Table Games: Technological impacts

In this extensive analysis, expert Malcolm Rutherford (eConnect) determines how the evolution of technology has allowed specify data measurement around the operation of Table Games. He also considers current and future strategies on players’ data collection.

By Malcolm Rutherford, Executive Vice President of Strategic Operations, eConnect*

Website: https://www.linkedin.com/in/malcolm-rutherford-3538396/

Technology has been a part of the Table Games market for a while now. But, for the most part, it has been considered as something of an after-thought and the systems that have been used with Table Games have either been, effectively, one use (think “Smart shoes” where the shoe detects the card value) or crude adaptions of slots systems (think of any Casino Rating system). While the original idea might have been to develop something like a Slots reporting system, only for Table Games, the end result, I think that it is fair to say, didn’t really inspire anyone. This was often due to the simple differences between Slot machines (and latterly ETGs) and actual Table Games. Slots can accurately record the money that is played in them, the amounts and denominations of cash entered and they do this continually. Likewise, they also record every facet of play made on them.

Table Games cannot do this. While an initial buy-in may be entered into a Rating system correctly, follow up buy-ins may not be. Similarly, while the initial “Average Bet” may be accurate, is there any real expectation that the Patron may not change his or her bet during play and will this really be picked up on? Then, there is the question of Game Pace. This varies based upon the capability of the staff member on the table and the occupancy level of the game. What it is not is a constant, yet most Ratings systems treat it as one. Even the House Advantage may be estimation, based upon some notion of “average play”.

I was asked about how the customers’ data in Table Games is collected. How much they were betting and how often? The simplified answer to this question is: “The data is being collected now,” as we speak. There are a number of systems that collect such data as a matter of routine within a Casino environment. Now, the original use to which this data was planned to be put might result in it residing within a data silo and not considered in a wider context. But there is no reason why it should not be and, indeed, the company that I work for has made a name for itself by doing this exact thing with numerous Casino Data Systems. So there are Smart Shoe systems that collect data on the cards being dealt. There are systems that handle the Ratings for the Patron, detailing how much money they are wagering. There are systems that provide information on the Staff at the table, their rosters and shift patterns. All of this data is collected and stored now. The data collection part of the equation is not the problem.

PATRONS’ PROMOTIONS AND IDENTIFICATION

Another consultation was how to make Table Patrons self-identify. This relates back to the data that is collected and then what is done with it. The question now becomes a one for Marketing Departments, about how can they produce or craft an offer that is ‘good enough’ for unidentified Patrons to want to sign up to a Membership System. What, is it believed, that this Patron want? Why are they refusing to provide their name and details to gain the benefits on offer? Some of this may be to do with the oft repeated fact that for many Casino Operations the reward for Slots Club membership is well thought out and flawlessly executed; but that the same system for Table Game Patrons is fatally flawed.

We have to ask ourselves the following:

a. If the benefits of the Table Games Players Club are not well explained, publicized or understood, then what would be the reason for anyone to sign up for them?

b. If the benefits are understood, but they are not valued, then why would anyone sign up for them?

c. If the benefits are inappropriate, then why would anyone sign up for them?

d. If you have a Casino Operation giving Table Game Patrons Slot promotions, then why should a new, prospective Table Game Club member care about this?

e. If it is known that they are a Table Game player, or especially a specific game player, then why would they be attracted by a Freeplay Slots promotion rather than what you might offer them, a tailored Table Game specific promotion?

But none of these issues are beyond the wit of the very intelligent men and women of the typical Casino Marketing Department to overcome. And if they can craft such a series of Table Game Player Specific promotions, then the majority of patrons likely would sign up. What happens with those that would not? Then, the assumption has to be that there is something about their privacy or anonymity that they favor more than the potential benefits of any promotion on offer and this is unlikely to change. But this minority is likely to remain very small in most situations and locales.

THEY MUST ADD BENEFITS

The idea here is that to add value, a Data System must do one of the following things:

1. It must combine data from multiple data sources and use this information in ways that gains value from the addition of the data. To correlate disparate data sources, for example, to gain insight into game pace by determining the number of Patrons present.

2. It must have the capability to provide some form of alerts, based upon data received by them, that can inform the Casino Management team when certain conditions, of play, of pace, of turnover, have been met.

3. It must provide analytics that can derive insight and give a more complete picture of the Casino Operation itself; typically, by manipulating sources of data in new ways and representing this data in easily absorbed forms.

