Table Games Make Space for Technology
Table game play is on the rise at casinos, and vendors are responding with new game prototypes that emphasize innovation
Traditional table games appear to be making a comeback, but not without getting modernized to meet the new demands of the evolving game player.
Without question, the table games market is as strong as ever and is growing in-terms of new players and new opportunities for games and innovations—all of which is bringing excitement to the floor.
“Twenty years ago, there wasn’t even a carved out section of the pit for specialty games; you would maybe see one or two max in a casino,” said John Hemberger, senior vice president of table products for AGS. “Today, it’s not uncommon for traditional pits to have up to 30 percent of space allocated to specialty table games.”
Indeed, the table game product mix has expanded considerably from the early days of poker-only products. For example, the introduction of side bets has dramatically altered the blackjack footprint, and cultural shifts to casino clientele have brought an influx of baccarat and pai gow game derivatives. More and more woman are also finding their way to the table games pit, thanks in part to the advent of less-intense online table game formats, such as dealer-assisted play, which helps to introduce not just females, but new players in general to the often frantic pace of traditional table play found in land-based casinos.
But the use of the Internet as a training ground for future table games players may come at a price for brick-and-mortar properties.
“There is a constant rivalry between regular casinos and online gaming sites, which have reached impressive business volumes inevitably taking something away from a classic gaming venue,” said Albert Radman, sales director at Alfastreet. “However, the trend is stabilizing and we feel that the players won’t ever really move from their casinos to the virtual online gaming sites. There are plenty of opportunities in the connection of the two, as demonstrated by our Alfastreet Remote solution, which provides the sense of legitimacy to the game—the player actually plays a real machine on a real casino floor, as opposed to the virtual account somewhere in the world.”
Land-based casino operators realize table games are still trending, and are on the lookout for ways to better exploit this action. In response, many table game vendors are taking traditional game formats and incorporating new technologies that offer more game choices, additional ways to win and otherwise enhancing play to attract new players and increase profitability.
Ancillary products that also upgrade the overall table game experience are on the rise. One such product is the VL-Focus from VisuaLimits, which provides enhanced customer service features like instant drink requests, dining reservations, display of live sport scores, TV streaming and target advertising to traditional table game formats. “Perhaps most relevant to younger players, however, is that VisuaLimits offers a companion suite of smartphone apps called VL-GO, which allow casino and hotel patrons to obtain targeted coupons and services as well as integrated conveniences right at gaming tables equipped with the core VL-Focus intelligent limit signs,” said Ryan McClellan, chief operating officer at VisuaLimits.
Alfastreet is also working on ways to enhance comfort and encourage the community gaming feel within table games, ranging from something as simple as providing a double size bench for its Royal Derby machine to the dedicated, and simplified, user interfaces for first time players. “The main guideline is the entertainment factor of the player and bringing the classic casino games closer to the new generations,” Radman said.
Of course, Alfastreet is not the only table game provider tweaking technology to make table games more popular, secure and efficient. Below is a recap of some noteworthy new table games and table game concepts from some of the top suppliers in the market.
AGS is a full-service designer and manufacturer of gaming products for the casino floor. The company’s roots are in the Class II, Native American market, and it has expanded its offerings to include top-performing slot games for the Class III commercial marketplace as well as table game products, B2B social casino products and B2C social casino games.
“Since the inception of its table products division less than three years ago, AGS has quickly become one of the most diverse table game suppliers in the industry with an extensive library of side bets, proprietary table games, progressive bonusing technology and ancillary equipment,” said Hemberger. “Our table game library now includes more than 25 unique products with nearly 1,700 placements worldwide.”
With its table products division being an integral part of the company, AGS continues to develop and search for new products to add to its library to help bolster the company’s catalog and maximize customers’ operations. In addition, AGS has expanded and broadened its sales efforts across the U.S. and strategic international markets, which has provided substantial opportunities for growth.
