2014 International Table Game Awards

As in years past, the nominees for Casino Enterprise Management’s 2014 International Table Game Awards represent the best of the best. Judges pored over a variety of nomination materials, including videos, slideshows and written documents, to complete the difficult task of determining the seven winners.

Now in its third year, this annual contest honors innovation in table game products. A panel of judges combined their expertise to decide the winner in each of the seven categories. The categories were:
•    Best Electronic Innovation
•    Best Side Bets
•    Best Traditional Table Game
•    Best Table Game Gizmos
•    Best Hybrid Table Game
•    Best Game Protection Product
•    Best Table Game Management System

Judges this year were Jonathan Muskin, intellectual property attorney, Muskin & Farmer LLC; Rosemarie Cook, vice president of gaming, SugarHouse Casino; Wendy Reeve, founder, RRR Hospitality & Gaming; Phyllis Seguin, director of table games, Caesars Windsor; and Jim Ward, corporate president of gaming operations, Warner Hospitality.

The judges rated the products in order with 1 being the highest score in each category on the criteria of innovation, efficiency, usefulness and benefits. To come up with the final ranking, judges’ scores were combined in each category. The winner was the product with the lowest combined score. In some categories, winners were determined by only a few points and in others one product was the runaway winner.

Casino Enterprise Management was thrilled with the high quality of products nominated for this year’s Table Game Awards and looks forward to seeing what next year’s awards bring. “Once again, CEM is thrilled to congratulate and profile the winners of this year’s International Table Games Awards,” said Peter Mead, publisher of Casino Enterprise Management magazine. “This year’s field of nominations was exceptional and showcased the high caliber of table games development in our industry, and this year’s slate of winners underscores that high level of innovation and drive to develop the industry’s best table games and related products.”

The entire staff of Casino Enterprise Management offers congratulations to this year’s winning products. Read on to learn more about these incredible products and what they offer the gaming industry.

Bally Technologies—Game Manager 2™

As a next-generation progressive management system, Bally Technologies’ Game Manager 2™ had a lot to offer this year’s CEM Table Game Awards. “This multi-level progressive table tame creates excitement and provides guests the opportunity to win much larger and potentially life-changing jackpots,” said awards judge Jonathan Muskin, intellectual property attorney, Muskin & Farmer LLC. The advancements to this system and the exciting developments it brings to the casino floor have guaranteed Game Manager 2 the winner of the Best Electronic Innovation award.

Asked how it felt to have won this award, Bally Senior Vice President of Table and Utility Products Roger Snow said, “This reflects a great combination of people and process. First off, it takes talented engineers to design and create the hardware and software. That’s obvious. But just as important is the process of soliciting feedback from our casino customers, finding out what they felt was lacking in the previous generation of Game Manager. Now keep in mind, Game Manager is the No. 1 progressive on the market, and there’s a lot of pride inside the company about it. But we went out there and found out how we could improve it, and then we did exactly that.”

As Muskin noted, Game Manger 2 brings a new level of excitement to table game players. Previously, players were eligible only for one real-time incrementing jackpot per round. Now, Game Manager 2’s side-bet management system allows for three different jackpot levels and fully configurable multiple reserve pools. This multi-level progressive feature increases revenue on existing table games with no additional labor costs.

Game Manger 2’s management system allows operators to configure the multiple jackpots with a user-friendly web-based application. Once installed, the system is centralized, allowing operators to modify and configure settings from any common web browser within the casino’s network. The centralized server gives operators the ability to control the Minor, Major and Mega jackpot levels—which permits them to link pools across multiple table games and themes. According to Bally, multiple reserve meters can be present with meter contributions tiered based on meter value. Game Manager 2 also has built-in automations for alerts and reports, so it is a simple matter to track, print or email important operational data.

