The rise of electronic games brings something new to the table
BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI
When you think of table games, what are the first things that come to mind? Maybe it’s the slap of cards on felt, the roll of the dice, or the roulette dealer calling “No more bets!” as the ball descends toward the numbers, or simply the stacking or riffling of chips.
Random number generators and video screens? That’s for slots. Except …
Electronic versions of table games are on the rise. It’s a matter of evolution, not revolution—they’re not threatening to take over anyone’s table pits, but they provide a way to bring more table-style games to more players, and player acceptance is on the rise.
At Bally Technologies, a roster of electronic table games was one of the attractions in its re-cent acquisition of SHFL Entertainment, the company formerly known as Shuffle Master. A SHFL-distributed game, Rapid Roulette, won over U.S. players and operators alike in recent years, clearing the way for multigame systems such as Bally’s Fusion family.
“Electronic table games, or e-tables, have been growing in popularity both domestically and internationally for the past several years,” said Gabriel Baron, Bally Technologies’ table games product director. “From a casino operator’s perspective, the games are efficient, allowing more games to be played in a shorter amount of time with zero chance of dealer error. Plus, they enable casinos to offer lower limit players better access to table games like blackjack, roulette, baccarat and specialty games.
“Players enjoy the games because it gives them the chance to learn and play in a non-intimidating environment, while also being able to easily utilize players’ club information. With our Fusion Hybrid terminal, we can offer players a unique experience they can’t gain from a live felt table game: Players have the option to bet on up to four results from the same seat, and the games can be any combination of options chosen by the casino. We think it’s a win-win.”
Electronic table games come in many different styles from a wide range of game makers, including Bally, Digideal, IGT, Interblock, AruzeGaming, Novomatic and TCS John Huxley. Some are electronic all the way, with virtual cards, dice and wheels on a screen, and results deter-mined by a random number generator. Some have virtual dealers on a central video monitor, electronic hosts who look around the table and talk to players as cards are dealt. Many tables use live dealers for gameplay, but instead of chips, have wagers made on a video touch screen. DigiDeal even offers an option that goes the other way, with virtual cards dealt by a random number generator, but real chips for wagering and a live game host to settle wagers.
One of the latest casinos to jump on the e-table bandwagon is the Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races in West Virginia. It recently became the first North American casino to install Hybrid Fusion games from Bally, using live dealers and electronic wagering. In the initial installation, Hollywood is offering roulette and baccarat, with players able to bet either game on their terminals without changing seats.
“Fusion Hybrid offers players all the excitement of their favorite live baccarat and roulette games and allows them to wager on up to four tables at once,” said Bill Florence, the casino’s vice president of gaming. “Now players don’t have to worry about missing a streak on baccarat or their favorite number on the roulette wheel because they can switch between tables with a simple touch on their screen. Holly-wood Casino at Charles Town Races is always on the lookout for trends in gaming and new offerings for the modern player. Fusion Hybrid is featured in many of the largest gaming markets worldwide, and we are now the first to offer it to players in North America.”
That ability to toggle back and forth between games is one feature that makes e-tables attractive to operators and players alike. There are plenty more:
Every bet can be tracked, leading to player rewards data on table games as accurate as casinos collect on slot players. There’s no need for the pit supervisor to track buy-ins and estimate average bet and table speed to calculate a player rating. The data is collected automatically.
VIDEO SCREEN WAGERING SPEEDS THE GAME
If you’re playing video roulette, you don’t have reach over other players or across the layout to place your bets. Your video terminal has an image of the roulette layout. You can touch the spots on the screen to make single-number bets, splits, streets, columns, dozens—any of the wagers you can make on a felt layout. When the spin is over, bets are settled automatically at your terminal. The dealer doesn’t have to take the time to clear and stack losing chips, nor to pay off winners. That leads to more plays per hour.
WAGERING ELECTRONICALLY ENHANCES GAME SECURITY
There’s no question of the dealer paying the wrong player, or paying an incorrect amount. Electronic betting also puts the clamps on uncommon but costly cheats such as player-dealer collusion and past-posting, where a scam artist tries to bet after the result is known.
ELECTRONIC TABLES CAN BE CONFIGURED WITH REMOTEBETTING STATIONS, EVEN IF THEY USE A LIVE DEALER.
A roulette game with a live dealer and electronic wagering terminals can be set up near the main table games pit. Separate clusters of wagering terminals can be stationed in other parts of the casino. Novomatic’s Novo Unity II electronic wagering system can serve up to 250 betting terminals.
Roulette players can watch a video transmission of the live dealer and wheel on their individual screens or on a screen at the center of the bank of terminals. In 2012, the Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct in New York decided to take advantage of that capability when it installed Organic Island automated table games from Interblock USA. It started with 118 player stations on the ground floor, then linked 177 more up-stairs a couple of months later. The Resorts World games are fully auto-mated, with no dealers, but Interblock also makes semi-automated games with live dealers and auto-mated wagering.
Multi-station electronic configurations add potential for games with lower betting minimums. A casino that can’t justify $5 minimums at live tables might be able to swing it if one dealer—whether live or in a video representation—is serving 100 or more wagering terminals.
ENHANCED TREND TRACKING
A wide variety of information such as streaks and trends can be made available on the screens. It can go much farther than the recent numbers displayed at most roulette tables. If you want to track how often black has turned up in the last 50 wheel spins, or how often banker has won at baccarat, or check your own won-lost statistics, you can do that. On IGT’s Roulette Evolution, you can see trends for the last 500 spins.
Many e-table systems can simultaneously run the basic games and bonus events, without slowing the game. On blackjack games at Bally’s iTable, with a live dealer and electronic wagering, players can make side bets such as Royal Match or Bet the Set 21. Used in combination with a card-reading shoe, it also can put up odds for side bets after you’ve seen your cards. For example, if you have a 17 against a dealer’s 9, or a 16 against a7, it can offer you odds on winning the hand. That’s something that couldn’t easily be done without the electronic component giving instant odds, and it’s done without slowing down the game or requiring the dealer to take extra time for a payoff.
Similarly, on DigiDeal’s Classic Blackjack tables, operators can offer players an array of side bets that include a bad beat bonus. Lose with a20, and the bonus bet pays 20-1. It also pays 15-1 if you lose with 19, 10-1 if you push with 21 or 5-1 if you push with 19 or 20. You get your side action back if you win with 19 or better.
The potential is there for slot-style bonus events, or virtual prize drawings right at the tables, adding a little excitement for those who want more than just the base table game, while allowing those who just want the basics to stick to them.
Does all that mean e-tables are poised for a Midwest takeover? No—traditional tables still rule the pits. This is more of a table evolution than the slot revolution that led to video games overtaking the three-reel games that once ruled slot floors. But are electronic tables poised for an increased following with flexibility and fun? That definitely seems to be in the cards.