G2E 2007, Part 8: Electronic Table Games

22 January 2008

Time was that slots were slots and tables were tables and never the twain did meet.

There was a tiny bit of crossover in the handful of players who dabbled in video blackjack on single-player machines. But the key term there is "single-player." Table games are a social experience, one unavailable on electronic games.

That's changed, of course, with the multiplayer electronic table games that have been introduced in recent years: Shufflemaster's Rapid Roulette and Vegas Star; DigiDeal's Digital 21; Novomatic's TouchBet roulette and sic bo. Slot manufacturers Aristocrat and Atronic both have gotten into the act with electronic roulette games, and International Game Technology, the world's largest slot manufacturer, is partnering with DigiDeal on developing a series of games.

All bring the multiplayer table experience to an electronic format. Some use a live dealer for game play, while payoffs are made electronically. Others, such as the Vegas Star games, deal the cards or roll the dice electronically, via a random number generator.

At the 2007 Global Gaming Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center, the FutureWatch survey taken by the American Gaming Association addressed the prospects for electronic table games, which are in their infancy both in development and in carving out a share of casino floors.

Casino industry professionals were asked what the future holds for traditional table games offered in an electronic, slot-based format. Sixty-nine percent said the prospects were bright, broken down into 14 percent saying very bright and 55 percent somewhat bright, followed by 18 percent saying somewhat bleak and 14 percent saying very bleak.

Sixty-four percent of respondents said customers are only a little aware of the growing proliferation of electronic tables at U.S. casinos. Another 32 percent said customers were somewhat aware, and no one said customers are very aware. That's to be expected with an emerging technology, and could indicate plenty of room for growth.

Who will play the games? Industry pros surveyed were nearly evenly divided over whether the electronic tables would primarily attract table players or slot players. Fifty percent said the primary audience would be table players, broken down into 5 percent for "much more existing table players" and 45 percent "somewhat more existing table players." On the other side, 46 percent expected slot players to be the bigger market for the games, with 23 percent apiece responding "somewhat more existing slot players" and "much more existing slot players."

Asked which of five major table games translated best to an electronic format, 37 percent said blackjack, 22 percent said poker, 19 percent craps, 19 percent roulette and no one chose baccarat. That seems reasonable, although I'd have said roulette. Rapid Roulette has already show the potential for the game, while as a blackjack player I want to see the cards dealt out, and a good part of the fun of craps is rolling the dice.

Nonetheless, the industry pros surveyed don't expect the electronic games to take over the table pits. A whopping 86 percent said they expect the electronic versions to be complementary to traditional table games, while only 9 percent said they expect them to be competitive with the traditional games.

Why would players NOT transition to the electronic games? Responses were split, with 33 percent saying a loss of social element was a key, compared with 29 percent for not as entertaining as traditional table games, 24 percent saying simple habit, and 14 percent saying trust in technology and fairness.

For those who do try the electronic games, respondents see a decrease of intimidation as a key factor. Fifty-nine percent said the most important reason in the minds of early adopters for moving to the electronic tables is that they're less intimidating than a live table. Another 18 percent cited lower minimum wager requirements, 18 percent said improved player tracking and rewards and 5 percent said lack of access to traditional table games.

Intimidation is certainly a factor at table games. Craps is intimidating for a newcomer, simply because there are so many available wagers. Sorting out the good ones from the bad is impossible without a little guidance, and I'm not sure electronic versions will reduce that brand of intimidation. Blackjack can be intimidating because of players who berate a newcomer because of perceived. Again, I'm not sure an electronic deal will reduce intimidation if one player gets it into his or her head that another has taken the virtual dealer's bust card.

To me, the most important factor is the lower minimum wager requirements. Electronic table games are less expensive to run than live games, with fewer dealers and supervisors needed, the need for cards, dice and chips reduced or eliminated, and enhanced game security that eases the burden on pit supervisors and surveillance. Play is faster than on live games, with more hands per hour. The economics of the games are changed so that even $1 minimum games can be profitable.

I like my blackjack with a live dealer, but give me a low-limit electronic game when the only live games are beyond my bankroll, and I'll have a seat. And it doesn't look like I'll be alone.

Related Links
Global Gaming Expo (G2E) 2007
Live Blackjack

This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at fscobe@optonline.net.