Players swipe their casino cards at the start of play – so they can earn comps – and thereafter, every detail of their play is tracked. The system knows which cards they receive, what decisions they make, and the amount of each bet they make.
A back-end system continually evaluates and reevaluates their skill, hand by hand, hit by hit. (The theoretical best player, who plays strategically perfect blackjack, will have a mathematical disadvantage of .45 percent; each mistake he or she makes drives that number upward.) The software’s skill assessments are fed into the casino’s management software. In a final, tangible touch, the playing surface of the MindPlay blackjack table has the feel of a mouse pad.
Paving the way for Mohegan Sun was the El Dorado casino in Lake Tahoe, NV, which did its beta testing four years ago. Now the casino has implemented 16 MindPlay tables. And what kind of data is it getting? Rob Mouchou, El Dorado’s vice president of operations, made a few mouse clicks during a phone interview and reported that in a recent 30-day period, 5,795 skilled players who swiped in using player ID cards wagered $16.6 million at the 16 MindPlay tables.
A few mouse clicks later, he saw the payoff to the casino on these players. Before MindPlay, Mouchou comped players at a flat 25 percent of their estimated losses – a figure the house fixed at 1 percent of the amount they were estimated to have wagered. But this was always very much a ballpark figure, he says. Now he comps at 25 percent of the amount their skill evaluations suggest they will lose, on average, multiplied by the exact amount they wagered. The 5,795 players cited by Mouchou were particularly skilled, so their projected average loss was just .63 percent. Previously, Mouchou would have comped them $41,500 – one-quarter of 1 percent of $16.6 million. Instead, he comped $26,145, one-quarter of .63 percent of $16.6 million. Thus he saved nearly $15,000 in comps. Since this was spread out among 5,795 players, each player’s comp reduction was tolerable: less than $3. (And as a side benefit, he can track his dealers and see which ones keep the momentum going, and which ones are sluggish.)
Now Mouchou is planning a marketing campaign based on El Dorado’s new technology. Most casinos won’t expend their pit-boss manpower on low-stakes tables and thus don’t issue comps to the players who frequent them. So the MindPlay tables give El Dorado a marketing edge. “We want to be able to comp $5 players, $10 players, that other properties don’t ever track,” Mouchou says.
These advantages were not lost on Mohegan Sun’s Garrow. But he faced one final hurdle: the gamblers themselves, who – just like anyone else – can be suspicious of electronic surveillance. Richard LeBaron, a product manager at MindPlay, says the company’s technology offers advantages to players, too. “Like any new technology, it takes time to be accepted with open arms,” he says. “It’s all in training dealers in handling questions that come from patrons. Patrons have felt their comps are never tracked properly. The patrons of a casino now have a better understanding that with the system, they are going to get comped accurately and fairly.”
Today, Mohegan Sun just has two MindPlay tables, which it keeps in its dealer-training facility – a steel warehouse a short drive from the casino itself. But it will install 10 of the new tables in the casino next month. And Garrow is planning to cash in all of Mohegan Sun’s chips – literally – in favor of a new batch that works with the MindPlay tables. The new chips won’t be as expensive as RFID chips, but they will be made of extruded nylon, not clay. The nylon gives more sharply defined edge patterns, allowing the camera’s pattern-recognition software to correctly identify them.
Mohegan Sun hasn’t given up on RFID entirely. It’s considering giving its customers special RFID tags they can put on their cars and installing tag readers on the road to the casino. When the high rollers with bad blackjack skills hit town, Mohegan Sun will know it before they even reach the valet parking. “We could have services available, credit-limit changes, or set up a gaming table in a particular area, or have a favorite drink or food ready,” Garrow says. “We might be able to make your experience here at Mohegan Sun that much more special.” As Mohegan Sun and other casinos – and indeed other businesses – identify cost-saving surveillance technologies that both work on a practical level and are accepted by consumers, you can bet they’ll be installing them.