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Roundtable: Future of Online Table Games

By - 16 August 2021

Looking at the ways in which high-spending table games enthusiasts can continue to be engaged in this evolving regulatory environment, G3 talks to suppliers pulling out the stops to innovate and entertain with new game features, gamification elements and jackpots.

Industry experts from Evolution, Realistic Games, OneTouch and Habanero examine the future of online table games within increasingly strict regulatory environments such as the UK. With lower stake limits imposed, how can traditional verticals like Roulette and Blackjack remain relevant to players?

What new elements and features within table games are keeping players engaged?

Todd Haushalter, Chief Product Officer, Evolution: Every day our aim is to answer this question. In recent years we have expanded upon the definition of what a table game is, and this now includes Game Shows.

Our Game Shows category delivers more entertainment, interaction, and thrills for players with the addition of multipliers that add extra layers of excitement. These popular games are not only entertaining and visually rich, but players can bet small and win big, which ensures a high level of engagement.

But every player is different. Take Baccarat players for example, their wants and needs are going to be different to a Roulette player. Recently, we added a unique new bonus Red Envelope multiplier feature into the game.

This unexpected bonus may be generated on either the Tie, Banker Pair or Player Pair bet spots, when a red envelope animation appears with a randomly generated increased payout of up to 88x.

Arcangelo Lonoce, Head of Business Development Europe, Habanero: For us – it’s a case of delivering what players know and love. We believe in the fact that table games are played by players who love table games. Therefore, our aim is to offer the type of environment where they can feel right at home.

Our focus is always on the present as well as the future – and we know that mobile is the predominant destination for players. This requires an impeccable UI/UX, which means we can offer a wonderful format that makes our games as easy to play and understand as possible which is key to both engagement and retention.

I can confidently say that our mobile table games experience, specifically conceived to be enjoyed in portrait mode, is as good and entertaining as it can be. As regards new features and elements, I don’t believe there needs to be a re-invention of the wheel.

We’ve seen some interesting innovation in the live environment in terms of features, mathematics and margins, but I don’t believe this to be signalling a trend. There’s no need to disrupt a set of products and rules that in many ways have been enjoyed for more than 120 years – after all, it’s a winning formula.

Robert Lee, Commercial Director, Realistic Games: Similar to slots, suppliers are looking to expand on new ideas and variants when it comes to table games. While there is still a huge market for traditional games such as Blackjack and Roulette, suppliers are becoming more and more creative with side bets or additional features within games.

We are seeing a wide range of these come into the market with suppliers looking to deliver ‘the next best thing’ in table games.

Taago Tamm, Head of Live Dealer, OneTouch: Like the slot market, the table games market is more crowded than ever before, so there’s a diverse range of new elements being launched and integrated each day. In my opinion, the most important when it comes to keeping players engaged is autoplay.

The feature allows gamblers to really immerse themselves in the gameplay and enjoy the entertainment, rather than having to worry about clicking on the betting area every 45 seconds. When it comes to the Live Dealer space, communication between players and dealers is becoming more and more important with punters increasingly starting to demand a more social entertainment experience.

Are regulatory pressures, both in the UK and beyond, a factor in helping to drive innovation within online table games?

Taago: In my view, the answer is no. Regulatory pressures, whether in the UK or elsewhere, are simply part and parcel of working in this industry – and it isn’t a situation which is unique to us.

Innovation, for example, is not affected by a mandatory clock at the table or a notification that pops up at certain times. Real innovation is about much more than that and cannot be stopped or enhanced by the regulatory pressures found in most markets.

Robert: I don’t think they are as much as they are in slots. It seems that table games are either allowed or they are not and where they are permitted, there are generally fewer regulations compared to slots in the same jurisdiction.

Innovation is being driven in this area a little more than previously as the slot market has become very difficult to gain exposure with new and upcoming products given how crowded it is.

Arcangelo: It’s a difficult question to answer depending on how far off the beaten track we want to go. We will see how max stake limits pan out, but we’re not aiming to disrupt too much. Are we going to see a surge in low stakes betting across plenty of table games? We’ll see. Of course, such a restrictive format for entertainment will risk eliminating certain players.

I do believe these restrictions will have a significant effect on popularity. For example, with players who want to deploy their strategies to spread their bets across various levels of risk on the wheel. Once you put a table limit of £2 or similar, this undermines a large part of many bettors’ strategies.

Such a limited format will still cater to other players who want a different spread of bets and want straight-up excitement. However, it will no doubt affect players who want to be more creative with their betting.

Take a look at the payout for Roulette as an example. Players want far more flexibility in what they can bet depending on the odds when the max expected payout is just 35x, making it a hugely different model to slots which receive the most scrutiny in terms of stake limits. Such a blanket approach will undoubtedly have a negative effect.

Todd: No, I would say it’s the opposite. Intense regulation impacts our product roadmaps as it shifts the focus. As a large supplier, Evolution must comply with new regulations, along with our Operators, to ensure the safety of players whilst also providing innovative and fresh games.

