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The Future of Tables Gamines

Faster games and higher stakes are on the horizon

By Basil Nestor

 

Chart imitates life. And it also predicts the future for table games in 2014. Games are getting faster. Stakes are going up. Tables are earning more for casinos which okay if you’re a good player (someone who uses optimal strategies) because bad players are the ones footing the bill. Good players are squeezing the house tighter than ever. It’s an exciting story that stretches back two decades and offers us a glimpse into a fascinating future.

In the following chart, I use Nevada numbers to tell the tale. Nevada has more games than any other state, so it’s a good indicator of where the nation is heading. I can’t say it’s happening this way in every casino everywhere, but it’s definitely happening in varying degrees across the country.

These economic trends foretell the kind of games you’ll be offered the next time you lay a bet on the felt.

 

Tables are Busy!

Conventional wisdom says slots are steadily killing tables. While that certainly was the case back in the old pre-Mirage days when Las Vegas was getting shabby, it’s not a paradigm today. Over the past twenty years, table income in Nevada has increased at a faster rate than slot income: 84% increase for tables since 1993 vs. 70% increase for slots. Tables remain a significant source of profit in the modern age of slots, despite the new whiz-bang slot innovations coming every year. However, a huge portion of that increase comes from baccarat. Without baccarat, the first decade saw growth, but the last decade was essentially flat.

Even when we exclude baccarat, one seat at a table is worth nearly twice as much to a casino as one seat at a machine. With baccarat the ratio is 3:1. It’s hard to believe when you look at the sea of slots in most casinos, but it’s similar to the phenomenon of airline seats. Most are economy class, but the high-price seats at the front are a significant part of the profit. In casinos, table seats make up about 19% of the inventory, yet they generate 38% of the income.

 

On the Other Hand…

And here’s an astonishing twist. Over the past ten years the total number of tables has dropped! This is in spite of their higher value. It’s in spite of the fact that many new megaresorts have opened. Tables in 2013 are closer in number to where they were in 1993 vs. 2003. This means Nevada casinos are earning 84% more income with nearly the same number of tables. How do they do it?

Are we playing poorly and thus losing more? Generally no. Are we betting more per wager? Yes, sometimes, but another huge source of increased revenue for casinos is speed! Games are faster now compared to twenty years ago. Shuffling machines and streamlined dealing procedures quicken the pace. More action means more profit for casinos—even as their “win percent” on games like blackjack and roulette has dropped.

Also note that most of the decrease in the number of tables has been blackjack. Those games have been replaced with baccarat, three card poker, and other higher-profit contests.

What does all of this mean for you in 2014?

  • You’re playing blackjack better than ever, really squeezing casinos. As a result, good games will be harder to find in 2014. Casinos will continue offering exotic rule variations (such as free bet blackjack) to entice players and confuse them strategically.
  • Some of you play three card poker poorly. Look at those win percents! While this is partially due to a higher house edge, those figures are still much higher than roulette (which has a comparable edge). Brush up on three card poker’s optimal strategy!
  • Stop and smell the rose-scent in the perfumed casino. The house will entice you with games like rapid roulette and continuous-shuffle blackjack. But take your time with regular roulette (preferably single zero) or a manually-shuffled blackjack game with favorable rules. Remember, even though you’re generally bucking a lower house edge at the tables, you’re typically wagering many more dollars per decision. Fast action can be expensive.
  • Casinos don’t earn much money with poker compared to other games, especially baccarat, so they’ll vigorously entice you to switch.

Year/Game

# of Tables

Win Amount (x 1,000)

Win Percent (portion kept from drop)

Profit per Seat

Blackjack        
2013

2,707

$1,068,817

11.58%

$65,806

2003

3,349

$1,118,207

12.91%

$55,649

1993

3,402

$912,404

14.45%

$44,699

Craps

2013

387

$364,615

13.58%

$117,770

2003

440

$419,211

13.62%

$119,094

1993

422

$362,016

13.67%

$107,232

Roulette

2013

447

$362,740

18.80%

$135,250

2003

443

$265,219

23.30%

$99,781

1993

335

$142,283

22.21%

$70,788

Three Card Poker

2013

260

$156,019

31.63%

$100,012

2003

172

$121,055

25.35%

$117,301

1993

0

Baccarat

2013

298

$1,485,557

13.01%

$830,848

2003

90

$365,861

19.62%

$677,520

1993

65

$345,431

15.08%

$885,721

Total Games (w/o Slots and Poker)

2013

5,317

$4,111,378

12.70%

$110,464

2003

5,800

$3,080,169

14.80%

$75,866

1993

5,154

$2,232,653

14.07%

$61,884

Total Slots

2013

157,320

$6,724,485

6.37%

$42,744

2003

184,266

$6,476,859

5.50%

$35,150

1993

147,174

$3,944,042

5.02%

$26,798

Card Games (Poker)

2013

777

$123,241

Rake

$17,623

2003

383

$68,276

Rake

$19,807

1993

571

$70,814

Rake

$13,780

 

Caveats

To save space, I didn’t list all the games, but all of them are included under “Total Games”. Blackjack, roulette, baccarat, and three card poker profits per seat are calculated with an average of six seats filled per table, craps is calculated with eight players, poker is nine filled seats. “Total Games” is seven seats per game. Total slots is one seat per device. The four left columns reflect statistics published by Nevada’s Gaming Control Board. The figures for 1993 and 2003 are January through December, and 2013 is one year ending on October 31 (the latest statistics available at press time).

Win percentage (sometimes also called “hold”) for tables is higher than the house edge because dollars tend to be bet multiple times. For example, if you buy in for $200, and walk away with $150, the win percentage is 25%, but it’s likely that the total value of all your wagers was over $400. In contrast, win percentage for slots is exactly equal to the effective house edge.

Enjoy the game!

 

Basil Nestor is author of The Smarter Bet Guide to Blackjack, The Smarter Bet Guide to Poker, and other comprehensive gambling guides. Got a question? Visit SmarterBet.com and drop him a line.

 

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