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Walking the Fine Line

Table game innovation draws new players, protects integrity

Walking the Fine Line

Table-game technology evolves along two planes.

The “fun” area of game creation sports the bells, whistles, innovation and excitement of new products. Spiking customer passions and the house edge, this component spans the adrenaline rush of wild-card games and the graphic eye candy of silkscreen displays. This realm projects 24-hour, high-intensity action.

On the second plane, security balances gaming’s euphoria. As game speed heightens, cheaters test the system with props including counterfeit chips, marked cards and infra-red contact lenses to count cards via invisible ink. Some players have been jailed for the practice and lawsuits have emerged over this multimillion-dollar problem.

For the casinos, these areas fit hand-in-glove, like the front and back of the house. Both realms are prominent. The game segment sells their fantasy. Security protects their reality.

Protecting the Pit

The security aspect has become stronger as technology has advanced. For instance, London-based table-game leader TCSJohnHuxley’s new Gaming Floor Live platform includes a wheel-bias shield called GFL Wheel Analysis.

Gaming Floor Live is a suite of products that allow more efficient tracking, analysis and operation of a roulette game. GFL Wheel Analysis is what the company calls an “intelligent roulette wheel optimization tool, designed to maximize key performance areas and profitability.”

The module provides complete visibility of performance and the ability to highlight and detect any wheel bias. “GFL Wheel Analysis allows operators to assign wheels to certain tables and collect data in the background to generate concise and detailed reports on wheel integrity,” says Tracy Cohen, director of marketing for TCSJohnHuxley. “Based on user authority, casino staff can then access a web-interfaced dashboard for snapshots, or more detailed reports, of their operations. The tool provides an array of analytics, easy-to-read diagrams and reports.”

The system also provides a record of all maintenance activity as well as exceptional alarms, which indicate when the device is offline, if the wheel is spun too fast or too slow or there is any drop zone anomaly. “This presents operators with the tools required to make good decisions and to take appropriate and immediate actions, where necessary,” Cohen says.

The GFL Wheel Analysis is offered as a companion to TCSJohnHuxley’s Saturn Auto Roulette Wheel, the industry’s first compact, tabletop, automated roulette wheel. “Not only is it outfitted with most secure and advanced technology features available, but it also boasts the same footprint as TCSJohnHuxley’s Saturn 2 wheel, meaning it’s built to sit perfectly on any live roulette table,” Cohen says.

“Thanks to its distinct design, Saturn Auto can sit on an existing roulette table, integrate it into furniture or be displayed on a bespoke, stand-alone podium. This means that regardless of a casino’s layout or design, they can take advantage of Saturn Auto’s advanced technology; it’s flexible for any gaming floor.”

Benefits include “Drop Zone Detection” reports on non-random results and drop zone bias, as well as real-time security enhancements such as a built-in ball track inclinometer with abnormal event detection, which alleviates the need for daily leveling of the wheels.

Saturn Auto also features a unique patented launch system that grips the ball and fires it with a spin to increase the randomness of the outcome.

The Screen Machine

Las Vegas-based Scientific Games became one of gaming’s most prominent forces after annexing Bally Technologies, WMS and Shuffle Master, among others.

The Shuffle Master brand recently unveiled an ideal innovation. Or maybe that’s i-Deal… Plus.

The i-Deal Plus splashed across the gaming scene in April and May. This fourth-generation upgrade from the i-Deal shuffling machine debuted at the Red Hawk casino outside Sacramento and the Chumash casino in Santa Ynez Ca. It later reached the Ohio market and looks poised to enter more jurisdictions throughout the year.

The i-Deal Plus sports the usual benefits of a new-generation unit, including enhanced reliability to increase game speed and technical improvements for detecting jams and card imperfections.

Yet, something else catches the buyer’s eye.

“One thing that stands out with i-Deal Plus is the visual component,” says Roger Snow, senior vice president of table and utility products for Scientific Games. “It has a screen that faces the player and can be used to display the minimums and maximums of the table, the rules of the games, payouts and promotions. Casinos can do what they would like with it. They can also run video through it.”

The company that had called i-Deal the fastest single-deck shuffler on the market, replete with cutting-edge card-recognition technology able to read the rank and suit of every card shuffled, takes it one step further.

“There was a lot of internal debate regarding player reaction while the concept was being developed,” Snow recalls. “The mindset has long been that you have to hide this thing, deflect the attention. What we are now finding is that players like the fact they can see something on the screen. This will become an integral part of all our machines going forward at this rate. This will embolden us to be more experimental.”

Ken Harvey, table games manager for Red Hawk, says i-Deal Plus made an auspicious debut.

“Long term, I am looking to have it showcase items such as the upcoming Shuffle Master Classic tournament,” he says. “We’d also like to see it incorporate our progressive meters and winner splash screens when a player wins big. It’s a new twist to have these screens marketing to the player, and I’m sure we will come up with even more ways to utilize this new technology to promote our games and events.”

Your DJ

For Snow, the implementation of i-Deal Plus has a sweet twist of irony. It caters to several poker games, including the company’s latest, DJ Wild, a five-card poker game featuring four Deuces and a Joker as wild cards (hence the DJ name).

