The 2016 Cutting Edge Table games Conference last November kicked off with a keynote speech by Brian Decorah, president & CEO, FireKeepers Casino & Hotel, who, as always, brought a lot of insight and passion to the topic at hand (thanks, Brian). I took some notes, and here they are:

Tables are up: Firekeepers, which is owned and operated by the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians, has 3,000 slots, 70 tables and the property is on I-94 between Chicago and Detroit. Some 25,000 cars go by per day and the average daily visitor count is 10,000 guests. FireKeepers’ net revenues were up 6.7 percent in 2015; this year they’re up just under 3 percent. Table drop was up 11.7 percent in 2015 year-to-year. In 2016, the increase was 5.5 percent. Roulette was up 13 percent; mini-bac 36 percent; Crazy 4, 14 percent; and poker 7 percent. The property offers craps and roulette classes every week; third Thursday blackjack; craps tournaments; participates in the Shuffle Master Classic; and aggressively promotes progressives. At the time of the conference, progressive 3-card poker was $6,000; all carnival games are lumped into one progressive, which was at $65,000; pai gow was at $110,000; and poker bad beat was at $50,000.

Dealers are required to have four characteristics: They need to be welcoming, engaging, enthusiastic and appreciative. “If they don’t have those traits, we send them to the training room to make sure they get them,” Decorah said. “We’ve had over 35,000 people apply for a job and we’ve hired about 15 percent of them. Out of six people that come in we choose one; we’re very selective. It’s very important to us as well that they are recognized for their performance.” Tips are pooled and there are two bonuses per year; in July and December, based on property performance goals. If the goal is exceeded by 10 percent, dealers get an extra 10 percent bonus. FireKeepers also secret shops its dealers and if they score 90 percent or higher in terms  of introducing themselves and talking about promotions, they can earn additional money that goes right into their pockets. “We do put a lot of time, money and effort into ensuring that team members are happy and that they are taken care of,” Decorah added.

Accountability: “One thing I can share from a GM’s perspective, sometimes I do see that table game turnover is a little too low,” Decorah said. “I know we’re very busy on the floor, but if someone is not meeting expectations when it comes to service delivery or hands-per-hour, you need to hold them accountable. You don’t want to chase everyone out that has a bad day, but if it’s consistent and sustained, you need to work on that.”

New games: Success is “difficult to predict.” Since 1985, there have been 900 new table games approved in Nevada alone; or 30 per year. “How many of those games have had a sustained impact?” asked Decorah. “Pretty limited. Blackjack players like blackjack. When it comes to the core games that you offer, players always gravitate to them.” He recounted a visit to a competitor’s property, where he was part of a group of six or seven looking to play craps. “We asked the pit if we could get a table open and he said, ‘We don’t have no more craps, but we have crapless craps.’ So I thought we’d give it a shot; see if it was a gateway game to get players to understand craps, but it was just a different game. Sometimes when I thought I was winning I lost and vice versa. I’m not anti-innovation, but if you gain an extra half-percentage point on your house advantage, and your drop decreases 30 to 40 percent, it’s pretty difficult to make that up when you’ve got a low adoption rate. When you negotiate new game contracts, do your best to get those free trials in, give yourself an out and protect your operation.”

Incremental win: “If you want to gain incremental win on your table games, it’s through side bets and progressives,” Decorah said.  “It’s taking care of the core games but also giving the players something additional that increase the house hold but also provides the chance to win something big.” FireKeepers has AGS’s Count’s Kustoms at its property, which offers a top non-monetary prize of a customized car, built by Count’s Kustoms in Las Vegas, which a lot of people know from the Counting Cars TV show.