In the table games sector, AGS’s best-selling product remains Buster Blackjack, which is installed on more than 1,000 blackjack tables across the world. “We have quadrupled placements of Buster Blackjack since our initial acquisition of the game in September 2015,” Hemberger said. “Buster Blackjack is an optional side bet that allows players to win odds when the dealer busts. The more cards it takes the dealer to bust, the more players win. It’s very easy to understand for players and dealers and doesn’t interrupt the flow of the game.
“Along with Buster Blackjack, our award-winning Bonus Spin table game progressive technology has also experienced rapid growth in the marketplace,” Hemberger added. Bonus Spin is a first-of-its-kind digital table game progressive wheel that uses built-in, light-up bet sensors, a tablet-style dealer interface and a progressive engine that’s fully customizable. Operators can offer anything from a progressive top prize, a fixed top prize or an experience-based prize as the top award. Sophisticated 3D graphics and a double-sided display draw players into the game and show prizes, results and bet limits. Consisting of an optional side bet, players simply bet on the Bonus Spin bet along with their standard wager. If they receive one of the hands that trigger the chance to spin, such as a 21 if they are playing blackjack, they get to hit the Bonus Spin button that automatically triggers a random spin on the bonus wheel.
With Bonus Spin progressive technology, table game operators can leverage the thrill and anticipation that bonus prize wheels add to the table game experience. “By adding Bonus Spin to any of table games in the pit, operators can instantly be more effective at marketing their games by offering customizable prizes that target specific player segments, resulting in more player excitement, interaction and a potential increase in revenues and visits,” Hemberger said. “For example, the MGM Grand Las Vegas offers a fixed top prize of $10,000 to appeal to the larger Strip audience that’s looking to win a large cash jackpot.”
“By giving table game players a chance to spin the wheel for hitting a specific hand, operators not only add more excitement to each game, but they also make it a much more interactive experience,” Hemberger added. “This interactivity appeals to many player types, including Millennials, who are often looking for types of gaming experience that are different and more interactive than traditional forms. In addition, older players who have experienced wheel-type gambling on the slot floor are also enticed by this addition to table games.”
Build a bettor trap…
The Shark Trap System, a new high-tech shuffling machine from Shark Trap Gaming & Security Systems, will hit the market in 2018, offering a table-game platform that can increase productivity, reduce card costs and attain never-before-realized levels of game protection.
Currently, AGS has placed about 150 Bonus Spins since the company rolled out the upgraded product at G2E last year.
Adding to the interactivity and excitement of Bonus Spin, AGS also recently introduced a Roulette Signage Solution that features fun, lively roulette ball animations that aim to attract new players and keep players at the wheel longer. This new solution features a male or female roulette ball character that appears on the sign after the live ball is dropped and runs along the wheel until it stops and dances on the corresponding number the live ball lands on. This display makes the game much more entertaining and fun without changing the base game. The sign also displays all basic trends, min/max levels and allows operators to customize themes, logos and marketing messages.
“We’re always enhancing our products with strategic features and technologies to help our customers generate more play and profitability—you’ll see some of these advancements take shape in new progressive offerings that we plan to show during G2E this year,” Hemberger said. “We’re also continuing to innovate with table game signage, like the Roulette Signage mentioned before, as we believe there’s a lot of opportunity to upgrade the traditional static, dim and inconspicuous signs that are still so prevalent on the floor. Retail has really embraced the value of dynamic signage to help attract and draw in customers. We are looking at trends across retail and other industries to maximize the capabilities of table game displays.”
Also worth a mention for AGS is Dex S, its single-deck card shuffler that provides a reliable, secure shuffle that gets the job done without added frills and with less servicing requirements. Dex S can be used in poker rooms to increase efficiencies thanks to its automated shuffling, which shuffles a single deck in less than 40 seconds. But the use of Dex S isn’t just limited to poker rooms; it also works for single-deck blackjack or specialty table games where dealers hand deal or pitch cards, and it retains all the same efficiency, security and ease of servicing benefits for those games as well.
