You are sitting at a blackjack table and all of a sudden, the dealer points out an optional side bet to you that you’ve never seen before. Where did this come from? Who came up with this idea? What kind of money can be made from this? All these burning questions have answers. Galaxy Gaming is the world’s largest independent provider of proprietary table games by designing, developing, and producing the table games that players want to play and casinos want to have available. URComped CEO, Craig Shacklett, meets with Galaxy Gaming’s VP of Sales, Dean Barnett, to learn more about his growing gaming industry experience, casino gaming innovation, and so much more! Listen to podcast version.
Topics Discussed Include:
- Dean Barnett’s entry into the casino business
- How the electronic card shuffler was developed
- Shuffle Master adaptation and growth
- Are electronic card shufflers rigged
- What is Galaxy Gaming
- 21 + 3 and how it is played
- The Difference between specialty games and side bets/ progressives
- The future of table game innovation
- Sales advise for casino vendors
- Where can you find Galaxy Games
(0:00-0:38) Craig Shacklett: Hi everybody. Craig Shacklett here with URComped. We’ve got a very special Comped Travel interview today with Dean Barnett. He is the Vice President of Sales at Galaxy Gaming. Galaxy Gaming is a provider of intellectual property-related table games. Dean will do a much better job explaining it than I will. But it’s going to be very fun Talk a lot about Innovation. The casino industry especially around table games. Why won’t we start there? First of all, thank you for being here, Dean.
(0:38-0:41) Dean Barnett: Hi Craig. It’s nice to be here. Thank you.
(0:41-0:55) CS: You’re welcome. I always like hearing people’s origin stories. Because the casino business is a unique industry. And everyone has a different path to get into it. Tell us about your path. How did you get into the casino business?
(0:55-2:08) DB: I thought I’d be there for 5 minutes. When I was in college, I was a fairly decent athlete. Played college football at a division one level. And I played a little bit in the pros. I played with Denver for a bit. If you google me, you’ll see very little. But I was there for about two seasons. But that’s how I got into the business. I had injuries. And then I needed someplace to work at night and pay the bills while I was chasing my dream. I subsequently have two artificial knees. Banged up a little bit. So I ended up spending some time about 10 years in operations. Because the football thing didn’t quite work out. And then I ran into a gentleman on the supply side that changed my life. That’s how I got into it. Let’s back up. What position were you in football? I played tight end with UNLV Rebels. And then a little bit of tight end with the Denver Broncos. So I’m an older gentleman. I was a rookie with John Elway. So that was quite fun.
(2:08-2:16) CS: That’s amazing. It’s hard to tell. We’re recording this via Skype. So I take it you’re a big gentleman.
(2:16-2:29) DB: Not anymore. I need to replace the shoulder too. Kind of hard to bang weights around anymore. But the frame is still there. But the muscles are long gone.
(2:29-2:35) CS: So you went to UNLV. So I take it, you made some connections there. What was the first casino you worked at?
(2:35-2:44) DB: My first job was actually at the Four Queens in Downtown Las Vegas. So I’m a swing shift. So I can have my days open.
(2:44-3:01) CS: So you worked as an operator with a property for a while. Tell us about that transition. You mentioned there’s somebody that really changed your life. What were you doing? And what was that opportunity that pulled you from the property to the vendor side?
(3:01-5:13) DB: Once I realized that, I was going to not be a professional athlete. I decided, I better learn everything I could and where I was at. There’s a lot of different types of games. I started off dealing Roulette and Blackjack. Learned Crap and Bac. Pi Gao Poker. I was a dealer for a while. Then I put on a suit. Became a supervisor and heading upwards slowly. But I didn’t necessarily want to just be on the floor all the time. So I started looking around for other opportunities. And what happened was the gentleman who came up with the idea of a Card Shuffler walked into my life one day. And my boss knew I was looking for projects to spice up my days, keep things interesting. And he asked me to handle that project. He was trying to get approval in Nevada for this Card Shuffler he’d made. So I ran the project for Bally’s. Now I’m on Bally’s in Las Vegas on the strip. I ran a project. And he had the wrong shuffler, the wrong model for that time. It was a single deck machine. Could only shuffle one deck of cards and then it pushes them down into a shoe. That’s usually when you’ve got a Blackjack game with multiple decks. Back in those days there weren’t all these specialty poker games like we have now. So there really was no application per se. But it was a fabulous idea especially if he could learn to shuffle more cards. I handed that guy for a year. He didn’t have any money. He finally hired me about a year later. The company’s name was Shuffle Master. That later was sold to Bally and now is currently merged with Scientific Games, a huge company. That’s how I got out of operations.
