Players take to electronic table games as developers continue to enhance and innovate the devices

Interblock's Organic Blackjack

You sometimes spy them on the casino floor, trying to look inconspicuous as they peer at a roulette wheel or a craps table, wanting to put their money down but just not quite comfortable enough to give it a go.

The casino industry has spent much effort to combat that intimidation factor and has made inroads with friendlier dealers, table game lessons and the like. But what continues to gain momentum are electronic versions of table games that incorporate or simulate the excitement and action of live games.

Electronic versions of table games are proving themselves as strong performers, delivering positive results to the bottom line, winning new fans among gaming machine players and even creating crossover play between the slot floor and the traditional table games pit.

“I think that there are new players who spend time to learn the games and then cross over, and then I think there are live players who cross over and like the electronic table games more,” partly because they can get more playing action in less time, said Tim Richards, vice president of product development for electronic table game developer Interblock-USA, a 100 percent-owned subsidiary of Elektroncek d.d.

“We’ve actually managed with electronic roulette to pick up some good live players who didn’t appreciate all the different things that happen [on a live table] that tend to make the game a little slower or make the game a little less enjoyable.”

More casino operators than ever are giving the gleaming machines a try. Also not lost on them is the potential cost savings of operating these tables, most of which do not require a dealer. For many casinos, electronic table games offer the ability to provide the table game experience 24/7, in cases where a live game would have been prohibitively expensive during the slower wee hours of the morning. “The electronic pit is open 24 hours with no staffing,” Richards noted.

Games offering an authentic feel also resonate with players, he said.

Aruze's Shoot to Win Craps

“The closer electronic gaming tables come to live table games the better,” said Steve Walther of Aruze Gaming, which makes several of the games, including Shoot to Win Craps and Lucky Sic Bo. “The more people are going to start to evaluating electronic gaming tables.”

With Sic Bo, for instance, rolling the dice is a very important part of the game. Aruze Gaming’s Lucky Sic Bo G-Station multi-terminal game features a mystery progressive jackpot and a “Bash Button” that allows players to control when the dice are rolled features a button for the player to push. “When it’s your turn to roll, you push the button when you want the dice to roll. [And although the game outcome is controlled by a random number generator] you now have a feeling that you have a little bit of control. It’s bringing that little bit more of realism to the game,” he said.

Walther noted that the Aruze games’ authentic feel is enhanced by photo-realistic graphics that mimic dealer actions, such as when the virtual dealers swipe their hands during a shift change.

Aruze strives to make its games “more realistic, more tactile, more able to be experienced as if they were real table games,” he said.

Electronic table games have long established strong followings in Europe and more recently in Asia, so it only makes sense for this trend to make inroads in North America and other parts of the world.

“The market is huge overseas. It is amazing,” said Brian Folger, senior product line manager for IGT’s MPS line.

He recounted a business trip to Asia where he saw casinos with 500 multiplayer tables filled with people lined up to play them. “I’m just hoping electronic table games take off [in North America] the way they have everywhere else.”

All signs point to casino operators becoming more and more interested in electronic table games.

“They’re bringing in new players that have never played table games before. They really haven’t affected any of the live play,” Richards said.

“The customers are asking for it; the casinos are asking for it,” Folger agreed. “They’re getting more of a return for their investment on an electronic gaming table than a traditional table game.” In addition, IGT and others offer a variety of pricing models that make it easy for casinos to get these games on their floors.

Folger noted that for many jurisdictions that prohibit traditional tables, electronic table games can fill a gap. Many racinos and Native American jurisdictions aren’t permitted live table games. “It’s great for the operators,” to be able to deliver a table game experience to those players, he said. “The customers like that it’s quicker, simpler and the limits are lower.”

In addition, because it’s an electronic game, “the customer can now take that ticket and go to one of the slot machines and play.”

IGT's Roulette Evolution

IGT offers a wide-ranging suite of multiplayer products, including both fully automated and hosted electronic table games. Among them are Digital 21, Dragon Baccarat, Golden Baccarat, High Tie Bonus Blackjack, Roulette Evolution, Texas Hold ‘Em Bonus and the Triple Towers Virtual Horse Racing game.

Among the new products IGT is working on are a greyhound Triple Towers game and a bingo-keno automated game.

For Interblock, providing games that play well and help differentiate a casino from its competitors is important, Richards said.

Recently, Interblock installed its TwinStar 10 Roulette, the first of its kind in the world, at Pala Casino Spa & Resort in Southern California.

