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The 'E' Option

Electronic table games provide both a viable alternative and viable addition to traditional live tables

The 'E' Option

Gaming savors its rich niche.

Multi-player electronic table games, a small market segment created several years ago, thrives from its well-defined purpose. Geared to augment live action, entice new players and save operators from staffing low-limit games, they offer substantial versatility.

And new weaponry.

Units contain more player terminals to maximize space, enhanced side-bet options to increase revenue and max-bet limits to prevent players from triggering payouts that stop games for tax paperwork. Some units accomplish these objectives while being built smaller.

Gaming’s electronic arm spans the industry spectrum. In Macau, it serves the world’s richest market with the side-bet advantage of government-imposed caps on the number of live games. Operators want units that accommodate more gamblers.

In some American states, ETGs merely help casinos survive until legislation can expand their product line. Manufacturers portray electronic games as multiple bang for the buck. Casinos can utilize them and shift dealers toward the better tips of a high-limit game. Second, they speed up payouts and increase the number of hands, spins or rolls. Gone is the agonizing wait between craps rolls, for instance, based on mountain-high chip stacks and a crowded, fever-pitched game. Three, human error disappears.

Most electronic table games concern brick-and-mortar sites, while online games represent future business. The electronic games presentation can entail a hologram, videos or a live dealer mixed with an electronic terminal.

Wielding an Arsenal

New York-based Scientific Games quickly became an industry powerhouse by spending about $6.5 billion to annex WMS Industries and Bally Technologies in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

The newly merged company offers powerful interactive systems, platforms and gaming product brands. They include the Bally, WMS, Shuffle Master, Scientific Games Lottery, Williams Interactive, MDI and SG Gaming brands. The combination provides customers multi-channel distribution to land-based, social, mobile and casual online platforms under the Scientific Games brand.

“We have already seen in a number of our agreements the ability to leverage the content and provide total packages to the gaming floor,” says Gabe Baron, general manager and senior director of electronic table games for Scientific Games. “It has given us a chance to hit this market even more quickly and with more strength. We expect electronic table games to be a double-digit growth area for many years to come.”

Tom O’Brien, the company’s senior vice president of electronic table games, says the American market is largely untapped for this product segment. The games occupy a small slice of gaming space. One American location that does stand out is Resorts World Casino in New York, which contains more than 1,000 electronic tables and an appeal to the Asian market, he indicates. A healthy menu of baccarat, craps, roulette and sic bo is sprinkled throughout the property.

New York City has a world of gaming options at Resorts World Casino with its innovative electronic tablet starting at $10. Scattered among the 5,000-plus games are baccarat, roulette, craps and sic bo.

The European Roulette zone behind Bar 360 offers dozens of single-zero roulette games, while Table Games Square offers baccarat starting at just $10. “The area is not far from Chinatown,” O’Brien says, “and there are a significant number of Asian players who come in, brown-bag their lunch, pack their cigarettes and don’t get up from the table for several hours.”

Scientific Games features several electronic products in the Fusion line. Fusion Hybrid offers baccarat, roulette and sic bo dealer podiums equipped with live game results. It is suitable for stadium-style and smaller environment configurations.

Fusion Hybrid allows modular, configurable floor layout options and comes with a variety of terminal lighting color options. Betting timers are configurable for each game, and concurrent wagering allows action on up to four games at once. Four tabs allow quick switching between games.

Table Master Fusion blackjack combines the sleek look of a multi-player electronic game with recent enhancements in versatility. Players can wager on popular side bets like Royal Match 21, Bet the Set 21 and Royal Match 21 Progressive.

“We offer the industry’s most well-known desired menu of side bets,” Baron asserts. “This is an important selling point for us.”

The five-seat table design enables operators to offer some of the most popular table games 24 hours a day. And the timing can be automatic.

“The built-in scheduler does not have to be modified by the casino,” Baron says. “It can be a $3 blackjack limit during the week and a higher denomination on the weekend, if an operator prefers. Players are given warnings about the change in limits.”

The game contains a video dealer, who has prerecorded range of instructions concerning bets and congratulations of winners.

Going Live

London-based TCSJohnHuxley is constantly making improvements to its electronic table game platforms, most prominent of which is Gaming Floor Live (GFL), a network platform and table-game management system that allows operators to track data from a full complement of e-tables.

