Three words have traditionally described the most urgent needs of the table-game technology market: tracking, utility and security. Lately, advanced technology in the pit has enhanced the games themselves as well.
Vendors in these areas target a lucrative, but changing market. Casinos want improved production as stiff competition makes tracking systems more essential, utility segments more vital and security more important than ever.
At the same time, technological advances are beginning to take table game play way beyond the traditions of green felt.
A Lucrative Shuffle
Las Vegas-based Bally Technologies wasted no time “shuffling” its lineup. The company’s ambitious $1.3 billion acquisition of SHFL entertainment last year—the largest ever in its 81-year history—led to hardware and software table-game rollouts.
The most recent involved the debut in late May of Infinilink, software that essentially connects apples and oranges and should fit perfectly in the heavily populated Macau market.
“This enables games with a different math model to feed in and draw from the same jackpot,” says Roger Snow, senior vice president of table and utility products for Bally Technologies. “This is going to be an absolute game-changer for us and the industry. Casinos will be able to hook up all of their specialty games, regardless of model, and feed a single jackpot. You can be playing 3 Card Poker, your wife might be playing Texas hold ‘em and if you look up, you can see the same jackpot.”
Games featuring the Infinilink progressive play the same as they always have, except that when the progressive wager is made, it qualifies for normal and Infinilink payouts. A portion of that wager is credited to the Infinilink meter. The hands and rounds selected for Infinilink payouts are random. Players who make a progressive wager during one of these randomly selected rounds and hit the randomly selected hand win both the regular and Infinilink payouts.
Infinilink appears to be a sound offensive strategy to enhance jackpots.
Products unfurled by Bally Technologies at London’s ICE Totally Gaming show in February, meanwhile, loom as preventative medicine. They speed up play, eliminate costly jams and bolster the less-glamorous aspects of the casino floor. This lineup includes the ChipStar roulette chip sorter, the i-Score double-sided display at over 60 centimeters, the MD 3 blackjack and baccarat card shuffler and the DeckMate 2 poker room card shuffler. Rounding out the group is Shuffle Flex technology, which lets operators on underutilized tables enjoy a novel pay-by-shuffle concept.
Snow was at the forefront of several SHFL entertainment table-game innovations before Bally Technologies acquired his company. He invented and gained patents on numerous games.
While understanding a product’s “wow factor,” Snow also respects the less-flashy “not now” factor. As in, this product can’t jam, not now.
“A lot of our innovations were unsexy; that’s kind of the way it is with shufflers, chip sorters and shoes, etc.,” he says. “They don’t turn anyone on. Heck, chip sorting is about as utilitarian as anything you will ever find. But operators don’t care about how it looks; they are concerned with how it works.
“Operators tell us to solve a simple problem. They want a product that gets rid of the jam. It doesn’t have to make coffee and it doesn’t have to shine their shoes. With the chip sorting, you know how it is with the technology inside of a normal one—the darn thing jams up on you, and that’s very expensive.
“Well, we actually do have some sexy technology with ChipStar. It presorts the chips before they merge onto the conveyor belt. It makes sure there isn’t a big pileup. It eliminates the jamming. Look, roulette is slow enough as it is; the game doesn’t need anything else to become slower,” he laughs.
Shuffle Flex is another functional, solid enhancement.
“Let’s say you have a shuffler that is only in use for eight hours on a Saturday night,” Snow says. “You don’t want to pay for a new shuffling machine that is rarely utilized, but Shuffle Flex technology enabled us to put a module on any shuffler. You can pay a certain amount for usage. It’s like pay-per-view.”
Some “views” on other products are eye-catching. In the Asian market, for example, i-Score is a visually pleasing tracking system and display for baccarat, tailored to a specific audience.
“It is unlike what anyone else has ever done,” Snow says. “The graphics resonate well with the Chinese players. The i-Score display has a great look about it, with dragons, and it is mounted. We had our own design studio in Asia come up with it.”
