Table Gaming in the UK By Paul Sculpher, Special to CDC Gaming Reports June 5, 2019 at 2:45 am In the UK, while slots and electronic versions of table games are an ever-increasing revenue stream, the casino industry has always been reliant on revenues from table gaming. The history of the table game offer in the UK is a curious one however – from as tightly controlled a selection as anywhere in the world to, arguably, now the easiest environment in which to try out a new game. The piece of legislation that defined casinos last century was the 1968 Gaming Act. This Act and its related regulations were exceptionally restrictive, allowing a very small number of “Banker’s Games”. The regs even mandated many of the details of the games – it was illegal, for example, to have a player dealt their card, on a Blackjack double, face down, because the regulations insisted all cards should be face up. The order of numbers on the (single zero) roulette wheel was listed, although curiously nowhere in the regulations did it say you actually had to spin the ball! Some new games were allowed along the way, including Caribbean Stud Poker, and eventually Three Card Poker, which of course took off as quickly as everywhere else in the world. Still, trying to crack the UK market was a pointless exercise for a game developer – the only way would be to drive popularity elsewhere in the world, and hope the authorities recognized the potential and put your game into an incredibly slow pipeline. Things have changed dramatically since then, with the inception of the 2005 Gambling Act. The situation now is pretty much a complete free-for-all. All that is required to have a new game available for licensing and play is to submit the game to the relevant body; then you’re pretty much good to go. Operators need to supply simple how-to-play guides – hardly a problem; then as long as the house edge isn’t rapacious, you’ll be able to get your game in front of the public, assuming you can get a friendly operator on side. The challenge of course, especially in an environment like the UK where wage costs are a very significant proportion of revenues, is convincing operators to forego opening a roulette table, and instead to trial a new game with unknown results. Unless a new game outperforms that reliable roulette table (roulette is by far the dominant game in the UK), there’s no value in an operator changing their tried-and-tested mix. I’ve dealt with an awful lot of proud game developers, all trying to get the blend right to design the new Three Card Poker. The blindness I’ve seen is genuinely amazing. My rule of thumb, as far as complexity goes, is that you have to be able to explain the main bet to me in thirty seconds, or the game’s too complicated. Some of the games I’ve had shown to me have been more complicated than Monopoly. But when you factor in that your playing audience is likely not an experienced gaming person, doesn’t have a huge attention span, and may well have already tucked into a couple of adult beverages, complexity is not your friend. On the flip side, there’s a reason why Casino War and Money Wheel haven’t dominated the casino scene globally: lack of complexity and depth (and chunky house edges). The right blend of complexity is key; a game with a simple-to-explain bet, plus another type of bet with a bit more depth, is ideal. Personally, I always prefer a game with multiple moments of tension – so in Blackjack, for example, the player gets their own cards, then the tension of the dealer completing their hand gives you double value for your stake. The other pitch I hear all too often is “I’ve got a new game, it’s a blend of x and y”. Just stop! The alternative for the new game developer is of course the side bet. In theory this barely slows the game down, doesn’t require the operator to forego their reliable earning table, and gives the player something else to keep them interested. Getting the mix right here is also important, however. We can all run the calculation of expected win (EV) per side bet, and compare it to expected win for the base bet. Blackjack is the best example, where you can have a £5 game with an expected value of maybe 5p per hand, and a £1 side bet with double the value to the operator. But it’s never that simple from the operator’s perspective. Number of hands per hour will decrease, particularly, as in the above example, where the side-betting unit is a different chip (£1 ) than the base bet (£5), meaning players will forever be needing change. You can also destroy the essence of the game if side bets start dominating matters. I’ve seen a BJ game with three side bet options at £1, plus the progressive, and while the EV equation stacks up even at a slower hand rate, it becomes an unbearable experience for the player who just wants to play Blackjack. Instead of a lively game with a liquid dealer blasting out hands and constant decisions to be made by the players, they’re watching interminable cases of picking up losers, paying out winners, and making change. If your better players don’t want to play where there are side bets, give them an option without, or at least jack up the side bet minimums so your compromised game pace makes proper money. There’s an argument that table games aren’t really part of the future, and it seems in the long run that’ll be true, but with slot regulations pretty tight in the UK – 20 machines allowed per standard casino licence – that revenue has to come from somewhere. The costs associated with running table games are of course huge, but they’ve traditionally been the heart and soul of casino gaming, and while that won’t last forever, it’s critically important to get the offer right in a tough marketplace that’s getting tougher.