Turning the tables

Jun 14, 2005 7:59 AM


Gaming revenues for the month of April reveal a trend that has been crystallizing for the past several months — table games are regaining ground lost to their slot machine cousins.

In April, gaming revenues on the Las Vegas Strip increased nearly 8 percent over last April’s gaming win, with most of that increase driven by gains in table game revenue.

For the month, table games enjoyed a 12.3 percent increase in win with a 13.7 percent hold percentage.

Moreover, baccarat win on the Strip jumped 77.5 percent during April, which indicates a solid increase in high-end table game play.

Early returns from Wynn Las Vegas reinforce the notion that high-end casino customers favor table games over slots.

In addition, Strip resorts such as Caesars Palace and MGM Grand both generate more table revenue than slot revenue, which is counter to a statewide trend of slots accounting for 65 percent of a casino’s revenue.

Slots reached the peak of their popularity in 2003 when machine revenue accounted for 67 percent of all of a casino’s revenue. Since then, table games have increased their share of the revenue pie, increasing from about 33 percent to 35 percent of a casino’s win total.

Nevertheless, the numbers represent a significant turnaround from 30 years ago, when table games accounted for about 60 percent of a casino’s total gaming revenue, with slots capturing only 39 percent.

And the disparity is even greater in Las Vegas "locals" casinos, where video poker, video keno and other popular machine games help push the slot take to nearly 80 percent, with table games garnering only about 20 percent of a casino’s win.

The recent resurgence in the popularity of table games can be linked to a number of factors. The popularity of poker on television has no doubt glamorized gambling with cards, and table games have been the beneficiary of that popularity.

In addition, new table games have expanded the appeal of the pit. For instance, Three Card Poker has taken the country by storm, so much so that creator Shuffle Master is sponsoring a $2 million national Three Card Poker championship (see related story in SlotsToday).

"Don’t let anyone fool you, there’s still excitement in the pit," said John Piccoli of DP Stud, an independent game designer in Las Vegas. "I’ve always believed that the magic of a casino is found in its table games, and that’s true now more than ever."

Piccoli has had an impressive career making "magic." Twenty-plus years ago, his company introduced Caribbean Stud to Nevada as the first in a new breed of table games.

"Caribbean Stud became a hit because it was simple to play and it had high payoffs and a slot-type meter — which satisfied a growing lottery mentality among players," Piccoli said.

Another innovative game designer is Gaming Entertainment Inc., headed by gaming luminary Ya Awada.

"Part of the challenge is to create games that are exciting for the players, while offering multiple decisions to keep the bets on the table," Awada said. "Often times the task entails taking concepts from slots and video poker and applying them fairly to a table game."

Awada’s hottest new game is 3-5-7 Poker, which is available in venues across the country.

Also helping the case for table games is new accounting and player development systems.

"Have faith," said David Schugar, director of casino operations at MotorCity Casino in Detroit. "After years of status quo, we are seeing table games with colorful signage, progressive meters and easy to play games with a twist."

Schugar said table games have always appealed to a more sophisticated player, and manufacturers should tailor their games accordingly.

"The new table games we’re looking for have equal or better player appeal than blackjack, and more rewarding hold percentages," Schugar said.

Schugar added that slot players, "after a day of unabated technological blitz ”¦ are often starved for the social interaction and fun experience that only live gaming can provide."

In order to keep up with the technological age, table games have developed their own response to the traditional slot players club.

Mikohn’s Table Link, for instance, provides the same online accounting and management merchandising tools, profitability, and accuracy currently enjoyed by slot systems.

Table Link is a multi-tiered suite of products that can be applied to existing table games.

As a result of more accurate ratings, table game marketing can take a more aggressive approach toward the advertising budget that slot managers have dominated via the slot club.

Even though slots still dominate the casino floor, table games are alive and well, and with some creative and compelling games, tables can begin to once again level the casino’s playing field.