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Table games play ‘Survivor’

Jul 22, 2003 3:10 AM

Once considered the foundation of any casino, table games over the past 25 years have been replaced by slot machines as the primary money-maker.

According to Nevada Gaming Control Board statistics, table game revenue in 2002 was about $2.8 billion, or 30 percent of all gaming revenue, while slots raked in a whopping $6.3 billion, or nearly 70 percent of a casino’s revenue.

Those numbers represent a significant turnaround from 25 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 several "locals" casinos, where video poker and other popular machine games help push the slot take to nearly 75 to 80 percent, with table games garnering only 20 to 25 percent of the casino’s win.

Moreover, casino managers today are devoting more and more floor space to slot machines, often at the expense of the table-game pit.

It’s not uncommon today to find 80 percent and more of a casino’s floor devoted to slot machines.

The impact of slot machines has transformed the casino from green-felt gambling halls to incredible electronic arcades with electrified sights and sounds that relentlessly hammer the senses.

While the numbers are significant, they don’t spell the death knell for table games.

Last year, blackjack in Nevada generated $1.1 billion in gaming revenue, with craps, roulette, baccarat and Pai Gow Poker collectively capturing another $1.2 billion.

In addition, table games have a higher "hold percentage" than slots, the percentage of money won that is retained by the casino.

While blackjack and craps each held about 13 percent of the win last year, other table games held from 21 to 25 percent of their revenues. Slots, by contrast, held about 5.4 percent of the total amount won.

So table games have their place and, to many players, a casino isn’t a casino without table games.

"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.

Since then, DP Stud has striven to develop new games that are attractive to players and lucrative for casinos.

In addition to creating brand new games, DP Stud endeavors to alter or enhance existing games to make them more exciting for players and sometimes easier to play.

One such enhancement is a game called No Commission Bahama Baccarat, which features greatly simplified rules of draw and no commission on bank bets, with the result being a fast-paced, easy to play game of baccarat.

Another up-and-coming game designer is Gaming Entertainment Inc., headed by long-time innovator Ya Awada (see accompanying story).

"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."

With more than 25 years experience in Nevada, Awada is well-equipped to create and design casino games. He has worked for other manufacturers, and put in 15 years with the Circus Circus properties.

"To properly develop a new game, you have to know how to deal and play the games, and we have that experience," Awada said.

Awada adds that creating exciting new games is only half the equation of producing winning products.

"Our pricing is consistent and surprisingly reasonable ”” less than half the cost of other manufacturers in some cases," he said. "Plus we believe in quality of service, and we’re small enough to provide it one-on-one."

In addition to developing new and creative table games, manufacturers have the difficult prospect of convincing casinos to give up precious floor space to try a new game.

"If a casino has 10 blackjack tables, the manager doesn’t easily give up one table, or 10 percent of his inventory, to try something different," DP Stud’s Piccoli said. "It’s different when a casino operator has a thousand slots; it’s easier and less costly for him to move 10 new slots into the mix."

Despite odds stacked against them, table games are beginning to reclaim real estate once lost to the land of slot machines.

"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."

Furthering their resurgence on the casino floor, 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. Player tracking and chip tracking are available, resulting in increased accuracy of player ratings and performance.

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.

Despite the dominance of slots, 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.