by Kelly Segovia
CONVERGENCE TECHNOLOGY AND GAMING
I love neat gadgets, and am the typical early adopter of cool and interesting consumer technology and products, with one exception. I generally avoid the so-called “convergence products”. I like to listen to music in the morning when I’m getting ready for work. I like my hot showers. I also like good, clean, close shaves. But I have never felt compelled to buy a waterproof, AM/FM Radio with CD Player and Fogless Mirror, the seeming nirvana of my morning routine. I like being able to have telephone access anywhere. I waste countless hours a week on the Internet, “surfing the web”. But I never enjoy using my cell phone’s web browser to find even the most basic information. Why is this?
Because I believe for convergence products to be successful, they have to obey my 3 basic rules for good product development and implementation.
1. Thou shalt make the total experience provided, better, for having conjoined multiple functions.
2. Thou shalt not make any of the individual primary functions worse, for having put them together.
3. Thou shalt make people want to smack their palms upon their foreheads and ask amongst their friends and associates, “Why hasn’t someone done this already?”
So, imagine my delight, when I saw a technology product, developed for the gaming industry, that obeys all three laws for good convergence products. The Rapid Roulette System, a joint development project between Stargames Corporation Ltd. and Crown Ltd.
WHAT IS RAPID ROULETTE
Rapid Roulette is a “hybrid” table and slot game product, combining a dealer, a live roulette wheel, and between 8 and 24 Automated Transaction Stations (ATS’s), which are the player’s main “interface” to the game. The spin result is arrived at just like a traditional roulette game. The players have a certain amount of time to place their bets before the dealer spins the ball on the wheel and confirms the result of the spin. This time customers have to bet is configurable by the operation, up to 60 seconds. In traditional locals operations in Australia where the customers are very familiar with the way the game works, the game is set with a 20 second betting period. In Las Vegas, initial rollouts of the product started with a 40 second betting period. This allowed dealers and players to become familiarized with the game. As the product acceptance matured, this time was reduced to 30 seconds, allowing more decisions per hour, allowing players to stay “in the action”.
RULE 1: Thou shalt make the total experience provided, better.
This is where the product shines. I recently spoke with Jeff Kowalchuk, Assistant Casino Manager at Harrah’s Las Vegas. He’s got a lot of experience with Rapid Roulette as that product’s operational leader at his property, as well as providing support for the newest Rapid Roulette implementation, which happened at their sister property, the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino.
Jeff described the ways the experience is improved, both from the customer and operator’s perspectives:
• Streamlined Buy-In and Cash-Out: Our customers and dealers don’t have to deal with converting the customer buy-in to non-value chips. The dealer takes the customer’s buy in and credit’s the player’s ATS with the appropriate amount. Ever had a dealer push six stacks of non-value chips across a crowded layout to you, and watch half of the stacks fall over? Improved.
• Accuracy of Payouts: Even veteran roulette dealers can make a mistake as, one by one, they quickly calculate a customer’s payout across multiple types of bets, each with unique odds. Rapid Roulette calculates all payouts on the customer’s ATS, and tells them how much they won or lost, in each decision.
• Game Speed: The fun and excitement associated with playing Roulette can be diminished when waiting for the dealer to have to clear non-winning bets on the layout, muck the chips, and one by one, pay out the non-value chips to the customers. This process is automated and much faster than even traditional roulette games with chippers to do the mucking for you.
• Convenience: Lots of little features enjoyed by customers, like an on-screen tool that lets customers unfamiliar with the bet odds clearly see what they should expect to be paid on a winning bet. A feature called “neighbors”, which allows a customer to bet on the two numbers on either side of a particular number on the wheel, without needing to memorize them, or look them up on a moving wheel.
• Dispute Resolution: Sometimes, a customer will question a bet that they made one or more spins ago. When this happens, the operator’s usual approach is to contact surveillance to, “go back in time” and check the tapes for a particular game and try to discern often hard to see details like mixed colors and numbers of chips in a stack, on a particular spot on the layout. Rapid Roulette provides the ability to generate a printed likeness of the layout for previous games, and show the customer exactly where, and how much was bet.
RULE #2: Thou shalt not make any of the individual primary functions worse.
This is a big deal. Anytime you introduce new product onto your floor, you’ve got to seriously consider how that product affects the other products. Nobody wants to invest significant capital into a game that outperforms it’s rivals, at the cost of the drop of those internally competing games.
Gerry Tuthill, Vice President of Table Games Operations at Harrah’s Las Vegas and The Rio, gave me some very specific insight into this dynamic. Gerry said, “Rapid Roulette was first introduced at Harrah’s Las Vegas in December 2003 and has ‘rapidly’ become a hit, evolving into an integral part of our table game mix.” The game is “extremely handsome”, appealing to a wide variety of clientele, from the entry-level table games player, to the average slot player, to the “traditional” high limit Roulette player.
It’s a very dynamic looking game, with high-tech displays, comfortable individual betting stations, all encompassed in the traditional feel of a social, live Roulette game environment.
That said, let’s talk numbers. Gerry reports that the 12-position Rapid Roulette system at Harrah’s Las Vegas runs upwards of an 80% occupancy rate, with financial performance exceeding that of many competing Roulette tables and slot games.
When I asked Gerry about the potential for cannibalization of drop, he said that that was not his experience, and he was armed with solid metrics. Since January 2004, the game has consistently produced 62-65 decisions per hour. With it’s exceptional occupancy rate, one would expect to see, through cannibalization of play, flatter roulette revenues floor-wide, and lowered drop in roulette tables near the Rapid Roulette game. In fact, it has been the opposite. Rapid Roulette outperforms many of our traditional Roulette and Slot games, and we have experienced increased overall Roulette drop, and even higher drop in neighboring roulette tables. Rapid Roulette isn’t cannibalizing our Roulette business. It’s significantly growing it.
Rule #3: Thou shalt make people want to smack their palms upon their foreheads and ask amongst their friends and associates, “Why hasn’t someone done this already?”
In the United States, this question was very easy to answer. Operators weren’t interested because it wasn’t approved in the various gaming jurisdictions, and there was no local sales and support network for Rapid Roulette. This is no longer the case, as Stargames has recently signed an agreement with Shuffle Master, the Las Vegas-based provider of automatic card shufflers and proprietary table games to the gaming industry. The most daunting challenge to the penetration of Rapid Roulette to the United States gaming markets being distribution and support, Stargames found an excellent partner in Shuffle Master, with their nation-wide sales, distribution and support netwo
Date Posted: 06-Aug-2004