How to Take Control Over the Game Pace in Baccarat
Grow Your Baccarat Revenue with a Simple Procedure Change
During the past few decades, Baccarat’s popularity increased across the world – in addition to the traditional markets in Asia. Nowadays it is not uncommon for a North American table games operation to have the Baccarat segment generating a disproportionately high share of revenue, well above other games. This is valid for High Limit and Mass areas alike.
Baccarat’s soaring financial performance is due mostly to strong player attendance (headcount) and high wagers, while the House Edge (HE) is one of the lowest and the Game Pace (Rounds Per Hour - RPH) is notoriously slow.
Looking for Solutions
A few years back, managing a busy Baccarat operation at a North American casino, we made efforts to address the low HE and low RPH in Baccarat by introducing the following changes:
- Adding side bets with higher HE.
- Changing the paytable for selected Tie winners. This new attractive paytable incentivized the participation on the Tie's very high HE, described in this blog post.
- Introducing the Baccarat No-Commission variant widely used in Asia - with Banker winning paying 1 to1 except when winning with value of ‘6’ paying 1 to 2.
This No-Commission variant proved to be extremely successful, as it addressed both sluggish variables:
- HE: increased from 1.15% to 1.35% for Baccarat’s main bets Banker & Player
- RPH: significantly improved the speed of the game, as now our dealers didn’t have to make complicated calculations and myriad of cheques plucking for commission payouts anymore
Success Breeds Success
This success was impressive! Our Baccarat Win/Day, Win/Open Hour improved by 21% and the Hold by 1.1 percentage points. So we started looking for more ways to optimize Baccarat revenue. In this process, we got to the obvious, but mostly overlooked realization that Baccarat is the only game on our gaming floors where players dictate the pace of the game.
Baccarat players are slow when placing their bets, as they need time to think and ‘predict’ the next hand’s outcome. This ritual is part of the game’s nature and appeal, and we can’t really force valued players to place their bets faster. However, this should not mean that we have to give up control over the Game Pace in Baccarat. Afterall, it is the casino’s responsibility to operate and conduct the game.
In this article we will present the framework that I implemented - which successfully allowed us to further improve Baccarat’s financial performance by expediting the Game Pace.
The Stages of a Baccarat Hand
There are many processes and assets on the gaming floor that we invest a lot of time and money to improve. In some cases, we need nothing more than to deconstruct a process in its components to have a closer look at it, then try to find whether opportunities for change and improvement exist.
Here is a visual deconstruction of a complete Baccarat hand, where the length of the stage is a relative approximation of the time spent:
Deconstructing Stage C - Placing Wagers
When playing Blackjack, Poker, or most other table games, players are eager to place their bets to see the next hand’s cards. This is not the case in Baccarat. Baccarat players (and often dealers too) want to take their time analyzing their score cards or the table’s display in search for ‘trends’.
Therefore, this stage can be deconstructed into two: placing bets, intermixed with periods of thinking. A general representation of this stage can be illustrated as follows:
Betting starts at some point after the bets are opened then, gradually, the frequency and amounts placed slowly decrease until an idle time creeps in. During this, it is common to have a number of players waiting for an undecided player that ultimately waves to the Dealer that they will be abstaining from betting on that round altogether. How can we reduce this inefficiency and deal more hands?
Dealing Baccarat Framework: Small Changes, Big Impact
A Call to Action
Call To Action (CTA) is a marketing term for any device designed to prompt an immediate response or encourage an immediate sale. A CTA most often refers to the use of words or phrases that can be incorporated into sales scripts, advertising messages, or web pages that encourage consumers to take prompt action. Such instructions are designed to show consumers how to take the next step and create a sense of urgency around the offer.
In Baccarat, inserting CTAs throughout Stage C of placing wagers is more important than in any of the other games where players are much more prompt with their bets. The CTAs in Baccarat are the Dealer’s Calls.
Calling the game is an important procedure in all games, for game security, consistency and customer service. However, enforcing and abiding by this procedure varies from casino to casino and from dealer to dealer, often becoming neglected and optional.
