IGT also offers multiplayer electronic game solutions, such as this blackjack game.


Aruze Gaming's Shoot to Win Craps

Year by year, the niche has been growing for electronic table games, or table games with electronic components. Whether the games are fully automated, or use a live dealer with cards, dice or wheels coupled with touch-screen betting, they’re claiming spots on casino floors.

“Tell you what, if this market segment keeps growing the way it has been, we are going to have to stop calling it a niche,” said Roger Snow, executive vice president and corporate product group chairman at Shuffle Master, Inc. “I think you are going to see a steady proliferation of these devices throughout the gaming markets of the world.”

Fueling that proliferation is a combination of cost cutting and the ability to add features for players. Automated payouts both enhance game security and speed of play, since dealers do not have to take the time to pay players and rake chips. Cost savings can mean the ability to offer lower minimum bets than at live tables, enhancing the potential customer base. Side bets and slot-like bonus events can be run through betting screens, adding both to game entertainment and encouraging incremental wagers.

“While some operators will focus on the labor and benefits savings offered by the units, others will focus on the efficiencies offered by the devices,” said Steve Walther, marketing vice president for Aruze Gaming America. “Cashing in, payouts, and cash outs are instant, and there is no time loss for a dealer to collect chips, count cash, or shuffle cards. This allows for more games to be played in a shorter amount of time which translate to more profitability for the casino. The electronic table games are also mistake free; casinos don’t need to worry about dealers over-paying or dealing incorrectly, allowing for minimal supervision requirements.”

Many operators are realizing that the costs to operate lower-minimum table games are outweighing the benefits, said Tim Richards, vice president of product management for Interblock USA. “Due to this they are eliminate the lower-end games or raising their minimums, thereby losing much of that play,” Richards said. “The Interblock products provide operators with a profitable offering of lower-end table games 24 hours a day. In turn, players have games that they can afford and enjoy. Players gravitate toward the Interblock product for both their pricing and their playability.”

Any look at electronic tables’ place in the market has to be worldwide in scope, as Snow pointed out.

“You have to realize that in places like Australia and Europe, electronic table games have been around for a while,” Snow said. “They are only new to the scene in the United States.”

For North American operators, the trend offers efficiencies and profitability potential. For manufacturers, it’s the opportunity to get in on a North American market that only recently has begun to widely take note of the promise of electronic table games.

Tom Mikulich, International Game Technology’s senior vice president of MegaJackpots, noted that current figures for the U.S. domestic market indicate that electronic table games and multi-player systems have between 1 and 2 percent of the casino floor. “In our European, Asian and Pacific Rim markets, those percentages jump to 10 to 20 percent of the floor as the ETGs and MPS table games have been in those markets longer and are widely accepted by both the players and operators,” he said.

That overseas markets have more quickly than North American operators turned to power up their tables has led to a large number of international manufacturers getting in on the action. Each puts its own spin on what’s become mainstream play, not merely a niche. Among them are:



Casino Technology’s PlayMe electronic roulette game features a built-in piano.

CASINO TECHNOLOGY

Headquartered in Bulgaria, Casino Technology has its own multi-station roulette systems, the Casino King for fully automated play and the Casino Prince for a live dealer and wheel. In either system, results can be linked to up to 250 remote wagering terminals. The company give operators a different look at casino entertainment with its piano game – PlayMe, with a roulette wheel built into the top of a grand piano, with betting terminals all around; PlayMe Dueling Piano, with keyboards at either end for operators who want hit a higher entertainment note with musical duets to go with the roulette; and the PlayMe Video Slot, with slot screens around the perimeter of the grand piano.


ELECTRONCEK/INTERBLOCK

The Slovenian company Elecktroncek d.d., which markets products under the Interblock name and also distributes North American through Interblock USA, was the first to offer an electro-mechanical card generator, the G4 Organic/Card, for blackjack, baccarat and Punto Banco. An automated shuffler sits under glass at the center of player stations for electronic touch-screen wagering. For blackjack, the standard configurations are six or seven player stations, while extra stations can easily be added for baccarat or punto banco. There’s also the G4 Organic/Roulette, with a covered mechanical roulette wheel at the center of player stations, in banks of 4, 6, 8, 10 or 12 betting stations. And the G4 Organic/Dice puts dice under a central dome for automated play in craps, sic bo or fish-shrimp-crab.