For table game dealers, Game Manager 2 makes it possible to manage jackpot awards, graphics, bet limits and base games all from an LCD touch-screen display. In order to make jackpot payouts easier and more efficient, a magnetic card reader is built into the interface. Mounted displays provide table limits, jackpot amounts and marketing messages to players, Bally noted. The system’s straightforward design uses compact electronics and is easy to install on tables, with no new equipment needed.

Currently, Game Manager 2 is installed across the United States on more than 75 tables. This includes Mohegan Sun, one of North America’s largest casinos. Ian Davison, vice president of gaming operations at Mohegan Sun, explained why the system has been such a success. “Our base participation is really strong in the games we have right now. But just adding a progressive—one of these progressives is going to be life changing. You know you have the opportunity to win up to $590,000 on Fortune Pai Gow Poker; it’s up to $384,000 on the Multi-Link, and the Three Card Poker progressive will hit nearly every day. That’s a draw to the players that we have always had on slots but have never had on table games.”

Game Manager 2 is one of the first progressive management systems of its kind, and it will likely keep advancing. As Snow said, “You will see more enhancements in the future. Table game progressives are a huge growth opportunity in table games, and we plan to be there at the forefront for a long time.” BC

SquareJack Gaming—Three Card Hard Hand

Spicing up an industry-standard game, SquareJack Gaming’s Three Card Hard Hand is the winner of CEM Magazine’s 2014 International Table Game Awards Best Side Bet category. Three Card Hard Hand does not change the way blackjack is played, but offers a simple and easy way to add side bets without changing strategy or slowing down the game. Tears Smith of SquareJack Gaming describes the product as “a bonus game that offers players the chance to win up to 25 to 1 and has a hit frequency that would pay two out of six players every round.”

While some previous attempts at adding variety to blackjack also change game play or players’ strategy, Three Card Hard Hand is independent of the actual game play. Those blackjack players who like to play by the same, familiar rules can still enjoy the game while availing themselves of the opportunity to take part in the side bets, or choosing not to, if they prefer. The side bet is entirely independent of the player’s blackjack hand. A poor blackjack hand can still lead to a side bet win. Moreover, with generally two out of six players getting side bet payouts on each round, even the most traditional players may want to try their hand.

All side bets are settled before the blackjack play begins each hand, so those players who do not want to participate in the side bets will not be interrupted mid-hand. This keeps traditional players from losing their rhythm or concentration and becoming frustrated during game play. It may even entice them to try betting themselves as the game progresses and they see the frequency with which the wagers are paid out.

As Smith explains, the way the side bet is set up stays true to traditional blackjack. “Players do not draw or stand for this wager so the deck remains unaltered for blackjack play.” This helps to keep traditional blackjack players happy and avoids another potential pitfall of trying to add side bets to such a familiar game.

Three Card Hard Hand is dealt like a normal hand of blackjack, with two cards face up to all players and two cards to the dealer, one face up and one face down. This is what forms the Three Card Hard Hand. If the player’s two cards and dealer’s face up card total between 17 and 21, the player wins. If not, the house collects the player’s bet. It truly is that simple.  Additionally, the three pay tables make this easy for dealers to learn, and the cards have standard blackjack counting. Ten, jack, queen and king equal 10; aces equal one or 11; and all other cards are face value. If a player has a three card 21 flush, the payout is 25 to 1; a three card 21 is 2 to 1; and a three card totaling between 17 and 21 pays out at 1 to 1. Because the game is easy to learn and there are so few additional tasks for the dealer to accomplish, the side bet hardly slows the game down at all, according to Squarejack. This, plus the extra bets, means there is more money on the table, a win for the players and a win for the house.

“It’s exciting and encouraging to be selected by your experienced judges,” Smith said of having won the award.