Alfastreet has established a worldwide reputation as a leading producer of electronic table games (ETGs), which has been setting the standards in the industry for more than 20 years. The company’s complete game lineup includes roulette, sic bo, craps, blackjack, baccarat, various poker versions, Royal Derby, Big Bang wheel and more.
The company constantly integrates the latest technologies into its products. For example, this year the Alfastreet’s various game wheel wheels were updated with a new sensor setup and progressive lighting system. The readings from the sensors beneath every number are blindingly fast, and even have the capacity to correct dealer errors in a live configuration.
Roulette and Royal Derby have proven to be leading-edge products for Alfastreet. “Roulette is by far the most popular table game worldwide and the combination of features, makes an Alfastreet roulette a leading product,” Radman said. “The wheel action and the user interface [are much better than] any competitor can offer.”
Meanwhile, Royal Derby is the only mechanical horse-racing machine currently in production, according to company literature. According to a recent press release, The Royal Derby was a showstopper at the Peru Gaming Show 2017, thanks to the legacy mechanical horse-racing machines have in the Latin American marketplace.
“Another product that stands out for us is the new Multitouch electronic roulette table,” Radman said. “Basically it’s a completely automated roulette table, which mimics the game on the live table. Eight players have individual playing monitors and can follow the game on a central community screen. It is the first and only product that offers these specifications, with the additional benefit of the roulette wheel that can be operated both live and fully automated… same wheel, no complex adaptation systems.”
Looking to learn more about the current state of table games in the land-based casino environment? Then come to the annual Table Games Conference, which will take place November 14-16 at Paris Las Vegas, and join serious table game executives from across the country that are sick and tired of rules, procedures and attitudes that ultimately lose customers and erode the table game business. Learn from the foremost experts in the country to address those numerous holes that leak away valuable table game profits, and who will provide you with real solutions. Listen to progressive operators as they reveal how they are successfully using technology, promotions, service and marketing tools in ways that you have never seen before.
TCSJOHNHUXLEY’s heritage is firmly fixed in live table gaming, having developed some of the industry’s benchmark products including the Chipper Champ 2, Mk 7 and Saturn Roulette Wheels and e-FX winning number displays, in addition to handcrafted gaming tables and accessories.
For the last few years, the company has invested heavily in server-based technology. “A new division was set up in York to focus on providing a technology platform that offers real-time resilient event collection and redistribution,” said Tracy Cohen, director of marketing at TCSJOHNHUXLEY. “A series of modules providing optimization, bonusing, media and electronic gaming solutions has been developed for the platform.”
One such module is the company’s Gaming Floor Live (GFL) technology. “The introduction of GFL has revolutionized table gaming by offering a truly server-based gaming platform that was previously only open to operators through their slot systems,” Cohen said. With GFL there is only one server that provides the central administration of the system. Through a range of highly flexible and configurable modules, the server not only delivers all the game content for terminals and bonusing for progressives, but also handles financial transactions and reporting.
“The most obvious advantage to the operator is security with a single database, as the logic is locked away and there is no opportunity for outside manipulation or interference,” Cohen said.
The latest product to be added to the GFL platform is Qorex Electronic Gaming Solutions. Powered by the GFL Gaming module, the Qorex range of products provide unlimited electronic gaming solutions consisting of terminal, fixed and portable touchscreen devices. Launched in late 2016, Qorex terminals have already been installed in the UK, with further installations in the coming months.
Qorex provides all the usual benefits of electronic gaming, but by connecting to GFL, it can deliver far greater advantages. Operators can remotely see what is going on in all the terminals, since the game is being played on the central server and not on the terminal; while adding games and other content is easy as there is a central repository.
“The GFL platform continues to provide a powerful tool for operators with the possibilities of reporting, only restricted to what the customer wants it to do,” Cohen said. “The GFL platform has endless capabilities that are driving TCSJOHNHUXLEY’s development of products and services. These are exciting times and the future of live gaming is being delivered right now.”
