Readers of this column know I am a “table games guy.” I cut my teeth in “the pit.” Table games, especially craps, are my gambling preference. I created the Table Games Conference and the Best New Table Games Competition that BNP Media Gaming Group have made into such great successes.
I have long believed that table games are fun, social and essential. Without them, all we have are what the late Bill Eadington used to call “vending machine casinos,” devoid of spirit, and oftentimes now, employees.
I have been distressed for nearly the last two decades watching slot machines gobble up casino floor space, and table game directors surrendering that space without hardly putting up a fight.
I know these trends have been good for casino profits (and slot directors’ paychecks), but I strongly believe that they have been harmful to our casinos’ souls. A player can now go into most parts of most casinos, most everywhere in the country, and not need to have a single interaction with a single casino employee.
Well, I am here today to give you some great news on the table games front. Well, maybe it’s not news, per se, perhaps only that my opinion has changed on table games’ future in casinos. For the first time in decades, I am optimistic.
Table game revenues are showing growth in many gaming markets, and robust growth in some. Millennials (and whatever the hell the newest generations of twenty-somethings are called) are playing tables instead of slots. Poker is still popular and some new table games are gaining in popularity. In markets like Macau and Singapore, table games are kicking butt.
So, what’s happening here? Well, if I am right about all of this, then there must be some underlying forces at work and these are what I think they are:
• Slots have managed to take slot players’ money too increasingly fast for too long.
• Young people find slots boring, while finding tables “cool” and a chance to be social and get their eyes off of their smartphones.
• A growing number of innovative table game operators have been fighting back, trying new table games, creating more fun playing experiences like party pits and game instruction areas. It’s not just “dealing by procedures” and “hands per hour” for these table game trailblazers anymore.
• Table game departments have not squeezed out all of the playing value from their games like slot departments have. Sure, there’s the ubiquitous “6 to 5 blackjack” games and rip-off carny games around, but there is still liberal blackjack, 10X odds on craps (or more), low minimum tables still available at most casinos, and great playing value and a low house edge in baccarat.
But I believe the main reason that the table game business future is bright is because it’s social and involves interactions with people. Slots can have “community gaming machines” and some hoopla promotions, but they will never hold a candle to the “show,” the interactions and the relationship-building opportunities that make up the table game playing experience.
And so, my dear table game brethren, you can focus on hold percentages and hands per hour, optimal staffing schedules and the like. Or you can focus on creating a playing experience for your customers that offers fun, playing value, and most of all, great interactions with great relationship-building potential. I know what I would choose.
So there’s your opportunity. But your table game window may be a short one. No doubt your slot counterparts will one day open their eyes too.