There’s a new breed of slot player on the casino floor. One not content with only the solitary experience of sitting in front of a game, repetitively pressing a button and waiting for a result, but instead craving a more social and interactive experience.
These players are finding community-style games, such as WMS’ Monopoly Big Event and IGT’s Wheel of Fortune Super Spin, to their liking.
And more and more, they are seeking out electronic table games that offer that interactive experience - without the intimidation factor of a live game, according to Stephen Crystal, chief executive officer of TableMAX Holdings LLC, which designs, engineers and distributes patented multiplayer electronic table games. TableMAX owns global rights to popular table game content, including Progressive Blackjack, Caribbean Stud poker, Caribbean Draw poker, Texas Hold’em Bonus Poker and Bonus Blackjack.
Ergonomically designed to maximize comfort and the social aspect of card games, TableMAX can be adapted to enable play of various popular card games for different markets. It includes a 50-inch plasma or LCD monitor and a table with multiple gaming positions.
Crystal said he has watched the evolution of electronic games keenly since he was involved in Barrick Gaming, which formerly operated several downtown Las Vegas properties.
TableMAX, he said, brings improved content and a flexible platform that promises to become popular as casinos turn to electronic table games to provide increasingly innovative products.
“There has been a lot of progress made,” he said. “I was sold that the fully electronic platform was the wave of the future,” Crystal said.
TableMAX’s electronic blackjack has performed well in initial installations in Oklahoma, Crystal noted. “They were performing as well as the best slot games in those casinos,” he said.
Bordertown Slot Director Steve Blazer said the progressive blackjack game, since it was installed about a year ago, has proven to be an above average performer in the Oklahoma-Missouri border casino.
“It’s just doing great,” he said. “It’s player-friendly. It has some buttons, but they’re pretty self-explanatory.”
The game makes about $200 per seat per day, “which is excellent,” he said of the five-seat blackjack game.
Blazer noted that the game itself doesn’t eat up too much room on the slot floor. The five-position game is about equal to the space taken up by five slot machines. “We’re ready to get another game from them. We’re looking at getting the Caribbean Stud version,” Blazer said.
“I’m looking forward to getting Caribbean Stud and seeing what it does,” he said. But if the game doesn’t perform as well, “what’s neat about it is we can just throw another chip in and just change it into a blackjack table.”
The game now on the floor appeals to all sorts of players, Blazer said. “Everybody plays it - women, men, old, young.”
Initially, the game was placed on the north floor, where it did fairly well, but when Blazer moved it to an even better location on the south floor closer to the casino’s entrance, it took off, jumping $50 more per position on the five-position game.
Players also like it because they don’t have to worry about having to buy chips or make the ante required in the live table game, he said. “With this table, you just put the money in, and that’s it,” he said.
The game also has a progressive feature that players become eligible for when they play a 50-cent extra bet. Players also are drawn to the interactive aspect of the game. “It’s definitely a social game,” he said.
Groups of friends will take over the game for few hours, enjoying the camaraderie of playing together, he said.
But even if they don’t know each other, players tend to bond because they’re all playing against the dealer. “Pretty soon, they’ll all be rooting for each other. You’ll see them high-five each other,” Blazer said. “It’s amazing. It’s neat to watch.”
And when the dealer busts, “the whole table goes wild.”
Plenty of potentialCrystal said a lot of attention has been paid to the growth potential of electronic table games in the marketplace. He noted there are some 48,000 traditional table games in the market today, and there are only several thousand electronic table games domestically and worldwide.
“The percentage of increase is the fastest growing sector within the gaming equipment sector,” he said.
“Even modest conversions from traditional to electronic games will make a huge contribution,” he said. “All we have to do is get our share of what’s already happening in the marketplace, and we’ll be a very successful company.”
Several things set the company apart from its competitors, Crystal said.
TableMAX’s great game content, its ability to offer a wide area progressive user-friendly platform are just some of its keys for success.
“What will distinguish our progressive blackjack is our ability to do a wide area progressive. That’s what let IGT become the powerhouse they are. That, to me, is what’s exciting,” he said.
