Despite technological advancements, casinos have remained largely unchanged for decades. Yes, there have been significant upgrades to your favorite slots and some table games now have digital counterparts, but the player experience has been fairly consistent. We gamblers take our bankroll to our favorite game, find a single seat, and play the game until we feel we’ve won enough or until we’re down to the felt.
In addition to casino stagnation, one problem that consistently arises within groups of gamblers is the varying tastes of the members. Some may enjoy throwing dice, others picking numbers, and a few rallying around a dealer bust. Planned time with friends can easily turn into a solitary evening if interests differ enough. Even if your group chooses to assemble at a common game, finding tables with multiple open seats can be nearly impossible.
Stadium gambling looks to change this. I heard that one of my local casinos, Greektown Casino in Detroit, was going to launch a new gaming arena using Interblock’s Pulse Arena technology. I had seen stadium gambling setups before. There are couple moderately sized variations in Vegas. I know, thanks to Macau Tripping, that stadium Baccarat is somewhat popular in Macau. Though, from the ads I saw online, the arena in Greektown was something a little different.
The arena has a sizeable footprint- there are 48 stations in the system at Greektown. Most digital table games are small, passive revenue streams. Synergy requires manpower to run consistently. There are two live dealers, one to each run blackjack and roulette, both streamed on the massive screens on the stage front. While crowd enthusiasm was limited in the early evening, both dealers were excitable and engaging- a must when dealing a game in which the players are not in close proximity to the action. Beyond the dealers and game technicians required to keep the games going smoothly, more manpower is needed when the casino gets busy. Greektown Casino CEO, Jason Gregorec, explains:
“There are different, let’s call them, moods. So during the day we could do a VIP mode where it’s a little more subdued. As the night progresses and more energy is coming into the casino, we can switch it on and have a little more high energy music where we have lighting, a DJ, dancers.”
Players play on individual 27-inch display screens. The standard criticisms of electronic table games apply to the Synergy Tables. There are no chips to rake, dice to toss, or cards to handle. The terminals have yet to feature all the available bets a nuanced game like craps can offer. Sadly, there was no Fire or Small/Tall/All bets available. However, bonus bets on each game will be a heavy focus as development continues. This, says Interblock CEO, John Connelly, is an advantage of electronic games. According to Connelly, “On a traditional table game, your dealer generally can’t handle more than one, in some cases, maybe two side bets. The more complexity you put on a table the more chance there is they’re going to make a mistake, the slower the game is. So, on an electronic format, we’re able to put five side bets… you have a lot more flexibility for the player, you have a lot more variety, and not slow down the game.”
The platform isn’t as intuitive as I was hoping, but that’s to be expected given the robust options. I spent a few minutes walking an older couple through the process of getting started and showing them how to make certain bets. One odd quirk: I had to choose a game before I was able to put money into the machine. I kept trying to feed my bills into different stations with no avail. An attendant was quick to get me sorted out.
Players have the option of playing multiple games simultaneously. A digital version of community baccarat runs live, bubble craps is running perpetually and automatically, and live dealers run multi-hand blackjack and roulette. Cameras stream the craps, blackjack, and roulette tables live onto the screen. The bubble craps screen was on stage left, while I was sitting in the far right corner, making the dice a bit hard to see. However, the screens instantly display results of all the games. Personal, non-community versions of each game are available if players would rather play solo.
After of few minutes of fidgeting with the screen, I was able to command it fairly seamlessly. The strongest feature, especially for degenerates like me, is the ability to switch between live games. For instance, I could bring up roulette and make bets while I was waiting for a roll to commence in craps. One common complaint of bubble craps variations is that after the come out roll, the time between rolls can be too long. There are typically not a lot of individual bets being made in the rolls after a point has been established, so keeping the time frame consistent can be quite a drag on the rate of play. Well, now you have something to do in the interim.
The arena also makes strides to provide sufficient space for groups. While it’ll be hard to find an entirely vacant row, even scattered seats still allow for bands of gambling friends to win and lose together. Additionally, pairs can enjoy gambling side by side on different games. The arena is designed for a more social experience, so I’m not sure if slots or video poker will be integrated any time soon. There is one development in the pipeline that may excite my low rolling Millennial brethren. Gregorec says, “In the future, down the road, we can run tournaments and do tutorials. Bingo is in the works.”
While this may seem like a strong push to reach out to a younger, more digitally savvy market, Connelly, noted they’ve seen success with all ages:
“We’re finding that not only are the younger demographics coming in…a lot of slot players who are your high-end slot players have always wanted to try to play table games but were intimidated. So they’re coming in more often, their average bet is higher, they’re staying longer. So, we are actually taking existing players and giving them something fresh on the floor to stay and maybe bring their friends and we are also providing perhaps something for the new player to come in and try.”
I, more than most, have championed digital table games, as they allow gamblers with limited bankrolls to enjoy the casino even during peak hours when most live tables increase their minimums. Electronic tables, like Synergy Tables, can and certainly have manipulated minimum bets, but Connelly sees the arena as a way to still attract budget conscious players, saying, “A lot of our interest is coming from casinos where they traditionally had a $5 or $10 table. On a Friday night or a Thursday night, tables are full. This is a way for them to keep providing a $5 or $10 table, but the live tables they make them, perhaps, $25 tables.” In addition, Gregorec noted that electronic games have helped increased participation in the standard table games at Greektown, reporting that “What we found as we added additional electronic roulette…our live roulette increased by 30%.”
I found minimums in the Greektown stadium to be fair on the Saturday evening I visited. Craps and roulette bets were $5, while blackjack was $10. I’m happy to report that the blackjack game had a 3:2 payout. Their live counterparts running concurrently and mere feet away were slightly more expensive.
Other, little things stand out to make the arena enjoyable. The screens are beautiful and the graphics engaging. The seats are comfortable and the terminals are roomy. The major drawback to arena gambling is that there is somewhat of a disconnect between the players and the game. Felted tables provide intimate interaction- you feel more in control of your gambling destiny, whether it’s logical or not. It’s hard to scale that.
There is a certain “wow” factor when seeing the arena for the first time. There were quite a few interested spectators hugging the outer railing watching the action. You’ll read and hear all sorts of buzzwords being thrown around whenever casinos experiment with new products. I’m not going to say stadium gambling is “game changing” or “revolutionary”. Though, it may very well be. For now, I know it gives casual and social gamblers something new to do. It’s an exciting and less intimidating way to introduce new gamblers to the casino experience. Casinos need something to invigorate a new generation of reluctant gamblers. Could this be the way to do it?
To hear the audio from my interview with Connelly and Gregorec, listen to the Stadium Gambling episode of the Vegas Fanboy Podcast. I would enjoy hearing your thoughts. Interested in trying it out? Rather stick with strictly live tables?