by John Grochowski
February 20, 2012
Shuffle Master’s iTable game concepts on display at Global Gaming Expo.
Through one set of lenses, electronic table games are a way to bring the experience of roulette, blackjack, craps and other table favorites to slots-only casinos. They’re potential cost-cutters, saving on dealer salaries and training, eliminating human error in decisions and payouts, as well as cutting the cost of cards, dice, chips, lammers and other live table needs.
But as the presence of electronic tables grows in North American and around the globe, companies including Aruze Gaming, Interblock and DigiDeal see something larger than just an all-slots niche.
“How do you get people to have a new interest in a segment they may not have been interested in before?” Steve Walther, marketing vice president at Aruze Gaming America asked, pointing out that Aruze has had success with its Shoot to Win Craps at full-service casinos from the Las Vegas Strip to Macau. “That’s where these electronic table games, if they’re done right, like we think we’re doing, helps transition players into new experiences.
The player mix?
“Probably 25 percent are table players who just want to get away and relax,” Walther said. “Another 25 percent are slot players who would never play a table game, and 50 percent are people who just like to play games. The feedback that I get from my customers is that it’s doing a fantastic job of teaching new people about the game of craps.”
Part of that ties into attracting a generation of players comfortable with high-tech products, according to Tom O’Brien, vice president of sales at Interblock. “Many operators are now interested in electronic table games so that they can provide an environment that meets the needs of today’s tech-savvy player who are incredibly comfortable in this type of computerized playing environment,” O’Brien said.
But the natural jumping off point remains all-slots casinos, according to Dave Krise, DigiDeal’s senior vice president of product development.“Certainly the entry point for electronic tables is with the slot-only type jurisdictions,” he said, pointing out that DigiDeal’s product line includes hosted games as well as fully automated tables. “Harrah’s Cherokee in North Carolina has operated 40 hosted electronic table games for over six years. The tables are packed and very profitable for the operator. Parimutuels in Indiana, Arkansas and Florida can now offer players the table game experience.
“The success in these markets is in part due to the effective hiring and training of new host /entertainers for the games,” Krise added. “In full-service casinos, one of the biggest road blocks is the acceptance by the existing dealers who feel electronic table games will eliminate their jobs. In fact, our tables make their jobs easier, more enjoyable and more valuable while earning them greater tips through the increased hands per hour.”
HOST OF AN ISSUE
DigiDeal’s Digital Table Systems combines interaction of a live host with the convenience of an electronic play format.
“Electronic table games eliminate the cost of cards, peeking devices and shufflers while offering full backend connectivity and player tracking, plus increased hands per hour by three to four times,” Krise said “In slot-only jurisdictions, electronic table games allow operators to offer hosted tables with the social appeal and excitement of table games while attracting table game players to better compete with full-service casinos in nearby cities and states. With our product player’s benefit from technology as well by getting the fairest game available using real table game math and methods of play, plus the social interaction of a live host and the ability to earn reward points.”
Shuffle Master also offers hosted games it its iTable, but takes an opposite tack. Instead of electronic game play, the iTable uses a dealer and real cards in its blackjack game, and a real wheel in its new iTable Roulette, but bets are made on a touch screen and wagers are settled electronically.
“In roulette, it’s not the betting that takes time; it’s the resolving of those bets,” said Dan Taylor, emerging media manager at Shuffle Master, who said iTable Roulette resolves wagers in just one second. “Not only that, but roulette is one of the hardest games to deal because the payouts are so complex. Even with a world-class dealer, reconciling the action on a full table can take 60 seconds or more.”
INAG also shows just how fast dealer-assisted games can move with electronic games including the new Turbo Card Roulette. A dealer spins a wheel with slots containing playing cards corresponding to roulette numbers and colors—33 black, for instance. Plastic cards with RFID chips are drawn and placed on a reader so the results can be transmitted to remote betting stations around the casino. In the above case, an image of a 33 black card would appear on the betting stations screens, and wagers would be settled automatically.
With no responsibility for making payouts, the dealer can be stationed between two wheels. INAG designates a “red” game and a “blue” game, and players can flip between red and blue layouts on their screens. That leads to a fast-moving game of 120 decisions an hour, while easing dealer training, eliminating payout mistakes and enhancing game security.
HAVING A BASH
Aruze’s Shot to Win Craps features a Bash Button that rolls the dice located under a central dome.
The Bash Button is how players roll the dice that sit under a dome that is surrounded by game consoles. All standard craps wagers are available on a touch screen, and players take turn rolling the dice, just as at a live table. When one player sevens out, the next player becomes the shooter, hitting the Bash Button to launch the dice.
Aruze’s new Lucky Big Wheel game has similar play characteristics, with players pulling a handle to spin the wheel. It can be configured for players to take turns as the spinner, or for the player with the largest bet to spin.
“Depending upon how fast you pull the handle, there are different settings that will spin the wheel at different speeds,” Walther said. “A random number generator determines what the outcome will be, but the rest is all show, so to speak. There’s excitement as the wheel stops, the sounds go up, the lights blink and it’s really a nice presentation. It’s a much better payout schedule for players on our Lucky Big Wheel than it would be on the Big Six in the casino, so people can play longer and enjoy the Big Six experience.”
Interblock’s line of Organic table games have found a home in Resorts World New York and other gaming facilities.
Satellite stations throughout the gaming floor can watch gameplay on big screens or on their own terminals. Players can wager on any game at any terminal, with the ability to change from roulette to sic bo at the touch of the screen.
“Our blackjack and baccarat games now have a new featured side bet called Lucky Aces and Lucky Nines,” O’Brien said. “This additional side bet will increase the return for the operator of an additional hold anywhere from 4 percent to 6 percent without changing original gameplay for blackjack or baccarat.”
But while approaches to electronic games may differ, one thing game developers agree on is that acceptance is expanding.
“I think the major trend is realism and interaction,” Walther said. “Part of the fun of a table game is feeling and playing the game, rolling the dice yourself or touching the cards in baccarat and we’re capturing those sensations into our electronic table games. The realism is important, but at the same time there’s the ability to be by yourself on a table playing a game rather than interacting with the dealer or a croupier. The more realistic you get the electronic table game and the more you put the feeling in the players hand, the better the experience is going to be and that segment will just grow.”
“Electronic table games are here to stay,” Krise added. As player acceptance continues to grow and operators understand the benefits, the final look and feel of electronic tables will evolve.”
John Grochowski’s syndicated casino column appears weekly in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Gary Post-Tribune, Press of Atlantic City, Casino City Times, and in other periodicals and is available on the Web. He is the author of six books on casino games, including The Video Poker Answer Book and The Slot Machine Answer Book. His tips for players are broadcast on WLS-AM 890 in Chicago.
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