Table to Cage
Gaming Partners International has been managing Asian gaming chip supplies for more than four decadesFriday, 07 August 2009
Gaming Partners International S.A.S. (GPI) is a strong contender for the title of longest continuous supplier of equipment to the Macau gaming market.
The French company has been supplying betting chips and plaques to Dr Stanley Ho's gaming operation for more than 40 years.
To put this extraordinary market presence in perspective, when GPI delivered its first consignment to Macau, it was the year that The Beatles released their Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album and two years before US astronauts landed on the Moon.
"We've been supplying STDM and latterly SJM since 1967. In that time we have supplied several million pieces of gaming chips to the Macau market," says Christophe Leparoux, Manager, International Sales and Marketing for GPI.
GPI hasn't rested on its laurels since the ending of Dr Ho's gaming monopoly. It currently holds around 90% of the Macau market for gaming chips and plaques—many of them fitted with tiny silicon circuits that can send radio messages to computers so that casinos can keep track of their chip inventory. This radio frequency identification (RFID) technology is also used to help prevent counterfeiting of medicines and other high value goods.
In the context of the gaming industry, GPI says its current goal is to help the market convert from security checks done on chips at the casino cage, to a comprehensive audit system using RFID readers on gaming tables.
"Here [in Asia] most of the casinos using RFID are using readers at the cage only, for the moment, as a filter to check all 'in and out' transactions," explains M. Leparoux.
"The operators here in Asia are investing in RFID for security purposes to secure their chip bank. That's good. But everybody will tell you that counterfeiters will try and introduce fake chips at the table, not at the cage," he stresses.
"At the moment in many cases operators are securing the cage but not the table. Securing the cage is better than nothing—you can check transactions. But the next step would be to have reader at the table so that one can regularly check the chips, or review operations if table staff or security have concerns about a customer. You can make checks very quickly on a case-by-case basis using a small computer display available to the dealer. It's about working toward full deployment of RFID technology."
In security industry circles there's a saying that technology is a great tool but never a total substitute for the human eye and human mind when it comes to stopping scams and fraud. So how secure is RFID?
"The [computer] chips [in RFID gambling chips] are encoded and encrypted, so you would need to get access to the specific readers and protocols to be able to read the information before you could go any further," says M. Leparoux.
"Of course in this area nothing is 100% sure but it's the next best thing. When we supply RFID plaques to City of Dreams for example, the coding is different to those supplied to Altira [CoD's sister property in Macau]. So they use different databases," he adds.
In Europe, GPI's comprehensive RFID chip tracking system is already used in a number of properties.
"At G Casino in Manchester, in the UK, we have an almost fully integrated, RFID-enabled operation," says M. Leparoux.
"All their table inventory is checked with RFID. It's not a 24-hour [casino] operation, but when they open the tables in the afternoon, instead of doing the physical check of all the chips in all the chip trays in all the tables, they just launch the RFID check and the inventory is tallied automatically. They do the same thing before they close the casino in the evening. They reckon they save at least half an hour per table every single day."
If a relatively low volume (in revenue terms) table market such as the UK can benefit from table-to-cage coverage, then the benefits to a high turnover markets such as East Asia are likely to be multiplied in terms of staff time and revenue leakage prevented. When it comes to applied technology however, seeing is believing, so GPI has been taking its demonstration team out on the trade show circuit in the US, Europe and Asia.
"For those [operators] who have made the choice to move to RFID, for example, instead of having only the RFID chip readers at the cage, the demonstration team explains that you can have RFID equipment on your tables to verify all your chips and make sure all your chips are authentic," says M. Leparoux.
"It's about moving on technologically," he adds.
"You can have an RFID [table] tray as well that will do the inventory. That will allow you at any single moment to know exactly what's in your chip tray inventory. We can couple this at the table with a JCM bill validator."
"We want to demonstrate that beyond the RFID chip there are different kinds of applications. You have the back office, the table, the cage—and everything is available today.
"Here in Macau, for example, City of Dreams is using our RFID products. Wynn has been using our RFID; Altira as well, and StarWorld. We just did Newport [City] in the Philippines, the new operation by Star Cruises. Sentosa will most probably be using our RFID," he adds.
M. Leparoux says another key advantage of tableside RFID technology is that it can boost volumes of play and thus operator profits.
"With poker for example it helps with the rake," he explains.
"We had it [RFID] on site [in various poker rooms across Europe] from last year. The operators report they make 25% more hands per hour when using RFID tables. Plus with poker the players are a special kind of crowd, and there's a lot of interaction between the dealer and the players. An RFID-enabled table gives the dealer more time to entertain the player because the exact pot or the exact rake is being automatically calculated."
There is also a market in Asia for hybrid tables that have an automated dealer but allow players to bet with real chips.
"When you're a passionate gambler you want to be able to feel the chip in your hand," explains M. Leparoux.
"The importance of the physical chip in this Asian market doesn't mean there isn't a future for the multiplayer machines, but they maybe cater for a different type of customer," he adds.
When it comes to casino security there's no point locking the front door and then leaving the back door wide open. This is where GPI is able to offer a genuinely comprehensive service, supplying electronic detection gates (or ECS 'Electronic Chips Surveillance) that can be installed at staff entrances as well as customer entrances.
"It's useful, for example, in preventing the risk of staff pilferage," says M. Leparoux.
"If somebody goes through the gate with a chip in their pocket, it will trigger an alarm. It also picks up the ID number of the RFID chip, so you can also do some tracking of the chip. This is a function available with the low frequency RFID systems."
In a perfect world, casinos would always choose the latest and greatest technology for their floors, their systems and their back offices. The reality is that budgets are always finite, even during economic boom times. As a result, it's up to suppliers such as GPI to make a compelling economic and operational case to operators before they will sign the cheques for new equipment.
"If there is one message about RFID it is that it's not the technology of some distant future. It's very much a fully deployed and mature technology," says M. Leparoux.
"We have sold 12 million RFID chips so far. In some jurisdictions it's already fully deployed. It's the technology of today."