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Turning the tables!

Oct 5, 2004 11:54 AM

David Stratton

Slots might be king in the casino, but table games aren’t yet dead. In fact, fueled by new games from Shuffle Master and Gaming Entertainment Inc., table game revenue in Nevada last year cut into slots stranglehold.

According to Nevada Gaming Control Board statistics, table game revenue in Nevada in 2003 was about $3.1 billion, or 33 percent of all gaming revenue, while slots raked in a whopping $9.6 billion, or about 67 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.

Nevertheless, the figures represent an increase of table game activity. Last year, tables accounted for only 30 percent of overall revenue with slots generating about 70 percent of the casino’s revenue.

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 $1.2 billion in gaming revenue, with other table games (craps, roulette, baccarat, mini baccarat, pai gow poker, 3-card poker and Let IT Ride) collectively capturing another $1.7 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.

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."