Table-game technology sprouts a wide umbrella.
Some of its recent innovations concern bonusing, as game suppliers target the gambler’s insatiable wild-card appetite. Patrons want a side deal, a play within a play, a game within a game. Bonusing features have propelled a comeback for table games, which once drove the gaming industry before being overtaken by slots.
Other industry enhancements concern the nuts and bolts of a table. Upgraded equipment induces faster play, more volume and an enhanced bottom line. Operators look to balance the delicate mixture of business and customer relations. They must accomplish this by shortening the time between hands, reducing table-side banter and moving the revenue needle without making patrons feel like a number.
Some companies achieve their objectives by filling a market niche. Others forge meaningful symmetries.
Either way, table games retain a prominent, re-emerging persona.
Bonusing: The Scientific Process
Scientific Games has long been a major innovator in the global lottery and regulated gaming industries. Whether one considers its launching of the world’s very first secure instant lottery game in 1974, or its acquisition of companies like Bally Technologies, WMS and Shuffle Master in recent years, this company is a gaming giant.
Roger Snow, senior vice president of table games and shufflers, has blazed an innovative table-games path. He has invented more than 90 original table games and holds more than 40 patents. One of his creations was DJ Wild, the five-card poker game introduced last year featuring four deuces and a joker as wild cards (accounting for the DJ term).
Bonusing has become a huge component in his repertoire. It’s also an industry omen.
“You know how in sports, you have to take what the defense gives you? It’s the same thing in our world, and right now casinos are much more receptive to bonus add-ons than they are to completely new game concepts,” he says. “Casinos are looking for side bets or progressives that allow them to take their existing real estate and make the games more exciting, fun and profitable.
“Bonuses are the big thing right now in table games,” Snow says. “Casinos are trying all sorts of concepts: felt side bets, progressives, even participation pricing models in which they split revenues with the company providing the progressive, like they do with slot machines.”
A slot-machine-on-a-table formula describes Blazing 7s, for which Snow teamed with table games executives Ryan Yee and Jeremy Halter to launch. It is a $5 blackjack progressive, involving the player’s first two cards and the dealer’s up card. If any of them is a 7, the player collects. Payouts increase if two or three of the cards are 7s. A jackpot is hit if all of three 7s carry the same suit.
“We’ve been trying to find the right formula for at least six years, and it looks like we finally got it,” Snow indicates. “We’ve got some huge installs in Pennsylvania and Nevada, and we are adding more every week. We also have a progressive bet for baccarat called 99 Fortunes and a felt bonus called Cover All that will be hitting the market very soon.”
Blazing 7s, of course, is a Bally slot brand. Linking it to the tables was a calculated, yet bold move. Snow says table-game players don’t usually respond well to branded games, but they have to this one.
They also figure to like Cover All, an action-packed proposition play that Snow introduced.
“I’ve had this idea for a while, but the technology didn’t exist to make it happen,” he says. “Cover All is an optional bet that goes on games like Three Card Poker, Four Card Poker or Ultimate Texas Hold ‘em. When players make the bet, they get action on every hand at the table. I’m talking their hand, the hand of other players, even the dealer’s hand. Here’s where the technology comes in: The payouts change depending on the number of players in the hand, because the probabilities change. It’s easier for someone at the table to get a full house if there are six players as opposed to two. The shuffler knows how many there are and modifies the odds accordingly.”
There won’t be much time to savor the “new” for Scientific Games. Forward vision already anticipates the “next.”
“One of the most exciting products close to launch is a wide-area progressive for blackjack,” Snow says. “We should be up and running soon on the Las Vegas Strip, and we also look to take this to the tribal casinos in California. This will be a first of its kind, and it’s something that only a company of our size and scope can provide. You need serious infrastructure in place to host this kind of jackpot.”
The California market is indeed hot for bonus games. Buster Blackjack, developed by Stanley Ko and distributed by AGS, is a pre-eminent blackjack side bet across the state’s casino realm. It has also begun to emerge in Washington and Arizona. The game’s popularity stems from its strong community gaming dynamic of players rooting for the same outcome: a dealer bust.
