The evolving pit.
Those three magic words reflect the revitalized home of the industry’s classic games: craps, blackjack, roulette, baccarat, and, in the new age, poker.
The beauty of the evolving pit is its varied interpretations. Some vendors enhance its function with exciting games. Others offer operational flexibility and the penchant for on-site marketing. Maximized funds access also plays a role.
From varied angles, it’s a new age for the pit, which has swung like a pendulum, from dominating casino operations to being overtaken by slots and then finding a path back to a happy medium, anchored by younger players.
The pit not only holds its own in the revenue realm, but embraces some of the community-based elements of slot operations.
Bring the Games
The pit retains a flair for magic.
“People want live entertainment and the ability to socialize, and the table-game experience is unmatched in that area,” says John Hemberger, senior vice president of table products for AGS. “Over the last few years, the biggest change we’ve seen in the pit is that, regardless of the game, there are so many more betting options.
“Blackjack is a great example. The many new side bets and progressives add new twists, significantly more excitement and more ways to win.”
Industry table games enjoyed a strong 2019, and AGS reported record table-game revenue in the third quarter, the last financials available, Hemberger says. Progressives, side bets and exciting new games trigger his 2020 optimism.
“We’re laser-focused on driving an engaging player experience and partnering with operators to grow the table-game player base, encouraging loyal players to invest more,” he says. “We’re addressing this primarily through our focus on table progressives, and adding more interactivity to the player experience.”
Hemberger calls Bonus Spin Xtreme, an innovative new progressive side bet system, an example of AGS’ passion in this sector.
The cutting-edge design, which features three concentric wheels, lets Bonus Spin Xtreme reward all participating players with a community prize. One player gets an enhanced prize, which could even be a progressive jackpot.
“Bonus Spin Xtreme is also the only product in our industry to link all table games within a casino, including community-style table games like roulette, baccarat and craps, and offer a single shared progressive jackpot,” Hemberger adds. “Every progressive on the floor is fueling that jackpot, making it much more lucrative. It’s also a community experience, where everyone is winning together, creating more energy and certainly more camaraderie. People like to win together, and they like to see other people winning. That’s really the foundation of our industry and what drives people into casinos.”
Hemberger also touts the STAX Progressive platform, a table-game progressive platform offering a multi-level progressive, a must-hit-by jackpot, and even a Golden Seat feature that randomly selects a player who’s wagered the progressive side bet and delivers a customizable, casino-configurable reward.
“The must-hit-by feature that we added to STAX stemmed from a desire to get higher participation on these progressive wagers,” he indicates. “Operators have, in some instances, seen a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in participation after turning on the STAX must-hit-by progressive, because it offers exciting new energy at the table as the meter increments towards the must-hit-by amount.”
In the latest version of STAX, AGS has added features that “make the casino pit more energetic,” such as seasonal-themed backgrounds that can be easily changed to celebrate holidays like St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween and Christmas.
“While we still want to differentiate the casino pit from the slot floor, we recognize that there are elements we can pull into the pit, like attractive animated signs and themed celebratory progressive displays,” says Hemberger. “They draw players to the games and offer better ways to merchandise the game and the progressive jackpot.”
The role of automatic card shufflers is increasingly important in the casino pit, and AGS is penetrating the industry with its Dex S single-deck poker shuffler (it launched in late 2018, and now has 175 units installed across 13 markets). The company just introduced a second variety, the Pax S single-deck packet shuffler.
“There’s another product we’re looking forward to launching in 2020,” Hemberger says, “the ACOT Chip Tray and no-peek device. It’s a new, elegantly engineered version of a casino pit must-have, designed to efficiently store and arrange chips for easy accessibility, while securely protecting chip inventory.
“The no-peek component, which is available with ACOT or separately, provides greater levels of security for blackjack tables.”
Adding the Energy
Combining security-friendly utility products with presentations designed to add some pizzazz to the pit is by no means confined to U.S.-based suppliers. London-based TCSJohnHuxley, a longtime leader in the international table-game supply business, offers plenty of both types of product.
