What’s a “smart camera?”
The term applies to an array of small, unobtrusive, hands-free cameras provided by Tangam Gaming (TGG), that gaze upon your card games to compile and report a dizzying amount of accurate data-information that can be used to make the casino more money.
The cameras are part of TGG’s “TableEye21” and “TableEyeBacc” table-game tracking systems.
In theory, exclusive and actionable data on your table games customers and operations can give you a significant competitive advantage. This elusive, accurate and actionable information can empower table games directors to execute more focused and efficient player development efforts, reduce fraud and advantage play, improve accountability, proactively manage dealer productivity, set table minimums optimally, and, consequently, increase departmental profitability.
Over the past few years, innovative casino operators around the country have been installing and testing automated table game management technologies such as RFID chips and optical tracking systems while the mainstream majority takes a “wait and see” attitude, preferring to see what works.
But one casino’s experience with TGG’s table management systems proves that smart cameras will one day take their rightful place along player-tracking systems, data warehousing and robust CRM applications as indispensable table game management tools.
Barona Valley Ranch in San Diego has won numerous awards for customer service, player development, marketing and operational initiatives. It has a well-deserved reputation as being the leader at the forefront of casino technological innovations.
Barona was the first Native American casino to co-develop and utilize sophisticated customer relationship management software, the first casino in America to adopt a full-blown, floor-wide TITO slot system, and the first to install a server-based slot system in a Native American casino. Now, the casino’s executives are aiming to be the first to successfully benefit from a fully integrated and comprehensive automated table game management system.
Michael Patterson, vice president of table games at Barona, has the unique luxury of being the world’s first table game manager to deploy and benefit from the industry’s first system that can track every card, every wager and every player decision to get a 360-degree view of a table’s and customer’s action.
The initiative started in 2004 when Patterson decided to partner with Tangam Systems to see if it was possible to implement an innovative table game tracking solution that was seamless and invisible to customers and dealers alike. Tangam offered a solution that unobtrusively tracked every card and player decision through overhead video cameras and video analytics software.
After putting the technology through a brutal proving ground at Barona’s extensive on-site gaming lab and testing it out on the casino floor, Barona decided to deploy the solution to two pits that included blackjack (with both shoe and pitch games) and midi-baccarat games. After the installation, Tangam and Barona conducted an extensive case study to analyze the information and determine how the accumulated data could affect Barona’s operations.
Patterson commented, “With Tangam, our goal was to automatically track every card, bet and player decision, and we wanted to see how much actionable information and benefits we could get from those data points.”
The Tangam case study at Barona, which spanned several months, was performed with the following end goals in mind:
• Quantify the gain in player development investment efficiency that can be achieved with more accurate player ratings
• Measure dealer and operational productivity
• Determine the leakage in revenue due to dealer mistakes, cheating and advantage play
The first step was to validate the accuracy of the data. More than 100,000 individual hands of blackjack (shoe and pitch) and midi-baccarat were manually reviewed against the tracked data to establish accuracy metrics. After exhaustive manual cross-checking, it was established that the Tangam solution had a tracking accuracy of 99.9 percent-plus among the data it labeled as “high confidence” data.
Patterson said the goal was to understand the value of each player and how to better control the outcome.
“Everyone has value,” he says. “It’s just how well you recognize that value and then how you manage that information. The last thing I want anyone to do is overreact. As soon as you discover someone isn’t profitable, you don’t go out there with a sledgehammer. You just reduce the part of the equation that is hurting you.”
The technology is very covert, according the Patterson. Therefore, players don’t get overly concerned about it, so it results in greater drop.
“For some reason, a lot of superstitious players are afraid of technology,” he says. “But this doesn’t seem to bother them.
“And the floor has less stress and they can respond to players’ needs and give them a better experience, which should translate into a greater drop. With the right tools and greater automated observations, there’s no question that we can improve our business.”
For a very good blackjack player, Patterson says you just adjust the comps to fit his skill.
“You still treat him as a valuable customer,” he says. “If he’s come in and asks for a room, you give it to him. Now if you know he’s a better player than you originally thought he was, you don’t give him a room every time he asks. But you’ve got to manage him. If he’s still profitable, he’s profitable.”