(5:13-5:54) CS: I love that. There’s a lot to unpack there. A lot of people see Bally’s on their slot machines. So back then, was Bally a technology provider as well as owner of a casino on the strip? My question is, back then there is a Bally’s technology arm as well as they own the property and that’s why you guys got a chance to look at this new piece of technology? Or was it just Bally’s property was testing this out and see if they might use it just like Caesars Palace would?
(5:54-6:22) DB: There was a common name there, Bally. They were two different companies. The Bally’s I worked for is the casino on Las Vegas Boulevard. A casino operator. And then later there was a Bally. I think a gym company. But the other Bally that later bought this company I helped start was a slot manufacturer. So coincidental with the names. But two different companies. Two different business models.
(6:22-6:53) CS: Got it. Thank you for clarifying that. So you saw this at the time Bally’s as a property. It was like, “This doesn’t work here. We need a shuffler for multiple decks.” The technology that this gentleman had wasn’t going to work but you saw the potential there. So you said you kept hounding him for a year. And then when he finally relented and let you in, was it… What were you doing for him then? Were you just sampling? Where you just advising them on how to make it actually more marketable to a casino? What was that like?
(6:53-8:16) DB: As you look back in life, the football thing didn’t work out. But I spent a lot of years in the casino pits as a dealer, as a supervisor, as a shift manager. And I felt that I understood the business at this time after 10 years. Whereas this gentleman, brilliant idea guy, but he wasn’t a casino guy. I knew a few people back then. Not a lot because I was locked into my property and I didn’t know people all over the place. But I did know a few. So I offered to be the operations guy. I’m not an engineer. So he contracted an engineer to build these things. And then there was another gentleman. His name is Bill O’Hara. He became my dear friend and mentor. But Bill and I really started Shuffle Master, as far as the operations part of it, in Las Vegas at his house in his dining room table and then the garage. And then later, which I told you Bally bought Shuffle Master for 1.3 billion dollars. It was just a Cinderella story of which I was only a small piece of. But it was a fun ride.
(8:16-8:40) CS: So what happened? What was the process like from something that just couldn’t be sold? A one-deck shuffler. How long it take to get a product that was ready to go? And then what was that trajectory like when you finally getting it right? And then how quickly were you able to sell it to casinos around the country?
(8:40-10:16) DB: That’s a funny story. It’s a great question. Today you and I are talking on our computers to one another like you’re across the table from me. In those days, we didn’t have these kind of tools. So I would have to physically put a card shuffler into a big case. Drag it somewhere. Go to the Vice President’s Office. Knock everything off his desk. Put it on the table. Plug it in. Run some cards through it and say, “This is a card shuffler. This is why it will help you. It will add security to your table. Because you take the human element out of it. And you’ll take away essentially the shuffle time. So you’re going to pick up maybe 15 to 20% more productivity. More hands dealt.” Any players, they don’t necessarily like watching the dealer shuffle. They want to play cards. So that was the difficult part of the job of making that transition into casinos. But it was also a magical part. Because the guy who invented the idea was just the coolest mechanism to take a deck of cards, split them in half. Have this little it is called a mandrel. But this little thing that came up just as if they were human thumbs and just split them, push them together. For the first time it was really… We had a lot of good laughs. Get out of here. Is that really doing that? And like, “Yeah.” So it was fun. Harry but fun.
