I have two distinct lives. One in the trenches of low-budget film and television, the other in professional gambling. Because of the feast-or-famine nature of show business I need a reliable income... gambling. So here you will read about both worlds. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Interview - Mike Patterson VP of Table Games at Barona Casino

When I walk through a casino it is with a critical eye. You still have a Caribbean Stud table? What a waste of space. CSMs that pay 6-5 on blackjack and you can only double on 10 or 11? You must be kidding. I'd get rid of two of those crap tables, and put in four more carnival games. All of these decisions are the purview of the Director of Table Games. I wanted to know more about how tables games directors think, and was fortunate to be able to interview Mike Patterson, VP of Table Games at Barona Casino near San Diego, CA. Barona is the most successful casino in California, so they must be doing something right.

RWM: Let's start with, how long have you been VP of Table Games, and what was your path in the casino business to get you here?  

MP: I started out in 1994 as a dealer for Barona.  I worked my way up as a floor supervisor, pit manager,casino manager, director of table games which was later changed to VP of table games.  I have been responsible for the table games department since 2001.

RWM: How many tables do you spread, and what exactly are the responsibilities of VP of TG?

MP: We currently spread over 110 tables, including poker and Private Gaming.  I am responsible for overseeing all operational activities for Table Games, Poker and Off Track Betting.  

RWM: What is a typical day for you? Do you spend much time on the casino floor, or is much of what you do trapped in an office somewhere?

MP: I try to spend most of my time on the casino floor interacting with staff and guests.  I have a great team around me for support and this allows me to do what I enjoy most: being on the floor.  

RWM: What is the biggest headache for a table games director?  

MP: The biggest headache for a table games executive has to be things like paperwork, meetings and reports.  Granted they are an important part of the job, and essential, but these items have a way of pulling you away from your floor, and eating up valuable time that could be spent with guests and staff.

RWM: You try out new games and side bets - why is that? What's the benefit?  

MP: I probably see 100 new games and side bets a year.  Once I see something new that really jumps out we give it a field try, and let the customers vote with their chips. Customers enjoy variety. Multiple games and side bets enhance their playing experience.  

RWM: How do you decide what new games to try? Do game designers talk to you directly, or is it Shuffle Master and other companies making their pitch to you?

MP: There are so many factors in trying to decide which new games get a trial.  There are a few simple rules everyone uses, is the game simple to understand, how easy is it to deal, is it playable (hit frequency) and is it fun? There’s not a set pattern, I have spoken to games designers,salespeople, and corporate reps.   

RWM: How many different carnival games are you currently spreading? Are there any new games that look like they will be a hit?  

MP: We currently offer 7-8 different games consistently.  Mississippi Stud and Ultimate Texas Hold Em are our most popular carnival games.    

RWM: You are the only casino I have seen that deals Mississippi face up; what was behind that decision?  

MP: We really do not deal the game face up but we do not say a whole lot when our guests expose cards to each other.  We simply do not fear advantage players. We try to use education and training to protect our games, not exclusion.  We don’t put in rules to protect against a microscopic few on any of our games.  

[After seeing Mike’s answer I checked on this. They do not deal the game face up, but the players all turn their hands face up. Other casinos don’t allow the players to do this.]

RWM: You have a lot of side bets on your blackjack games. These can really slow the games down to a crawl. Have you done a cost/benefit analysis to determine whether the added revenue of the side bet makes up for the losses in decreased speed?  

MP: Our philosophy isn’t about the concept of cost benefit or time in motion. Our main focus is on what our customers enjoy.  Our customers enjoy playing the side bets we've brought in, and are very loyal in playing them.  Our customers also enjoy the absolute best pay-table for these bets and in some cases we have even reworked the pay-table to lower the house edge, and increase guest play time and satisfaction.

RWM: We've all read about the baccarat cases where the pre-shuffled cards were not shuffled, and the players won a lot of money. Do you use pre-shuffled cards, and what do you think about those cases?  

MP:  Nothing ever runs perfectly, but a well trained staff would have caught that play after a few hands.  We use pre-shuffled deck, but run them through a shuffler before we deal.  The only value we see in pre-shuffled decks is that we don’t have to inspect and wash the cards.

RWM: You used to deal an old Vegas style cash baccarat game where literally every bet was made and paid in cash. What happened to that game? And how did you deal with CTR issues? It must have been a nightmare. If a guy is betting and being paid in cash how do you know if he is in over $10,000 and has to be CTRed?  

MP: After the novelty of playing cash wore off customers just started playing chips, and our customers decided they wanted to play a faster paced game.  As far as CTR’s let me just say it was a lot of work.  

