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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Experts: Table Games Need Attention to Attract Affluent Younger Crowd

14 September 2005

While televised poker continues to bring hordes of young, novice gamblers into casinos, properties are doing little to teach them how to play other table games or cultivate repeat business, one expert told a group of casino managers at a conference today.

In spite of all the free gambling lessons offered at Las Vegas casinos, properties across town are now giving fewer lessons than they did 10 years ago when table games were less popular, said Ted Gottlieb, president of Gaming International Inc.

Available lessons are often held at inconvenient times such as midweek during the day rather than a Saturday evening, when most people are in town and want to play, he said.

Lake Tahoe-based Gaming International makes pocket cards called Win Cards that teach gamblers how to play table games. Gottlieb spoke at the Global Gaming Expo Training and Development Institute, a one-day event for slot and table game managers that precedes the three-day expo.

A lot of the young people who are now whooping it up around craps tables on Saturday nights in Las Vegas "don't know how to play craps" and are simply drawn to the excitement of the game, said Gottlieb, who began his gaming career as a craps dealer.

Players who don't understand table games can't show their friends how to play and may not be drawn back to the casino pit, he said.

Offering free lessons and cultivating dealers who are good teachers "is kind of an afterthought" -- but shouldn't be, Gottlieb said.

Dealers can't be expected to offer lessons on the spot during a live game, nor are most players brave enough to belly up to a game and admit they don't know how to play, he added.

Giving players a gambling guide before playing can be off-putting to some players, while hotel room instructional videos and how-to video kiosks in some casinos isn't doing the trick, he said.

At the least, casinos should "set up an atmosphere in a casino that's friendly and accommodating" to newbie players, he said.

Many operators are eyeing the early success of the Hard Rock hotel and casino in catering to young, affluent table games players.

Not long after the Las Vegas property opened in 1995, it removed some of its slots and added even more tables to accommodate demand from younger customers.

With 90 table games, the Hard Rock has more tables than many giant resorts on the Strip.

"It's more of a social gathering than a place to gamble," said Bart Pestrichello, vice president of casino operations at the Hard Rock. "If you don't get lucky meeting someone, you play some table games."

And table games are more social than slots.

"Folks come there and they want to make other folks," he said. "You don't meet other folks sitting at a slot machine."

Casinos need to do a better job having dealers interact with players, which is part of the reason some players prefer table games, said Vic Taucer, a former casino executive at Caesars Palace who now runs a dealer training company in Las Vegas.

"We've been training dealers the same way for 30 years," he said. "Haven't casinos changed in 30 years? Haven't customer expectations changed in 30 years?"

To make players more comfortable, dealers at the Hard Rock are trained to ease into conversation with new players, sometimes using a detail on an ID as an icebreaker. Some dealers touch knuckles with customers in greeting or high-five customers after a win.

Dealers aren't just polite officiators and instead become "part of the social scene," Pestrichello said.

These young gamblers not only have money to burn but often gravitate to other table games besides poker, like craps and blackjack, casino experts said.

Younger customers also are hitting expensive nightclubs, spending hundreds of dollars on table service with bottles of alcohol that have higher profit margins than even slot machines -- the most lucrative of casino games.

Customers are spending $100 to get into the Hard Rock's Body English nightclub and then paying $450 for a bottle of vodka that probably costs $18, Pestrichello said.

"The under 39 crowd is just a lot looser with the cash," he said.