(10:16-10:36) CS: And was it a snowball effect. Because like you said it was pre-internet. It wasn’t like things catch fire like they do now. But was it somewhere you got it into one casino and then all of a sudden other people were seeing it. And then you’re starting to take inbound calls. How quickly did it catch fire once you got it into a few properties?
(10:36-11:48) DB: It took years and it vary depending on the model that we had. So I mentioned that I first saw a single deck machine. Then there was a double-deck machine. And then there was a six-deck machine. And all of those have different applications. And then we modified the single deck machine. So it dealt poker hands like people are familiar with now that kicked out 5 cards at a time or 7 cards or 3 cards or whatever. So each of those models took a little time in and of themself to get launched. But probably the most satisfying part I had of that whole journey was, it did become an industry-standard within a certain amount of time. I still had to lug the machines around the world to show it to people. But after a while, people knew that they worked. That was the other issue they didn’t work very well in the beginning. But once they started working well and players accepted them then that changed the industry.
(11:48-12:12) CS: We deal with URComped. We deal with players mostly. There’s a lot of players who are superstitious no matter what game they’re playing or slots or shuffling. And like, “I want hand shuffle because those machines are rigged.” What do you say to them? They think the machines are rigged.
(12:12-13:28) DB: That was a real issue. What you say is completely accurate. There’s probably still people out there that feel that way and it was a problem. The truth of the matter is everything in gaming as far as casino operations, suppliers, slot machines, card shufflers, even the intellectual property that we do now, those have to go through serious testing. There’s a company called GL by Gaming Laboratories International. They verify all the code, all the hardware. They test the stuff, in and out. All those products went through that test and they passed that test. And it took a little while. But players eventually just that I’d rather make a bet than sit here watching somebody shuffle cards. Casinos aren’t going to cheat. There’s no way they’re going to cheat. That mathematics are what they are. And there’s always a house advantages. I’m sure everybody knows. There’s really no need to cheat. They’re going to make a little bit over the long haul.
(13:28-13:52) CS: So you talked about tweaking the engineering. At the beginning, it didn’t work so well. And then once it get better, it came industry-standard. It spread. What about the business model side? When you guys first launched it, did you have one approach? Like we’re going to sell x dollars per machine and then maybe switch over time to a different model that help it sell faster? Tell us about that piece.
(13:52-14:48) DB: Like for single-deck games we had back in those days. We had a machine that shuffle the whole single deck and just kind of presented it to the dealer. And so we marketed that. Because that’s what we had and that was still a vast improvement over a minute of shuffling a single deck or thereabouts. And then as the technology improved and we build better models that could deliver packets of cards. Then we would replace those earlier models with this newer model. And eventually, we’d have to obsolete some of the parts and all that. Just like any manufacturer would. But in each case what we were providing provided a better experience for the players as we got better and better. I think their experiences are better too.
(14:48-15:03) CS: And when you were selling it, initially, was it a lease model? Or were they buying this piece of equipment? What was the business side of it? How are those deals structured?
(15:03-16:00) DB: In those days there was a monthly license for the equipment. And later when that company got into game consoles, the same thing there would be a monthly license fee for the equipment for the games. Here at Galaxy Gaming, we do the same thing. We have a recurring revenue model. We do have some long-term agreements but they’re generally very short-term. Here at Galaxy, we’re acutely aware that a game that is not enjoyed and not making any money for the casino can’t stay on that floor very long. So we have no desire to try to force many keeping something that does not work. So we’ll work very actively as a consultant and try to provide something that is more interesting and still turns in profit for the casino.
(16:00-16:24) CS: Let’s get into Galaxy Gaming. I ask you enough best Shuffle Master. I think it’s just fascinating. Because Shuffle Master is a brand that… Anyone that’s ever played a table game is seen not automatic shuffler. And it’’s just so interesting that you were there, really help them to get it started which is awesome. But let’s transition to Galaxy Gaming today. Tell us about Galaxy Gaming. What do you guys offer?
