Technology has invaded casinos in both domestic and foreign markets, in all games, but perhaps the sector that has developed the most in the last five years are live table games. 2013 has continued this trend, as several of the industry leaders have introduced new games and bonus bets to casinos across the world. While the resources of technology are growing every day, it is still consumer demand that drives product development with live table games.
“Consumer demands are always what guides you,” says Roger Snow, executive vice president and chief product officer for table game supplier SHFL entertainment. “But enhanced technology can help meet these demands.”
These consumer demands are adding new dimensions to the live table game experience, led by daily experiences with smart phones and the internet. This is adding to the popularity of the bonus bet opportunities and game presentation.
“Consumers are looking for games where they can put down more money if they have a good hand,” says Robert Saucier, chief executive officer of Galaxy Gaming, another table game supplier. “It is similar to the popularity of doubling down in blackjack. It is being incorporated into more games and it appeals to more players.”
New to the Market
One of the games that represents change in the marketplace is EZ Baccarat, which was rolled out in both the United Kingdom and throughout Latin American markets this year. DEQ Systems Chief Executive Officer Earle G. Hall describes the game, originally invented by the Talisman Group but now in the DEQ product line, as a phenomenon.
“The game methodically cancels the need to collect commission,” he says. “It is a major evolution in baccarat.”
According to Hall, the market adoption of EZ Baccarat has been faster and stronger than any other table game he has ever seen.
“We are a technology company, not a table-game company,” says Hall. “By removing the commission and making the game more economical for the user it has become very popular. The ability to transfer the economics to use capital on a bonus spin is innovative.”
Hall and DEQ Systems have enjoyed seeing EZ Baccarat have the same successful integration in foreign markets as it did in the U.S. According to Hall, in less than four years, EZ Baccarat has captured more than 50 percent of U.S. markets.
“When (Talisman Group) introduced their simple way of game operation, it was so simple it was ingenious,” says Hall.
Two years after introducing EZ Baccarat to the U.S. market with great success, Talisman Group transferred the same gaming principles to pai gow. EZ Pai Gow was introduced to the Canadian market in 2013.
“Baccarat and pai gow have the same characteristics of charging a commission by taxing the winnings of the players,” says Hall. “EZ Pai Gow eliminates the principle of commission and transfers that money into bonus bets. Bonus bets are often more profitable for the casino than the base game itself.”
For DEQ Systems, introducing these two successful games in new markets signals a new standard of industry expectations on the introduction of new live table games.
“Before, our best-case scenario was waiting three years for a game to catch on, and then in years four and five really try to expand market share,” says Hall.
But EZ Baccarat was considered a world-class game by year two, going from 10 to 25 placements, and to 50 placements by the end of its third year.
“Once you have 50 units on a product, you can claim it has a solid market with legs,” says Hall. “And we are off and running with EZ Baccarat.”
Bringing the Bonus
It has been a busy year for SHFL entertainment, which introduced two new games this year, Big Raise Stud Poker and 6 Card Fortune Pai Gow Poker. Big Raise Stud Poker has one install, on field trial at the Venetian in Las Vegas. 6 Card Fortune Pai Gow Poker has six installs, all in northern California.
“Over the past few years, our most popular bonus bet is 6 Card Bonus,” says Snow, who oversees all table game development and has created more than 15 games and side bets. “6 Card Bonus has done what few side bets ever have, and is revolutionizing the game.”
Despite his success with bonus bets, Snow still questions their effectiveness and placements in games.
“For the most part, side bets are just this sort of limp appendage; they take up space, and they are not really good for anything,” he says. “But 6 Card Bonus is such an enhancement to the underlying game that it is inconceivable that going forward any casino would offer Three Card Poker without it.”
Meeting the Market
In 2012, Galaxy Gaming acquired the table game High Card Flush. Beginning this year, they began beta testing in 10 casinos with spectacular results.
“It is the No. 1 game on many floors,” says Saucier. “It is a novel game that is easy to understand. Most card games are modifications of blackjack and poker, but this game involves flushes. It is not a true poker game. A lot of non-poker players enjoy it because it only takes two minutes to understand.”
