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A Clean Start – What’s Next in Gaming?

The Current State

Andrew here, coming to you live from Las Vegas, where the world has essentially stopped, if you’re in the casino business that is. It’s a strange sensation, the casinos and hotels being closed. The strip is dark, except for some heartwarming messages some casinos make with the lights of their hotel rooms. Things like, “Vegas Strong” or “We Love Vegas”, or simply a large heart.

Over 90% of casino workers are sitting at home fighting with a completely overwhelmed Nevada Unemployment website. People are spending more time with their families (something that’s normally hard to do for a lot of casino workers, due to the odd hours), some are doing extra projects around the house, some are going stir crazy.

Me? I’m spending a lot of time wondering what’s next. This whole episode has caused some things to come to the front of mind that have been dormant, but ever present. Things we accepted before, me included, have revealed themselves to be worthy of change.

The Problem

For me, it started about a week before the closure. I was walking the casino floor when a friend sent me a link about how long this virus can survive on different surfaces. On many surfaces, it was multiple days. I looked up at how many people were sitting at the tables and slots. It blew my mind to think of how many people touch certain things within a two-day period: chips, slot machine buttons and handles, chairs, tabletops, glasses. It was a profound moment.

On the Saturday before the closure, it started coming out that some casinos had guests and employees that were testing positive. It was mere days before the closure. Some companies may have already announced their intentions to close. I was on the casino floor observing people. I watched cash change hands; watched chips go back and forth from one player to the dealer, then to another player, who would then hand it to his wife to hang onto. I even saw a few people put their player’s card in their mouth, one of whom then handed it to the dealer, who in turn handed it to the supervisor.

I wanted to scream, “Doesn’t anyone pay attention to the world?!”

Maybe I should have. Maybe I would have been right to do so. But then I realized, I’m part of the problem. None of the behaviors I mentioned were new. These behaviors go on every day in every casino across the country, the world even.

I thought back to my first few weeks in the casino business. After my first week or so of work, I got sick, and had a hell of a time fighting it off over the next several weeks. What I’ve since come to realize, is this happens to a lot of dealers. Presumably, it happens to other front-line employees too. It happens because of the immense number of new germs they’re exposed to. I’m not a doctor, or an expert in anyway, but I’m comfortable making this assessment.

What’s Next?

All this has led to the inevitable wonder of what might come next. I’d like to think that this event is a big enough magnitude that it will cause change. Cleanliness is something that obviously needs to be readdressed. What form this will take, or should take, I don’t claim to have the answers.

From what I’ve seen on both sides of the table, I will say that chips should be cleaned and sanitized far more often than they are. To take that further, I will also say that chip-less gaming tables seem like a more attractive idea than ever before. Having a cash-in machine at each spot seems like an attractive idea, also. Listen, I’m not an innovator. These ideas are already out there, being developed, some probably in use already. I’m just a casino guy that’s saying something should probably change.

Sometimes it takes a global pandemic to realize how filthy the business can actually be. We can certainly lessen exposure to germs. I’d like to see some changes made that prioritize protecting the health of the guests and employees. This in turn protects the health of the business overall. It can be done. And, knowing how many strong leaders there are in this business, I’m confident it will be done. Time will tell. For now, we’re all just along for the ride, until this is over. I’ll see you all on the other side.

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The Evolution of Gaming

An Evolution is Upon Us

The gaming industry is in the midst of an evolution. So much so, in fact that here in Las Vegas, we don’t even call it the gaming industry anymore. Now, we refer to it as the “Service Industry.” The gaming business has faded away, and from its ashes has risen the hospitality business. This may seem odd, considering resort prices are higher than ever, comp values are at an all-time low, and the majority of cars on the strip now have to pay to park.

Here’s what this evolution of gaming means to table games. Dealers, supervisors, and managers have been directed to focus on customer service. At times, this has caused values like technical skill and game protection to slide back behind the curtain. In days past, when interviewing for a floor supervisor, or dealing job, one question was always asked. “What is the primary purpose of your job, as a supervisor/dealer?” The smart ones knew the correct answer, “To protect the house’s money.” In today’s service industry, the answer to that question is now “To make the guests feel like they’re at home.” Or for dealers, “To entertain.”

Now, it’s up for debate whether this evolution is best for business or not. Maybe this service oriented practice has generated more revenue. It is coming at a price, though. In my travels, I’ve seen many different casinos across the country. As a table games professional myself, I can say with confidence that house money lost due to dealer mistakes, and improper training is through the roof. All this is happening while dealers and supervisors are focusing on customer service.

What’s the Cost of This Evolution?

Dealers are making mistakes they would not make, if the pressure to entertain wasn’t so sky high. Supervisors miss these mistakes because they’re servicing guests elsewhere in the pit. You might say that these mistakes are small and not noticeable to the bottom line. But these mistakes add up fast, and could account for a sizable difference, if technical and protective values were practiced. As service standards rise, technical standards fall. This has produced an entire generation of staff who have never even learned the fundamentals of game protection.

