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The New Pit

Progressives, side bets and operating systems have brought the casino table game into the 21st century

The New Pit

When the Palms in Las Vegas reopened in 2022 after a two-year, pandemic-induced hiatus, groundbreaking developments were in the air.

The casino, purchased from Red Rock Resorts a year earlier by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, became the first casino resort in Las Vegas to be fully owned and operated by a Native American tribe.

Less than a month after its new christening, the Palms hosted another groundbreaking event, this time in the realm of table games—the largest-to-date installation of Bonus Spin Xtreme, the award-winning progressive side bet system from AGS that enables casino operators to link all table games on the casino floor to the same jackpot pool, requiring only one seed amount and providing faster-incrementing and larger jackpot awards.

While the Palms didn’t link all its table games to the single jackpot controller, it linked the jackpot to an eye-opening 40 out of 50 table games, including 24 blackjack tables, 12 baccarat tables and four roulette tables.

Bonus Spin Xtreme, the first system to link different table games to the same progressive, is indicative of the innovation being seen in the table game pit, a realm which, aside from multi-deck shufflers, had seen precious little innovation in technology for the better part of a century. There was, of course, the occasional splash of creativity in the form of successful new games like Three Card Poker and Let It Ride, but for years, technological advances remained largely within the purview of the slot floor.

For the past two decades, though, innovation—often drawn from elements of that same slot floor—have transformed the pit for players and increased house hold on famously low-hold games. Side bets have proliferated, the newest ones replacing or augmenting the placards and felt pay scales with slot-style progressive jackpot meters.

Under CEO and President David Lopez, AGS certainly has been a pioneer in table-game progressives, and has launched innovative new felt games, side bets and even utility products in a table division that is only eight years old. In the realm of innovation in the pit, AGS is joined by longtime table suppliers like Light & Wonder, London-based end-to-end table supplier TCSJohnHuxley, side bet and system specialist Galaxy Gaming, and even fintech and slot supplier Everi, which recently launched its own proprietary table-game operating system.

Xtreme Progressives

But Bonus Spin Xtreme and its predecessor product from AGS, the STAX progressive system, serve as a microcosm of the way technology has increased revenues in the pit.

“We have at this point two award-winning progressive platforms between STAX and Bonus Spin Xtreme,” says John Hemberger, senior vice president of table products for AGS.

STAX offers five multi-level progressive jackpots, including a life-changing top award, any of which can be won with an optional side bet. A Must-Hit pool, which displays the Mystery Must-Hit Progressive Declared Value to players, adds anticipation and excitement as the jackpot nears its threshold.

Bonus Spin Xtreme applies a unique trigger to each table game, allowing the two-level Bonus Spin wheel—a grand prize spin for the triggering player along with a secondary jackpot for each player at the table—even on games such as roulette and craps that never hosted progressives before, in addition to baccarat, sic bo, and poker, along with the traditional blackjack version.

As a third prize, Bonus Spin Xtreme incorporates the mystery must-hit-by progressive; when triggered, the system selects one of the players with the progressive bet down for that prize.

The system has been a smash hit, not only at the Palms, but everywhere it is utilized. It’s increased house hold, but players love it, too. The progressive jackpot on Bonus Spin Xtreme at the Borgata in Atlantic City had surpassed $1.2 million as of mid-March. The Borgata features 17 tables with the linked Bonus Spin Xtreme progressive jackpot on multiple table games including blackjack and Criss Cross Poker.

(That jackpot would be a record for Bonus Spin Xtreme, and the largest AGS progressive prize since a player at Seminole Casino Coconut Creek in Florida hit a $1.2 million jackpot on AGS’ Super 4 Progressive Jackpot.)

“Interestingly enough, with Bonus Spin Xtreme, the idea started with Jamie Abrahamson (senior director of table game content) prior to him being a part of our team internally at AGS,” says Hemberger. “That was something that he had seen with the original Bonus Spin product out in the field—single wheel, a single person spinning it.”

Abrahamson had been an independent inventor in the progressive table space, his Golden Tie group having worked with the former Scientific Games, which distributed his casino baccarat progressive. Shortly after AGS acquired the original Bonus Spin product from Aristocrat, Abrahamson worked with AGS on potential improvements to the product.