In late March, TableMAX announced a three-year deal with eBet to monitor and operate wide area progressives on all TableMAX game content, including Progressive Blackjack, Caribbean Stud poker, Caribbean Draw poker, Texas Hold’ Em Bonus Poker and Bonus Blackjack, within North America.
“We have a unique product that is already in high demand across the continent. Now, we have a partnership that will expand our exciting progressive beyond a standalone game situation to a full wide area progressive. This is a major step forward in our business plan,” Crystal said in a news release announcing the deal with eBet, a developer and marketer of software and systems designed to facilitate the management of slot machine networks.
eBet CEO and Managing Director Tony Toohey said he is confident the partnership will culminate in substantial business for TableMAX and eBet across the United States. “We are very excited about working together to realize the full potential of this innovative product,” Toohey said.
Demands of the marketSome of what’s driving the increase in electronic table games is market conditions, restrictions on table games, lack of dealers and security concerns, Crystal said.
But there is also more player demand.
“I think the market is receptive to what I call a crossover product,” he said. “There are players who aren’t challenged by traditional slots, and they’re intimidated by regular tables, so electronic table games are a good alternative.”
He noted the game plays exactly the same as a live game being played with a four-deck shoe, while also offering a side bet opportunity.
Crystal said he envisions the product, now approved for Oklahoma and California, to be big in many markets, including Nevada. “Community gaming is the wave of the future, and electronic table games are another way of introducing players to such experiences,” he said.
As more and more of the casino business comes from outside the casino floor, from profit centers such as retail, hotel, clubs and restaurants, casinos must reach out to a new gamer, he said.
“Our argument is it helps to address demand that’s created by new gamers. If you consider that 60 percent of the revenue in Las Vegas is on the retail side, if that’s your new market, you have to have games that address that market.”
And he said the type of games that appeal to that market are more social, community games. Crystal envisions more casinos offering electronic table pits designed to create social environments. Hosts could offer a human element to the experience and provide answers to players unfamiliar with the products.
TableMAX will help a casino launch the game, with advice on how to introduce, promote and educate the player. “We often supply a host at the very beginning to introduce the game. We think that’s very important,” he said.
Crystal noted that the five-position game takes up 20 percent less space than five gaming machines. “It’s a square foot analysis. We have to make the argument that, win per position, we are the better product.”
In addition, he noted, many smaller casinos can’t afford to keep their table game pits running 24/7. Games such as TableMAX’s products can help provide that table game experience during periods when it’s not cost effective to operate live games.
TableMAX’s line of games also will have the ability to be changed out, Crystal said. “They will have programmable buttons so you could change from Texas Hold’em, to Caribbean Stud, to blackjack. The interchangabilty will be even more seamless next year.”
Crystal noted the company is looking at ways to add slot games to the mix. TableMAX is working with well-known game designer Benny Sum, president of Global Gaming Group, or G3, on such concepts. “There’s no reason why traditional slot games can’t be branded onto a multiplayer game like TableMAX. The opportunities are limitless,” Crystal said.
International opportunityTableMAX also recently entered into an 18-month agreement with Octavian International Limited for distribution, installation and support of TableMAX electronic table games worldwide except for the company’s home market in the United States. “TableMAX is one of the most innovative developments in the gaming industry in recent years, so naturally, we are delighted to be able to offer it to gaming operators outside of the U.S.,” said Harmen Brenninkmeijer, chief executive officer of Octavian, a subsidiary of PacificNet Inc.
“As well as outright sale of the system to customers, we will also offer flexible payment models such as participation deals and fixed lease, which will bring TableMAX within the reach of a wide range of operators and geographic markets.”
“Octavian’s experience in global gaming markets and in integrating revenue-generating solutions for operators is second to none,” Crystal said. “Octavian will initially concentrate its TableMAX activities in Europe, Latin America and the CIS. However, now that Octavian is part of PacificNet, it is entirely possible that TableMAX solutions will start to rollout to casino operators in other large gaming markets across the world during 2008.”