(16:24-17:14) DB: Galaxy Gaming does not do some of those things that company does. Now Scientific Games. We don’t do some of the utility product shufflers. But we are the largest independent provider of Blackjack and Dice Side Bets. Poker derivatives, Holdem type games, Three–Card Poker games, things like that. And also the electronics, the progressive platform itself. That’s what we do. We have people on-board that are really table game experts that love table games. We don’t get into slots. There’s others that do a very good job with that. And we’re so we’re focused on the table game side of it.
(17:14-17:37) CS: So it sounds like a great business. Because now you don’t even have the cost of equipment. You just come up with amazing games and then you sell them into the casinos. Awesome. And then why did you tell us a little bit about the difference between you mentioned Specialty games, you mentioned side bets. Like what’s the difference between those two?
(17:37-19:35) DB: What allows a business model like ours to survive and thrive is some of these games you can in early days have patent issued. You come up with something interesting. You protect it. You license it. Then there’s other things in the marketplace that are generally that are public domain like Blackjack, been out there forever. Baccarat. Roulette. Things like that that have been out there forever. Then nobody can charge for. Those are in the public domain. So for those types of games, we try to make them more interesting. Blackjack for instance can be a little, some people will call it, boring. Because you’re getting paid even money essentially. You have to know a strategy. There’s some things about Blackjack that are really fun. But there’s also no way to catch a big score. So we’ll throw some side bets on to a public domain game like Craps, like Blackjack, like Roulette. And try to make the game a little more interesting. Provide the player a different experience other than something they’re used to. So that’s what I would classify as a side bet. Specialty game is something I like more usually a Poker Derivative is what you’d be familiar with, most people. Where are you now, you’ve got like a Hold’em game with some interesting dealing procedures and side bets and maybe even some progressives on top. Those would be poker derivatives or specialty games. It’s kind of a.. we refer to them as. Those are the two-game content portions of the business that we deal with side bets and premium games. And then The Electronics come on top of those.
(19:35-19:45) CS: So what are some of the innovations you’re seeing? Like, where do you see the table game industry headed from an innovation perspective.
(19:45-21:22) DB: It’s really funny. Years and years ago, books were written about Blackjack on how to get just the tiniest player advantage. If you were a good counter, you could track those cards, there’s all kinds of books written about it people made a lot of money. And over time, players have shown that they’re willing to place a wager on a little circle on a layout if there’s a chance of catching you in a little bit bigger score. So that has really changed over the years rather than just a standard blackjack table with a circle or a betting spot and that’s it. Now you’ve got blackjack tables with multiple side bets on there. One of the most popular in the world is 21 + 3. That’s a Galaxy game. It’s just a three-card poker side bet before you finish the Blackjack round. But it’s a way to pick up a few. Yeah, 30 to 1 or 20 to 1, you know something besides even money. So just adds a little spice. So that’s how it is involved. Just the best spot for the game and then the one side of it. And now you see two side bets. Now you see sometimes three-side bets all on the felt. And then even on top of that, you might see some electronics where people are now chasing tens of thousands of dollars on a progressive. So that’s just really how things have changed over the years and it’s different world now.
(21:22-21:57) CS: So you mentioned earlier about public domain. And that Craps, Blackjack, some of the games are public domain now. So if a table a casino is running a Blackjack table doesn’t have any side bets they essentially don’t have to pay really anybody to run that game. But if it’s a Specialty Game it could be a Galaxy Game with 21 + 3. If they’re running one of those games that have a little spice to it something different they would pay a monthly fee per table. Or how do those deals work?
(21:57-23:20) DB: Multiple ways. In years past it was per table. Casinos would generally… They’re businessmen. They’re not going to want add costs to their bottom line for tables. They may not open very often. In the casino, there’s these primary pits that are open most of the time. And then, there’s these secondary pits. Tables that are last to open first to close. That might only be open for a few hours. A weekend. Per weekend. They’ll usually happily pay for something that’s open all the time to get their money’s worth. But over the years we’ve also begun to do… I think Galaxy was the first to realize we didn’t like that those secondary pits might not offer the game the players are looking for. So we started doing some different pricing mechanisms where we would provide a site license. For the entire site will charge you a fee. And then you can put it everywhere. We don’t want to be the reason that the players were not satisfied when they walked in on a Friday night and Saturday night. They couldn’t get into the main pit. So they had to go over here but the game wasn’t there. So we’ve tried to make that more available.