DeckMate 2, meanwhile, has been upgraded from what Bally Technologies considers one of the best shufflers ever built. The new model shuffles in 22 seconds, has a fifth-iteration card recognition system, a built-in timer to “call the clock,” a remote touch-screen display and the ability to work with all card types and brands. It can also sort cards back to a spaded deck.
The MD 3 features card recognition that can read and verify every card being shuffled, upgrading the level of security to multi-deck tables like blackjack and baccarat. Its platform and gripper system counts and shuffles up to eight decks of cards quickly and alerts the dealer of missing or added cards.
Managing the Table
International Game Technology has always been known for its games and systems on the slot side, but lately, IGT’s pit offerings have multiplied as well.
The latest player is Lucky Chip, a bolt-on product to accompany Table Manager, its longtime automated software system that maximizes rating accuracy, increases productivity, and delivers promotions to table players. Table Manager is installed in over 125 worldwide locations, and has a track record of several years.
Lucky Chip creates mystery bonuses for table-game players. It is modeled after Lucky Coin, which cultivates loyal players by offering a property-branded, pool-based mystery jackpot guaranteed to hit by a certain level, regardless of game outcome.
Operators use Lucky Coin to offer mystery jackpot promotions on a single machine, across a bank of machines, and to create ?oorwide, player-funded jackpots branded to their property.
Lucky Chip, which debuted at G2E Asia in 2013, has opened to sparkling reviews in Macau, according to Matthew Hiu, IGT’s senior product manager for systems products.
“Lucky Chip creates a mystery bonus,” Hiu says. “Think of slot players first. Every time a handle is pulled, a certain portion of the coin-in is set aside to a progressive mystery jackpot. When the collective jackpot meets its threshold, the system finds an eligible person from all the slot players and picks a winner.
“Take that same engine and apply it to a card player. What is the equivalent of a slot machine? A seat at the table. For players, Lucky Chip creates this exciting mystery jackpot because it does not require an additional side bet. Normally, over the course of time, numerous side bets for a jackpot will have a dilutive effect for your wagering.
“With Lucky Chip, you don’t have to do anything. As long as you are a carded player, you can be having fun, doing your normal thing, and can be the benefactor of a mystery jackpot without having to pay for it.”
Hiu says MGM Macau has used Lucky Chip both for frequent smaller bonuses and “life-changing pots” of more than US$1 million.
“Most players would rather have a more frequent, higher-paying probability with a smaller win than the infrequent big win,” he asserts. “Now you can do both. An operator can create multiple pools and target to certain needs.”
Even the table games can be singled out.
“Let’s say blackjack is down on a Tuesday,” he says. “You can create a Tuesday pot for blackjack.”
Hiu says MGM utilizes 400 tables. Other operators can tailor their table-game capacity to the jackpot. MGM brands the Lucky Chip as a Golden Chip. The name can also be changed to a property’s liking, he says.
“We are going through the regulatory approval process in many places, and we expect to roll this out in great numbers in 2014 and 2015,” Hiu says.
Operators can use it to increase carded play and drive trial play, he adds.
IGT’s popular Table Manager transforms the process of rating and comping table-games players into a more simple endeavor. Table Manager enables automated player rating, drop, head-count, markers, comp issuance and table accounting transactions.
Key features include wireless-compatible touch-screen player tracking and real-time ?oor management, progressive jackpots for table games and comprehensive reports sorted by game type, pit, shift, date, time, etc.
This reduces operating costs by eliminating most traditional “pencil-to-paper” tasks, increases productivity by requiring fewer personnel per table to focus on players and maximizes pro?ts with precisely allocated marketing and comp dollars. Table Manager captures true game handle and player betting patterns to appropriately reward higher and lower-tiered customers.
Track the Game, Improve the Game
London-based TCSJohnHuxley offers what is arguably the most diverse range of table game products in the industry, and as such, the company’s expertise runs the gamit from tracking play to new high-tech play features that redefine the table game experience.
The company’s lineup for last month’s G2E Asia trade show provided a prime example of the scope of improvements being made in the pit.