This innovative and simple table game side bet is off to a great start as the judges recognized its ease of play. Caesars Windsor Table Games Director Phyllis Seguin commented that players would enjoy the game because it is easy to understand. Jim Ward, vice president of gaming operations for Warner Hospitality, agreed, noting, “I like this side bet because it’s very easy for the dealers to explain and the guests to understand.” CW

Bally Technologies—Free Bet Blackjack℠

Invented by Geoff Hall, the creator of Blackjack Switch, Burn 20 Blackjack and Neverbust Blackjack, this year’s International Table Game Awards winner for Best Traditional Table Game is Bally Technologies’ Free Bet Blackjack℠. Allowing players to double down and split for free, Free Bet Blackjack adds free bet options for players who enjoy the familiar game of blackjack, but want something more while they’re playing.

A draw for players, Free Bet Blackjack also speeds up game play, increases player engagement—a definite draw for those who play table games for the interaction with the dealer—decreases hold volatility and is easy to add to existing blackjack tables, according to Bally. The only additional equipment needed to play Free Bet Blackjack is a gold Free Bet lammer, which is placed by a player’s initial wager if he or she chooses to play the free bet.

The game follows the same basic rules as traditional blackjack with a Push 22 side bet. The Push 22 side bet is won if the dealer busts with a point total of 22. Any point total other than 22 is a loss for the player. Player blackjacks are paid before the dealer completes his or her hand, making them exempt from Push 22.

Standard game play for Free Bet Blackjack requires a six- or eight-deck shoe. During the game, blackjacks pay 3 to 2; split aces receive only one card; dealers must hit soft 17s; double after splits are allowed; doubles can be on two cards only; late surrenders are allowed; and players can re-split pairs up to four hands including aces.

To start the game, players make a bet against the dealer and everyone is dealt two starting cards. To take advantage of the Free Bet, players simply indicate to the dealer they would like a free bet on their hand if they have cards that may be split or doubled. Players may split any pairs except cards with a value of 10 (10, jack, queen or king). Players can double any hard two-card hand of nine, 10 or 11. Additionally, players can re-split or re-double as long as their hands meet the criteria, as well as free doubling after splitting.

Once a free bet is indicated, the dealer will match the player’s initial wager and pay for the player to double and split. If a player wins their bet, they are paid as though they had made the traditional split or double, despite having not put any additional money at risk.

Because Free Bet Blackjack offers free double down and split bets, players make the decision to split or double down faster, increasing the number of play decisions, increasing game results per hour, reducing volatility and increasing hold, Bally noted.

The game drew great praise from Jim Ward, vice president of gaming operations for Warner Hospitality, who cited the game’s “great name” and “great concept.” He also noted, “This game seems to be growing in popularity.”

Roger Snow, Bally senior vice president of table and utility products, said that Free Bet Blackjack is “closing in on 100 placements and has unlimited upside.” The game is available at a number of locations worldwide, including locations in the United Kingdom and the United States. U.S. locations include Sycuan in California; Palazzo, The Mirage, the Venetian and Casino Royal in Nevada; and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.  CW

Bally Technologies—Shuffle Flex™

More games per hour means more revenue for a casino, but smaller casinos cannot always afford the price tags associated with the automatic shufflers needed to speed up game play. Bally Technologies’ Shuffle Flex™, winner of Casino Enterprise Management’s 2014 International Table Game Awards for Best Table Game Gizmos, is the perfect solution. Shuffle Flex is the first pay-per-shuffle automatic shuffler available.

A casino can decide how many shufflers it wants to install, and Bally Technologies carries out the installation. The installation can be done on any table, including part-time or overflow tables. The shufflers are standard automatic shufflers, except that they connect wirelessly to a cloud database. Whenever a shuffler is used, the use is recorded in the casino’s unique, secure account. The data is transmitted through an encrypted, one-way communication to ensure the safety of the transmitted information.

Rather than a standard price-per-month leasing option or an expensive purchasing option out of the gate, the casino is billed only based on the number of times the shuffler was used in the month, and if the shuffler was not used at all, Bally offers a low monthly payment. Should a casino ultimately decide automatic shufflers are not right for its needs, Bally will uninstall the shuffler with no further obligations.

Jim Ward, vice president of gaming operations for Warner Hospitality, calls Shuffle Flex, “A win for Bally and the casino operators. Bally should be able to grow the number of shufflers in the market and operators can benefit by having shufflers on games that are only open one or two days a week.”

