The Future of Table Games Panel at the NIGA Annual Tradeshow

May 23, 2017

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On April 10, NIGA hosted a panel discussion on the Future of Table Games at the Annual Tradeshow and Convention in San Diego. The panel was moderated by Tangam’s Vice President of Operations Optimization, Ari Mizrachi. Joining him was:

  • Mike Crenshaw, VP of Casino Operations at Pala Casino
  • Roger Snow, Senior VP at Scientific Games
  • Justin Woodard, CEO at ARB Labs

The focus of the panel was the future of table games, specifically the current landscape of table game operations and how to prepare and evolve for the future within the Tribal Casino space. Ari initially started out the panel with an overview on the history of gaming and how it has evolved. Although these types of games have been around for many years, the core functionality hasn’t changed much. In the last 30 years, table games have largely remained the same.

Since proprietary games have been introduced to the Las Vegas market, a large portion have shifted from core games to novelty games.

The panel discussion was in a Q&A style format and focused around the 5 P’s that impact table games which are: Patrons, Products, Placement, Price, and Promotions.

How are you thinking about the future when it comes to new games?

Mike C: History suggests the future will bring us more new proprietary (aka carnival/specialty) games. There was a time when players resisted new games and/or side bets, but now they seem to relish them and even look forward to what’s coming next. Progressive jackpots are especially attractive now, and it’s reasonable to assume we’ll have linked progressives with other Native American casinos in the future.

Roger: There’s a lot of experimentation involved. No one knows exactly what will work—players are fickle and unpredictable—but over the years, we have developed a good sense of what has a chance to work. There are certain game patterns players are accustomed to seeing; a lot of what we do is expanding the content around those patterns. But like I said, when it comes to new games, it’s always a bit of a crapshoot.

Justin: I am trying to develop a way that we can better track game performance so that operators have better data to consider when it comes to adding or removing games from the floor.

As an operator, how do you decide which games to put on the floor? How do you measure the success of products?

Mike C: As Roger pointed out in our panel discussion, it’s very difficult to predict what will do well. The best strategy is to test new games on the casino floor and let players determine which ones will succeed. Fortunately, companies like Shuffle Master (Scientific Games) will often give us the opportunity to trial their new games in advance of lease commitments.  

Our testing methods are rigorous, to say the least. Unlike new slots which are available for play 24/7, new table games are subject to the discretion of daily shift management as to when and how long they are open for play. This can be a critical factor in their success or failure. To mitigate this arbitrary effect, we clock the hours the games are open then factor in the various operational costs for a net-win-per-hour analysis. It’s a lot of work, but it gives us a much more reliable basis for determining which games are performing best.

Ari: I can definitely relate to Mike and the amount of work it took to evaluate table game performance. I had similar experiences when I was responsible for table games at Parx Casino. Without automated tools, it takes a lot of resources from the Planning and Analysis team to evaluate table performances. That is one of the things that attracted me to come work for Tangam Systems. All the hours of data mining and resources are now executed with a few clicks of the mouse.

We have seen RFID technology introduced for bet recognition, as well as optical solutions. Can you give us some insights on the future of data collection?

Justin: I believe that technology like RFID and optical bet recognition is starting to mature. As a result, I anticipate adoption will increase. Finally, casino table games and marketing professionals will have good table games data to work from. While slot data is the gold standard, I believe that we will be able to provide even better data. For example, with slot play, the operator can see coin-in per player. With optical or RFID technology, you could see how much a player wagers on each individual bet. The data set we provide off of table game play will be richer in the information provided.

Mike C: The success of a new, innovative product largely depends on the cost to the user. Applying RFID technology requires casino operators to replace their existing gaming chips, which can be very costly. As such, optical solutions that are compatible with the casino’s existing chips should have a much greater chance of success.

If the manufacturers can provide a cost-effective method of automatically tracking player wagers, and if the casinos will accept the fact that not every piece of data will be captured perfectly (at least not at first), we can realistically move forward on this much-needed technology.

Ari: I believe that until data is collected similar to slot data, it will not be perfect. With that said, there is still a ton of relevant data we can use to make smart business decisions. There are many ways to peel back the onion with the current data casinos collect, to identify opportunities. As new companies enhance their data collection hardware, we will only get better at analyzing our business.

Roger: Never say never. Our industry has been chasing this type of data for the last 25 years, the knowledge of how much players bet and how they play their hands. The battlefield is riddled with people—smart people—who couldn’t solve this problem, or at least do so in a manner that was inexpensive, intuitive, and non-invasive. Currently, you have a few companies in this, the table games version of the “moon race.” Walker-Digital has its RFID table in Asia, and ARB Labs will be live soon in Las Vegas with its optical solution.

What opportunities do you see in product innovation with new data?

Roger: One of the great things about innovation is that it leads to more innovation, even if you don’t know what it is yet. For us, a good example is card-recognition in a shuffler. One of the benefits it led to for casinos was the programming of house ways for Pai Gow Poker. About half the casinos in the US now use that function, something not possible without card recognition, but something we never thought of at the time. The same will happen once you get data from table games. It will usher in a new wave of product innovation.

Mike C: First and foremost, we have to remember that the game itself must remain the priority. Too often systems have been created that require additional steps by personnel and players in order for the data to be captured. In my opinion, it would be more productive to apply further technological development to making the system transparent to players rather than trying to get the data to be more accurate. Although it won’t be perfect, it will still be more accurate than the methodology we currently use (see below).

Justin: I see less opportunity for product innovation and more opportunity for casino marketing and player re-investment strategies.

How important is data collection, and what are your thoughts on automated data collection?

Justin: Data collection has changed the organizational structure that comprises most casinos. Many operators, especially of the corporate variety, have entire analytics teams that are responsible for generating massive amounts of data that can be used to drive key business initiatives across the entire casino floor.

Mike C: Casinos today rely heavily on database marketing, which is dependent upon data from their player tracking systems. Player data from the slots is highly accurate; however, table games data is largely based on guesses and assumptions: Since we don’t (can’t) record every bet, we rely on theoretical calculations based on the estimated average bet and predetermined decisions per hour. This is highly inaccurate because 1) it is very difficult, if not impossible, to accurately assess a player’s average bet over time, and 2) pre-programmed decisions per hour rarely reflect what is actually occurring with a given player. An automated system that can record actual events (hands) and the bets associated with those events would greatly improve the accuracy of player ratings, resulting in greater confidence in the data used for marketing and player cultivation decisions.

If you missed the panel or would like more information, please contact us.

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