The unlikely revival of table games is about to enter its second decade—the dominance of slots continuing to slip away. At TCSJohnHuxley, Executive Chairman Tristan Sjöberg is enjoying the ride, but looking toward the future, as well.
“We’ve been on a journey over the last couple of years,” he says, “and I think the journey has been very successful as it has injected enthusiasm back into the business.”
Outside of Asia, where table games have always been king, the revival of tables has been attributable to one major variable, says Sjöberg, and that is its appeal to a younger demographic.
“The younger customer wants more interactivity,” he says. “I think the interactivity aspect, as well as the skill-based aspect, is what’s driving this. People want to be recognized for their skill at various games, and they’re not just looking at an RNG to determine the outcome of what’s going to happen with their money that they punt.”
Sjöberg has taken a circuitous route to the leadership position at TCSJohnHuxley. He was born in Sweden and educated in the U.K., emerging with a Ph.D. in oceanography. He started his career as a scientific officer at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. But he later felt the call of the family business, Knutsson Holdings, and returned to work for TCSJohnHuxley.
Identifying Knutsson as a family business, however, is not quite accurate. The company is a leader in the digital entertainment field, being large shareholders of progressive iGaming companies like Net Entertainment and Betsson. It also owns companies that are active in financial markets, real estate, manufacturing, horse racing, biotech, publishing and more.
Based in Singapore, Sjöberg leads offices around the world. The corporate headquarters is in London, and the company has a large facility in Las Vegas to serve the American market. The R&D office is based in York, England, and sales and service facilities are located in Marbella, Spain; Midrand, South Africa; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Sydney, Australia, and Macau.
He’s particularly proud of the York facility and the products it has crafted over the last few years.
“There are over 40 very, very smart people in York, working with individual customers, to make sure that the system is working for each individual customer,” he says.
It is at that facility where TCSJohnHuxley developed its new platform, Gaming Floor Live (GFL). While table-game companies previously did not need platforms (other than the wooden surfaces upon which the games were played), Sjöberg says Gaming Floor Live puts the company squarely into the content business.
“This platform is now driving all our various components,” he says. “It’s driving the media system, it’s driving the bonusing, the optimization. GFL delivers games such as roulette, baccarat and sic bo on tables and on various devices as it fits individual customer needs.
“So as a content provider, we are delivering games to terminals, such as touch-screen devices or potentially an electronic table game environment. This enables us to offer a variety of solutions to different customers, depending upon their regulations and their player demands.”
In addition to providing different options for players, GFL gives casino operators complete reports on all activities that occur on the tables/devices.
“The GFL platform is a modular system,” Sjöberg explains. “So you can buy into as little or as much as you want. If we were so fortunate to have a customer that bought the entire systems and options, that operator would be able to drive his live media system through the displays. At the same time, the Gaming Floor Live umbrella system would optimize the tables, and give real-time data. It could also be driving the actual gaming devices in a lounge, maybe, allowing everything to be controlled centrally from one server.”
An operator would be able to alter the games on the fly depending upon customer demands, the event or any other circumstances, says Sjöberg.
“If you have the GFL bonusing system in there, you could easily change the bonusing in real time, and change the settings—subject to regulatory approval and licensing in your individual jurisdiction. Our GFL bonusing modular component gives operators the flexibility to offer whatever makes sense at a particular time.”
In addition, operators can follow the action at their tables/devices via the GFL reporting module.
“The reporting function is a very, very important function for us, and we are working very closely with our customers, to make sure that the reporting needs are fulfilled, in any shape, manner or form, as well as any GLI and jurisdictional compliance requirements,” says Sjöberg.
And because the system produces real-time data on every play, it gives operators information about their tables not available in the past, when only theoretical holds were the norm.
“With GFL, we can get down to the actual hold, and the actual percentages, as they happen in real time,” he says.
In addition, GFL can keep track of how each customer has been rewarded, also in real time.
“It is that customizable,” he says. “The dealer rating is an integral part of the GFL optimization. As it relates to rewards for customers, we can build that in, depending upon the individual operator’s needs, and often our customers already have a reward scheme, a loyalty scheme, and we would then simply interface with that, so it can be controlled under one system.”
Sjöberg points out that TCSJohnHuxley games look different than traditional table games, even if they still play the same way, because of the media that GFL pumps into every table.
“With our Blaze products, we are able to offer the end customer a unique experience, which is extremely good for the operator,” he says.