NOVOMATIC

The Austrian Gaming Industries company is an old hand at multiplayer electronic versions of table games, through its Novo Unity and Novo Unity II platforms. Through the new Unity II, it can link up to 250 touch-screen betting stations to a single live dealer table, giving the operator flexibility to place banks of betting stations around the casino. There, players can watch the wheel, cards or dice on their screens, and also get views of games statistics and streaks. Games are operator configurable, such as on the baccarat version which allows the operator to select a commission rate on the banker bet, or add side bets on hands such as a pair for either banker or player, or a Royal Match of a suited King-Queen for a possible 74-1 payoff.



TCSJOHNHUXLEY

In addition to acting as the U.K. distributor for Novo Unity II. The British company offers a wide range of both dealer-assisted and fully automated tables. Its MultiPlay Quad HD tables for roulette, craps or sic bo use a 56-inch Quad HD LCD screen as the betting surface. In the craps version, dice images appear in front of the player whose turn it is to shoot. The player touches the dice to shake and roll, and they fly the length of the table, taking full advantage of touch-screen capability. Another new product is Double Action Roulette, adding betting options by delivering two numbers per spin of the wheel.



Players enjoy Shuffle Master’s Rapid Baccarrat electronic table game.

OPERATOR ADVANTAGES

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No matter what wrinkles manufacturers put on the products, the games share advantages for operators. Automated payouts both enhance game security and speed of play, since dealers do not have to take the time to pay players and rake chips. Cost savings can mean the ability to offer lower minimum bets than at live tables, enhancing the potential customer base.

“While some operators will focus on the labor and benefits savings offered by the units, others will focus on the efficiencies offered by the devices,” said Steve Walther, marketing vice president for Aruze Gaming America. “Cashing in, payouts, and cash outs are instant, and there is no time loss for a dealer to collect chips, count cash, or shuffle cards. This allows for more games to be played in a shorter amount of time which translate to more profitability for the casino. The electronic table games are also mistake free; casinos don’t need to worry about dealers over-paying or dealing incorrectly, allowing for minimal supervision requirements.”

As electronic table games have started to carve out what is still a small niche in North America, manufacturers and operators alike have been able to look at the well-developed international markets as models. One of the early successes in North America has been Rapid Roulette, launched in Australia in Melbourne’s Crown Casino. Shuffle Master Australasia acquired Stargames in 2006, and it’s been Shuffle Master in the forefront of placing games with live roulette wheels but electronic betting terminals in American casinos. Shuffle Master also has fully automated games through its Vegas Star series, and now has launched the iTable, using live dealers and cards in its blackjack configuration, but with touch-screens at each player position for electronic wagering and side bets.

“What you will see in the future is new content to attract players,” Snow said. “A guy will be playing blackjack, but there will be some sort of dynamic wagering or a bonus round that could not be offered on a traditional table. When you think about from a game-development standpoint, these types of games open a lot of possibilities. It’s very exciting, to say the least.“

The entry game to electronic tables in many American casinos has been poker. PokerTek’s PokerPro has been a leader in the market, including an all-automated card room at the Four Winds Casino in New Buffalo, Mich.. Dealing is automated with virtual cards. Players can cover their face-down cards with one hand, then touch the screen to “turn up” the corners for a peek at their hand. A recent addition, Tournament Plus+ software eases the operation of multitable tournament play.

And now PokerTek is branching out into blackjack with its new Blackjack Pro The table is SAS compatible and player tracking ready, and allows operators to choose between TITO or account-based gaming. Game rules, limits, number of decks, shuffling mode, and payouts are operator configurable, with the Lucky Ladies side bet available.

