January 1, 2011
When it’s time to consider a new table game for your casino, most likely the first steps you’ll take will be to survey your competition and contact individual developers and company representatives. After the dust has settled, you may have accumulated 50 or more tri-folds, brochures, thumb drives and DVDs from inventors and sales people, each explaining why their game will make you more money, faster, and with greater enjoyment than a counterfeiter locked in a Kinko’s.
Slick advertising and fast-talking sales reps should not influence critical marketing decisions. And keeping up with the competition will never set you apart. The impact of a new game will be felt by players, dealers, pit staff, marketing, surveillance, finance and upper management for many months or more. When making up your mind, proceed thoughtfully and consider the ABCs of table game selection.
A is for “Advantage”. Most proprietary games have a house advantage (H/A) in the range of 1 percent to 5 percent. This edge represents the meeting point between the profit the casino wants and the good payouts the player demands. A game that busts a player in a few hands may never see that player again. A game that barely turns a profit won’t be worth opening. The H/A has the most significant effect on the hold of the game so it’s got to be right on target. Blackjack, baccarat and Pai Gow variants are usually at the lower end, with a H/A under 1.5 percent. Poker variants and new game ideas tend to be at the higher end, in the 3 to 5 percent range. Slow games with a H/A under 1 percent will hold too little. Fast games with a H/A over 5 percent will hold too much. The pace of the game and the H/A must work together.
Advantage also stands for advantage play. Each new game offers opportunities for advantage players to gain an edge. Casino management often focuses on card-counting in blackjack as their most significant vulnerability. However, many new table games offer myriad opportunities for profit far in excess of blackjack. The three most common ways advantage players attack new games are card-counting, hole-carding and shuffle-tracking. Many games invite innovative methods for the player to gain an edge. Make sure you understand the vulnerability of each game to advantage play.
B is for “Bonusing”. Almost every new game comes with the opportunity to receive bonuses through side bets, progressives or random jackpots. The main game is frequently paired with a bonus that has both higher H/A and higher volatility. Progressive and random jackpots offer the highest level of volatility to the player and usually command the highest H/A. Side bets are usually less volatile and have a lower H/A, though there are exceptions.
Younger players are no longer satisfied to have one experience of volatility. They want the opportunity to have more volatility, and at the same time they want to be able to dynamically control their risk exposure. If there is a wide gap between the volatility of the main game and the bonuses, the player can create exactly the risk experience he wants each round. Players want to be able to thematically switch from slow and steady bets to session- or trip-changing bets.
Well-designed bonuses also create the possibility of modifying the H/A to meet market conditions by changing the pay structure on the bonus. If a game is underperforming it is often a simple matter to adjust the bonus payouts while leaving the main game intact.
C is for “Complexity”. Complexity comes in many forms at the table. The first principle is that players won’t play games that are too complicated to learn. New games that are based on well-known themes fair best. Variants of the most common games - baccarat, blackjack, Pai Gow and poker - are the most likely to succeed. If a player understands the fundamental principles of play before he steps up to the table he will be able to quickly adapt to incremental rule modifications.
The second principle is that the layout should not appear complicated. The game rules may be simple for the player to learn, but if the layout is crowded with betting areas, pay tables, graphics, tiny fonts and rules, the player will likely be put off. Surveillance will also find complex layouts a challenge to monitor.
The final principle is that the game must not be too complicated for the dealer. The dealer will be the greatest ally or greatest enemy the game has. If learning the game is difficult for the dealer then the game will suffer. If the procedures for explaining, dealing and protecting the game are too involved, dealers will drive away players. A good game is a game the dealer likes.
Choosing a new table game is a daunting task for many table game managers. By following the ABCs outlined above, the decision-making process will be streamlined, and the next choice you make will have a better chance of success.