The game is one more illustration of gamblers wanting wild-card options and new wrinkles. Players can win both their blackjack and buster bets when the dealer busts. They can even win while losing, if they go over and the dealer also busts on a hand in which they played the side bet.
“AGS acquired Buster Blackjack in September 2015, and in the first quarter of fiscal year 2016 we’ve already doubled the game’s install base,” says John Hemberger, vice president of table products for AGS. “Thanks to its easy-to-understand game play, payout simplicity, and the excitement it adds to any standard blackjack table, we’ve seen an explosion in the game’s popularity, which has translated into exceptional performance for our casino partners.”
While casinos will pay fees for each table equipped with the branded side-bet bonuses and progressives, London-based TCSJohnHuxley’s comprehensive Gaming Floor Live (GFL) allows the casino to design its own bonuses.
GFL is a complete modular network platform and table gaming management system that draws data from every aspect of the table and feeds it into the casino’s management system in real time. Users have praised the system for giving table game operators the same depth of information for auditing and marketing purposes as slot managers have enjoyed for decades—plus additional benefits such as monitoring the hands-per-hour of dealers against benchmarks.
“The last 12 months have been concentrated on innovation,” Tristan Sjöberg, the firm’s executive chairman, said at the conclusion of this year’s ICE trade show in London. “We have been very focused on expanding our Gaming Floor Live suite, constantly innovating and adding products to the range—not just new offerings but also developing and evolving existing key products so that they are enabled to integrate with the Gaming Floor Live platform.”
One of the most effective modules of the system is GFL Bonusing, which enables the casino to create its own table-game progressives and bonuses. Using GFL, operators can create multiple bespoke progressives and side bets for any table game, monitor the succeess of them in real time and, if necessary, modify the game configurations instantly.
Instead of installing several different pre-configured side bets and progressives in the hopes that players will enjoy them, the flexibility of GFL Bonusing means casinos can create exactly what their unique player demographic wants. Mystery jackpots can be spread across any table group on the floor.
GFL Bonusing allows operators to develop their own side bets without having to pay royalties on a game license. If one jackpot is won, the others remain in play until they are also won—adding extra excitement in connection with lower-paying hands.
EZ Does It
DEQ Systems Corp., based near Quebec City in Canada and in Las Vegas, teams up with LT Game, a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based Paradise Entertainment, to make a worldwide “EZ” synergy.
DEQ is a market leader in table games, progressive systems, live and online proprietary table games content and utility solutions. Its solutions exist in more than 300 casinos and 30 countries.
EZ Baccarat, also known as the Dragon 7 game in Macau, is the most popular baccarat brand worldwide, company officials say, with more than 750 installations in over 150 casinos and card rooms.
EZ Baccarat is an operating system that can go on multiple platforms. LT Game licenses the EZ Baccarat intellectual property from DEQ Systems, the global distributor of the game, and DEQ and LT Game are working together to develop the software so that it works on LT Game LMG systems.
“The LT Game deal offers an opportunity to put EZ Baccarat on thousands of LT Game Live Multi-Game (LMG) systems over the next few years, in the Macau market first,” says Francisco “TJ” Tejeda, the co-creator of EZ Baccarat. “Putting EZ Baccarat on terminals is a strategic maneuver that will give the brand more exposure while helping open up the largest baccarat market in the world.
“What is exciting is how the LT Game terminals work: let’s take an example of a casino in Macau, where there are 10 dealers dealing two hands a game, including baccarat, sic bo and roulette, with 20 games going at a time and live-streaming to 900 terminals enabling players to play multiple hands. For players, seeing live dealers run the game is a reassuring feature that brings a measure of familiarity to the game.”
The setup has some game-changing elements, Tejeda asserts.
“A powerful appeal of ETGs is that they open up markets that would otherwise be closed due to table game regulation,” he contends. “In Macau, where table games are limited, labor-efficient ETGs can be profitable even when offering lower limits to attract players that have been priced out of live table games. In North America, the unqualified success of the New York electronic casino model will entice other jurisdictions to follow suit.”
What is the WOW factor for this product?
