The Bee-Tek™ Intelligent Electronic Baccarat Shoe provides a door opener to casino markets across the region for The United States Playing Card Company
The United States Playing Card Company has been supplying playing cards since 1885, and its brands, including Bee®, Bicycle® and Congress®, remain the most internationally recognized in their category.
Although USPC is the undisputed market leader in the US, Asia is dominated by a competing supplier. The most coveted of the region’s markets is Macau, where the insatiable appetite for baccarat results in the consumption of over 100 million decks of cards a year. USPC has its focus set firmly on that market, having opened a Macau office in December 2011 and hired Adam McGregor as its vice president of sales for Asia, based out of that office.
Mr McGregor says of USPC’s mission in the region: “It’s about being here, supporting the market and trying to provide the operators what they want. It’s about giving them tools that improve efficiency and generate revenue. It’s not just about supplying a card any more. It’s technology, it’s so many things.”
That security-enhancing and efficiency boosting technology takes the form of the new Bee-Tek™ Intelligent Electronic Baccarat Shoe, the central pillar of USPC’s baccarat solution. Released last year, the Bee-Tek shoe is, according to the company, not only more secure and less vulnerable to degradation over time than competing products, but also based on an open-architecture platform to enable upgrades and expansion.
The Bee-Tek shoe took center stage at the USPC stand at this year’s G2E Asia, held 21st to 23rd May at The Venetian Macao. According to Mr McGregor, “we’ve got plenty of interest in it. We’re all over the place at the moment. It’s Singapore, the Philippines, Macau, Korea, Australia, New Zealand.”
Mr McGregor points out that USPC is acutely focused on building its presence across the continent. “That’s not to say we want to take any focus away from the US, but Asia is a growth area. It’s a key market in playing cards. It’s the biggest in the world. So we obviously want to be a big part of that.”
USPC President of Global Sales Retail and Casino Michael W. Slaughter argues that in addition to the strengths of the company’s new shoe, there’s a basic business rationale for USPC to increase its share of the Asian casino market. “I think what’s in our favour is every CEO of every business in the world, what keeps them up at night is constant supply chain. And having limited suppliers can inhibit your ability to grow your business, as well as for you to get the best pricing in the marketplace. Also, you never want to be short of a key product that operates your business. So we feel that even as a secondary supplier into the marketplace, we would substantially grow market share just because of that simple level of support as a secondary supplier. But more importantly, we want to be a primary supplier. We think we’ve got the right product and the right service level to be able to do that.”
The Bee-Tek shoe works exclusively with Bee brand playing cards. “There’s a reason for that,” explains Mr Slaughter. “That exclusivity ensures that you can have a much more secure game both for the casino and the player, simply because the technology is limited.”
USPC’s cards are high-tech, sophisticated products that come in many formats for many settings, including hardwearing plastic and paper composites for poker rooms, as well as more traditional linen-finish paper cards for card-squeezing baccarat players in markets such as Macau and Las Vegas.
USPC claims to be the only manufacturer that makes its own cardstock, scanning for imperfections and doing its own embossing, while other suppliers buy paper pre-embossed. Embossing the paper after printing means the surface of the card retains the slightly dimpled effect essential to allow a tiny cushion of air between each card. That, in turn, allows for more efficient card shuffling via machine, eliminating the risk of two cards being dealt simultaneously from the shoe. By contrast, when suppliers buy paper pre-embossed then print on it, the ink fills in the embossing.
USPC’s card manufacturing process is fully automated.
“The reason our cards work so well in shuffling machines is that the embossing gives a little bit of separation between each card in the pack—it effectively creates an air cushion. A very smooth (pre-embossed) card on the other hand tends to cause problems for shuffler machines. Sometimes more than one card can come out,” explains USPC International Casino Sales Director Scott Madding.
Another key differentiating feature of the USPC card manufacturing process is that it is fully automated. “What we’ve been doing over the years, more from a security standpoint than anything else, is to get equipment and technology in place that will take as much of the human decision-making out of the equation as possible,” says Mr Madding.
In July 2009, USPCC moved from its Cincinnati, Ohio base, where it had been for more than a century, to a brand new purpose built 570,000 square feet manufacturing plant across the river in neighbouring Kentucky—only a short distance from Cincinnati Airport. The company also invested US$30 million in new equipment for the plant.
“We find that the more automation we have the better, and the fewer mistakes. Every time a human hand touches the product—and that includes in the casinos where the card packs go into the pre-shuffle room—the opportunity for something untoward to happen, such as a card going missing or collusion with someone wishing to cheat the system, is there,” adds Mr Madding.