The 10-casino beta-testing phase was the most extensive ever performed by Galaxy Gaming, and the ability to closely track its initial performance has forever changed product development at the company.
“We learned to be patient with a game’s release,” says Saucier. “Before, if we thought it was ready for release we would blast it out there. We are the second-largest table game company in the world, so we have introduced many games at one time, but in retrospect that may have been a mistake. Modifications during the four-month-beta testing period were also closely tracked, as small changes greatly increased the quality of the game.”
Spending on Side and Bonus Bets
A new philosophy from the game-playing public has emerged in recent years—players will spend more money if they are taxed less. A mentor for Hall in this philosophy has been Mike Patterson, vice president of table games for Barona Casino in San Diego.
“Patterson always says, ‘the looser your tables are, and the better the player’s chance on a game, the more willing they are to spend extra income they save on bonus bets,’” says Hall. “We absolutely live by these principles and attribute 80 percent of our success to that.”
DEQ Systems’ work with the Talisman Group reflects those principles, as the Talisman Group continues to look for products where the players are primed to find an advantage and increase their spending on side bets.
“Often the best game inventors are old dealers,” says Hall. “They take time to observe players trying to find an advantage in the games. The perfect bonus bet is perceived advantage in a game.”
The Panda 8 bonus for EZ Baccarat has been the top requested bonus bet for DEQ Systems, with 500 installations in the last 18 months.
“Casinos are always pressed for profits, and bonus bets fit nicely into table games,” says Hall. “The efficiency of bonus bets offers extra revenue without slowing down the game.”
As progressive bets become a larger part of table games, the volume of table games with bonuses at casinos in both domestic and foreign markets is forecasted to increase for at least the next five to seven years, maybe even as long as the next 15 years.
“You are going to see casinos continue to drift into bonus betting,” says Saucier. “The casinos make money with bonus bets. Sometimes multiple casinos will even link bonus bet jackpots.”
Saucier says about “90 percent of the time” the operator has not developed an individual or group strategy of bonus bets available for the property. A cohesive and consistent strategy or bonus bet product offering throughout a property allows for players to develop a routine or relationships with certain side and bonus betting situations that could lead to more routine wagering.
“Many operators know that their table games are going to make money regardless,” says Saucier. “They usually establish a new bonus game by just trying it at a table and seeing what happens. I know that we have certain markets where we do better than others, but that is due more to the regulatory environment than bonus bets.”
SHFL entertainment has been very busy rolling out side bets. Since late 2012, the company has been rolling out the House Money side bet for blackjack, and already has more than 100 placements.
SHFL’s new side bet for baccarat is Pair Plus, and the company launched new versions of established blackjack side bets Bet the Set and Royal Match, as well as numerous poker-style games, including Three Card Poker Exposed, Crazy Pineapple Poker, Seven Card Omaha and Tennessee Stud Poker. This year, SHFL entertainment also introduced two progressive bets for blackjack—Straight Jack Progressive and Bet the Set Progressive.
“In table games, our biggest news is the rollout of our next-generation progressive hardware and software,” says Snow. “This product is such a jump from what we had before, it offers casinos complete flexibility for customized jackpots.”
A Dynamic Demand
As with every casino game, the influence of the mobile market has created a dynamic demand for the future of side bets and bonus bets. The bonus bets found on mobile games, in particular slot machines, are often tests for future live table games and other products.
“Our mantra at DEQ is, ‘Can the product survive the accelerated evolution that is coming over the next three to five years?’” says Hall.
The smart phone trend has made players more demanding of speed at table games, in both action and response. Players will continue to look for a financial break so they can get a better deal, which has led to the popularity of entry bonus bets. Payout structures will continue to be centered around the perceived advantage of the player.
Despite the ways mobile technology has influenced gaming, keeping bonus bets and payout structures basic is best for the gaming experience, and ultimately benefits the casino revenue. However, Saucier offers an alternate opinion.
“I do not think simplicity is key; it comes down to the structure of the game,” he says. “The real key is for someone to have a real chance to win and increase their bet if they have a good hand. That is what keeps them playing.”