RWM: I think you also had the best single deck in the world. It was a tiny advantage for the players off the top. What happened to that game?  

MP: Simply put, it wasn’t very popular.  The APs loved it but the average player couldn’t have cared less.  We have found that our double deck game, which also has a very skinny edge was more popular by far.  We have over 30 double decks, which is more than I’ve seen anywhere else.  

RWM: Many card counters think that all changes at BJ tables have something to do with them. Do you spend much time thinking about counters? What about cheats? Does cheating happen very often?

MP: No, we are talking about a limited group.  We respect them and their ability, so we train all the time.  We are way more focused on our average customer walking through the door, and the type of experience we give them.  Cheating happens in all forms and varieties, and is a cost of doing business, but we’re always aware that something shifty might be happening.  

RWM: Do you guys have FRS (Facial Recognition Software) and if so does it work?

MP: No and No

RWM: Do you guys use OSN or Griffin, and do you find them effective?

MP: No and No

RWM: How suspicious are you of refusals? Do you look at them any differently than someone with a card?

MP:  At most properties 30-50% of the players are refusals.  Our stat is much less, because we develop relationships with our guests, and sell them on the benefits of playing with a card. Other than trying to get them to sign up, no we do not look at them differently.  

RWM: Are you the one who actually makes the decision to back someone off or how does that process work? How sure do you have to be of your assessment before backing someone off?

MP: All I can say is we do not “shoot from the hip”.  We definitely do our homework.  Our staff is trained to protect casino assets and therefore the decision to “restrict play” is dependent on the situation.  We have several people on property 24/7 who can make that decision at any given time.  

RWM: Let's say a customer is the biggest VP player in the history of the casino... or at least in the top ten.  Does this player get the same type of evaluation when he first plays BJ or does he get a longer leash?  If a longer leash, how long?  I.e. is there ever a machine player who has carte blanche at table games due to his/her extensive machine play?

MP: Players are constantly evaluated regardless of their level of activity. The more factors that come into play the more scrutiny.  There should never be a “carte blanche”.  The main question is “Is the play profitable for the casino?” and that is how the play is evaluated.

RWM: Do you have any 6-5 games? What do you think of them?

MP: No, I am not a thief, and don’t wear a mask. They do have their place if there’s dancing girls, and free whiskey but we offer neither.

RWM: You have both double deck, and 6 decks, both with 75% penetration.  75% is quite deep for a double deck, but 75% is not deep at all for 6 decks. In Casino-ology Bill Zender (who was casino manager at the old Aladdin) did time motion studies that showed by increasing the penetration of his 6 decks shoes to 90% it gained him 7 figures a year in added win. Is this the type of decision that Table Games Directors wrestle with? and why not deal 90%?  

MP: I am not a big fan of time and motion studies.  We offer a variety of games that use shufflers so we don’t lose that many hands, and I wouldn’t care if we did.  I tell our dealers to slow down, and make the game fun.  The premise that if you deal faster you will make more money only works if you have an unlimited supply of players with an unlimited bankroll.  Vegas is a prime example of how trying to “gut” your players affects your blackjack revenues.  In the past ten years Vegas has lost about 20% of their blackjack tables while we have increased our number of tables significantly.   

RWM: Slow down and make the game fun?  That is really different than most casinos.   

MP: Simply put, we don't try to bust anyone, and because of that we own the southern California table games market.  


Anonymous said...

I've met Mike before. He seems like a good guy. I was backed off there recently this year. I won a 6 figure score in about 600 hours of play before they backed me off from their blackjack games.

Anonymous said...

I believe Mike Patterson threw Discount Gambelings Steven How out for using advantage play at Mississippi Stud. Read about it at his excellent web page discount gambeling under favorite posts. My only contact with Mike was I went into the high limit room to meet a friend, and was greated by a sarcastic comment of Can I help you? When I told Mike, no I'm good,I was soon being followed by a security guard who looked like Uncle Fester from the Adams Family. Since I am a long distance runner I had a great time giving this horizontally challenged person more exercise than he got in his life. As far as the three casinos I visit Sycuan,Viejas, and Barona. Barona is far superior in customer service, comps, and table rules: example only one green number,at roullete, and splitting aces up to 4 times at blackjack. Their poker room is well run,without the silly add ons and rebuys the other two casinos have Although I live only 5 minutes from Viejas,and Sycuan, the extra mileage to Barona is well worth it. Everyone with the exception of Mike have been pleasant and professional. I would not bring my family, to the other casinos,because Sycuan is a giant ashtray, and Viejas is sketchy. Love your web page Richard,keep up the good worki