pace of play. Electronic table games (ETGs), bonusing mechanisms and analytical software provide different means to a similar end. ETGs embrace a visually stimulated audience. Analytic software tracks all player levels. And the gaming menu expands. More millennial-mindset options like tournaments, stadiums and social chatter.
As the pit vies for space in a casino industry fighting for entertainment dollars, its evolution is significant. Outside-the-box thinking affects what goes inside the pit. Software, bonusing and ETGs impact the pit’s future EKG.
“The role of e-tables in particular has changed,” says Roger Snow, senior vice president of games and card shufflers for Scientific Games. “Not too long ago, in the U.S. at least, e-tables were the low-rent district of table games. That’s where you found $1 blackjack or $5 baccarat. Or they flourished in markets like Pennsylvania, which back then didn’t allow traditional tables. But it’s a whole new ballgame now. E-tables are becoming a more prominent part of casinos, and it’s not all about price. If fact, you will find that some high-limit players prefer playing in a stadium gaming setup over a felt game. It’s more comfortable, more private, more enjoyable. It’s a startling development.”
The Science of Change
Snow authors his share of startling developments. He has created or co-created 20 games and side bets played in casinos, including Ultimate Texas Hold ‘em, Four-Card Poker, Dragon Bonus Baccarat and DJ Wild Stud Poker. Snow’s newest effort, Blazing 7s Roulette, which he launched with Scientific Games employee Michael Vizzo, lets a player win up to 500-to-1 on a single roulette spin. Blazing 7s Blackjack, for which he credits employees Ryan Yee and the late Jeremy Halter, has been out for about four years and is closing in on 750 placements.
“It’s a juggernaut,” he asserts. “We expect to exceed 1,000 by the end of the year, and given the number of blackjack tables around the world, it should spend another three to four years in this growth spurt.”
Snow says innovations like these have revived the pit.
“I think businesses evolve the same way organic life does, by accident,” Snow says. “If you go back 10 or 15 years, table pits were on the ropes… But then a funny thing happened: Casinos started to experiment with different games, different price points, party pits, etc., and table games started making a comeback. Not everything worked, but as in nature, what did work ended up spreading. And we caught a lucky break with young people, because for whatever reason—who knows what they are thinking?—these 20-somethings seem to prefer table games to slot machines. That’s who is driving a lot of the growth for us.”
Their selection blends with a critical business dynamic segmentation. There are more niches than ever, he says, but they get narrower. In the old days of television, there were three networks and public broadcasting. In the old days of casino pits, there was blackjack, craps, roulette and baccarat.
“Now in TV there are hundreds of channels, plus Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Crackle and dozens of other streaming services,” he says. “And in the new pit, you have one or two tables of all sorts of different carnival games.”
The Pulse of Excitement
To win big, one must often think small. Interblock expanded the ETG sector with a fast-paced, endless-action celebration.
The blend of gaming, nightclubs and chatter reveals the heartbeat of many young players. The new pit has steadily raised the ETG realm, from the automated menu that bolstered low-limit areas at slow times to sophisticated stadium seating and now, via Pulse Arena, gaming on rocket fuel.
Unveiled as a cutting-edge approach to younger players in 2015, Pulse Arena continues to ascend. Recent installations of the system, which places ETGs in a club-style entertainment setting, include Jack Entertainment casinos in Cincinnati and Cleveland, Ohio. Jack Entertainment signed a multi-year agreement for Pulse Arena technology with Interblock early in 2018.
This is a vivid demonstration of the new pit placed with a younger audience.
“We have Pulse Arenas on four continents, and the results are essentially the same; we are seeing significant volumes of new carded players enter the casino floor that would have otherwise simply gone to the restaurants, clubs, shops or shows,” says John Connelly, Interblock CEO.
“These players do not wish to be put in a corner or dead area of the casino, but instead, they wish to be at the front and center of the action. What is even more interesting is that the overall handle of the casino adjacent to the Pulse Arena also goes up, despite the lights and sound. Our numbers continue to increase within these environments as we add more content and as casinos begin to put marketing dollars behind the new segment of the floor.”
Players with personal monitors toggle between several games simultaneously, like blackjack, craps, roulette and baccarat. There are DJs, changing lights, a massive video wall and a chat console to announce a great hand to one’s mini-world. Dealers are entertainers, needing no prior experience in the area because a console does the work. They engage. They rap. They lift the temperature in the arena.
There are tournament-style benefits and high-profile visibility, like being selected to play a particular game in full view of the audience. It is the arcade, the nightclub and perpetual stimulation, all linked to gaming.
For Connelly, the ascent of stadium seating and the Pulse Arena extends a company vision. Interblock already is a worldwide leading developer and supplier of luxury electronic table gaming products. It has gaming solutions and technical support in more than 200 jurisdictions, an exclusive collection of fully and semi-automated electronic gaming tables and video gaming solutions.