The table games product line for Scientific Games includes card shufflers, proprietary table games, ETGs, progressive jackpot systems, card-reading dealing shoes and chip sorters for roulette. Among its most popular table games are Three Card Poker, Ultimate Texas Hold’em, EZ Baccarat and Blazing 7s Blackjack.
The table games sector is in no way a small component to the product offering at Scientific Games, with table game products generating approximately $270 million in annual revenue for the company. “Our fastest growing segments are electronic table games, progressive jackpots and new games like Free Bet Blackjack,” said Roger Snow, senior vice president or tables and utility products at Scientific Games.
Currently, Ultimate Texas Hold’em is the company’s most successful table game with a total of 1,200 placements in 40 countries around the world. “Its popularity is due to its simplicity—you just have to beat the dealer—combined with its strategic intricacies. As the old saying goes, it takes a minute to learn and a lifetime to master,” said Snow.
Meanwhile, the company’s most successful card shuffler is the one2six, a continuous shuffler that constantly circulates cards back into play. There are 11,000 machines in use, primarily for blackjack applications.
Stadium Blackjack has become another popular product offering, allowing casinos to accommodate dozens of players with a single dealer. “The idea combines real cards and a real dealer with remote, electronic wagering,” Snow said. “It’s a fun way to get a lot of people together in a casino.”
Right now Scientific Games is testing Coverall, a side bet for games like Three Card Poker that lets players make a single bet to cover every hand at the table, including the dealer’s. “We have B2B, a roulette side bet that pays up to 300 to 1 on a single spin,” Snow said. “There’s also QikTable, a ‘shot clock’ system for poker rooms that will dramatically speed up play. And we are about to launch progressive jackpots for commissioned and no-commission baccarat.”
Las Vegas-based VisuaLimits develops and sells the only intelligent, two-sided LCD table-game limit-sign in the industry, a product that bolsters table game security and provides a cost-effective foundation for a range of casino analytics and other functions such as information for players.
“As the company’s fourth-generation product, V-Focus automatically detects every hand played on card games as well as side bet utilization, allows automated changes of limits to entice more game play, protects tables with added camera angles and communicates important messages to staff property-wide along with marketing promotions to players” McClellan said. The VL-Focus units also allows operators to combine typical table games hardware to reduce costs and clutter on their live games as well as improve the overall appearance of their gaming floor.
The company’s companion VL-EYE table game pole-sign extends the core game security and optical analytic capabilities VL-Focus while adding visual promotional features and the ability to incorporate progressive meters or payoff information on dual LCD monitors viewable from a distance. VisuaLimits has installed limit signs and dynamic analytic systems in nearly 60 casinos in the U.S. and Canada.
The VL-Focus doesn’t just tell players what the maximum and minimum bets are on the game, it can also track hands-per-hour, side bets, card play and facial recognition by way of high-definition cameras embedded in the bezel of its unobtrusive cabinet. The VL-Focus can also perform optical scanning of player loyalty cards, coupons and dealer ID cards for “tap-in” or “clock-in,” which now allows for a direct interface into the casino’s time and attendance system as well as finger print and mag-stripe reading.
The VL-Focus and the VL-Eye were designed to insure secure and efficient play on tables. Besides the optical card, chip and facial recognition capabilities, a continuous, table-level video recording can be available that allows surveillance to instantly replay, watch, review and verify all hands, any disputes and all play from a table-level view. “From an efficiency standpoint, one of the base-functions of VL-Focus is to maintain a running ‘pace-audit’ of all dealers over time,” McClellan said. “When each dealer taps-in for a shift or after a break, they are automatically presented with a visual gauge showing their hand-per-hour for their last hour against house norms. This feature alone assures consistent dealer performance and eliminates the need for doing periodic, disruptive pace-audits, which in reality do not necessarily represent what the dealers and pits are doing anyway.”