We are used to lots of regulatory changes and this is all part of possessing a privileged license to offer casino games. We need regulation in our industry and some of it helps achieve the objectives it desires, and other regulations have unintended consequences that have the opposite effect.

Additionally, each country or jurisdiction is unique, and they have to do what is right for their citizenry and we have to comply.

Is there also a danger that innovating too far away from the traditional model of gameplay can alienate some players?

Robert: This is always a risk with innovation. There is a happy medium to be struck for all types of players not just those who choose table games. There will be a percentage that want the familiar, standard, original games but there will always be players looking for that innovation that will excite their playing experience and enhance their win potential.

Arcangelo: Without a doubt – it really does risk alienating players. This is a format that has been enjoyed by many for centuries and changing that format to remove a large part of their expected entertainment is certainly going to have consequences. How we mitigate that as an industry is going to be a challenge we will have to face – but I certainly would say that too much change will certainly have a detrimental effect on loyalty and engagement.

Todd: This is always a risk we consider, but it is also in this danger zone that the best prizes lie. Lots of innovation fails because of companies not taking this risk. Over the past few years, we have really pushed the boundaries by redefining casino products, creating new game types that players love, such as our game shows.

This year we have also expanded further with strategy-style games, such as Gonzo’s Treasure Hunt which is different from anything we have done before.

Taago: It’s a possibility, but players who prefer the traditional model can always return to the originals if they wish. Classic versions of Baccarat and Blackjack will not go anywhere, for example, and our new live dealer product offers world-class iterations of both titles.

That’s why you need to include a diverse variety of games in your offerings: land-based players who shifted online when casinos shut, for instance, are more likely to prefer conventional titles, while the new generation of bettors will probably respond to a more high-tech approach.

How important for supplier growth is the continued success of online table games?

Todd: Simply put, without success there is no growth. As one of the largest suppliers of online tables in the world, we are working hard every day to innovate in multiple ways and ensure the growth of our table games.

Of course, players will continue to enjoy the traditional classic table games such as Roulette, Blackjack and Baccarat, however, when looking at the next generation of players, we need to offer a more varied selection of games to satisfy their needs.

We are working to add more randomness, more jackpots, more multipliers, more bonus rounds to create games that will be a huge success, and popular with a broader spectrum of players.

Robert: The continued success of online table games is more important for some than others. Some suppliers see table games as a cheap route into operators taking their slot games whereas for others the quality of the table games means it is a considerable portion of their revenues.

Arcangelo: As it stands, online table games account for a significant portion of revenue for many gaming suppliers. It all depends on the quality of focus providers put on their table games with plenty of big names involved in entertaining a demographic that values this form of entertainment.

For continued success, companies such as Realistic are a great example of table games with a unique format, and they’re one of the best out there. I’m sure they’ll continue to attract a loyal fanbase for many years to come, restrictions or not. The key here is simplicity and a deep understanding of what make players tick, as well as the ability to deliver the goods.

For us at Habanero, we see table games as a key part of our portfolio, we believe future success is all about offering a premium, best-in-class experience – to deliver the best, rather than anything too ‘new’.

Finally, will the UK still be an attractive market for table games suppliers if new maximum stake limits are imposed online, or will the focus shift elsewhere?

Taago: We respect every move that genuinely improves player protection, butit begs the question: will the UK remain an attractive market for table game developers if maximum stake limits are imposed online, or will those providers start to look elsewhere?

Of course, the UK will always be an appealing market for suppliers and operators alike. The question, however, is whether it is the most desirable of all – an accolade given to it by many in our industry. In my opinion, there are more lucrative territories out there and the imposition of maximum stake limits will only confirm that view.

Arcangelo: I’m sure it will. The UK is a highly vibrant market with an incredibly diverse player base that values gaming experiences that have been tried, tested and enjoyed for years.

That’s slowly changing now in line with demographics, and looking at the present gambling young generation, all of them grew up with a mobile in their hands and a strong propensity towards sports betting. Entertainment is valued very strongly here – and table games will need to move forward with that in mind.

How this behaviour pans out will be an interesting testing ground to see the direction the industry goes in. Realistically, we’ll likely see plenty of migration given the effect restrictions will have. For many specialist providers, this will mean both a challenge and an opportunity. There will be plenty of chance to innovate and I look forward to seeing how it goes.

Todd: It depends on how aggressive the limits are, these changes tend to impact player behaviour, meaning they will shift to other forms of gaming. Regulation often has unintended consequences, if the limits are too large, it will mean that players will find loopholes in order to play in the way that they like.

For example, if the new stake limits for players in the UK are imposed by regulators, players may just use VPN technology and continue to play under the radar elsewhere.

Additionally, the increased pressures of regulation can create Black Market Operators. As all the large and well-known operators ensure they are compliant with regulations, there is an increase in illegal operators that are gaining players looking for unlimited limits, who are invisible to governments who require these regulations.

Robert: Obviously, any maximum stake implementations on table games in the UK will no doubt impact the vertical, particularly Roulette, where players like to bet on numerous numbers on each spin. As a predominantly UK supplier, we will continue to develop for that market, but we will also be looking to expand our reach into other markets.

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