“Interblock created a term called the Electronic Table Game Pit over three years ago, with the intention of transitioning under-performing traditional live pits to a more automated or stadium-style offering,” Connelly says. “The stadium, and its social implications, have advanced it to another level. For the first time, we are seeing casinos completely remove live table game pits and go to a strictly automated table game offering. We are seeing more and more casinos begin to evaluate the profitability of ‘overflow’ pits, especially low-denomination pits.
“It is staggering when you begin to evaluate the square footage in a casino that goes unutilized within the traditional table game business on a weekly or monthly basis.”
Connelly says an electronic game’s ability to drive more handle per hour at a significantly reduced operating cost has CFOs and CEOs around the industry calculating numbers. Pulse Arena has been a major catalyst.
Host casinos may christen it by different names, like Synergy Table Games adopted by Jack casinos in Ohio.
Of course, no discussion of advancing technology in table games and ETGs, particularly in the European theater, can be complete without the company that has been leading worldwide markets in table-game supply for some 45 years, London-based TCSJohnHuxley.
TCSJohnHuxley has long been at the forefront of injecting new technology into the traditional live table game, most recently showcasing a series of new additions to its stylish e-FX roulette display range. Featuring a variety of double-sided, 27-inch and and newly launched 32-inch displays, all supplied with various LED trend lighting options and case design finishes, e-FX displays incorporate high definition 1080p screens that output crisp, clear graphics, providing excellent visibility of trends to players, from multiple angles across the casino floor.
Other TCSJohnHuxley innovations like Blaze LED Surface Technology and Saturn Glo include patented in-game graphic animations for added excitement to traditional felt tables.
With innovations such as these adding excitement to the traditional pit, it was a natural development for TCSJohnHuxley to move into the ETG space, which the company has done with a splash in the launch of the Qorex ETG range.
“Wholly owned, designed and produced in-house, the introduction of Qorex has been a significant milestone for TCSJohnHuxley,” says Tracy Cohen, the company’s director of marketing. “Powered by the Gaming Floor Live platform, the Qorex range of products provides unlimited electronic gaming solutions for any casino floor. Qorex offers the experience of live gaming while delivering the benefits of electronic gaming, such as added security and real-time reporting so casino operators can evaluate the status of their terminals at any time and act immediately as required.”
Cohen says operators appreciate the flexibility Qorex brings to the gaming floor, allowing them to configure a wide range of options including stadium-style layouts with a live dealer, eight-player carousel units and back-to-back formations which include ergonomically designed curved top screens displaying a live feed of the wheel and up to three live game statistics. All these configurations demonstrate the flexibility of a system that allows live, automatic and system-driven play.
In addition to offering roulette and baccarat games on Qorex, new games for the system sometimes are the result of operator feedback. “An example of this is the development of Qorex Gameball for the Sands Group, who approached us to develop a totally unique dice-based version of baccarat that features 12-sided dice that are automatically shaken to produce winning hands,” Cohen explains. “TCSJohnHuxley has a long association working on custom-developed products with the Sands Group, and the Qorex product was a natural choice to deliver this new game with added features, such as jackpots.”
The benefits of the Gaming Floor Live platform—which powers Qorex and gives operators a real-time, 360-degree view of their live table games—includes allowing operators to connect other modules on the platform, such as “Optimisation,” to further evaluate the integrity of wheels by checking for drop zone bias or misalignment.
International Game Technology has embraced the ETG’s role in the new pit. The London-based company has unfurled a string of significant agreements in this area, touting the time-saving, money-raising aspect of its Dynasty Table Games offering.
In fact, IGT has a unique definition of “packed stadium.” The company made history in 2016 by collaborating with Sands Bethlehem in Pennsylvania to install the nation’s largest live ETG setup. Sands Bethlehem installed 150 of IGT’s Dynasty ETG cabinets, featuring live roulette and live baccarat games.
Two years later, the hits keep coming. In late June, Resorts World Casino in New York announced its players can now enjoy automated roulette on any one of the property’s 32 newly installed terminals. The new terminals feature landscape-oriented, ultra-HD displays, and a variety of configurability options.
“The newly installed IGT Dynasty ETG terminals offer both casual and experienced players a unique, user-friendly way to play their favorite table games,” says Scott Molina, president of Resorts World Casino New York City. “By introducing the Dynasty terminals to our floor, we’ve created an approachable table gaming experience for our players that diversifies our offerings.”
In late spring, Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City announced it will deploy 18 IGT Dynasty ETGs. Live baccarat, roulette and blackjack content will be available on the new terminals.
The new technology delivers traditional table games via one live dealer facing multiple individual players, each equipped with an individual touch-screen betting terminal.
This installation also features IGT’s Live Dealer solution, which allows players to sit at one of the terminals and connect to live table games taking place throughout the casino floor. Each player can utilize the personal space, comfort and freedom of the Dynasty terminals.
While the Dynasty product family enables players to gamble without peer pressure, casinos benefit by cutting costs, IGT officials say. They don’t have to spend on physical tables, chips, table security or live dealers to run all the table games.
The New Jersey casino has also installed IGT’s Live Connect technology, an ETG-integrated solution that enables players to wager on designated live table games on the casino floor from a Dynasty ETG terminal.