“We see automated table games continuing to expand with more operators and players embracing the technology,” PokerTek CEO Mark Roberson said. “We’ve found that our products fit very well into markets where automated tables are mandated or regional factors require operators to look for alternatives to manually dealt table games. As awareness of automated tables has increased, we’re also appealing to a growing base of players who prefer and seek these tables because of the speed, intuitive play and other benefits they provide. PokerTek has received numerous requests from our customers to expand our table games offering, while maintaining the same product quality, security and service that they’ve come to expect. We’re growing to meet that demand.”

Aruze Gaming America goes the fully automated route with its G-Station products. Dealer’s Angels Baccarat, Dealer’s Angels Blackjack and Roulette Angels project lifelike, interactive virtual dealers on screen. Touch-screen buttons change according to game situation – dealt a pair, a blackjack player will get an option to split, or after two cards there will be an option to double down. Shoot to Win Craps and Lucky Sic Bo let the player shoot the dice with a shooter button to mirror the live game experience. Basic rules and instructions are on display, giving beginners a chance to learn the games. And Lucky Sic Bo spices up the Asian dice game with a Mystery Progressive side bet.

“Players are able to play more within a shorter amount of time, have multiple wagering options, and don’t have to wait to be cashed in or out,” Walter said. “Because of the lower expenses to operate, many electronic table games can offer higher payout percentages in special bonus features, giving players more entertainment for their money or bigger wins.”

DigiDeal is an old hand at placing electronic and partially electronic games in American casinos. Its original tables, popularized in the early days of Native American gaming in California, used a live table host to make payoffs with physical gaming chips, but dealt cards electronically on video screens. Today, DigiDeal offers a full range of configurations, with hosted games, unhosted games, real cards, virtual cards, real chips or virtual chips. New offerings include the Classic Series, kicking off with Classic Blackjack and Classic Baccarat. Both include optional side bets, with the player needing only to touch the betting screen for a little extra action.

“In addition to doubling and even tripling the number of hands per hour, DigiDeal’s Classic Series of games feature multiple bonus bet options,” said Dave Krise, senior vice president for product development. “Training, managing and dealing at a traditional table game with multiple bonus bets is problematic at best, but with the DigiDeal platform, no additional training or work is required: the property just selects the option and you can increase table revenue with each round.”

Wherever there’s electronic gaming, you can expect International Game Technology to be involved. With IGT’s Multi-Player M-P Series, operators can develop a full virtual pit with interactive electronic table games using virtual cards and chips. Beyond traditional-type table games, the MP Series supports the racing games Triple Towers Greyhound Racing and Triple Towers Horse Racing. With enhanced 3-D graphics, players can look around the virtual bend to see their horse or dog on its way home. When the finish line nears and bettors are cheering, it’s a communal experience akin to craps players rooting for the shooter or community slot players sharing a big bonus event.

“As gaming demographics change and the general public become more accepting of computers in their daily life, the desire for electronic gaming variations from the norm is tremendous,” Mikulich said. “Also, the communal gaming aspect with large numbers of players cheering on a common outcome makes these games even more exciting.”

Player demographics are changing, acceptance is changing, and the games themselves are changing. That leads to a good deal of optimism of growing niches - or of the mainstreaming of electronic tables.

“Each geographic area has its own peculiarities,” noted Shuffle Master’s Snow. “In Europe, the casinos are small and the big game is roulette. In Asia, the casinos are gargantuan and the big game is baccarat. Size-wise, casinos in the US are sort of a mix, but there is no singularly dominant game. As far as player adoption, it’s been relatively consistent. Players may hesitate at first because this is something new, but when they give it a chance, they accept it.”

“Electronic tables games have the potential to be a very large segment of gaming operations,” said Aruze’s Walther. “As operators look to diversify their product offerings or gain additional economies of scale, these units will open options to meet thoseneeds.” SlotManager



John Grochowski is a nationally syndicated gaming columnist and author of the popular casino answer book series, which includes The Video Poker Answer Book, The Casino Answer Books, The Slot Machine Answer Book, and The Craps Answer Book. For more information on Grochowski, visit www.casinoanswerman.com.