Global Gaming Expo, slots and table games

27 November 2007

A couple of days before leaving for the annual Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, I was telling a colleague about some of the latest and greatest games I was looking forward to seeing.

There was already a buzz about WMS Gaming's Star Trek, I told him, with features that boldly go where no slot machine has gone before. And I was hoping to get through the mobs sure to surround Aristocrat's Sopranos slots to take a good close look.

"Those sound cool, but all you're talking about is slot machines," he said. "Aren't there any new table games at this show?"

Of course, there are, and I'll be writing about both slots and tables when I get back from Las Vegas, where the expo ran Nov. 13-15 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Game developer and poker champion Ya Awada was certain to have several new table games at his Gaming Entertainment Inc. booth. Ditto for Shufflemaster.

But slots always command the largest share of attention at the show. That's only natural. The large majority of casino revenue comes from slot machines, and slots control an ever-growing percentage of casino floor space. Slot themes also have a relatively short popularity peak, with players gravitating away from old favorites to check out the new stuff. Dozens, even hundreds, of new titles will hit casino floors in the next year.

Table space, on the other hand, is shrinking. Every new table game that earns a place in the pit means an old one has to go. Operators have to be pretty confident a game will earn its keep before giving it a go. A new game might have a higher house edge than blackjack --- most do --- but will it get enough play to justify paying a licensing fee and removing an old standby?

It can be a long, tough fight for even the best of new games to carve out a niche. Three Card Poker, a casino staple today, had difficulty holding a spot when it was introduced in the mid-1990s. The Stardust in Las Vegas gave it a short trial, and hit a rough patch when the game lost money. It was gone just about that fast. It wasn't until Mississippi operators game it a try a couple of years later that Three Card Poker established a beachhead, eventually filtering into casinos throughout the United States.

Side bets on established games often have a better chance of getting a trial than entirely new games. Operators always are looking for a way to squeeze an extra buck out of blackjack, the most popular casino table game. So over the years we've seen side bets such as Lucky Ladies, 21 + 3, Royal Match and 21 Madness. These often have an initial run of popularity, but when the excitement subsides and players find they're losing their money faster than on the basic game of blackjack, revenues no longer keep up with licensing fees. The side bets disappear and make way for the next round of new side bets.

Over the next several weeks when most of my reports from G2E focus on new electronic games, it's not that I've been blinded by the flashing lights. Many of the new slots will be added to slot floors quickly, while new table games and side bets await their chance to carve out a niche, one casino at a time. It's a tough market out there.

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Speaking of options at table games, one called Automatic Win has started showing up on blackjack tables. This is not a new option, it's just a new name for the option called Casino Surrender that some casinos tried a couple of years ago.

Automatic Win is not a side bet. You don't have to make any addition wager to get the option. It just gives the player the opportunity to lock in a win of half the original bet if the player has a two-card 20 and the dealer has a 10 face up without having a blackjack. If you wager $10, Automatic Win would let you keep your original wager plus give you $5 in winnings, regardless of the outcome of the dealer's hand.

I'm of the mind that any option given players is a good thing, if the players know how to use it. With Automatic Win, the way to use it is to ignore it unless you're a card counter and the true count in a Hi-Lo system is plus-4 or better. Without counting cards, though, Automatic Win gives you a flat win of $5 per $10 wager, while in a common six-deck game you win more than $5.50 per $10 wager. Michael Shackelford of calculates that in a common six-deck game, your win per $10 bet in that situation is $5.55 if you have Ace-9, and $5.59 if you have two 10-value cards.

Card counters can get a little extra edge with Automatic Win, and it can be useful in some tournament situations, too. For the average player, though, basic strategy remains to stand on 20.

Related Links
Global Gaming Expo (G2E) 2007

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