Dealers across the country report that they are being evaluated on how they speak to customers, their wording and conversation flow, rather than how quickly and accurately they deal the games. Rarely have I seen a supervisor who, during a buy-in, watches to ensure the cash actually goes down the chute. They rarely double check a sizable roulette payout. So many values and fundamental aspects of protecting the company’s money have fallen by the wayside.

For my two cents, I’m a believer in what the hospitality movement is trying to accomplish. However, a balance must be found. Game protection and hospitality can co-exist and be mutually beneficial. I just hope the balance is discovered and implemented before casino gaming as we know it, is changed forever.

What Do We Do?

Of course, I’m prepared with my suggestion. In most cases, orientation and customer service standards are hammered prior to working your first hour. This is especially true in the larger corporations such as Wynn Resorts, Caesar’s Ent., and Sands/Venitian. After that, technical and procedural operations are often crammed into a crash course, if even addressed at all. Sometimes they just give out the manual and expect the new dealer to come in having read and adapted to all the game procedures. While I do recommend incoming dealers read their handbooks, this is rarely enough attention to garner procedural competance.

In the spirit of past jobs, gaming and otherwise, I propose a training day. This can be done one of two ways. First, on the dealer’s first day, they’re confined to a dead table with a closed lid, in the company of a floor supervisor with the designated responsibility of training. Practice chips and cards would provide the supervisor the opportunity to teach house shuffles and other procedural training, in an environment that produces competent skills once they reach the floor. Dealers are usually hired and started in groups, so this can be done economically once or twice a month.

Another Option?

The second way this can be done, if an extra supervisor for a day is a cost that cannot be taken on, is a shadow day. The new dealer would be attached to an experienced dealer for a day, who can show them all the house procedures in the process of a night of work. Of course, this only works if your base staff is adequately trained. You might ask “Does the new dealer get tokes for this training time?” Frankly, that’s up to the toke committee. But it’s my opinion that this day should be treated as a replacement for the second day of a two day orientation, which would not give them tokes. To me, it is departmental orientation. But if the toke committee decides to give new dealers tokes for that day, it’s of no concern to the company anyhow.

The logistics of such a program in either case will require a small increase in payroll spending. However, the result will pay off ten fold. You’ll have a staff that is consistent in their procedures, with no excuse to be otherwise. Solid and consistent dealing procedures will naturally produce a stronger and more reliable hold. The benefit of this type of consistency far outweighs the cost. Evolution and change are good, but let’s make sure it’s for the better.

 

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Could Card Counters Actually Be Good For Business?

I know, it sounds crazy. Maybe even unfathomable. But think outside the box with me. It’ll be a quick one, I promise.

For decades now, the main concern of table games management has been advantage play, specifically card counters. Now, there have been select few, who we’ve all read about, who have done serious damage to departmental bottom lines across the country. Across the world even. But the fact is, the overwhelming majority of card counters are not a threat at all. I’ll tell you why.

The problem that most advantage players have, is they go out and start playing before they have a full understanding of what they’re doing. They read a book, study how to play the game and eagerly go out into the field, unprepared. Without an understanding of how to structure their bets, what rules to play, or how much money they need, these players are likely not playing with an actual mathematical edge. They may know how to play the game, but they’re still at a disadvantage. Most players are vastly under-bankrolled, and don’t know how to manage their money according to the count, which is great for the casino. Anytime someone plays and thinks they have an advantage, that’s an ideal situation for the house.

Also, as I mentioned, many players do not fully understand the game, so they’ll play a game that they can’t beat. Such as a 6:5 table, or a spinoff like Super Fun 21. Not to say these games can’t be overcome, but it takes more than simple Hi-Lo counting, which is what most people try to play with. I’ve seen players attempt to beat these games but the fact is, the advantage is too much to overcome by simply counting cards. With that in mind, when you see someone on your games moving their bet with the count, there’s a high probability that they’re still playing at a disadvantage.

Another problem a lot of players have is their unwillingness to put in a complete effort into learning to count. Many players are out there moving their bets with nothing on their mind other than the running count. When asked about true count conversions, index plays, ace tracking, or any other aspect of a serious advantage player’s game, they can muster nothing more than a blank stare and a raised eyebrow. The fact is, without the true count, without index numbers, they’re probably playing against a house edge. This could be even better for the casino than a standard player. They’ll stay longer and dig deeper, because they think they’re supposed to come out ahead.

The fact is, very few people truly understand card counting, both players and casino staff. Obviously, the players who do, can cause a threat to the bottom line and need to be prevented from playing. However, so much effort is exerted trying to prevent and detect these players, when really, most of them don’t even have an advantage. Sure they may win, but even the worst gamblers win sometimes. And if they do win, the other players around will see that, and maybe stay a little longer, maybe bet a little more. And who doesn’t want that?

