The Empire Strikes Back.
by Andrew MacDonald

The Empire Strikes Back.
Table Games emerges from the ashes!

Has it ever bothered you that a significant part of the casino business is in decline? Worried about being a dinosaur at age 40 or less? Me too. The table games area of our business is in real need of some serious help. I recently had the pleasure of talking with some of the “propeller heads” (their own term not mine) that run Harrah’s corporate headquarters. These are the guys that are looking at taking “software” and scientific analysis and leveraging that over building bigger and more expensive mousetraps or “exploding volcanoes” as they put it. Some real interesting stuff that they are working on. Very marketing and customer service focussed, but guess what I discovered? Harrah’s operate 21 casinos throughout the US with over 40,000 gaming machines and a business that makes over 80% of their revenues and even more of their profits from slots. Table Games do not even appear on their radar screen! Now that won’t surprise most of you, but it should make all the people clambering up the corporate ladders via the table game pathway very, very concerned.
So what are you going to do about it? Recently I have been involved in a couple of intriguing projects that have the prospect of changing the way the table games product is packaged and presented for our customers. Rapid Roulette is a new style table game that breaks the old paradigm that to be a table game you must use chips and work with a baize layout. It also breaks free of the thought that the ultimate evolution of the table game is to eliminate all staff and essentially fully automate all parts of the current processes. From an engineer’s perspective or that of a computer boffin that may well have been the case, however, as my good friend Dennis Conrad always says “...ask the customer what they want and give it to them.” When we started on the Rapid Roulette project we conducted a series of focus groups with our customers who said the last thing they wanted was a fully automated Roulette game. What they could envisage was a real dealer and a mechanical wheel with computer style betting monitors being used to place bets. The customers actually like the social interaction and “contest” with the dealer and they like the fact that a dealer spinning a ball gives them a fighting chance in their mind. So we embarked on creating a new style of table game that met both our needs of reducing operating overheads and enhancing productivity and the customer’s needs of maintaining a mechanical game. Essentially we created a Roulette game with twelve betting stations and a single dealer. The player has their own 20 inch automated transaction station where they place on screen chips on a computer simulated Roulette layout. The player buys in with cash or chips by handing this to the dealer who credits their station with a dollar account balance from which they may play. The player then selects the denomination of chip they wish to use by touching one of the onscreen chips and either drags and drops the on screen chip onto the position on the Roulette layout or “points and clicks” the position. All standard Roulette bets may be placed along with “recall” options and some other standard French Roulette bets. When the player is ready to cash out they merely press “cash out” on their station and the dealer gives them their account balance in chips and clears the player’s balance. Revolutionary? “Hardly“ you might say. However, what we have achieved is a game where players can play in comfort, with a drink and a cigarette if they wish, and reach all areas of the Roulette layout without pushing or leaning and where all the standard features of the game they find desirable are maintained. We have also been able to reduce labour costs by around 60% and have therefore been able to reduce the minimum bet by a factor of four. We also have a new platform for game development that is almost limitless. Streak betting, easy picks, feature games, jackpots and all the bells and whistles that have made slots such an exciting alternative for our players. With lower betting limits and more fun options perhaps we can capture some of the players we have lost. Now, some might argue that it is better to let the player migrate across to slots. The problem with this is that as slots become more distributed in the community it becomes harder and harder to compete with slot parlours that can offer the same products and facilities as our casinos. A vibrant table game product is one way that we can maintain a point of difference with our competitors and make the casino experience more social and memorable.
The future of table games is definitely bright, if we want to make it that way!

Date Posted: 28-Aug-2001

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