The latest addition to the system is the GFL Gaming module, a setup that allows live table games to be played on both fixed and portable electronic terminals.

“Now, every available licensed square foot—from an awkward, previously unused alcove to a smoking zone—can be transformed into revenue-generating space,” says Nick French, director of development for TCSJohnHuxley. “GFL Portable Terminals offer players the privacy and convenience of terminal betting, among the excitement of a live casino. With a portable tablet, customers can take their live table game with them, such as to the bar, restaurant or to a smoking zone, without interrupting play. This also means that casinos can increase the number of player positions per table without investing in additional costly equipment.”

GFL fixed terminals are a tethered solution for expanding the gaming floor without infringing gaming regulations. With a compact fixed unit, casinos are still able to benefit from the perks of space-saving electronic gaming while ensuring no gaming regulations are contravened as terminals are sited in licensed areas.

Both GFL portable and fixed terminals are uniquely flexible, enabling operators to offer any game that’s connected to the GFL platform. At the simple click of a button, customers can play multiple tables at once.

Real-time monitoring across GFL Gaming ensures maximum security. Upon paying for credit at the cash desk, players of fixed terminals are provided with a unique numerical login used to access terminals. This login is associated with their credit balance from the server.

For portable terminals, players are provided with a credit-loaded tablet. With both options, as play begins, all bets and cash transactions are approved by the server before being accepted, and can be overseen by operators on an administration console. For GFL portable terminals, customers can also use a fast-service “Crediting Kiosk” for credit top-ups during game play.

For added security, casinos can also choose to connect their terminals to a wireless security grid, which monitors their position within the venue. Should a portable tablet exit the designated areas outlined by the casino, it will automatically be disabled.

“GFL Gaming is an extremely adaptable solution,” says French. “With regulations in mind, we’ve designed two unique solutions to maximize licensed floor space. No matter what a casino’s local guidelines, GFL Gaming will increase live table revenue while expanding the casino floor and using space efficiently—providing a significantly smaller footprint than traditional electronic gaming terminals.”

A New MiniStar

Slovenia-based Interblock is recognized for high-quality, multi-player machines. Fully and semi-automated electronic gaming tables as well as video gaming solutions are available to casinos, arcades and gambling halls.

Interblock’s MiniStar Roulette brings the classic game to casinos in a unique electronic gaming table format. It consists of a fully automated double-zero roulette generator and is available in a five-, eight- or 10-seat configuration. Interblock recently introduced its new automated roulette in the Netherlands.

The automated gaming device includes the essential elements of a traditional table version of the game, including a real roulette wheel.

The G5 MiniStar Roulette product incorporates the high-end features of Interblock’s Diamond Roulette line—such as adjustable illuminated color arm rests, faster result detection, additional side bets, an 18.5-inch screen and an ergonomically designed surface—in a smaller diameter (approximately 2 meters or 6.5 feet). Pay systems include all well-known bill acceptors and ticket printers.

Interblock Chairman Joe Pececnik considers MiniStar Roulette an electronic table games market-changer. Small plays tall.

“It’s not only the smallest roulette on the market, but also features a new and improved wheel that is the fastest in the world,” he says. “It can generate up to 30 percent more games per hour than regular automated roulette wheels, which is a great advantage to the house and player, because if you spin more, you win more.

“The MiniStar Roulette configuration is highly flexible, which is critical to medium and smaller properties that are challenged by space constraints. It can also be adjusted to fit into the design standards of any casino with 256 color settings. We also designed player information displays (PIDs) built upon our latest technology and software that create an interactive relationship between the game and the PID, improving overall fun and usability.”

Electronic Games Bridge

Indiana-based Centaur Gaming owns prominent racing and casino facilities Hoosier Park and Indiana Grand, which combine to host about 7 million visitors each year. Electronic table games fit a different description for this company. They substitute for live table games in areas that have not been approved for them.

Hoosier Park and Indiana Grand are the only two state properties not yet authorized for live table games, according to Jim Brown, president and COO of Centaur Gaming. ETGs augment the slots, restaurants and live racing for Centaur’s two properties. Hoosier and Indiana Grand have a combined 48 electronic table games, and Indiana Grand also features a 10-table electronic poker room, he indicates.