One of the most prominent examples is the Blaze Surface Technology range, now offered on TCSJohnHuxley tables for roulette, sicbo, baccarat, craps and roulette. This suite of games brings a new twist to these traditional games, incorporating eye-catching patented game attract animations as well as highlighting winning bets with lively displays, while providing additional security to dealers and operations staff alike.
“Our Blaze range of products have been extremely successful in the Americas,” says Steph Nel, the company’s general manager for the Americas, “with many casinos capitalizing on the added excitement and spectacle these eye-catching tables bring to the gaming floor. With the addition of Blaze Baccarat, operators can now take advantage of offering one of the world’s most popular card games while improving the playing experience for the customer.”
Adding to the company’s lineup of new table products—to be displayed at this month’s ICE London show—is the TCSJohnHuxley Jackpot System, which provides operators with the flexibility to configure multiple bespoke progressive jackpots and patented mystery prizes, to enhance any base game. The system focuses on preferred hit frequencies as well as specific jackpots, their seed values and contributions.
“Never before has there been a successful progressive system that provides high levels of excitement as well as multiple customizable independent progressive jackpots and fixed payouts, incorporating both event based and mystery wins,” says Nel.
On the utility side, TCSJohnHuxley offes the A Plus Shuffler, which the company calls the most versatile and reliable single-to-eight-deck shuffler on the market. It is available with interchangeable blackjack and poker shoe configurations, and can be easily set up for all kinds of card game shuffling needs, although it comes pre-programmed with many popular casino card game settings.
The A Plus Shuffler is capable of delivering a continuous supply of cards from one to eight decks, or can deliver composite hands of one or more cards in turn.
“A Plus Shuffler can easily increase game speed, hand rate, utilization and ultimately revenue from almost any casino card game,” Nel says. “It is simple and easy to use, and requires limited training time, as the machine prompts the user throughout the dealing process. Introducing new staff to the unit only takes minutes.”
There’s a new way to manage pit traffic.
TableView brings a 2020 dimension to the pit for Scientific Games, which enhances the product via mobile capability. The updated product is strongly entrenched in the Asian market, and will enter the United States this year, according to Bobby Liscio, senior product manager at Scientific Games.
TableView, attached to 11,000 tables in 302 casinos worldwide, has been upgraded consistently over the past 15 years. It already provides an innovative table management solution designed to replace any existing manual rating process. With the ease, speed and simplicity of a fixed tablet or a mobile device, floor operations staff enter real-time player ratings and issue customer comps and markers right at the table. Information and transactions recorded at the table integrate seamlessly with the CMS, providing casino personnel with secure and instant access to table ratings and detailed financial information.
The product is known for its touch-screen entry, integrated CMS database access, table ratings and a graphical dashboard for detailed analytics, among other features.
And it’s about to enter a new age. The emerging hand-held version, TableView Web, turns supervisors into walking command centers, who can move among tables to implement important data, everything from player ratings, fills and credits to open and close of tables, rollover of the gaming day and head-count limits. All aid decision-making in raising or dropping table limits or deploying personnel.
Operators may decide to replace older hardware, like the hydraulic arm containing the tablet at many tables, or a mechanism by which a tablet is fixed and mounted on a table, over time.
“One of the benefits it produces at the pit is freeing up space around the table,” Liscio says. “Think about it now, with all the displays, shufflers, signs about table limits, etc. There’s a lot of hardware attached to the tables. Now we can take some of that away and free up space for any other technology.”
The new version also frees up budgets, he says. The iPad is more than 50 percent cheaper than the tablets at the table, a savings that multiplies over the span of multiple units.
While the new TableView packs smart enhancements, Liscio is thrilled about its imminent integration with SG Vision, which, through small cameras and chip and facial recognition, will enable players to be instantly identified and marketed to, on the spot. TableView is just one of the products enhanced with SG Vision, a company-tailored version of Computer Vision, the video-surveillance and people-counting tool used in many fields, including security at airports. It’s in development.
