Great Gambling Gadgets, Part I

In these challenging times, as our table game revenues are holding flat or falling and senior management is getting pummeled by ownership, table game managers often hear the same refrain: “Do something.” So what do we typically do? We take the easy, surefire and negative way out, which will no doubt please our CFO, and start cutting costs. We almost always start by reducing staff, which is guaranteed to destroy morale and suck the life out of your pits. Then we cut comps and watch our once loyal guests hightail it over to the competition and wonder “Where the hell did everybody go?” Then we completely eliminate our guest service training programs, because they can’t be measured, and our business slips even more.

But we’re not done. Now we change the rules on our blackjack games and reduce the pay tables and trim the jackpots on our novelty games so that we can gut the players as fast as possible to hoist our precious hold percentages. Then, to ice the cake, we take “taking the easy way out” to breathtakingly new levels and stop even entertaining the thought of putting new and exciting products in our pits that the players might actually enjoy, because we’re afraid to take any risks that cost us time, energy or money because they might make us look bad.

Then we comfortably sit back and twiddle our thumbs, knowing that our jobs are safe while our drops drop and our holds increase because we believe that our bosses are convinced that we’ve done everything we can to bring at least a dribble or two of our slipping revenues to the bottom line. And then everyone in management can collectively and wisely agree that everything bad that’s happening to our operation is the economy’s fault. Or is it?

No, it’s not. There are myriad things that you can do to actually increase revenues and operating profits fairly quickly, including loosening your game rules, your comps, your training budgets and your attitudes out on the floor, but we’ll leave those issues for another time. For the next two months I’m going to talk about two gambling gadgets that can flat out get the money if you use them right.

Both of these great gambling gizmos create more fun on the floor, increase time on device (or position, however you want to call it), improve morale, increase your drop, enhance your ability to seamlessly monitor and accurately rate your players, are relatively easy to install and they make you more money—which can be measured to the penny. All it takes is to get them on your floor and make them work is a little leap of faith and a large commitment to their success as you show your owners that you are willing to do something positive that will make your operation more profitable. Right now.

In this month’s article, I’m going to focus on Shuffle Master’s iTable, and next month we’ll cover DEQ’s G3.

The iTable

If you go to Shuffle Master’s website, here’s how they describe the iTable: “Utilizing six touchscreen player stations embedded in a standard size blackjack table, the i-Table™ combines an intuitive electronic betting interface with a live dealer who deals the selected game from the appropriate Shuffle Master Utility Product (i.e. i-Shoe Auto intelligent card reading shoe for games like blackjack and baccarat, or the i-Deal specialty shuffler that includes card recognition).”

Notwithstanding Shuffle Master’s own description of the iTable, here’s what I think: The iTable is a free-look real blackjack game on a real table with real cards, dealt by a real dealer with real outcomes that uses a smart shoe and electronic betting and automated bet resolution that makes the casino more real money, because it’s really fast and it has really profitable side bets and it’s really fun! These suckers are slick, and the players love them—if they’re allowed to love them.

So how do you get your players to love them? The first thing you have to do is get the iTables on your floor, so contact Shuffle Master to find out how you can make that happen, then come up with a sweet sales pitch for your boss.

Now you’ve got to show your boss how the iTables will make you more money. That sales spiel is easy. “We can offer the games at lower price points, often as low as a $5 minimum, because we’ll get more hands out and the players will make a lot of high-profit side bets that the iTable seamless tallies in a blink. And because the games are so fun, the players will sit longer and lose more to boot.”

It gets better. Now you can add, “Our drops will go up while our labor goes down, too.” The drops will go up because the iTables should get more utilization due to their reduced price points (not to mention the “fun factor”), and the labor will go down because you only need one floor supervisor to watch up to six games. The iTable protects against dealer errors so the supervisors can concentrate on guest service while the tables “watch” the games for you.

Want more? You got it. “Our ratings will be 100 percent accurate and we’ll know exactly what the handle, theo and win/loss is for every person who sits down on the game. Not only that, the iTable is going to give us perfect blackjack skills analysis, too.” Yep, the iTable does all that and then some. And in the first 90 days, casino marketing can query the Shuffle Master Crystal reports and run them any way you want to set them up to create any kinds of reports that you’ll need without having to work with your in-house system. After you’ve made sure the iTables are a “go,” you can then deliver the iTable stats into your existing data warehouse.

Now you can start touting what you’re doing for market share. “With just price points alone, we’re going to be able to steal the low-end play away from our competitors and still make as much money as we do on our mid-priced games.” And you will. And you continue. “And because these games can be so much fun, we’re going to be busy while our competitors are wondering where their players went.”

If your bosses are visionaries (and how many bosses who work in the executive suites don’t think they are?) you can close the deal with, “If we’re going to maintain our reputation as being the smartest gaming operators around, we have to show that we can grow our business while everyone else is scaling back by adapting to change and embracing the low-risk gaming technologies that make sense today. iTables are smart, they’re profitable, they can work for us right now and we simply can’t not have these games.”

Once you’ve figured out how to get a few top bosses sold and you’ve gotten the green light to go ahead and make your casino more money, then it will be time to convince the multitude of your dealers and floor supervisors to become your ambassadors of good (iTable) will. If not, your iTables will soon become your “bye” tables.

By that, I mean that the iTables have to be presented well in order to be run well. If they aren’t run well, they simply aren’t going to last. Period. First impressions mean everything and your players have to believe that the iTables are magic, because they are. When you put them in, you have to put your best foot forward and you do that by picking the right dealers and the right floor supervisors who will present the new games in the best possible light.