TwinStar 10 Roulette is a pair of 5-station Megastar units back to back with 55-inch LED displays featuring a live camera feed of the game and the extensive game history that the Player Information Display offers to players.

Interblock’s Megastar is unique in the region because it is the only slot device with a live spinning wheel, the company said in announcing the installation.

It’s been well-received, Richards said. “The players have gravitated toward it, and it’s being played very well right now,” he said.

Players appreciate the Player Information Display. It contains detailed statistical information including the previous 42 game results, graphical representations of frequency of each number over the last 500 games, and percentages on red/black, odd/even, columns, streets and more.

Interblock’s Organic G4 products also are making inroads, with its attractive, high-end look and feel, modular design and its ability to operate multiple games on the same platform, Richards said.

“We’re getting incredible feedback and everybody’s looking to put this on the floor and give it a shot,” he said. Hoosier park in Indiana marked Interblock’s first installation of an Interblock Organic product in the United States.

The Organic G4 fully automated, electromechanical blackjack gaming machine is the first such machine capable of shuffling and dealing real cards in a blackjack game.

“We have a full line of electronic products going on [the Organic]platform,”Richards said. “It’s just really cool.There’s a lot you can do with it.”

And that’s something Interblock remains hard at work on - coming up with new innovations.

“The goal for Interblock is how to we take some of these games that are already great – how do we make them easier to play, how do we make them better to play. That’s been our goal. We think there’s a lot of opportunity just by doing that right now,” Richards said. “We really look forward to showing off what we’ve developed at G2E, showing customers how they can take this stuff to the next level.”

Among other table game innovations:

TCSJOHNHUXLEY’s Double Action Roulette - Based on TCSJohnHuxley’s Mark VII Roulette Wheel, Double Action Roulette offers a unique variation to the traditional game, delivering two winning numbers from a single spin.

The Double Action layout consists of two identical betting areas. Each area accommodates bets for one of the two sets of numbers on the wheel. A third area called Double Action Track is available for placing bets on a double number occurring - paying 1,200 to 1.

This game earned a spot in Casino Journal’s Top 20 Most Innovative Gaming Technology Products for 2009 Contest. “This is a clever and classy variation on a game that has been making a comeback,” said one of the contest’s judges. “It’s easy to understand and would not put off the traditional wheel player. I think it is a good idea and has potential.”

TCSJOHNHUXLEY’s MultiPLAY Roulette - TCSJohnHuxley also earned a spot on the list with its MultiPLAY system designed to offer an effective way of quickly delivering live roulette, Sic Bo or craps to up to 21 player positions simultaneously.

And by giving operators the ability to adjust games at the flick of a switch, it is possible to maximize game play and revenue by quickly reacting to the time of day and player demand. When used effectively on a double/triple table, different games can be played consecutively, all from the same dealer.

All chip handling, calculation of winnings and payout functions are fully automated, delivering total game security, reducing costs and substantially increasing games per hour.

“Games like this will continue to grow in popularity as operators seek business efficiencies and younger demographics grow into their primary gambling years,” one judge said.

Shuffle Master’s Vegas Star Game line -A state-of-the-art table game platform, Vegas Star makes it possible for casinos to offer popular games like blackjack, baccarat, sic bo and roulette in a fully secure, scalable multi-terminal environment. During game play, players place their bets on individual betting terminals, and all game activity is shown on a central plasma display that now features an attractive video dealer rather than an animated dealer.

New this year is Vegas Star’s Grand Baccarat, which adds an enticing and lucrative “Grand Tie” jackpot feature to the traditional game. Players place their bets on individual touch screens, and once the betting countdown is completed, the video dealer will deal the “player” and “banker” hands. To be eligible for the “Mini” or “Major” jackpot, players must make their “Grand Tie” bet prior to any cards being dealt. The more a player bets on the Grand Tie, the more gold “prize” cards he receives when the Grand Tie feature is triggered, and the more chances he or she has of winning a jackpot. Multiple jackpots can be won during each feature. Popular “Dragon Bonus” and “Pairs” side bets are also available.

Grand Baccarat is available as part of a multi-terminal set-up. Housed in the stylish and compact Mojo cabinet, the game can accommodate up to 32 player stations per game and can be installed in a variety of configurations. Vegas Star also offers casinos maximum flexibility in setting wager amounts, which makes it easy for operators to attract both low- and high-stakes players.