“An alert can go out, telling the host that a VIP has arrived at a table,” Liscio indicates. “We can alert surveillance when players are wagering a large amount. Players won’t even need loyalty cards. They walk up to a table, the rating is opened. When they walk away, it’s closed.”
Liscio believes SG Vision and TableView will help supervisors regain the ability to interact with players, an important public-relations role.
“SG Vision is going to be a real game-changer,” he says. “You try to take as much responsibility from a supervisor as possible, and you take inaccuracies out of the system. If someone has to watch six to eight games at one time, how accurate are their guesstimates?
“The tasks added onto a supervisor’s job over the years have kind of taken over what’s really important in the pits, and that’s getting to know your customers and delivering a high level of customer service. I opened Caesars in Atlantic City in 1979. I was in craps, and we had time to shake hands with the customers. We knew the players, what they drank, what they like. ‘Hey, can we get Joe a beer?’ ‘Hey, Joe wants $1,000 in chips.’ The customers loved that. People love to be recognized.
“That phase of gaming just kind of went away. You see supervisors buried in paperwork, their heads down. They’re unable to shake hands with the people. I think we’ll be able to bring those good things back.”
The Digital Neighborhood
Darren Simmons, executive vice president and fintech business leader for Everi, believes the pit is entering a unique age. Funds access, the gas in the player’s tank, gets higher “octane” with new products.
“Self-service options, convenience and consumer adoption in the retail space—for example, Apple Wallet—are all driving demand for digital transformation across the casino floor, which we’ve witnessed over the past 24 months,” he says. “This digital transformation is impacting technologies that are being evaluated and deployed in casino pits. We believe holistic systems like our ‘Digital Neighborhood’ will be critical in addressing operational, compliance and customer experience needs.”
The concept of Everi’s “Digital Neighborhood” is centered around its core platform products and suite of services, Simmons says. These products and services interact with each other, whether it’s on the loyalty kiosk, in payments processing, at the ATM or in the back of the house through jackpot processing or compliance solutions.
The company’s mobile platform enables these products to communicate with each other and provide the seamless convenience of a single vendor, he says. The mobile application leverages all the core functionality and capabilities to complete the customer journey and create a convenient user experience.
While Everi sees success in the mobile funding capabilities, it views even greater opportunity by bringing all of its services into one mobile solution, according to Simmons. Everi touts CashClub Concierge and CashClub Wallet as major players in this sector.
“They’re two of several touch points for casino guests that are tied together through Everi’s Digital Neighborhood,” he says. “This experience is unique, in that it’s free from the disruptive mechanisms of conventional payments, compliance and loyalty. Both parts of our payments solutions suite, CashClub Concierge and CashClub Wallet, are designed to maximize funds to the floor, optimize how players access their funds, and enable operators to monitor and control player activity with an eye toward compliance and responsible gaming.”
What are the dynamics behind the products?
“The wow factor comes down to providing more freedom and convenience in how guests access and manage cash on the casino floor,” he says. “This freedom and convenience are commonplace in the retail space, but has been a long time coming to casinos.
“CashClub Wallet consolidates payment options for guests, enabling them to store multiple payment methods, easily move funds in and out of the casino and manage their spend limits, all aimed at supporting responsible gaming and compliance. We’re involved in test programs of our CashClub Wallet at two large casino properties, and both operator and player feedback has been positive. Operators have been impressed with the fact they are able to offer another self-service option to their guests besides ATMs and kiosks, as well as the potential to reduce cash handling costs and to extend promotions to guests while not on property.”
CashClub Concierge delivers personalized cash access cage service right at the guest’s table position, via mobile tablets and mobile point-of-sale devices through the CashClub payments software platform. Based on operator feedback to date, the solution has reduced disruption of play, as guests don’t have to step away from gaming to access additional funds, and has shortened lines and wait times at the cage.
As players demand more excitement and options, the evolving pit appears ready.