Making the News

Miami Herald

Originally Published:Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Sexy table games lure high rollers
Why does the Seminole Tribe want table games like baccarat or blackjack at its casinos? It's the 'James Bond effect.'

Miami Herald

James Bond never played the nickel slots.

For him, and the other famously cool types who populate casino movies, baccarat was the game. Or blackjack. Or, in the latest Bond flick, Texas Hold 'Em poker.

Table games have long conveyed an air of glamour and exclusivity, going back to Monte Carlo, the Rat Pack and Casino Royale. They're about high stakes, intrigue, padded leather armchairs -- and, of course, impeccably mixed cocktails.

With a sophisticated, monied image like that, it's not hard to see why the Seminole Tribe is pursuing an agreement with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for the exclusive right to allow some of the games at its already successful casinos. In exchange for luring more players and more money for the house, the tribe would pay millions into the state treasury.

''There's just a little more romance about the table games,'' said David G. Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. ''You don't see movies with James Bond playing Megabucks or Quartermania. You see him playing baccarat.''

Slot machines -- Megabucks and Quartermania are two of the more popular ones -- actually outstrip table games like craps, roulette and blackjack as the biggest moneymakers for most casinos, even in many top casinos where the highest of high rollers gamble.

According to the American Gaming Association, a trade association for the gambling industry, Nevada's casinos made 67 percent of their revenues from slots last year. In Atlantic City, N.J., casinos, slots accounted for 73 percent of revenues. In other states with both slots and table games, slot machines generate even more, about 82 percent to 85 percent of revenue, according to the association.

And even though table games are often perceived as the exciting core of a casino, where players wager thousands of dollars on a single roll of the dice, the reality is that slots make money even faster for the house, depending on the game and the casino. In Las Vegas, with its $100-a-spin slots, players can go through their bankrolls quicker than those at table games, Schwartz said.

''If a person is playing $100 every six seconds in the slots, he could be much more of a high roller than the guy playing $5 blackjack every minute or so,'' said Schwartz, who maintains a website called Die is Cast, Thoughts on a World of Chance.

But table games are still considered the hallmark of a full-service casino -- in part for the cachet, but also because, when it comes to gambling, more is better.

''One of the main reasons that it's good for a casino to have table games is that it brings in more customers. You can draw in a customer who might not like slot machines. You can give them a different kind of experience,'' said Holly Thomsen, director of communications for the American Gaming Association. ''It's just like being able to add a movie theater to a mall. . . . Table games are just another amenity.''

Florida has both tribal and nontribal casinos. The seven Seminole casinos -- including the Hard Rock hotels near Hollywood and Tampa -- are allowed to offer only Class II, or bingo-style slots, and poker games. Four nontribal casinos in Broward County are allowed to offer Class III Vegas-style slots, which pit players against the house, in addition to poker.

If the Seminoles reach an agreement with the state that allows them to offer Class III slots and the exclusive right to offer more of the table games, they'd have ''a bit of an edge in competition for players,'' Thomsen said.

It might also mean a substantial increase in cash flow for the Seminoles.

''I think they could boost their overall revenues by the 20 to 30 percent range in the first few years,'' said Joseph Weinert, senior vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group.

''You're going to be increasing your appeal. If you have the right casino, and I think the Seminoles do, with the Hard Rocks -- you can become a national destination,'' he said. ''I would expect the celebrity factor to go up. And the celebrities bring in other people. People want to be seen with the young, hip crowd.''

Gary Bitner, spokesman for the Seminoles, said offering a variety of games to players is important for business, but so is image: ''There's absolutely some glamour in games like blackjack, and everyone has the vision of James Bond at a baccarat table. That does glamorize those games. It's what people imagine when they think about Las Vegas and Atlantic City.''

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