“Shortly thereafter, Jamie came on board to head up our content creation,” Hemberger recalls. “And, he’s been an integral part of the full development process of that product, continuing to add features and increasing the overall power that platform offers when it comes to linking a casino floor up to a single jackpot.”

Progressive Progress

The AGS systems are part of a growing market for table-game progressives. “Trend-wise, there seem to be a lot of innovations around progressives,” says Mike McKiski, senior vice president, global table games for Light & Wonder. “You’ll see from our latest version of GM Atlas (NXS Command II), our progressives have been where a lot of the focus has been lately. I think players and customers are shifting their attention there.”

The GM Atlas platform comes with a “packet” of side-bet products operators can link to their table games. The tables now can be linked to a multi-game, multi-level progressive called Cash Spin.

Cash Spin uses individual game triggers to activate a three-jackpot progressive bonus, displaying a bonus wheel under the three jackpot meters. When a player hits the bonus trigger, the wheel spins to land on slices displaying dollar awards ranging from $175 to $875, and three progressive jackpots, resetting at $2,000, $20,000 and $50,000.

Cash Spin also can link different table games to the same progressive jackpot. “Traditionally, I have a blackjack progressive and I have a specialty game progressive,” says McKiski. “Now, they’re saying, I want one table game progressive. We can do that—we can link a blackjack game to a Three Card Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold’em game and account for the different volatilities in those games and for the different likelihoods in those jackpot triggers going off.”

The next step for Cash Spin and other progressives is linking jackpots between multiple properties.

“With folks like the Gila River tribe out here in the West, or Penn National, we announced a deal to link all of their properties together in the same state,” McKiski says. “So now, it’s not just one progressive in the building, but it’s one progressive in the state, so they can give more life-changing jackpot amounts.” The multi-site progressive in this system resets at $1 million.

Penn National used Light & Wonder’s technology in the first-ever Operator Wide Area Progressive (OWAP) table games in the state, with 79 connected tables at Penn Entertainment’s four Hollywood Casino properties in the state.

Current Light & Wonder titles installed via OWAP include Blazing 777 Blackjack and Multi-Game Link Poker.

The Gila River tribe has a Light & Wonder progressive system linked among its three Arizona casinos.

According to McKiski, the OWAP tables feature a multi-jackpot progressive display, including not only the big progressive but individual prizes specific to each table game. “If you sit down at the table, you’ll see, for example, the Cash Spin million-dollar top prize,” says McKiski, “and then under that, you may see the three-card royal jackpot in Three Card Poker. That is specific to that table. It’s accounted for on the back end, but they are all displayed on the same sign.”

On the Side

In the burgeoning side-bet market, one of the more notable new products does not even require a side bet. TCSJohnHuxley, the venerable London-based global table game supplier, has launched Roulette Xtra, which is generating rave reviews across South Africa, one of the inaugural markets.

It’s more a side game than a side bet. Normal roulette wagers are made, but once “no more bets” is called, the system selects four numbers at random. According to the odds of the numbers hitting, those who wagered the winning number on the spin are paid anywhere from 50-to-1 to 500-to-1.

It doesn’t affect the traditional game, and allows operators to vary payouts for single, double and triple-zero wheels.

TCSJohnHuxley is now making Roulette Xtra available on the groundbreaking Blaze setup, a patented LED surface technology that adds attract sequences, custom animation and winning number displays. It also has offered the game linked to the HiLite Cosmos display, a conical winning number display originally designed for the Qorex line of electronic table games that is suspended over the table. The display features high-intensity LED animation and game information.

According to Tracy Cohen, director of marketing for TCSJohnHuxley, the Qorex display was deployed on live roulette because of customer demand.

“We got a lot of interest because signage over tables is something that casinos, especially in the U.K., have been asking us for, for quite a long time,” Cohen says. “They want something where people can stand back or at one side of the gaming floor, and have a really good attract mode to see what’s going on at the tables.”

In use, the Blaze and HiLite Cosmos presentations spice up the roulette spins, but the Blaze presentation in particular allows not only Roulette Xtra but a range of table games to stand out.