TABLE GAMES DATA

With all these moving parts to consider and almost all of them effectively being assumptions, is it any surprise that the end result is designed to err on the side of caution when it comes to giving a true picture of the play of any Patron and for calculating rewards for this play? The IT industry has a name for the end result of how many Table Game based technology systems actual perform in operation: Garbage In – Garbage Out. Which is another (and perhaps blunter) way to say: “If you can’t trust the Inputs, then how can you trust the Outputs?”

Technology has moved on from the days when the first tentative steps were taken to try to quantify what was happening on the Table Games within a Casino. The first step, the step that is possible now, is to aggregate the data from multiple sources to build up a better picture of what is going on. While “Smart shoe” data in and of itself tells us little, it can be used as a proxy for Game Pace, allowing an Operation to know not just the average, or the supposed, speed that the games are being dealt on each table in the operation, but the actual game pace, in “real time”. Now, one might question whether this is a metric that should be even judged by such a criteria, but it is becoming possible to do so. Similarly, while the data from Ratings systems is somewhat crude, it does approximate some of the additional information that a Casino Table Game’s Operation should be aware of. And in conjunction with an actual measured Game Pace, can begin to answer the “Casino Turnover per hour” question. It also allows Casino Table Games operations, for the first time, to consider their individual patrons against probability models, building up a far more comprehensive, and far more accurate, picture than ever before about actual, as opposed to theoretical, performance.

This emerging technology allows trends in Patron play and outliers against expectation to be quickly identified and brought to the attention of those whose job it is to decide on any future action to take. So this is what can be done at the present, but this is only beginning to scratch the surface as to what will be possible within the very near future.

NEW MODELS AND PROACTIVE MANAGEMENT

The increasing use of data solutions and the growing break-up of the old silo model of data collection will allow the entire Casino Operation to consider all of their data holistically. No longer will analysis be artificially confined within the strait-jacket of legacy systems. Rather “big data” models and systems will take data from everywhere and compare it with everything. In addition, new technological systems, such as bet placement and value recognition will revolutionize the entire Table Games market; it will allow the sorts of information that the Slots Departments’ have long taken for granted to be available to their Table Games brethren. Imagine the power of true game pace tied in with accurate bet placement, and value recognition tied in with game result information.

Now, the entire Gaming Floor operation becomes an open book. Which tables are busy would be instantly available. Whether a table minimum should be raised or lowered, whether a staff member was struggling and should be moved to a quieter game, whether a Patron appeared to be winning too much, or losing too much. All of this would be at the fingertips of floor management; literally as the data and insights could be streamed to a smart-phone or tablet for instant situational performance knowledge and awareness. This would enable a new generation of Table Games managers to be proactive not reactive. Besides, knowing far more about the actual performance of each element in the Table Game operational mix would remove some of the fear that has driven the proliferation of side bets and the increase in House Advantage witnessed in the last couple of years. Advantage Players trying to take advantage of situations would be far more visible to the Gaming Managers and as a result far less likely to take the risk to play. Any time a new side bet was trialed it would quickly become apparent which ones, if any, were living up to the hype surrounding them and actually succeeding in making their margin and how many were just cannibalizing existing revenue streams.

There is great potential around the development of “smart systems” that truly are smart. Machine learning programs that can be “taught” behaviors and can be left to their own devices monitoring the huge new data streams generated. These machines could be primed to issue alerts and to contact real people if and when certain behavioral or situational triggers are encountered.

A BRIGHT FUTURE

In closing, then, I think that the future of Casino Table Games is bright. Current technological developmental trends, in both sensors and data analytic systems, are going to give unprecedented oversight and actual knowledge of activities on the Gaming Floor in as near to “real time” as makes no difference. Machine learning algorithms will make “on the fly” decisions about what is important enough to be brought to the attention of real people, and what is not. Besides, the rise of the much touted Millennial generation opens up huge new potential vistas of opportunity for Table Game play. As one of the most socially diverse and yet cohesive generational groups ever who are, so we are told, great believers in the authentic experience and group activities they are more likely, to my mind, to be attracted to the dynamism of the live Table Game market than they are to the sterility of Slots. This is the technological future and companies are making it happen already.

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Malcolm Rutherford has been involved in the casino industry since 1988, initially in Operational Gaming and thereafter in Surveillance and Investigations, an area where he is an acknowledged expert. Over the last years, he has been responsible for Strategy Operations at the technology manufacturer eConnect. Previously, at the Galaxy Entertainment Group, he led a twenty-one strong team to investigate all elements of fraud and crime within the entire organization.

Committed to lifelong learning, he studied at the Open University such diverse subjects as Business and Marketing, Economics, History and so much more. Now based in Las Vegas, Malcolm used to split his time between the U.S., Europe and the Far East. On next November, he will take part as speaker of the Global Game Protection and Global Table Games Conferences in Las Vegas.