I am often asked if I have seen any emerging trends since the reopening of casinos post COVID-19 mandated closures early this year. The answer is yes, I have.
While this trend is not new, the electronic table games (ETG) sector is outpacing our expectations in popularity, placements and, most recently, performance. For those readers who attended last year’s Eilers & Krejcik Gaming’s G2E Briefing, we predicted the segment would likely account for 2.5 percent of casino mix by 2022. However, in March of this year through to the end of August, ETG performance has improved by 14 percent (see chart on this page).
A 14 percent bump in performance may not be significant when comparing a new video reel cabinet to an older variant, as I did in my January 2020 Slot Management & Marketing column, but a 14 percent increase in a segment that has experienced five to 10 years of strikingly flat performance is significant. Like in many other industries, performance and popularity usually leads to more sales and, specifically in the case of casinos, more placements and floor share (see chart on page 9).
THE BUSINESS CASE FOR ETGS
The ever-heightening need for casinos to run more efficiently signals a great opportunity for the ETG segment, which is now beginning to couple reduced labor needs with increased performance. This combination is especially valuable in high-demand markets and at non-peak gaming times. The efficiencies created by the utilization of ETGs start with effectively running the same live table games but without the labor cost of dealers and supervisors managing wagers, payouts and player ratings. An average live craps table requires, at a bare minimum, four full-time equivalents (FTEs) to run effectively for an eight-hour shift or 12 FTEs daily—two dealers, one stick person and an additional dealer serving as a breaker. Additionally, that base FTE estimate does not include the additional salaried position needed to supervise the pit or the boxman to manage wager payments, buy-ins and cash-outs at a craps table.
While craps tables are at the high end of the FTE requirements, the auto-generated outcome from an ETG creates similar labor savings across all table games without much compromise to game performance, a gap that is getting closer as the past five months of ETGs in markets across the U.S indicate.
Electronic table games also provide opportunities for social distancing and cleanliness, which are an increased benefit in the current operating climate. The ability to run a game without the presence of a dealer creates one less contact point for customers at every casino. Additionally, the automated payouts from a betting terminal replaces the back-and-forth exchange of casino chips between the house and player in turn creating a chipless experience that speeds up gaming as instantaneous payouts allow for more hands per hour, a benefit many ETG suppliers are quick to promote.
IMPROVING THE CONCEPT
While stated in the opening of this column that the ETG segment performance remained relatively unchanged for the past five to 10 years, this does not highlight the various improvements to the cabinets and user interfaces. Supplier development is at an all-time high, with the goals of increasing player engagement and attracting current live table games players from the often younger and inexperienced crowds that flocked to ETGs in the past. While the game of roulette will always fundamentally be roulette, blackjack will always be blackjack and so on; the evolution of the ETG segment has made strides in attracting new players and offering more modularity to casino operators than traditional table games.
The emerging “stadium gaming” configuration, in which outcomes for often dozens of gaming devices are determined by three or four automated or dealer-assisted stations, is increasingly replacing the traditional ETG configuration in which six to 10 gaming devices surround one automated outcome generator. The presence and popularity in regional markets across the U.S. and Canada has shown great demand for the stadium gaming ETGs.
Dealer-assisted stations have also become more prevalent as established table games players remain devoted to seeing actual cards flipped, real dice thrown and roulette balls spun by hand. These hybrid ETG models continue to evolve as shown by Roll to Win Craps, Aruze Gaming America’s G2E hit, which began gaining placements earlier this year and continued as casinos reopened in California, Indiana, Oklahoma and Louisiana with pending installation approvals in Canada. In a best-of-both-worlds approach, the Roll to Win Craps table allows players to physically throw the dice across a stylish new electronic table felt outfitted with electronic gaming devices to eliminate chips and dealers taking live wagers.
In addition to new hybrid ETGs reimagining the player experience, other ETG models have undergone major software improvements to their user interfaces and developed new hardware to meet individual casino needs, all as a way to remain competitive and meet the demands of the growing market.
With sales and leased units on a decline in conjunction with the overall installed base reduction, I still believe the ETG trend is strongly on the rise and am maintaining our 2022 estimates for this growing segment, which has recently seen a major increase in terms of performance. While the performance metrics shared in this article do not account for the entire market, all statistics are taken from the EILERS-FANTINI Central Game Performance Database (GPD), which is the industry’s largest repository of slot performance data covering approximately 25 percent of the North American market.