As Bally Senior Vice President of Table and Utility Products Roger Snow points out, “We are getting a great response from customers” and the game was featured at 2014’s Global Gaming Expo (G2E). Currently, Shuffle Flex is installed at Thunder Valley Casino and Hollywood at Charles Town, with more installations planned in the coming months.

The idea for Shuffle Flex came initially from Bally’s customers. Companies wanted the ease and advantages of automatic shufflers, but were often unable to afford them as they were sold or leased. Responding to the customers’ needs, Bally created Shuffle Flex, which was initially available on the Deck Mate 2™, but will eventually be available on a variety of shufflers to allow casinos of all sizes to use Shuffle Flex. Bally hopes to have the solution available for all its shufflers within the next year.

Snow is especially proud to have won the award for Best Table Game Gizmos because many different people from different areas of Bally Technologies assisted in the development of Shuffle Flex. “This wasn’t a solo job, or a silo job for that matter,” he said. “It was a true multi-team effort.”
Shuffle Flex is an innovative first in the market. No other company had created a solution that would allow all casinos to afford, and take advantage of, automatic shufflers without complicated installations, expensive investments or risks that the shufflers would not provide a recoup on the money spent. This solution truly brings the results that casino customers desired. As Snow noted, “The idea came from them, and we listened and delivered.” CW

Bally Technologies—Fusion Hybrid™

The proof is in the name. Bally Senior Vice President of Table and Utility Products Roger Snow said it best, “The Fusion Hybrid stands apart because it fuses live table game play with electronic wagering, plus the option for concurrent game-play on up to four different games. This unique hybrid innovation dramatically increases game play, hold, player engagement and reduces labor and operating costs.” The combination of live table game action and electronic betting is just the start of what led our judges to pick Fusion Hybrid as the perfect recipient of this award.

Fusion Hybrid is a terminal-based system that allows players to experience up to four live games simultaneously. To begin, players insert their currency and loyalty cards in the top of the terminal. Fusion Hybrid is equipped with TITO, SAS and is connected all known player-tracking systems. As Snow said, “By integrating these standard slot gaming technologies into each terminal, operators gain exceptional efficiency in money and chip handling, and eliminate manual loyalty tracking.”

Next, players are able to choose any combination of baccarat, sic bo and roulette with the convenient 22 inch touch-screen betting display. Once they have placed their bets, the fun begins as players view their game outcomes from the terminal’s screen or from large LCD-screens around the betting area.

Fusion Hybrid’s interactive interface seamlessly combines table status, wagers, countdowns and results all in one user-friendly screen. The multi game feature allows players to easily switch between games at the touch of a button and select a re-bet button for faster game play. Each of these features provides a unique experience that all players can enjoy at their own pace. As bets are made and play progresses, the game outcomes are fed through the system to the dealers and all connected Fusion Hybrid terminals for real-time game-play results.

Reminiscent of the recent successful consolidations, Fusion Hybrid combines the thrill of live table game play and electronic wagering to bring exciting new experiences to table game players. The numerous benefits this system brings to the casino floor are not to be ignored. With the option of playing four games at once, Fusion Hybrid’s rapid game-play increases both handle and decisions per hour. It also increases productivity by allowing countless players on one table at a time, which means more revenue with less labor cost.

Fusion Hybrid has received a warm welcome on many gaming floors. According to Snow, “It’s becoming more and more popular with traditional table players. We just had a big install at Caesars in the United Kingdom and we are also getting placements throughout the United States and Australia.” Currently, Fusion Hybrid is installed in multiple locations around the world, with the majority of installs in Asia, Australia, North America and Europe.

It’s not just casino guests who are excited about this product. Bill Florence, vice president of gaming for Hollywood Casino, said, “We are always on the lookout for the newest trends and gaming technology to bring only the very best to our guests. We pride ourselves on offering a thrilling, Vegas-style experience and [the Fusion Hybrid] does just that.” Snow notes that Fusion Hybrid is a great fit for any casino floor, with the flexibility for stadium-style setup along with smaller environment configuration options as well.