“The Dynasty ETG installation at Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City demonstrates IGT’s momentum in this product category and exemplifies our commitment to providing our customers and their players with advancements to the casino entertainment experience,” says Nick Khin, IGT chief commercial officer, gaming. “By adding IGT’s Live Connect technology to its ETG installation, Resorts Casino now offers its players the option to bet on several types of table games, which maximizes the reach of live table games on the casino floor.”
San Diego-based VizExplorer helps organizations combine data sources from their systems to uncover actionable insight. It delivers a software platform and applications that deliver deep analytical information.
Its impact brings the pit into the information age.
“The new pit really means the industry learning how to leverage emerging technology in their table-games operations,” says T. Trent Dang, director of gaming operations for VizExplorer. “Due primarily to cost, table-games operations have not been very tech-savvy. Now that new, affordable yet powerful technology exists, operators are looking to technology vendors like us to define how it will be integrated into their operations.”
VizExplorer touts tableViz with ChipVue, which it launched last October to provide an optical, bet-tracking table-game performance analysis. It is powered by ARB Labs. The product helps casino operators generate slot-like analytics for table games like blackjack and baccarat.
The product is known for accurate bet recognition, even side bets, without requiring new chip sets. It aids in table game player ratings—even for uncarded players—plus the ability to track and measure dealer performance and slot-like analytics for table games to enhance optimization of the table-games area.
Despite its new status, tableViz with ChipVue already offers enhancements.
“What’s new is the optical bet recognition devices embedded in the dealer’s chip tray that capture both infrared and 3-D images of players’ bets, and the machine learning algorithm that learns what the casinos’ chips look like, as well as the environment around the table,” Dang indicates. “After it learns the chips and the environment, the recognition is not affected by things such as a similarly colored beer bottle behind the bet or a bright light coming from a slot machine behind the game.
“And since we now can accurately calculate average bet, decisions per hour, time played (the dealer can open and close a rating directly from the table), and house advantage (the devices also recognize side bets), we can get very granular with our analysis after that data is fed into tableViz.”
This is a joint hardware/software solution, Dang says. Minimal ChipVue hardware is installed on every table. The package includes a chip tray with integrated optical bet recognition devices, hand count sensor, card reader, LCD screen and a small server, unobtrusive to the dealer and players, that attaches below the table. From the software perspective, tableViz does the analysis and empowers the operator with unique insights not available for table games until now.
“We have partnered with ARB Labs to integrate our tableViz analytics solution with their revolutionary optical bet recognition device and machine learning algorithm,” Dang says. “Taken together, the solutions deliver slot-level analytics at a fraction of the cost of solutions like RFID.”
TableViz with ChipVue lets operators accurately rate players and perform advanced operations analysis like true game occupancy, side bet profitability, and managing dealer performance metrics including side bet participation and hand speed by game by session, hour, shift or day-of-week.
Bravo Pit Watch
Genesis Gaming Solutions develops hardware and software solutions for casino pit and poker room management and player tracking operations. The Spring, Texas-based company touts its Bravo hardware and software solutions, which offer casino personnel essential management and tracking tools.
The product line has some notable elements.
The Pit Watch module (right) is the heart of the player tracking and management software. Rating information and table statistics are entered and displayed in the program. Floor personnel use Pit Watch exclusively for all player rating activity, rack management, fills/credits, openers/closers and marker activity. The program is easily configured to accommodate different hardware configurations including central pit PC, touch PC at pit table and mobile tablet PC.
Supervisors are notified of any customer activity requiring MTL or CTR requirements, and surveillance can monitor the Pit Watch program for player alerts and table monetary activity.
The Bravo Pit, CCD System is a table game player ratings and management system designed to track play using correct hand counts for more accurate player reward calculations. Newly developed sensors are positioned under the table felt to detect where cards or chips are placed to determine when a hand is being played. The sensors are designed to read through fabric, and can detect changes in ambient light to determine where and when objects are placed on top of the table felt.
For Las Vegas-based Tangam Systems, a leader in table games optimization software, the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem serves as a prominent install for its award-winning Table Games Yield Management (TYM) software.
The product runs across all table games with the goal of aligning table game mix, staffing, spreads, and pricing to actual patron demand. With the increased visibility, Sands Bethlehem can harness TYM’s analytics engine to ensure the right table games are available to patrons at the right time and price point.
Ari Mizrachi, vice president of operations optimization at Tangam, says the TYM system helps Sands Bethlehem maintain its goals by marrying deep insights to actionable recommendations.
Varun Nayak, senior vice president of gaming strategy for Tangam, says that although an increase in data generates more reports, data is only useful when converted into clear decisions.
Tangam’s flagship software, TYM, is the world’s first and only table games yield management solution that automatically analyzes gaming data to provide actionable recommendations to align game mix, table spreads, and pricing to actual patron demand with intuitive visualizations and predictive analytics to support the decisions.
All told, the new pit is an encouraging saga. “In with the new” did not mean “out with the old.”