The secret of the game is that both players and dealers can improve their hands with wild cards. Payouts significantly reflect the wild-card impact. A natural flush, for example, will pay in the neighborhood of 25-to-1, while a similar wild-card-aided flush delivers a small fraction of that.

This is no side venture for Snow, who has developed about 75 original table games and holds more than 40 patents.

“I like to keep all this in perspective,” he says. “There are games which have succeeded beautifully and some that can’t make it. You lose games if the math (hold) isn’t right for the house, but there has been excitement about DJ Wild.”

A Bally Technologies focus group and an optimistic sales force validated DJ Wild on one level. Then he had to see it for himself on a live Las Vegas game. Talk about instant feedback.

“I took my wife to New York-New York and both times she could not get on to the game because it was packed,” he recalls. “That was a great feeling, because the idea was nerve-wracking for me. I was going to feel like a loser if we walked up to the table and nobody was playing it. Thank God the table was full and people were not leaving.”

Harvey at Red Hawk says players quickly embraced the game’s volatility.

“The concept of multiple wild cards factored into their hands as well as the integration of our ‘Two Way Bad Beat,’ which makes the game exciting to the player and the dealer,” he says. “Players say they’ve never seen so many higher-ranked hands, and while that is true, it also leads to some interesting bad beat hands when the dealer bests their full house.”

Infra-Red Insight

Las Vegas-based Galaxy Gaming is known for the fun part of its games. The company says it is the largest independent provider of worldwide games, which include the blackjack, poker, dice and baccarat realm. It has installed bases at more than 4,000 tables at 500 worldwide casinos.

This month, Galaxy fashions the flip side of the coin, security. It launches SpectrumVision, a card-cheating detection device containing a computer monitor placed atop a cabinet. Inside the cabinet, four cameras and various realms of light ranging from infra-red to ultraviolet help casinos identify suspicious cards.

SpectrumVision was unveiled at the World Game Protection Conference in the spring and will debut at several properties in June, according to Tim Caffarelli, the chief of technology and innovation for Galaxy Gaming.

“This is a unique product for us,” Caffarelli says. “We can analyze the cards placed through there and discover things not available to the naked eye. It is especially significant for games in which cards are being re-used. Players have all kinds of methods to try introducing cards (having purchased an ace or picture-card, for example, elsewhere) or using infrared contact lenses to pick up indications on the card. The casinos can counter that with SpectrumVision. A unit can be placed in the pit, in the back area or throughout the property.”

Caffarelli says a casino would not wish to advertise that it is countering card cheats, especially for a game like poker in which an individual player can be victimized by a professional crook. Yet some information can’t be hidden. Caffarelli says a Google search of marked cards provides 13 million results including vendors openly offering marked cards and invisible ink to cheaters.

Galaxy Gaming CEO Robert Saucier likened the cat-mouse struggle between cheaters and operators to the anti-virus, new-virus fight in the computer world.

“The battle continually goes back and forth,” he asserts. “A lot of the scams that worked in the casinos 10 or 20 years ago no longer do. Casinos are on to them. Yet there has been a huge increase in the amount of marked cards in recent years. Because of that, we have to detect those cards. This innovation could not have come along any sooner.”

While it is impossible to gauge exactly how much cheaters affect casinos, Saucier says the retail industry has an average of about 2 percent to 3 percent “shrinkage.” That usually entails shoplifting, employee theft and embezzlement. Gaming, because of the sophisticated nature of cheaters, may sport a higher number.

“For a good number of retail clients, the shrinkage was more than their profit,” Saucier adds. “If you say 2 percent to 3 percent, it may not sound like much, but when you multiply that by the volumes of players and casinos, you are looking at a very real number. The big scams receive a lot of attention, but it is the little scams, that go in in the casino every day, that eventually erode their bottom line. Even now, as I’m talking to you, some casino is getting scammed by a player.”

Securing the Chips

Las Vegas-based Gaming Partners International is a leading industry currency supplier. It has developed several products to help customers better safeguard their money.

One of the company’s newest rollouts is the B&G American-style, injection-molded V-Series chip.

The V-Series line is produced using a new injection material formula that renders a more durable gaming chip. Available in five diameters, the V-Series offers customers an extensive range of configuration possibilities with their chip mold designs.

Customers can select from 480 new edge spot pattern and decal size combinations. This is a vital feature for operators who require a higher level of differentiation among their chip sets, GPI officials contend. The V-Series line is available with the same security feature options available in the company’s B&G JAV line for optimum currency protection.

ChipShield, an anti-microbial that helps inhibit the growth of stain-causing mildew, is included in the chip material. The result is a cleaner and more sanitary chip surface. For customers who order chips with four or more injection colors, the company includes an exclusive infra-red security feature in their chips.

GPI has also enhanced its Paulson chip line to offer a higher-end chip option to customers. The new Paulson Premium line combines the company’s dealer-preferred, traditional clay composite Paulson chip with the same decor materials used in its high-end European-style plaques and jetons.

The Paulson Premium features an outer decor ring that can be designed using a variety of mother-of-pearl decors and gold lace. The decor ring helps serve as a quick and easy visual authentication tool for dealers and casino staff, and helps deter potential counterfeit attempts.

New technology such as this is found across the table-game realm, and whether it is a new invention getting players to the felt or new security features protecting them once they get there, the technology of table games is still one of the most dynamic areas of gaming.

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.

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