Casino Journal co-produced this little conference last month with Dennis Conrad and the Raving team called, Raving’s Cutting Edge Table Games Conference. Except it’s not so little anymore.

This year’s event drew over 200 attendees, many of whom stayed right through the end of two days of intensive conference programming, and 24 entrants to Casino Journal’s Best New Table Games of 2013 competition. That’s about twice as many as two years ago, which suggests we have more than just another bright new gaming event to talk about.

Tables are on the upswing. That was the basic message of our opening speaker, Dr. David Schwartz, director, UNLV Center for Gaming Research, and you can find plenty of people in the industry who will tell you basically the same thing: Table game revenues have held up better than slot machine revenue for the last five years. 

 “Table games, after about 30 years of the story being, ‘slots are the future and table games aren’t all that important,’ are now being seen as more resilient and more about the future rather than slots,” said Schwartz. “I think that table games are going to become more important to the revenue picture of brick-and-mortar casinos as online gaming becomes more prevalent around the U.S.”

Starting with Nevada, Schwartz reported that, from 2005-07, both slots and tables were growing in daily win-per-unit statewide. Win was about $1,800 per table for in 2005 and $120 per slot. By 2008, the numbers were around $2,000 and $128 respectively. Then came the great recession. All told, since 2005, slot machines have had a net decrease of 2 percent in daily win-per-unit. This is despite the fact that Nevada has taken a lot of machines off the floor; the state has lost about 14 percent of its slot inventory since 2005.  Table games, on the other hand, have enjoyed a 20 percent increase in daily win-per-unit since 2005. For Schwartz, this says that table games are doing much better than slots and have a much better prognosis. “Slots are diminishing in importance and tables are gaining.”

He sees the coming spread of online gaming nationwide over the next several years compounding the trend. “As it stands right now, the slot experience is replicated across a lot of different platforms,” said Schwartz. “You can see this in the United Kingdom, where, if you have an IGT slot you can play it at the casino or you can play it on your iPhone or other mobile device. If this is how you like to gamble, I’m struggling to see the real benefits of driving an hour or more and maybe inhaling second-hand smoke to play a slot machine. Live table game play, though, is unique. You cannot, at least not with card technology, replicate the same experience on a tablet or an iPhone.”

Now data is always somewhat tricky, especially in a state such as Nevada where there is plenty of distance between The Strip and locals gaming that typifies the state elsewhere. But the positive trend for tables has held up pretty much across the board, said Schwartz. Moreover, Nevada isn’t even the leading state in terms of daily win-per-table.  That title, on the commercial gaming side at least (the one where data is reported) goes to Maryland, with $4,100 per-table daily. Illinois, with the fewest numbers of tables in the Midwest and the highest regional win-per-unit, comes in second at $2,700 per-table daily, followed by Nevada, Pennsylvania and Ohio, each around the $2,200 mark.

“Now is the time to invest in table game players” said Schwartz. “Do it now, not 10 years from now, when the next generation of gamblers has already grown up. Invest in them now while they’re still there.”

One problem with that prescription, or at least a barrier, is another point about table games that people will talk about anecdotally: Fear and risk aversion on the part of table game managers.

“Table games is a very conservative area of the casino, where it is very difficult to enact change,” said Robin Powell, principal, The Talisman Group, creator of EZ Baccarat and opening day speaker on day two of the conference. “‘Resist and survive,’ is the motto. There is huge pressure coming from above at the CFO-type level and no money for R&D as in slots.”

 None of this will be solved overnight, but, hopefully, the silos will erode for the better as casinos realize how vital the table games area for the future. In that spirit, congratulations to the winners of our Best New Table Games competition: First place went to War Blackjack, by War Blackjack, Inc.; second to Riverboat Roulette by Double Luck Gaming; and third to 3 to 1 Blackjack by Superstar Gaming.