“At last year’s G2E Asia we spoke about our investment in product, people and infrastructure,” said Cath Burns, TCSJohn Huxley Group CEO, before the Macau trade show. “This continues for 2014, with our main focus being on customer-driven innovation and commitment to develop key products in our range. Our enabling technology innovations are already delivering solutions to customers across the globe.”
One table system innovation that debuted at G2E Asia is Gaming Floor Live Baccarat, a real-time “game optimization tool” designed to maximize performance and profitability in table games. The system delivers instant access to information like dealer performance by tracking the speed of each hand dealt and the accuracy of results.
A module called Pit Visibility with Table Alerting and Reporting increases security by providing surveillance views of all tables, alerts and incidents as well as complete floor optimization with back-of-house reporting. All this is available on an open platform that can interface with existing systems, if required.
TCSJohnHuxley’s innovations go from the back of the house to the front with the Supernova Progressive Platform, featuring a new baccarat game. The system features floor-wide events and mystery progressives, and a flexible platform that adapts to almost any table game. Operators can configure as many prizes and jackpots as they want.
On the individual game side, the company’s Sicbo Blaze launches an innovative gaming surface technology, featuring game animations projected through a traditional gaming layout.
For added game security, all winning bets and game sequences are highlighted and standard gaming layouts cover the complete table surface, instead of the traditional acrylic playing surface. The flexibility of the system allows casinos to include their own graphics and branding if required. Blaze gaming surface technology will be rolled out in the coming year to cover a full range of table games.
Detection and Protection
Gaming Partners International is a leading provider of casino currency and equipment worldwide, with offices and manufacturing facilities in the Americas, Europe and Asia. The company recently acquired GemGroup Inc., a privately held manufacturer of casino currency, cards and table layouts sold under the Gemaco brand. The companies anticipate closing by the end of June.
When the deal was announced in March, GPI’s president and chief executive officer, Greg Gronau, said it strengthens his company’s card-manufacturing capabilities and increases U.S. market share in playing cards and table-game layouts. He said it further expands GPI’s Asia-Pacific lineup because Gemaco has a strong market presence there.
While awaiting the closure of its acquisition, GPI pioneers the latest innovative gaming currency security features. They are designed to safeguard casinos against would-be counterfeiters and internal theft.
An important feature of the company’s new currency-security advance is quick gaming-table chip validation by dealers and staff. Its Paulson Value mold has the chip’s denomination embossed into the mold, providing visual and tactile authentication while making it harder to counterfeit lower-denomination chips into higher denominations.
GPI has added two new security options on chip decals. 4C-UV is an invisible chip authentication tool that is revealed by a standard UV detector, and offers operators the ability to incorporate a unique full-color image or pattern into their chip decals for quick currency authentication at the table.
Another decal security feature is the new SecuriFilm. It is a security film with a transparent hologram-like effect that enables quick dealer authentication. Not only does this offer a quick, visual chip validation tool, but it also enhances the visual appeal of the decal. Customers can choose between two standard designs or a fully customized design.
For operators concerned about potential internal theft by employees, GPI offers the new EM Detection and Chip Detection. Both help deter unauthorized attempts to remove currency from the casino property.
EM Detection provides an additional level of anti-theft protection, as an alarm will sound if EM-enabled chips are detected as they pass through security gates or are revealed by hand-held security paddles. Operators can now combine both EM Detection and high-frequency RFID tags into their currency. The combination of these security features provides protection against internal theft while still enabling quick validation with RFID.
Chip Detection is a stand-alone solution that helps detect RFID currency concealed within an employee’s purse, wallet, coat or other personal items. It provides an unobtrusive solution to protect against unauthorized removal of gaming currency from the property by casino staff. The Chip Detection unit can be located at or near employee entrances or exits. Scans are non-intrusive and do not interfere with employee productivity.
Whether it’s protecting the games, tracking the play or re-defining table-game play, one thing’s certain: Technology has definitely arrived in the pit.