When asked how he felt to have won this award, Snow said, “I couldn’t be more proud of the developers behind this. Back when we started this project, there were people in the company that thought we should just leave well enough alone. We have a good product and we’re winning a lot of business, so why change? Now you see why.”  BC

Biometrica Systems Inc.—Visual Casino 6 Games Protection Software

Already in place at more than 180 casinos and gaming agencies, Visual Casino 6 Games Protection Software captured the title of Best Game Protection Product in CEM’s International Table Game Awards competition. “This is one of the more advanced products that I’ve seen on the market,” commented Jim Ward, one of the contest’s judges. Considering the many placements already, many in the gaming industry agree that this is the game protection product they want operating on their gaming floors.

Used for surveillance, security and casino compliance and operations, Biometrica’s Visual Casino 6 is a game protection and information management software. Its all-in-one integrated modules provide security personnel with crucial information which contributes to the protection and operation of casino assets. The product has come a long way since Biometrica first brought it to the market in the ’90s. James Pepin, who has guided Biometrica’s Sales and Marketing since 1998, said, “If you haven’t seen Biometrica lately, you really don’t know Biometrica today. It has come a long way, and really become something of a new standard in the industry.” Every aspect of the software has been continuously enhanced in order to bring the most advanced and effective game protection to the casino industry.

Biometrica Systems has ensured that Visual Casino 6 software is available in a wide variety of purchasing options to meet the needs of any gaming agency. In addition to outright purchase, the software can be obtained on a flexible monthly, quarterly or annual rental basis as well.
Visual Casino 6 software can be made available in several different configurations, making it ideal for casinos of any size to choose the package that best suits their needs and budgets. The first package is the Basic Subscription, which includes the Surveillance Information Network (S.I.N.) and the Casino Information Databases (C.I.D.). Most casinos may prefer all of the available protection software, but as Pepin said, “The Basic Subscription Package is offered to provide at least the most critical games protection elements for even the smallest casinos.”

The Standard Games Protection package is the second option. It includes all the features from the Basic Subscription, as well as the Private Database Enrollment module and an optional Advanced Face Recognition module.

The third option is the Advantage Package, and it is now becoming the preferred choice for many casinos. This all-in-one subscription includes all of the elements from the Basic and Standard packages, as well as the incident reporting and documentation module, making this package the most comprehensive game protection option. “There is a big productivity advantage for the casino when the games protection modules and the documentation software are integrated into one user-friendly application,” Pepin added. “This eliminates the need to be running two separate applications and it is more productive to have all your data in one application rather have to re-enter any data or stop and find it somewhere in one application when it is also needed in a second application.”

The game protection elements of Biometrica’s software have grown with the needs of its customers. As Pepin said, “The helpful feedback we’ve had over the past 15 years has enabled us to release a series of improved versions of the software to continually become even more satisfying to the client casinos.” In addition to the advancements of the Surveillance Information Network and the Casino Information Database of casino undesirables, the Private Database Enrollment and Advanced Face Recognition modules have improved to help better organize information and more effectively identify unknown persons of interest. Biometrica also includes access to a games protection consultant/investigator, which provides helpful assistance recognizing persons of interest and in better understanding scams and game weaknesses.

The Incident Reporting module increases productivity for security and surveillance personnel with several documentation elements. These elements include daily logs, incident reports, procedure violation reports, customizable checklists and management summary reports.

This comprehensive software of Visual Casino 6 provides the tools necessary to increase game protection on the casino floor, as well as the ability to improve profit and productivity with its user-friendly system. “Some surveillance directors have actually ordered our software five separate times as they were promoted to jobs in new casinos over the years. They consider the Biometrica system to be a critical part of the games protection and they wouldn’t want to operate without it,” said Pepin. Visual Casino 6 software is used in more than 180 casinos across the U.S.A., Canada, Aruba, Bahamas and the Caribbean.