“Obviously, it immediately highlights winning results,” Cohen says, “and for the more complicated games like craps, that’s really useful, because for novice players, it’s a pretty hard game to get your head around. But equally, what it does in roulette as well is that it allows for the dealer not having to concentrate so much. They can interact more with customers, providing a better gaming experience because everything is there—it’s very easily logged, it’s very easily seen by surveillance cameras.”

The animation colors can be customized, from a default color to red at the no-more-bets stage. “The layout can change color, so it’s very obvious to the player,” Cohen says. “Then, when there’s no more bets, it goes red—again, a very easy visual prompt to take you through the stages of the game.”

The supplier is now looking to replicate the success of Roulette Xtra in South Africa, where it has spread quickly. “We have amazing takeup on our product there,” Cohen says. “We’ve installed it in every major casino in that region, on multiple tables.

“We also have different progressives that can spread across all different games. You can have one progressive that is linked to roulette, blackjack and poker. It is an emerging area, and it is something we are focusing on at the moment.”

For years, one of the leaders in the side bet market has been Galaxy Gaming, which has built up a catalog of more than 35 table-game side bet products, covering just about all live table games. Many of the newest apply side bets and progressives to games not traditionally side-bet friendly, namely roulette and craps.

One of the newest Galaxy side-bet products is Bonus Craps, a system that tracks rolls and trends, and returns payoffs including two progressives for craps sequences formerly found only on some larger felt tables. The craps dealer or stickman simply plugs in the value of each roll of the dice on a small terminal, and the system does the rest, calculating wins for various proposition bets involving the points made before a seven-out.

After any winning or losing seven roll, players can make one or more Bonus Craps wagers, with payoffs for the following three propositions:

  • ALL SMALL wins if 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6 roll before any 7.
  • ALL TALL wins if 8, 9, 10, 11 & 12 roll before any 7.
  • MAKE ‘EM ALL wins if ALL SMALL and ALL TALL roll before any 7.

If all of the Make ‘Em All numbers (3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12) are rolled before a seven-out, the Make ’Em All Progressive is won. If a sequence of numbers is rolled in the exact order of the posted paytable, it wins the secondary Fire Up Progressive.

Bonus Craps includes bright LED signage that lights up all the proposition bets and progressives, as well as several other displays, including the last six rolls and a 15-roll pass line history (all illustrated by red dice). Other meters show hot rolls, cold rolls, “hot shooter” alerts, and even a chart showing the 50-roll trend.

Paul Omohundro, senior vice president of product for Galaxy Gaming, developed the ideas for the display that would sell it to operators who would have never considered a display attached to a craps table.

“Most likely, an operator’s not going to want to pay extra for that display like they pay extra for a baccarat trend board or a roulette trend board,” Omohundro says. “So, I had to come up with some more ideas on how can I add value to the base game of craps that would drive an MSRP—an acceptable price.

“So, I added that pass line roll history, which is common in electronic craps like Shoot to Win, Roll to Win and the Interblock craps games. They all have that common roll history, pass line history… You can walk up to the machine and see exactly what the last X number of outcomes were—in this case, the last 15 rolls.”

Omohundro notes that the color animation “tells a story,” with color codes for wins and losses and other outcomes—red for a hot shooter, blue for a losing seven, green for hitting a point.

New Games

Of course, innovation on the table-game side is not limited to side bets and progressives. A few of the major suppliers have launched new felt table games, incorporating some of the best features of existing games into new offerings.

“We’ve been trying to fold in some new games,” says Hemberger at AGS. “Over the last few years, between Covid and stocking and other issues, new games on the table side have kind of taken a back seat. And that’s something we’re starting to push forward again, and it’s something that I think operators and players are thirsty for.”

AGS just added to its table game portfolio with 3 Card Catch, which incorporates Three Card Poker into a blackjack game. According to Hemberger, the game—developed by Tioli Gaming and distributed exclusively by AGS—“naturally works with the STAX progressive platform and the multiple progressive jackpots that we can offer on that platform.”

Players are dealt three cards, then compete with the dealer heads-up to make the best three-card poker hand. With a natural pair of 8s or better—called Natural Pair Plus—all wagers are resolved. If the dealer’s hand doesn’t achieve 8s or better, a fourth card is dealt to all players who have not achieved the Natural Pair Plus, and players have the opportunity to “catch” a card that improves their hand.

