AGS made its bones in the gaming industry by producing and marketing Class II slot machines and games. However, when funds affiliated with Apollo Global Management purchased AGS in 2013, this mandate evolved into a new vision that would break out of its Class II macine niche to become a major game supplier for nearly all aspects of the casino enterprise. To this end, and under the auspices of President and CEO David Lopez, AGS launched a table game division in 2014, bringing on John Hemberger as senior vice president of table products to oversee the process.
Fast forward two years and AGS’ nascent table games division has grown leaps and bounds, and now offers products such as traditional table games, table game variants, bonus games, side bets, signage, peripherals and “play-for-fun” online game demos.. Hemberger recently sat with Casino Journal Editor Paul Doocey to create a podcast about the company’s table game strategy, new products and its plans for the future. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:
For those unfamiliar with AGS and its table games offerings, please describe the line and some of its key products.
Hemberger: We started our table games business at AGS back in August of 2014, so we’ve been going at it a little over two years at this point. We’ve built up a pretty diverse portfolio of products… one of the better known is a side bet called Buster Blackjack, which has over 700 installs in the market now.
How and why did AGS get involved with table game products?
Hemberger: The vision of our new management was certainly one of expansion and going into different product lines and different markets. Apollo’s move was to bring David Lopez on as CEO, and David and I had worked together many years at Shuffle Master. We were fortunate enough to attend “Shuffle Master University” and have access to people that opened your eyes as to how this business is run properly. Once David transitioned over to AGS, we took some of those experiences and relationships and moved them over to AGS. It’s been a very different experience for us at AGS because we really started with a blank canvas. The first thing we did was bring on somebody to handle internal content creation since it is such a key part of this business, and from there we’ve grown the table games division to 15 people.
What is the company’s growth strategy regarding table games…develop new products? Acquire new games? Both?
Hemberger: For the past two years, we have concentrated on people and products. We currently have a very healthy table games mix, with 50 percent of our products developed internally and 50 percent coming from external sources. Buster Blackjack was an acquired game, and our Bonus Spin product was purchased from Aristocrat. The group here continues to turn out content based on feedback that we see in the market and the way that we see things developing from a player’s perspective.
What are some of the table game challenges facing operators today and how is AGS helping to solve these issues?
Hemberger: Casinos are always going to have challenges with getting staff and players comfortable with new table games. One of the ways we try to resolve this issue is by developing “play for fun” versions of our content available on our website playags.com. It is such a fantastic tool, not just for our sales team when they are demoing games for customers, but also as a training tool extension for players and, in certain instances, dealers. We market right at the tables that a player can jump to an online version of the game without having to create an account or anything that would be time consuming… they can access the game in about 30 seconds and learn about it and enjoy it at their own pace. Hectic operators can also digest new games this way… it has been a huge tool for us.
Is AGS doing anything new when it comes to traditional table game products and games?
Hemberger: Two of the key products that we introduced at G2E were blackjack variations or blackjack-similar games. We introduced Mega Blackjack and got a really fantastic response from our customers.
The idea behind Mega Blackjack was to tweak one of the rules so it pays the player three to one for blackjacks, which we market upfront on the game. Players walk by the game, see the sign announcing three to one for blackjack and say, “What’s going on here? How do I get paid three to one for a blackjack?” The response to this game was overwhelming, and we’re rolling it out in the marketplace now.
We also introduced a blackjack-similar game called Toss One 21. It is a blackjack game in the sense that you are trying to get closer to 21 than the dealer, but it is a single-bet game where every player is delivered four cards and uses three of the four cards to make a hand closest to 21. The thing that is most interesting about the game is that you do not impact your neighbors at all… there is no hitting, no standing, no doubling, splitting or anything like that. You can’t ruin someone else’s experience or make a decision that somebody else questions; you are really in your own world playing your own game. This makes it a very social game, which is a kind of a reoccurring theme for us.
What is AGS’ strategy when it comes to side bet products and technologies?
Hemberger: Buster Blackjack has really been the superstar of our portfolio. The reason for that is the growing trend in the industry is to place a second side bet on a table game… something that usually has dealers pulling their hair out. Buster is the perfect partner for the second side bet because it happens after the round and it is something that can be explained so simply to a player that you don’t have to get into any in-depth conversation… if the dealer busts, that side bet is getting paid.
What is new from AGS when it comes to peripheral table game support products?
Hemberger: We introduced the Dex S single-deck poker shuffler at G2E, and it could not have gone better. There’s so much excitement from the operator side to be able to have a choice and alternatives in the card shuffler space. There is a lot of shuffler experience on our team, and I think that provides a great deal of confidence to operators.
To hear more from this podcast, go to www.casinojournal.com where you can learn more about AGS’s side bet and peripheral products, in addition to the company’s bonus technology and its vision for the future.