So, considering all these variables, maybe we need to redistribute our efforts elsewhere? Is it possible that how we’ve thought about advantage players all these years is wrong? Could be…

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Managing on Superstition

Very Superstitious

Something I’ve been passionate about during my time in this business is making informed decisions. One of my major goals in my journey in this business is to eradicate the practice of managing a casino floor based on superstition. It’s 2019. It’s time for us all as an industry to accept the fact that throwing pennies under a table is not an acceptable tactic. The pennies are the tip of the iceberg of a managing style I like to call Voodoo Gaming.

I’ve walked through many a casino in this country, some as an employee, and countless as a patron, and seen the evidence of such tactics. To this day, I’ll see pennies, or even salt on the floor. I even had one boss who would rig a matchbook to stand up on its own and bend two of the matches so they’re pointing at the player he wants to lose. Another boss told me “I’ll watch this game kid. You can’t watch shit. I’ll watch him and we’ll get that money back.”

I could possibly understand such things taking place in the 70’s, when gaming was still on the rise. That was nearly fifty years ago now. The jury isn’t out anymore. Gaming is a purely mathematical beast.

Modern Casino

In the modern casino, there’s no need for managers or supervisors to be pacing the pit, agonizing over a player’s every winning hand, reciting incantations laced with curse words, waiting on every decision to get that money back in the tray. That’s silly enough in itself. Then you throw in the tactics of telling the dealer to change the shuffle, or do it twice, shuffle early, or cut the deck in half, or any number of other things meant to mess with the mojo of a winning player.

It never really made sense to me why these things would stop someone from winning. But there was no room for rationale with some people. “Trust me, kid. I’ve been doing this for twenty years.” I heard lines like that all the time when I was coming up in the business. I wish I had the guts back then to point out that didn’t necessarily mean they were right, or that twenty years was a long time to do something wrong.

I learned later on that these tactics not only were not effective, but they’re counterproductive, harmful even. All the things I mentioned about extra shuffles or early shuffles, or cutting in half, all of them cut into profits. The more time the dealer spends shuffling, the less hands they’re dealing, and the real world, the math tells us that more hands equals more money.

It goes beyond procedures, to actual personnel. The same boss who told me I couldn’t watch shit had a favorite dealer, his “ace in the hole”, he called him. This dealer was in his seventies and maybe dealt forty hands an hour. I watched him for five minutes, saw him deal three hands. Multiply that by twelve and add a couple bonus hands, because that’s what kind of guy I am, and that gives us a stone cold 40 rounds per hour.

What was said boss’s explanation for his man crush on this dealer? “Nobody ever wins with him.” Of course they don’t. He doesn’t deal. Nobody loses either. They simply hover around even and get lulled into stories of golf and the good old days. I suppose that’s preferable to some bosses, but let me be clear, it shouldn’t be. Give me that fast and flawless dealer any day. Dealer’s like that don’t thrive under Voodoo Gaming management, because, “They always dump.” No, they don’t. You just remember the times they dumped. When someone gets on a win streak with a fast dealer, the money piles up quick. The key is that they get through the win streak faster too, and get back to losing like they’re supposed to. It’s math. It’s reality.

The Truth

There’s no such thing as dealers that always lose, or dealers that always win. They all always win, that’s what the games are designed to do. Our job is to let the games do exactly that. As long as there are sound procedures in place, the games work. Sound procedures are important, because they protect you from the real threats to the games. I promise you, the simple act of someone winning is not, in itself, a threat.

We’ve got to be able to stomach the natural ups and downs, the built in variance to these games. Jackpots hit. Win streaks come. Pacing around cursing the dealer, the player, and the blackjack gods isn’t helping anyone. Knee jerk reactions are a no-no too. Changing procedures or shuffles because a game lost money that day is something that has happened, and continues to happen far too often.

If your game normally holds 19% but it only held 9% that day, that week, that month even, fear not. That’s the variance monster. People win sometimes. They have to. Sometimes it happens in a concentrated time period that makes your numbers look bad. But we’ve got to be able to stomach that, let the game do its job, and watch it correct itself. Next month, you could very well be in for a 25% month, and 29% the month after.

Our job isn’t to worry about individual wins and losses. Our job is to ensure to game integrity is maintained. We do this through proper training, procedure enforcement, and productive coaching of our team. Proficiently trained dealers and supervisors are the key to the games doing what they’re supposed to do.

Now, obviously, if you’re holding that 9% over, say, a six month period, something could be up. There could be a dealing procedure that is being done incorrectly, a misunderstood rule, or even theft. When you start getting into the quarterly and yearly hold percentages, it’s worth taking a look into low numbers. I’ve seen too many people worry about monthly, weekly, daily, even single session numbers with far much invested in the outcome. Chances are if you work in gaming, you’ve come across these types too.

As the kids say, “Don’t be that guy.” My goal is to see that mentality take a permanent L.O.A.

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