Centaur has offered its electronic line via companies like Interblock and Scientific Games (under the Shuffle Master banner). Customers can get a sampling of baccarat, craps, roulette and blackjack, like an eight-deck shoe, $10 minimum and $450 maximum bet with the dealer hitting on soft 17. The roulette table features dual roulette wheels for continuous gaming action.

ETGs expand product offering while the company seeks legislative help to offer live games.

“The challenges we faced without live table games made us understand that if we don’t lay this property out right, we would become just another slot warehouse,” Brown says. “We were the first place in the country to come up with imitated pit stands to make you feel like you were at a casino with a live table. We started with blackjack, 3 Card Poker and roulette, and then added some craps and card games.”

Centaur, which was instrumental in getting electronic gaming approved in 2007, may garner legislation to open the live-game market this year. Brown believes Hoosier and Indiana Grand may be able to offer 12 live games apiece before the year ends. The pilot program could enable more games later, as Indiana battles competition in Ohio, Illinois and perhaps Kentucky.

The electronic table games account for a modest 5 percent of casino revenue, Brown says, with the 2,000 slots playing the dominant role at Hoosier and Indiana Grand. Yet, ETG contributions would presumably increase with an enhanced live table-game menu, as patrons waiting to get on them could play electronically. Another rising tide lifting all product boats concerns horse-racing plans. Hoosier Park was selected to host the prestigious Breeders Crown, the harness-racing equivalent of the Breeders Cup, in 2017.

The track was awarded all 12 year-end championship races, worth a combined $5 million, by the Hambletonian Society, which oversees the Breeders Crown series. Hoosier Park’s harness-racing pedigree brings foot traffic into the property.

Tip of the ETG Iceberg

Aruze Gaming produces innovative products, including high-resolution video and stepper slot machines, communal gaming products and multi-terminal devices. In the midst of its innovation is an ETG concentration.

“The best is yet to come for electronic table games,” says Paul Omohundro, electronic table games business manager for Aruze Gaming America in Las Vegas. “At some point in the not-so-distant future, operators will have to make the difficult decision to no longer operate $5 table games in their pits. They can’t afford to operate them now, but the demand and the tradition are too overwhelming to force a change.

“It will take a few strong table game leaders to start the trend, much like the TITO transition, and you will see electronic table games replacing the $5 live games. And once this occurs, it will change the ETG outlook forever. The performance will increase due to the ability to operate them as a $5 game, whereas now, in most locations, ETGs have lower minimums, down to $1, and are compared to the rest of the slot floor. These typical, high-RTP (return to player) games suffer in performance when the minimums and maximums are programmed more like a slot machine and less like a table game.”

Omohundro says Aruze gained a significant market breakthrough in the Southern California market with Shoot to Win Craps, which debuted at Spotlight 29 in late March. He expects the company to blanket Southern California with it. Aruze also obtained recent approvals in West Virginia and North Carolina for the game.

Shoot to Win Craps features an electronic chip rack that players can use to place bets on their monitors, a craps-table replica, via touch-screen technology. The designated shooter hits the button to toss the dice. Players can also pass the dice to hot shooters and make high-return side bets like high-low.

“We continue to develop features that engage the players,” Omohundro says. “The ability to ‘shoot’ the dice in Shoot to Win Craps or to pull the handle in Lucky Big Wheel or ‘squeeze’ the cards in Dealer’s Angels Baccarat, for example, gives the players the perception of participating in the game. We also replicate the look and feel and sounds of the traditional games versus the competition versions of dealers, colors, ergonomics and other gimmicks that take away from the traditional experience. I see high growth in this area for us in 2015.”

Wherever the bells, whistles and frills originate, ETGs remain a valued industry wild card. As minimum bets and costs to operate live table games continue to climb, the advancing technology of ETGs make them, more than ever, a viable alternative in the pit.

Casino Connection Sports Editor Dave Bontempo is an award-winning sports writer and broadcaster who calls boxing matches all over the world. He has covered the Philadelphia Flyers in the playoffs, as well as numerous PGA, LPGA and Seniors Golf Tour events, and co-hosted the Casino Connection television program with Publisher Roger Gros.