In addition to the many technical features and capabilities packed into the VL-Focus, VisuaLimits has concentrated on growing and enhancing its software and applications suite. The Table Games Analytics module allows pit managers to do real-time, rolling-pace studies, headcounts, side bet performance and impact on base games. Facial recognition software on VL-Focus can provide pit supervisors and hosts with instant alerts for premium players or cheats. Another recent addition of VL-GO which now gives casinos an instantly available smartphone app for check-in that provides guests with scanable on-screen coupons, cash at tables, property information and other portable benefits right in their pocket or purse.
“One of the most significant additions to the VL-Focus capabilities arsenal in the past year is the integration of at-table funds transfers to players’ cards by way of an exclusive arrangement with Sightline Payments,” McClellan said. “Through joint technology, no longer does a player need to pause their game and go to the ATM or obtain a marker; when utilizing Play+ and the VL-Focus, a player now simply needs to use a smartphone to transfer money to the table. Winning funds can be placed directly back to their account.”
The VL-Focus and VL-Eye products are expressly and uniquely designed and manufactured for use on live table games as an operational compliment; not games themselves. “As VisuaLimits has added analytical capabilities and optical scanning features to its core products, casinos have recognized the value of being finally able to glean and harness similar data and analytics from table play as slot systems have provided casino management for years,” McClellan said. “The ROI of the VL-Focus is substantiated from numerous product installations and is no longer viewed as a discretionary asset. As word and awareness has spread, the product install base of VL-Focus has grown significantly including being seen as a ‘must have’ to most of the newly opened or soon to open mega-resorts here in the U.S.”
In the fall of 2017, VisuaLimits will be releasing its VL-Eye dual-sided, optically-enhanced Table Sign as a compliment to the core VL-Focus unit. “The VL-Eye’s obvious function will be to allow pit managers to dynamically inform players from a distance about limit changes and other information about the games,” McClellan said. “Not so obvious, the new VL-Eye sign will have optical analytical capabilities that will increase the accuracy of recognition and amount of data that can be acquired at tables.”
Electronic table games represent an important component of IGT’s overall product portfolio and strategy. IGT expressed its increased commitment to growth in the ETG category with its 2016 agreement with Paradise Entertainment that provides IGT with exclusive rights to Paradise’s Table Game IP for the development, manufacturing and distribution of live and random number generator (RNG) electronic table games worldwide, except in Macau.
“Since then, IGT has established a dedicated ETG organization, with a committed management and engineering team that is entirely focused on driving this exciting and emerging product category,” said Matteo Carli, senior vice president product marketing electronic table games and poker for IGT.
IGT’s principal ETG offering is its Dynasty solution which is featured at casinos in Nevada, California and Pennsylvania. The Dynasty solution has the ability to accommodate as many live outcomes as an operator wishes, which may be an attractive feature to operators because it can empower them to differentiate their casino floors and optimize their patrons’ rate of play. Players can also enjoy the option for betting on multiple outcomes at once and at a rate that is not found in other live betting casino environments.
At G2E, IGT plans to create a dynamic, dedicated ETG space. “We will leverage G2E to showcase our new Dynasty Blackjack—the ideal complement to our existing baccarat and roulette offerings,” Carli said. “We will also display our new side bets for baccarat and IGT Dynasty Live Connect will be another area of interest in the ETG portion of our booth.”
With Dynasty Live Connect, operators can leverage the outcomes of the traditional table games on their casino floor to give players additional opportunities for wagering through the Dynasty terminals. Guests to IGT’s G2E booth will also be able to experience its award-winning PlaySpot mobile betting solution in conjunction with Dynasty ETG products.
“Through PlaySpot, casino guests can play, track and monitor live table games on their mobile phones, from any location within a casino,” Carli said. “This combination of best-in-class land-based and mobile technologies delivers a truly unique opportunity for our customers and their players.”