Tracking the Tables
Tracking the TablesWith the aid of new high-tech products, casinos are now able to acquire detailed analysis of table games and their playersWatch out multi-colored, multi-lined, 45-coin video slot machines. Table games are reemerging and players, as well as casinos, are going to be rewarded accordingly.
For years, casinos have relied on pit bosses to personally watch the tables and do their best to manually track who was playing. It was time consuming and sometimes incorrect. Now automated table game tracking systems are giving casinos an accurate way to rate and comp regular players who will receive free rooms, meals, and show tickets in return for their play. It becomes even more important as loyal table players want the same attention as their slot brothers and sisters.
In addition to taking the guesswork out of comping table players, the technological breakthroughs also impact the overall play and efficiency of pit operations. For example, new tracking technology lets casino operators record a variety of table game statistics just like a player's card has been doing on slot and video poker machines for the past 15 years. This has led to improved game operations, increased profits, posted efficiency gains, improved security, and has created better marketing and promotions for the table player.
"It's been a real challenge," said Oliver Schubert, director of product development for Shuffle Master, which has created its Intelligent Table modular table tracking system. "When a quarter is dropped into a slot machine, it is easy to read because it goes into a very specific path. At a table, there are many distractions and interactions. We designed Intelligent Table to automatically log all the action on a table such as cards dealt, the decisions players are making with their cards and with their money, who won, what cards were discarded, and so on. Casinos have been waiting for this."
Most table game technology tracks how many players are at a table, what each bet is and in what denomination, the time of day and day of week of each betting transaction, and dealer efficiency in moving the game along. Once the data is collected and refined, decisions can be made.
Mark Lipparelli, executive vice president of systems for Bally Gaming & Systems, said there have been technical obstacles in gaining insight to table game players.
"A casino manager, using MindPlay (a table game tracking company Bally recently purchased), now has the same depth of knowledge they have had with slot players," said Lipparelli, "There are a number of products that will be unveiled over the coming months that will change the way table games are created and managed. This is not simply a tracking device as we have come to know that term in our industry."
Non-intrusive algorithmsMindPlay developed MP21. Rich Soltys, senior vice president for MindPlay Product Group, said the non-intrusive system was designed to automatically track and analyze the play and betting patterns of every gambler at a blackjack table in real time.
"MP21 captures everything that is happening on a blackjack table through high-speed image processing that goes through a series of algorithms," said Soltys. "We're able to detect different objects and events happening on the table. We collect those objects and events and construct the game in real time."
Soltys said MindPlay works because he and his staff let the casino drive product development and technology. "Rather than having engineers design a technical solution that would force operators to use it in an engineering fashion," said Soltys, "we did the exact opposite. MP21 is user friendly and closely mimics what an operator wants to see."
What operators want to see is efficiency and according to Brian Casey, IGT gaming systems marketing director, that is what Table Touch does. Table Touch is IGT's table game tracking system that collects a variety of data and allows pit managers to turn that data into actionable analysis.
For instance, said Casey, a casino floor manger, with information it receives from Table Touch over a period of time, can determine that only 10 blackjack tables should be open on a certain day and at a certain time. And within those 10 tables, five should have a $5 minimum bet, three be $10 tables, and two have a $25 minimum bet. The system can be used on all types of table games such as pai gow poker and mini-baccarat.
"This was an art form less than a decade ago," said Casey. "Now we're using real analytical tools, it simply means the gaming industry is coming into the computer age. The guesswork is gone on how to manage and operate table games and it's only the beginning. The next step is for the system to become as accurate as slot machines."
All the technology and analysis is not changing the way the game is played. Shuffle Master's Schubert said when he was given the mandate to create Intelligent Table, he was told not to change the blackjack table or the way the game is played and "do not create a system that requires special chips or special cards."
Watching every moveIntelligent Table has small cameras underneath the chip tray that takes pictures of all chip movement. The card shoe has a card reader that recognizes what cards are being dealt.
"Once the game gets underway," explained Schubert, "we know that the first three cards dealt are, let's say, 8, 3, and 10. The sensor under the tray shows that the dealer has his cards. The dealer keeps dealing. When someone busts, the dealer puts the cards in the discard rack and that also has a card reader. So from the sequence of cards coming out of the shoe and into the discard rack, we are able to reconstruct the hand."
Intelligent Table was designed to satisfy the needs of the casino operator.
"We had discussions with operators to determine if we were going in the right direction while developing our system," said Schubert. "We asked them what they wanted. That's why it's a modular system. If the casino just wants bet recognition, then that is what the casino gets. If it just wants to recognize cards, we provide that. We're able to give casinos whatever piece of the puzzle they want and spread the rest out over time. Often, smaller casinos may not need all the bells and whistles. In fact, there is only so much information you can take from a table game."
Casinos are also using table tracking to train dealers to be quicker, more accurate, and friendlier. The system notes mistakes and inefficiencies and when corrected, dealers deal more hands resulting in a greater casino bottom line.
"MindPlay can tell if a dealer is friendly or not," said Soltys. "We're able to analyze the dealer's occupancy rate and see if the occupancy trends positive or negative over a certain period of time. If a dealer started with six players and only three are playing 30 minutes later, that information is collected. Over time, we analyze those trends and know which dealers build games and which dealers kill games."
Indeed, motivated dealers are still core to table game success and will likely be for some time to come. Sophisticated, non-intrusive technology will allow them to operate more efficiently, for the benefit of both players and the casino. But this technology will do little to alter the appearance or mechanics of traditional table game play.
"Table games are reemerging because players want a social setting," said Soltys. "It's fun to talk to a dealer and those sitting next to you. Table games are a unique interaction that is lacking in slots." CJ
Turning the tide
Technology advancements have put table game cheaters at a disadvantage
Less than scrupulous blackjack players take millions from casinos each year. They count cards, track the shuffle, catch the hole card, and devise other methods that give them an advantage.
There is software that identifies all types of cheating and counting and one of them is Bloodhound from Shuffle Master Gaming.
Bloodhound is voice-activated. The operator, while watching a player's session, simply narrates the game (units bet, cards dealt, play decisions) into a microphone. The software does the rest. It evaluates bet strategy for card counting and shuffle tracking. It compares decision making vs. optimal basic strategy including index plays, and it determines if the player alters strategy based on the hole card or top card.
The program sifts through the data and produces player profiles that determine if a player counts cards, if a player tracks the shuffle, if a player catches the hole-card, if a player knows the top-card, and the percent advantage (or disadvantage) a player has over the house.
Rich Soltys, senior vice president for MindPlay Product Group, said the future of table game tracking, besides greater player analysis, is game protection.
"MindPlay notes which cards have been dealt as well as each player's bets as the game progresses," he said. "And this is where the casino may finally get the upper hand on card counters. Traditionally, counting strategies dictate that counters bet high when more high cards remain as a larger number of unplayed high cards give an advantage to the player. However, if MindPlay knows which cards have been played and detects a player adjusting his betting pattern that coincides with a preponderance of undealt high cards, it can trigger an alert."