Charlie’s phone rang at about 3:30 am. He was informed that there was a message from the game’s security system. As the vice president of game operations, Charlie has to be in constant contact with operations. The system software algorithm detected the possibility that someone was counting cards at blackjack. Charlie gets out of bed and opens his netbook. Once his fingerprint automatically logs him into the security system, he checks the suspicious player’s betting metrics. Although the entire table games department is now based on digital electronic tables, some of the games are set up according to the parameters of the old cardboard realistic blackjack games and are still susceptible to cardboard counting. Based on the indicated average bets and the customer’s limited betting spread, the system indicates that the players do not pose a long-term threat to the casino. Charlie turned off his netbook and went back to bed. He could always study the situation further in the morning.
By 8:30 a.m., Charlie pulled into the employee parking lot and checked his smartphone. Through his phone, he was in constant contact with his casino. The year is sometime in the near future. Charlie is the vice president of gaming operations for a major Midwest casino. His casino is almost 100% digital at their live card games and roulette tables. Casino games such as blackjack, roulette, baccarat and the recently popular alternative games have abandoned the blanket layout, physical game chips, cards and Teflon roulette balls for high definition displays, computer virtual reality software, LED signs and electronic images.
On-site desktop games go digital
The number game is this. All numbers. Although the system requires a flesh-and-blood dealer at the table, all licensing functions are handled by that table. The cards are virtual, with images floating and stopping on a high-definition video screen at the top of the table in front of each player. The virtual cards are shuffled by a random number generator, with no manual or machine shuffling required. Full card randomness is available in the blink of an eye, regardless of the number of sets used in the programming. Pre-programmed game rules and set penetration points are handled automatically by a central computer. This level of game flexibility also affects the physical aspects of the game.
Table limits and side bets are automatically changed based on occupancy and wagers. Charlie has programmed a unique table management option into his blackjack game feature. When the casino is busy, many tables change from six bets to seven bets. Due to the virtual aspect, the table of some games consists of a large, continuous screen. During slow or normal business levels, the table predicts six betting positions, but as the evening gets busier, a few of his games roll up to seven positions. Of course, the number of chairs at the table remains the same, but the seventh position allows the casino to accommodate additional bets. Once business levels dropped, the table reverted to six live races.
In his lower limit blackjack game, he can also offer two side bet options. One option is based on a high hit frequency but with a lower multi-payout bonus, while the second option is based on a low hit frequency but is associated with a progressive jackpot. Table game customers now have the option to bet on additional gambling alternatives that provide them with additional gaming action or change the travel experience for a chance to win a larger jackpot. Some players choose to do both. In the future, Charlie intends to work on a software product that will allow players to choose their side bets from a large selection of options in a pop-up menu. This way they can choose their favorite side bets or choose different side bets based on their preference for the game.
The situation in the live game has changed, with the biggest impact occurring in the area of game staffing. The function of the dealer no longer involves handling the cards and casino chips. Their primary function is to entertain the customer while controlling the decision making operations of the game. Once all players have placed their virtual bets, the dealer activates the table’s computers to begin licensing. These cards appear in order on the video screens in front of the players, as well as on the larger main monitor facing the dealer. As each player at the table acts on his or her hand, the dealer instructs the computer player to stand, hit, double, split, surrender; or, in an alternative game, the dealer instructs the player whether to stay in or out of the game. Once the players have completed their hand actions, the table calculator completes the dealer’s part in the table action and immediately enters the pay push phase. A monitor in front of each player displays the result, Win, Bet or Bet Again, signaling to the dealer what action to take. In an instant, the computer adjusts each player’s table money based on the number of results, ready for the next round of action.
The wages and virtual chips of the digital game customers are projected on the monitor screen in front of each player’s position. The player simply touches the iconic chip stack to get the number of chips he wishes to bet and then touches the betting circle to place his bet. He can do the same for double bets, insurance, splitting and blackjack surrenders, as well as place bets and bonus bets in other games. In roulette, once the player touches their chips; all they have to do is touch any area of the board to place the chips on the inside and outside board bets. The more times a player touches the layout points on the LED screen, the more chips he bets. When he initially touches his virtual chip stack, the software in the tabletop computer system automatically reads the fingerprint of his index finger.