If the advancements made in the last several years are any indication, Biometrica’s game protection software will likely keep improving, making Visual Casino 6 a good bet for effective games protection. An enthusiastic Pepin said, “It is really gratifying to see Biometrica’s Visual Casino 6 recognized for this significant industry award.” BC

Bally Technologies—TableView™

This year’s 2014 International Table Game Award for Best Table Game Management System went to Bally Technologies’ TableView™ system. The system is in use on more than 9,000 tables at more than 200 different sites worldwide, including Boyd Gaming, Pinnacle Entertainment, Seminole Tribe of Florida, SJM Macau, Galaxy Macau and Mohegan Sun.

TableView provides a number of benefits for casinos who choose to use the product. Among other attributes, it increases game security by monitoring table inventory, tracking player and dealer activities, integrating with refused name patrons and excluded player databases, allowing player identification with photos and signatures and keeping track of chip inventory. It can help improve customer service by providing more accurate player ratings, notifying casino staff of hot players for attention and rewards, increasing the speed with which a game can be played and supporting players with bet-by-bet tracking. The real-time tracking and ability to input information helps to increase revenue, as well as reducing the necessity of paper and the costs associated with paper tracking and allows a graphical view of the floor for monitoring.

Replacing the traditional pen-and-paper manual tracking and rating of players, TableView is an integrated software application that can handle player ratings, chip fills and credits, table closers and issuing comps and markers. The program connects all the casino’s table games together, allowing quick and easy communication between the pit and dealers with emails and instant messaging. It also provides a real-time representation of table games for operators.

Casino staff is able to input information or make requests in real-time at a touch-screen tablet that can be mounted directly at the tables or podiums already present on the game floor. TableView can be used with a player card, allowing table game players to have some of the same perks already available to slots players, including club points and membership tiers.

A new addition to TableView is optical Chip Recognition technology, allowing the identification and tracking of chips through high-tech cameras. The Chip Recognition system can distinguish between denominations and count chips at tables. This allows more accurate and less labor-intensive tracking of wagers and activity at tables, so the casino can reward players more efficiently.

Greektown Casino in Detroit made the decision to use TableView after previously installing Bally’s Casino MarketPlace™. After the installation, Director of Table Games Giffen Tan said, “We selected TableView for improved cost savings and efficiency on the floor. In the long run, these more accurate player ratings will help expand our customer database.” Greektown Casino also hoped TableView would make work easier for its staff, specifically the pit clerks, a position with high turnover. “The touch-screen data entry and integrated player card reading features … will encourage our staff with easy-to-use technology that will make their jobs easier. Eventually, we plan to expand bonusing to our table games for an even more enhanced player experience.”

When the Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority (SIGA) decided it needed to update its systems, it chose a variety of Bally Technologies, including TableView. With six casinos and 52 table games, TableView allowed SIGA to create a formal rating process for its table games and to reverse the slow decline in table game play. SIGA Live Games Supervisor Cliff LeDoux praised Bally and TableView, “I believe it’s going to allow us to separate ourselves from our competitors. We are offering table players club points for the first time, and that is something that is new to western Canada.”

General Manager of Dakota Dunes Gary Daniels was especially impressed by the Bally support team. “You always expect the worst, but it went really well and we had no issues at all. We had great support. We had Bally techs, Western Canada Lottery techs, and SIGA IT people here. They all worked as a team.” Bally was available for a further four and a half weeks at all six SIGA sites after the launch to help make the transition as seamless as possible.

Mike Trask, Bally senior corporate communications manager, said about winning the International Table Game Award, “We’re extremely proud of our talented team of designers and engineers who have worked tirelessly to make TableView a best-of-breed table management system. Winning this award is a testament of their efforts and Bally’s ongoing commitment to delivering solutions that bring value and increased revenue potential to all areas of the casino floor.”  CW

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