Player Development Dollars: Increasing Efficiency
Now it gets interesting. Over the past several decades, most casinos have rated their players and determined player comps and marketing reinvestment dollars using the same simple formula:
Theoretical Win = Time Played x Game Pace x Player Disadvantage x Average Bet
Generally speaking, only the “Time Played” portion of the equation was close to pristine, while “Game Pace,” “House Edge” and “Average Bet” notations on a rating card (or even on a supposedly “high-tech” system) have been little more than vague notions notated by overworked and under-trained floor supervisors, that are rarely, if ever, accurate.
“Game Pace” and “House Edge” have traditionally been clumped under “Average,” and this typical methodology is highly subjective and prone to error, as the house edge varies based on individual player skill, and the game pace varies significantly based on a table’s occupancy, players’ idiosyncrasies and dealers’ speed.
For the case study, the following adjusted “smart formula” was utilized get a more accurate rating for the player:
Theoretical Win = Number of Hands Played x Player Disadvantage x Average Bet
The number of hands played and player disadvantage (skill) were accurately tracked by TGG’s smart cameras. In this updated formula, only the “Average Bet” needs to be manually estimated (Tangam does not recognize bet values), and of all of the formula’s elements, it is the one most easily predicted by floor supervisors with a tolerable degree of accuracy.
One thousand sessions were randomly chosen from the database, with each session consisting of about 120 minutes of game play. Each session had at least 100 hands of play. The theoretical win on each of these sessions was calculated using the “Traditional Formula” as well the “Smart Formula.”
For consistency of evaluation and to isolate the error factors, a constant average wager was utilized in both formulas for all 1,000 sessions. The results were compared to determine the difference in the theoretical win calculations between the two formulas.
Of the 1,000 sessions analyzed, the average difference in theoretical win was approximately 37 percent. Furthermore, the player skill across the 1,000 sessions showed an average player disadvantage of 1.4 percent.
After these base metrics were established, a secondary manual analysis was done based on 37 manually collected ratings sessions, each with more than 50 hands. This served as a “sanity check” against the results of the initial 1,000-session analysis. The comparison on these 37 ratings sessions showed an average rating difference of 28 percent, with a standard deviation of 20 percent.
In summary, Barona increased its accuracy in calculating player worth by 25 percent to 40 percent. This translates into an parallel gain of efficiency in the allocation of player reinvestment dollars.
The study proved that there is a significant gain in efficiency and focus to be realized by using accurate player skill and actual number of hands played in assessing player worth.
Measuring and Managing Productivity
The successful adoption of shufflers has proven that minimizing downtime and enhancing game speed significantly drives more revenue on retail and mid-tier games. The importance of managing productivity and game pace is understood by all savvy table game managers, but the ability to accurately measure the pace of individual games has been missing in the past.
Initially, TGG measured hands per hour (HPH) metrics on the blackjack shoe games week by week over a 13-week period. In each week, more than 300,000 hands were utilized to calculate hands-per-hour statistics. The following table summarizes the results over the 13-week period:
As an additional sanity check, these numbers were compared and validated against independent case studies performed manually by other casino properties, and data presented in Jim Kilby’s Casino Operations Management. Barona’s productivity metrics were extraordinarily close to Kilby’s book, and with two to seven players on a game, fell within two rounds per hour of precisely matching the metrics presented by Kilby.
Furthermore, comparing the HPH metrics from week to week shows a standard deviation of less than 2.5 percent over the 13-week period. This tiny variance is an indication that the HPH measurement can be used as a reliable measure of productivity and that Barona now has a tool to measure the impact of procedures and equipment changes at their tables and proactively manage game output accordingly.
Once average HPH metrics were established for the BJ shoe games, measuring and ranking dealers on HPH was done next. Dealers at Barona place their ID cards on the table at the start of their dealing session. The system optically recognizes the ID card and logs the dealer with the table. In this manner games are associated with specific dealers.
TGG then calculated each dealer’s HPH at an occupancy level of four (for fair comparison) using sets of at least 1,000 hands. The dealers were then ranked in order of their respective HPH scores. Management was able to utilize this report to determine which dealers were performing as per their target HPH, and which were far off the mark. Barona can now apply this tool to measure and manage each dealer’s game pace on an ongoing basis.
Patterson said TGG allows him to better evaluate table staff.