Players no longer buy-in with cash at the table. Each player is given or reused their smart player card. Money is transferred to a smart card at the casino cashier by downloading it directly from their bank debit account or by cash purchases. In addition to using the cashier, customers can reload their smart cards at multiple kiosks on the casino floor. First, customers download funds directly from their debit accounts to their cards, and at the end of the day, if they win, they can upload any amount back to their accounts. The use of smart cards and virtual gaming funds eliminates the need for drop boxes and casino chips. This is one of the many benefits of virtualization.
Changes in player tracking
Through 100% digital live gaming, player tracking has been made incredibly efficient. In the past, house staff needed to add subjective information to player scoring metrics. Information such as average bets and table time varied greatly depending on the diligence of the floor supervisor, individual activity level and training. In most cases, manual player tracking was approximate at best, and the discrepancy between actual and recorded information would cost the casino hundreds of thousands of player reinvestment dollars each year. Now these problems have disappeared. Player tracking is now on par with electronic video and reel-to-reel machines. The integration between live games and electronic slots is seamless and information is collected in real time. In addition, the information gathered from increased accuracy is opening up new areas for marketing efforts in data mining. Marketing is now able to identify trends and correlations with metrics that they were previously unable to do.
Another area that has benefited tremendously from digitalization is instant rewards systems. Casinos are now able to offer automatic hot seat and lucky table rewards at random, just as the slot market has done over the past few decades. Casinos can now attract table players by offering them the opportunity to win progressive jackpots while they are actively gambling at the tables. This feature allows management to offer regular promotions to attract players with a higher perceived reward value while keeping costs to a minimum. The success of any promotion is due to the fact that the perceived value to the customer is much greater than the actual cost of attracting them.
Charlie arranged the virtual games in pods of eight tables each. Each pod is equipped with a tabletop game host. Virtual gaming has eliminated the traditional in-venue supervision functions of error correction, cash buy-in approval, player tracking and game protection, and the job description of the pit crew has changed. Now tabletop game hosts are there to answer questions, make restaurant and show reservations, or change airline flights. Organizers still occasionally need to make judgments about tabletop game decisions, but in a virtual tournament system, those decisions are limited. The tabletop hosts, once known as Pit Bosses, now assist the staff on behalf of the client, rather than being the supervisor of the tabletop games.
Desktop game indicators in the digital world
The actual supervisor of the game is the shift manager. His job is to monitor the system and decide on necessary changes to non-automatic functions. Charlie’s first stop is the Shift Manager’s office. Although he can pull all the information he needs from his smartphone, Charlie knows he can get more complete and faster information from his SA.
How did we have a good time last night, Charlie asked.
The SA looked at the dashboard settings on this computer screen and commented, Our table occupancy held good last night until about 3:00 this morning, then we dropped from 90% to 75%. The system readjusted the table configuration and once we dropped the 8 tables and went back to 6 betting positions, one side bet per position, we were back up to 85% to 90%. Charlie was impressed with the occupancy rate. The table management system adjusted for the decline in business and restored gaming productivity to an acceptable level.
How did we do with the 21:00 numbers last night? Charlie asked. Well, the average bets look good. Including side bets, we averaged about $31.00 on the main casino floor and $325 in the premium rooms. We’re also doing well in terms of average performance of 360 to 380 decisions per table per hour.
And, our shareholding? Charlie asked.
We’re doing very well in that area as well. Over the last 24 hours, Twenty One has had a hold rate of over 3.5% and a total live game hold rate of nearly 5%, SA said.
For Charlie, it was music to his ears. Staying above 3% at all times, including the side bets, means the side bets must be excellent. Charlie remembers a day when management used to sweat over the old hold count. That’s when they compared table money buy-ins and table wins with confirmed table games. No more live game hold percentages based on the amount wagered, as is the case with electronic slots and video slots. Any hold above 1.5% (the average mathematical advantage of the blackjack base game) is considered good.
Charlie had one more item to check. How did we do on the so-called card counter last night?
The SA laughed and commented, He did pretty well. Probably crashed after about 3 hours of play. It’s too bad; you don’t see a lot of people like that at any betting level anymore.
Yes, said Charlie, it seems that since we automated the live table games, the advantage players and card counters are a thing of the past. Sometimes I miss the old days.
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