“One of the most compelling advantages that EZ Baccarat brings to ETGs using a random number generator is the JadeShoe with EZ Shuffle, a patent-pending technology that makes the electronic version of EZ Baccarat virtually the same as the table game by replicating a standard baccarat shoe,” Tejeda says. “It it has eight decks and does not shuffle after every hand. This is a huge differentiator for the electronic game, and a powerful enticement for Chinese players for whom following the patterns (aka the ‘roads’) is a crucial part of the game.”
The timing for a dynamic table-games partnership could not be better. Many experts, including DEQ President and CEO Joe Bertolone, believe the Asian gaming world mirrors the early path of Las Vegas. Table games drove the American industry for many years before slots emerged.
That’s just fine, according to LT Game. The company’s signature product is Live Multi Game System, perfectly placed for a market that has “tabled” the next wave of growth. ETGs are surging in Macau.
Betty Zhao, the chief operating officer of LT Game, says the number of ETG terminals, both with and without a live dealer, rose from 3,520 in 2012 to 5,670 last year. She predicts the market will continue to grow in the ETG stadium concept, either with a live dealer or fully automated RNG.
“We already see in Macau that players are enjoying the live-dealer-streaming LMG and fully automated RNG ETG stadiums throughout some of the resorts,” Zhao says.
“On average there are at least 60 LMG terminal stadium environments throughout Macau, with some venues having over a couple of hundred terminals,” Zhao asserts. “The stadiums in Macau also have more than 10 outcomes of games being dealt at once. In Las Vegas, the largest placement has been 34 terminals at one property with just four outcomes being dealt.
“Las Vegas is in the early stages of this product type. Although Palazzo installed 24 terminals in November 2013, the market is still learning about this. Most recently, Palace Station in Las Vegas installed 12 terminals with two live outcomes of baccarat being dealt. The seeding progress is encouraging in Las Vegas, since it does seem that more casino operators are open to the concept of having mini-stadiums of LMGs on their casino floors.”
Zhao predicts LT Game will soon present a Fast Betting Terminal allowing players to bet 10 games simultaneously on a single multi-touch screen.
Setting the Table
For some companies, it’s the setting that drives table-game efficiency.
Ten-year-old VisuaLimits, based in Las Vegas, has stormed the gaming stage with VL-Focus, a versatile table games communications and analytics solution. The company’s fourth-generation product has been in operation for more than two years and is growing steadily throughout the United States.
“What started as a simple, two-sided LCD Table Limit sign has matured into a powerful analytic and table-management system with the evolution of our multi-faceted analytics software,” says Perry Stasi, the president and chief executive officer of VisuaLimits. “The VL-Focus allows casino operators to utilize the high-value real estate on the table previously occupied by static table limit signs or cheap picture frames, and now automatically tracks hands per hour, player head-counts and side-bet participation along with enhancements including innovative new game protection technologies, all in the same footprint.”
The VL-Focus not only enhances the player’s experience by displaying internal casino marketing content and external information—such as sports scores and live TV feeds on the front screen—but it can also improve customer service, he says. The unit’s functionality via the rear screen of the sign allows for alerts to be sent directly from the table to other departments such as food & beverage, marketing and player development (casino hosts), and by making internal communications more direct and efficient.
As for security features, the embedded VL-Focus cameras can assist surveillance in better recognizing cheaters at the table and can even send table-view video clips of previous rounds, along with alerts to surveillance.
VL-Focus also has a performance evaluation component. When dealers tap in after a break, they can find out their hands-per-hour rate for their previous dealing period and determine if it meets the casino’s desired speed of play. This creates an interesting automated coaching tool for achieving proper balance between consistency in dealing floor-wide and increasing the amount of hands dealt. Some of VisuaLimit’s casino customers are rewarding dealers who meet benchmarks.
In the final analysis, VL-Focus has shown that it can provide about a 10 percent improvement in hands-per-hour on a blackjack table, Stasi contends.
It’s just one more bit of technology being applied to an area of the casino in which technology was historically a suspicious element, particularly to table-game players.
In the end, those players now get a better table-game experience.