“Traditionally, when you evaluate a dealer or floor person, generally, you’re guessing,” he says. “Now you know exactly how a boss or dealer is performing. In fact, if you suspect a dealer has poor guest service skills, you can tell by the number of players who are retained on the game, that the service in fact may be deficient.”
In addition to cards and player decisions, TGG also tracks the presence and movement of chip stacks. For instance, if a dealer erroneously pays out a push hand, the system detects the presence of the payout chip stack beside the initial bet stack and flags it as a potential payout error. (It does not, however, track overpays or underpays.)
Furthermore, it analyzes the sequence of cards and player decisions to automatically detect potential next-card knowledge, hole-card knowledge, false shuffles and baccarat third-card rule mistakes.
TGG analyzed more than 1,900 hours of action on the blackjack tables to automatically detect the leakage at tables due to dealer payout mistakes. Specifically, only erroneous payouts on push or losing bets were tracked. Surprisingly, only one uncorrected pay/take mistake happened every 24 hours of action on a blackjack game at an average occupancy of four players.
Barona was easily able to audit the pay/take mistake incidents via the Tangam user interface, which provides search and video playback functionality. A similar study done on midi-baccarat revealed that approximately one third-card rule mistake (corrected and uncorrected) happens every 24 hours of action.
Although most of the errors were accidents, Barona now has a tool to audit pay/take mistakes and procedure mistakes, and easily catch potential collusion between dealers and players. Furthermore, TGG provides Barona constant protection against potential hole-card play, next-card knowledge play and false shuffle scams.
Patterson says Barona only wanted an accurate rating system in the beginning but found other benefits as the test went on.
“Being able to determine third-card rule mistakes on baccarat, pay-take errors on blackjack, game pace audits, time and motion studies, advantage player alerts, down time, occupancy levels, dealer efficiency reports and many other things to come along aside from automated rating,” he explains. “All of these value-added benefits have been developed here at Barona during this beta test.”
Summarizing the Results
After the comprehensive study of the actionable data collected by the Tangam solution, the Barona team concluded the following:
The casino realizes substantially better targeting of player development dollars by utilizing Tangam generated-skill assessments and number of actual hands in determining player worth. Barona gains in the efficiency of allocation by at least 25 percent.
The solution can help catch advantage players and prevent potential collusion faster than traditional methods and with less effort, thus helping to save the casino money.
TGG-generated productivity reports are effective tools which can measure and manage the impact of procedure changes on productivity, and proactively manage both dealer and floor supervisor performance.
“Smart shoes,” the card-dispensing devices sold by several gaming vendors, will not necessarily be made obsolete by TGG, says Patterson.
“If you look at baccarat in Macau, they’ve got a closed system and it works, but I think a combination of Tangam and smart shoes is a valid option, especially at those betting levels you see in Asia,” he says. “On smaller games, maybe not so much. The real question is whether they can price the products so that both options are available to the operator. And they both really help when it comes to card control.”
The case study has unequivocally proven the tangible benefits that “smart camera” systems bring to a casino floor. Barona is now in the process of integrating the Tangam solution with its back-end ACSC system so the player development efficiency gains can be maximized on a daily basis.
Following the integration, Barona is planning floor-wide expansion of Tangam to additional tables. Other initiatives being discussed include performing yield management on the table games using Tangam-generated data, and adding more game protection alerts. Furthermore, Patterson is now considering installing a full-blown RFID system at his tables to realize his vision of creating a comprehensive tracking system that can track every card, wager and player decision.
“TGG is a closed loop,” he says. “You get to see the entire aspect of an individuals gaming experience. With a combination of all the systems you can collect and analyze all relevant data and even make future behavioral predications. I foresee a combination of these products allowing us to predict and communicate to our players much in the same way Amazon and other organizations use behavioral data.”
Barona’s business imperative of dominating its market by successfully taking risks with emerging technological innovations has once again been validated with TGG’s smart cameras. In the not-so-distant future, Barona looks forward to having the world’s first hands-free table game data delivery system, and TGG will an integral part of that mix.
Max Rubin is one of eight living members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame and the award-winning author of Comp City: A Guide to Free Gambling Vacations. With nearly 40 years in the gaming industry as a casino veteran, he has designed and developed several table games as well as innovative table game tournament concepts.