For Baccarat, we formalized and enforced the procedure in respect to Dealer calling the game which increased RPH, with a subsequent increase in revenue. We instructed our Dealers to strictly adhere to the procedure on calling the game as follows:
1. Place your Bets
This CTA conditions the players to start the thinking process, as well as setting good customer service. The urgency has begun.
2. Last Call for Bets
This is the most important of these calls and should be strategically placed at the appropriate moment to instill urgency. This urgency creates conditions to change players’ and dealers’ behaviour and ultimately will help create the efficiency in game speed.
We introduced a simple rule of thumb and instructed Dealers to ballpark when the total wagers placed reach ~50% of the previous round’s total wagers; by default this should be the moment to announce the last call for bets.
The ~50% of the previous round threshold is specific enough to ensure consistency and easy enough to approximate by the dealer. Nowadays, a higher-tech solution can be adopted with timers at each table that signal to the dealer when to proceed with the next hand (also effective in Roulette).
Note that approximately 50% of previous round total wagers refers to total amounts and not the number of players. For instance, if we have one player betting $100/hand and four players betting $25 each, the "last call for bets" CTA should be called as soon as the $100 player has placed their wager. For the squeeze games, the CTA ‘last call for bets’ should be called as soon as the ‘driver’ of the previous hand places his/her bet.
3. Bets are Closed
This last CTA will help the undecided players with their struggle on whether to participate or abstain for the round. It also frames the upcoming excitement for all the players.
Dealers should be mindful that between bets being closed and the first card being drawn from the shoe, it is OK to briefly re-open the betting in case some laggards indicate they wish to place a bet. This alleviates the concern that this approach could cause an overall reduction in amount wagered per round. While this could be a fair concern, the following should be considered:
- The cost of (maybe) missing a late bet from an undecided player is overtaken by the gain from a faster game to the committed bets that are in much greater amounts overall.
- If a player here and there would miss placing a late, uncertain bet, this does not mean that the respective bet is walking out the door. Instead, the same bet will be placed more timely on the following hand(s) or on another table.
- After implementing this procedure, it was actually visible how the laggards developed a way of recognizing when the Dealer was about to close the bets.
After implementing this procedure, our player experience improved in Baccarat, confirming that the great majority of players preferred the action once they made their decision to place a bet. We determined that the overall Game Pace improved by 7-8%. In the process, we discovered that it only takes trimming each hand by seconds in order to add extra rounds per hour.
In Baccarat, we cannot force players to place their bets faster. Instead, we can gently push them to action, while reducing our own idle times by having more alert and prompt Dealers.
To contrast with another very popular game:
- When dealing Craps, we have been primed to deal a fast and exciting game, to call the game and advertise center action bets.
- Alternatively, when dealing Baccarat, we have been primed to open betting and then take our time. Most often, Dealers wait before pulling the cards for the next round until receiving a verbal/gesture confirmation from players that have decided long ago to abstain from betting on that round.
Over time, we as operators have fallen into resigning to the idea that that the Baccarat players dictate the Game Pace. However, from a different perspective, we can say that, the player that is the slowest to decide is the one dictating the Game Pace. More often than not, this happens at the expense of the other players that have decided already and also at the expense of our profits.
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With nearly 20 years of casino experience, Victor has worked at various Canadian casinos where he trained staff and managed both table games and slots operations. At Tangam, he helps clients all over the world implement data-driven management of table games spreads and pricing on the gaming floor to achieve their revenue management objectives. Victor earned his MBA from the University of Newcastle and a PGDBA from the University of Melbourne.
As the Senior Manager of Analysis and Optimization at Tangam Systems, Patrick has been helping clients for over a decade to understand and solve their business challenges and drive performance improvements for their table games operation. He earned a Bachelor of Computer Science at Ryerson University and a Master of Science specializing in Computer Vision and Artificial Intelligence at one of the top programs at York University.
As the Client Success Manager, Ruben manages the intake of Tangam's clients. He coordinates internal teams to ensure our clients have successfully integrated the software to maximize its benefits for each property. With a Bachelor's Degree in Economics from the University of Waterloo, Ruben is also currently working on earning his MBA at Wilfrid Laurier University.