The company recently debuted a Blaze Money Wheel, the latest iteration of what some call a Big Six wheel, featuring lights, sounds, winning bets and more.
Millennials are part of the driving force in the expansion of table games. Sjöberg calls them “digital natives”—people who have grown up with devices and electronic interaction between friends. That’s what makes table games so appealing, he says.
“They grow up in an environment where they learn how to swipe an iPhone before they’re 2 years old. And it comes back to that word ‘interactivity.’ They want interactivity. The younger crowd wants better graphics and they want to feel part of the game, just like they want interactivity and want to feel part of a phone or an iPad, or social media. They want to be part of a community. And I think table games—craps, roulette, blackjack—all offer that kind of interactivity, along with the sense of community, whereas individual terminals might not do that.”
One of the ways that TCSJohnHuxley is preparing for the new millennials is to give operators the option of using portable devices, which are so familiar to younger generations. They can either be distributed by the casino, anchored in place within the casino, or players can use their personal devices—depending upon the legal restrictions in each jurisdiction. These devices allow casinos to convert previously wasted space into revenue-producing, exciting environments.
“We use the Android system, and it’s a very flexible system,” says Sjöberg. “We use the Android operating system on a tablet, and the tablet can come in various sizes. If you would prefer a baccarat game, a 10.2 inch is perfectly fine. If you want a multi-game, then you probably want to go for a 13.3-inch screen. And it can be fixed or it can be portable, depending upon your needs as an operator.”
Games People Play
As a premier table-game provider in the industry, TCSJohnHuxley’s expertise is in the games themselves. Sjöberg says the choices operators offer their customers can mean the difference between success and failure.
“It’s a cliché, but if you want to have player acceptance, and at the end of the day, if you have no players playing it, nobody’s making any money on it,” he says. “So, you need to have player acceptance. And it needs to satisfy the player in terms of risk/reward structure, and also, it’s got to be fun to play.
“And the key is finding those gems. There’s a reason why roulette and blackjack and craps have been around for so long; they are easy to understand, but at the same time, there is an element of skill and it’s very difficult to actually master them. And I think that all new games have to be benchmarked against these
classic, traditional games.”
Sjöberg says his company considers many new table games developed in-house and brought in by table-game inventors, but there is one hurdle they all have to overcome.
“It’s all about the revenue per square foot,” he says. “If you have the greatest game in the world, but it’s taking up the space of three tables, it has to perform at least three times as well as the original game.
“You don’t want to replace a proven game with something that’s not proven. So, operators might give it a whirl for a month or two, but the pressure is on.”
The recent emphasis on skill games is somewhat ironic to table-game providers, where skill has always been an element. But Sjöberg says he’s fascinated by the recent developments.
“I’ve seen some really interesting features within the slot machines at G2E, where the feature is a skill-based,” he says. “There are some very good attempts by some of the manufacturers. I’m watching this space with a very, very close eye, because I think we might be moving toward a situation where the slot games are merging with the traditional games of the live table game space.
“And who knows what we’re going to see in 10 years’ time? Are we going to see a slot machine with a blackjack feature in the middle of it? I’m not ruling it out, that’s for sure.”
For Sjöberg, the future of TCSJohnHuxley is very bright. While there have always been major competitors, and even more now that the might of Scientific Games is gathering behind Shuffle Master, he sees an opening.
“I think there are some real opportunities for us as a family-owned and operated company. We can be nimble, agile, and supply our customers with what they need and a very personalized service,” he says. “But of course, I’m also concerned about the capability of the 800-pound gorilla, because at the end of the day, they have a lot of muscle behind them.”
Nonetheless, he believes that 2016 will be a banner year for TCSJohnHuxley.
“We’re looking forward to a very innovative 2016, where we’ll be launching a several new products,” he says. “And we’re looking at expanding our GFL umbrella suite of product, so we’re rolling out bonusing here in North America, subject to approvals. And we’re also looking at expanding our GFL gaming components. And a lot of that will happen early next year, at ICE in London.
“So, we’re constantly innovating, and we’re constantly looking at adding new products to our portfolio, and also building the IP within our company. We are moving towards a more IP-based company structure, where we are in control of our own destiny, apart from a handful of other products.
“Previously, we’ve been known as a company that distributed other manufacturers’ products, and we are now grabbing our own destiny, and launching our own suite of products. And I think that’s the way TCSJohnHuxley will move more in the future.”