Playing with a full deck

Jan 11, 2005 5:36 AM

 

The words in the Shuffle Master annual report read as though they were lifted out of the pages of George Orwell’s Big Brother. "We are developing products to gather data to enable casinos to track table game players," the report says.

The report also makes it clear as to whose side it is on in the never-ending competition between casinos and gamblers. "Our product strategies for the future are to focus our development, manufacturing and marketing on products that increase the profitability, productivity and security of our casino and other customers in their table game operations."

Mark Yoseloff, Shuffle Master’s president and chief executive officer as well as chairman of the board, laughs when the sentences are pointed out to him and says his company’s message isn’t as dark as it may appear at first glance. He says the products his company is developing are merely meant to make player tracking for purposes of comps more accurate and to make tables games more efficient.

Similarly, he says gamblers shouldn’t fear another Shuffle Master product called the Bloodhound, which is described in the report as a "security software product (that) enables casinos to track the play and skill level of a casino’s blackjack customers and provides analytical reporting of such information. ”¦ (The) compiled data is then analyzed by casinos to determine patterns of play."

Yoseloff airily dismisses the in the report as a "security software product (that) enables casinos to track the play and skill level of a casino’s blackjack customers and provides analytical reporting of such information. ”¦ (The) compiled data is then analyzed by casinos to determine patterns of play."

Yoseloff airily dismisses the perspective that suggests there is anything ominous about his company’s product. "Bloodhound is designed to sniff out card counters. The average player will never encounter Bloodhound. Only suspicious players need to worry," says the 58-year-old former math and computer science professor at Princeton and Arizona State University.

Yoseloff would seem to be a natural fit for Shuffle Master since his interest in the industry "grew out of the fact that I love to gamble."

His concern is that "at the end of the day (table game players) want fair treatment" in the way they are comped, and his company’s products are designed to give them the same benefits that slot players are given by casinos through their slot club member-ship cards. Obviously, the more recently developed products can also help with the casino’s marketing efforts as the players are noted and tracked.

Shuffle Master has, of course, a lot of other products that are a lot less exotic but have certainly helped the company draw national recognition. About half of the company’s revenues come from automatic card shufflers and more than a third come from proprietary table games, which are card games Shuffle Master develops and sells to casinos.

Those games are among the most popular in the commercial casino industry, and include Let It Ride, Three Card Poker, Casino War, Four Card Poker and Crazy 4 Poker.

Shuffle Master’s products aren’t penny ante products, either. The company on Palms Airport Drive with 244 full time employees had gross revenues of $84 million in the fiscal year ending Oct. 31, 2004. Yoseloff, a native of Queens, New York, and a big- time New York Yankees fan, says that in his company’s competitive field, his company is like the Bronx Bombers. "Unless we win the World Series, it’s a losing season," he says.

Under his leadership, Shuffle Master hasn’t had many losing seasons. Indeed, Forbes magazine has listed Shuffle Master as one of America’s top 200 companies for six years in a row and in the magazine’s top 10 for small businesses for two years in a row.

The attention from the media was long overdue says Yoseloff, who holds a doctorate degree in finite mathematics from Princeton University. In fact, when asked what the most frustrating part of his job has been, he says it was getting his company noticed.

"We’re a public company. It was so difficult to get noticed," he says. "We were doing so many right things and it was impossible to get the investment community to notice those right things."

He calls his company "a meritocracy" and says the most rewarding aspect of his job has been seeing the employees at Shuffle Master finally being given their rightful recognition. "I feel I have the dream team here," he says. "We have so many outstanding individuals."

The married father of three children, one of whom has died, and a step son, likes to relax by watching movies and lifting weights. His only business regret is leading Shuffle Master into the slots business, a course he has reversed.

Despite the success of so many Shuffle Master table games, there have been some games that have not caught on with the public, but he is philosophical about the rejections. "It’s a very democratic business," he says. "The public votes with their money."

The one product that has been given an overwhelming thumbs up by the public has been the Deck Mate shuffler which he characterized as winning "the fastest and best acceptance of a new product we’ve ever had," and a product which "satisfied all constituencies — players, dealers, and card rooms (which) loved it."

"This is not work," Yoseloff says, "this is what I love to do."