Players whose hands are better than the dealer’s are paid according to a schedule, from 2-to-1 for 8s or better to 100-to-1 for a royal flush. There also is an “X-tra Bonus” side bet that gives winning players a bonus payment of even money for any natural hand or “caught” flush, up to 50-to-1 for a caught royal flush.

The STAX progressive platform adds a five-level “must-hit-by” progressive side bet.

“Rather than just forfeiting your bets and waiting until the next round, you still have a chance to catch a hand that that is going to be a strong hand, and an opportunity to remain in the game,” Hemberger says. “Aside from that, it features multiple quick-hitting progressive jackpots that we’ve found are quite popular.”

Hemberger says 3 Card Catch is going through the approval process, and is close to its first installs.

For Light & Wonder, one of the newest releases is another game based on elements of Three Card Poker, called Three Card Sabotage. The player’s three-card poker hand is pitted against the dealer’s best three-card poker hand, and players are eligible to win an additional ante bonus payout based on the value of their three-card poker hand. This game also features the optional Pair Plus wager.

To begin, the dealer gives each player and the dealer position three cards face down, and then places the next three cards face down in the area marked “Sabotage Cards.” The dealer will take the top card and add it to their original three cards to make a four-card hand. Players now have an option to fold and lose their ante or place a play wager matching or doubling the ante.

The dealer will reveal their four cards and the two sabotage cards. If one or both sabotage cards match the rank of any cards in the dealer’s hand, the dealer must remove them. If the sabotage cards result in the dealer having less than three cards, they cannot have a straight or flush, they can only have a pair or high card.

In the end, the best poker hand wins.

“It’s a play on Three Card Poker which gives the player the ability to eliminate some dealer cards to help themselves,” says McKiski.

The System Angle

Companies like Light & Wonder and Galaxy also offer system products related to table games, but one new entry to this side of the table sector is Everi Holdings, which has been a big player in the slot game and fintech sectors.

Everi had connected to the table side with its Cash Club Concierge suite of products that bring mobile payments to the table-game side. The company is now launching PitXpress, a complete operating system for credit and payments at table games.

PitXpress is a patent-pending modernized table games operations solution designed to streamline and digitize a number of functions now performed on paper. Optimized marker issuance, redemption, and voids can be performed instantaneously, and its mobile bet tracking feature ensures a more accurate rating for VIP players.

“This is our most recent foray into trying to modernize table game operations,” says Darren Simmons, executive vice president and fintech business leader for Everi Holdings. “We look at a lot of our products as trying to create efficiencies for the operator. In our view, this enhances both the player and operator experience.”

Simmons notes that the system streamlines credit front money and marker life-cycle automation through mobile technology. “This is going to create a tremendous amount of efficiency for legacy pit and cage interaction where there’s a lot of back and forth and papers involved,” he says. “We basically eliminate a lot of that administrative overhead, and digitize it all.”

For all the new games, side bets and systems, table-game innovators say the most important next step in table technology will lie in effective automation of the table player rating system.

“It’s always been one of the holy grails out there, right?” says Hemberger at AGS. “Nor relying on the pit supervisor to come by and just get a snapshot of what you’re doing at that particular moment… There are a lot of folks out there trying to crack the code for that information, and getting closer to 100 percent.”

Light & Wonder’s McKiski makes a similar prediction, noting that the biggest solution will be all around solving that data question, in a way that best serves the operator and the player.

“When we wake up every day, what we’re trying to solve is how to make a really fun player experience that has a lot of connectivity and data access for the operator,” he says. “It’s bringing a little bit of the Jetsons into what is traditionally a Flintstones world in tables, and that’s the reality. But we have to do it at a pace that doesn’t go from Stone Age to future. We have to innovate slowly so that the players come along with us.”

Frank Legato is editor of Global Gaming Business magazine. He has been writing on gaming topics since 1984, when he launched and served as editor of Casino Gaming magazine. Legato, a nationally recognized expert on slot machines, has served as editor and reporter for a variety of gaming publications, including Public Gaming, IGWB, Casino Journal, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Atlantic City Insider. He has an B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in communications from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. He is the author of the books, How To Win Millions Playing Slot Machines... Or Lose Trying, and Atlantic City: In Living Color.  

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