If you deliver the right iTable messages to your dealers, they will sell these games non-stop because they will understand that iTables are good for them in five distinct ways: First of all, an iTable is an easier game to deal, as the dealers never have to worry about take and pay and making mistakes, so most of their focus is on delivering the cards and having a good time. Second, the game has two buttons that can make the dealers more money; the “tip the dealer” button and the “bet for the dealer” buttons that are right in front of the player’s eyes. Third, the game attracts a clientele that is short on “know it alls” and long on players looking for a sociable and relaxing game, which makes for a much more pleasant work day. Fourth, dealers will know that as the iTables grow in popularity, the increased head counts will come with increased job security. Fifth, and most importantly, an iTable, which has a wide array of frequent-payout side bets that add to the fun and amusement for recreational gamblers, is a much more fun game to deal—if and only if you have floor supervisors who “drink the Kool Aid” backing the dealers up.

An essential key to getting universal dealer and floor supervisor buy in is to convince both that being assigned to an iPit is both recognition for a job well done and a reward. For some operations this will be difficult, as in the past many dealers have looked at dealing novelty games or anything new to the floor as punishment (especially in houses where the dealers keep their own tips). Additionally, there are some floor supervisors who think they know everything there is to know about protecting a traditional blackjack game and they feel that it’s beneath them to watch corny “carny” games or anything with a new-fangled gadget attached. With that, it’s imperative that you assign your most enthusiastic dealers and floor supervisors on these new games, and give them the script to your new playbook to make sure your iTables work. If you put your bottom-of-the-barrel worst performers on the game, no matter how revolutionary and exciting the games may be, they are doomed to failure. Here are a couple telling examples of fairly recent iTable installations that failed to catch on.

What Not To Do

Several months ago, a table game manager who was contemplating putting iTables in his pit decided to check out the iTables at a casino on the Las Vegas Strip. As he sat down, an older, cynical female dealer who had obviously been up and down the road at least three times snidely said, “You don’t want to play this game, it’s stupid.” What a lovely introduction to the game!

Why would this crusted croupier think the iTable was “stupid?” It’s hard to tell. Maybe she thought that anything new was “stupid.” Perhaps the table games manager failed to teach his pit managers how to teach his floor supervisors how to teach her the benefits of the game (or how to behave in general). Most likely, someone didn’t take the time (or care enough) to assign a dealer to the iTable who had a little less jaundiced view about life in the first place. The reasons didn’t much matter to the table games honcho giving the game a look. The message that the game was “stupid” came across loud and clear. Luckily, this table game manager, who’s rode in more than one rodeo himself, took the word of this burned-out dealer as something less than gospel.

Unluckily for that casino—and Shuffle Master—it’s likely that other players who dropped by the casino and gave the iTable a try also heard these negative iTable rants (which I’m sure other malcontented dealers were willing to share) and the games never stood a chance. Now the iTables are no longer on the floor, and the Riviera continues its freefall into the financial abyss and the stockholders are left wondering why.

Around the same time, another casino executive who runs an iPit at another casino took his wife, who wanted to play some $5 blackjack, to a casino on the south Strip where he’d heard there was a suite of six iTables. When he got there on a Thursday about 11 a.m., he asked a floor supervisor where he might find the Shuffle Master iTables and the boss said, “What’s that?” After he explained what the games were, the floor supervisor said, “We don’t have that.” Then a second blackjack supervisor came over and said, “Never heard of ‘em,” and they both sauntered away to tend to much more important business and left the would-be iTable gambler speechless.

It gets worse. After asking around a few more times, the casino exec was finally directed to the games and they were closed. At a major Strip property with more than 3,500 rooms. He then asked another boss when they would open and he replied, “They’re supposed to open at noon, but don’t count on it.” So he didn’t. They left the property and returned at 4 p.m. and the games still weren’t open. A single table finally opened at 4:30 p.m., and he and his wife began to play.

After buying in, our iTable shopper played dumb and asked his dealer how he was supposed to make a bet and the dealer said, (I wish I were making this up), “Just push the buttons and you’ll figure it out.” How’s that for service and dealer buy in? Still playing the iggy, our shopper then asked the floor supervisor how the feature bets such as “Perfect Pairs” worked, and the supervisor told the player that he “didn’t have a clue” but that he’d try to find someone who did. After five minutes of phone calls, the floor supervisor came back to the game and said, “I can’t find anybody who has that answer, sir.” Our guy then showed him how the feature bets worked and the floor supervisor said, “Wow, I’d better write that down.” And he did.

Even though our casino boss’s experience was something less than stellar, he stayed classy and made sure to tip the dealer anyway by tapping the “tip the dealer” button. When he took care of the dealer, the dealer looked down and saw his tip light up the control panel right in front of his face and said precisely nothing. Needless to say, our boss didn’t waste his good money on this dealer again. Although I wasn’t there when the dealer went on his break, I’d bet good money that he made sure to complain to anyone within earshot that he hated the game because it was bad for tips. The moral of this story is that the shabby service and attitude from the dealers and floor supervisors in this casino spelled the demise of the iTables once again while serving to convince the other table game managers of this publicly traded company that iTables don’t work.

The bottom line was that neither the dealers nor the floor supervisors gave a whit about whether the iTables worked or not. Frankly, their attitudes showed me that they didn’t much care whether their casino was successful, either.

Because of the spotty success of iTables, they haven’t caught on in a big way—yet. They could and they should, because they work; if you let them work by doing the work to make them work. For whatever reasons, today it seems that many table games managers are still taking the easy way out. And down.

In closing, although I’m not a pitchman for Shuffle Master in general, I can unequivocally say that next time your boss says, “do something,” the something that you can do that will make you look like a genius is put in a suite of iTables. If you do it right.

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