(23:20-23:22) CS: Smart. So that lowers the barrier to add another table. So you say, “Pay this per month and you can put all on the tables or you put on one table. It’s up to you. But you’re not getting the barrier.”
(23:22-23:33) DB: Exactly.
(23:33-23:44) CS: So these new games… I was looking at your website. You have a lot of different games, a lot different side bets. Do you develop them internally? Or you out scouting for good ideas and then licensing them? How does that work?
(23:44-24:47) DB: Both. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of the people on our staff are from the casino industry. Either in operations at some level. Dealers, floor people, supervisors, others have been executives, and other manufacturing companies. So we actively seek interesting ideas from outside our walls. But we also get together on a very regular basis to try to brainstorm and come up with some of our own ideas internally. You know how it is when you’re busy running the business. It’s sometimes difficult to work on the business that you’re supposed to be experts in. We realized we’re going to get busy. And we are busy. We travel. Even with technology, it does require a lot of travel around the world. We try to take advantage of the bright lines that come to us. And then do it ourselves as well.
(24:47-25:05) CS: With the pandemic, G2E was cancelled. I imagine there are other gaming conferences that you guys would normally be at that were cancelled. What have you been doing? Have you adjusted from a sales perspective in an age where travel is a little more difficult?
(25:05-26:24) DB: That’s a beautiful question. The casinos almost every one of them around the entire globe shut down for a time. We weren’t doing any travel. We weren’t really doing any of these kind of calls trying to present the products online. They were closed. Most people were… Many people were furlough. And there’s nobody to talk to about anything. It was nothing going on. As things change, we do a lot of this type of selling if you will. And we’re doing that company level. We’ll be doing one on December 8th, this next month. We’ll have our product and engineering team show our new progressive platform. We’ll have the gentleman in charge of the new game development, whether internally or externally. He’s going to present new games that we bring it to market. So we’re doing a lot of webcasting. But still, now that you can travel and you can wear your mask and you can be safe, we’re doing that. At least the sales department is still out and about doing what they normally do.
(26:24-27:05) CS: We talked about earlier in the interview about your start helping to take Shuffle Master nationwide. And you’ve had a long successful sales career. What kind of advice do you have for people may be entering in the business from the vendor side in the casino business to have the kind of success? Some of what you’ve done is just being in the right place, right time. And you recognize an opportunity. Pursued it. You said you dogged that guy for a year to get in. you made the most out of that opportunity. I made that question longer that it need to be. What kind of advice would you give to somebody coming into casino sales?
(27:05-29:28) DB: It’s probably a little biased. I feel that I’ve been more successful because I walked the walk for 10 years or so in the casinos. I dealt the cards. I shuffle the cards. I manage the staff. I reported it to my boss about win-loss. I understand that environment still very well to this day. And that was an extraordinary help for me when I made the jump to the other side. To the dark side. And then as a manager, I’ve hired sales people who were qualified sales. Very good professionals. And I’ve hired gaming professionals. And what has been most successful is teaching a gaming professional how to operate outside of a casino space. With systems you have to understand. And opportunities, and business levels, and inventory, and billing, and all these CRM systems. You have to learn how use that. You have to learn how to manage your time which is difficult from a casino perspective. Because they essentially kind of clock in and clock out. And they got to go here and I got to go there. So there’s a learning curve of how to manage your time and how to strategize on how to be successful. But the problem from the other side of a real professional coming in, they just never quite got the language of the casino business. And every business is unique. Ours is probably not. And I know it’s not certainly extremely difficult. But it’s very helpful to understand the language and the priorities of the guys managing the casino. So experience to answer question. Sorry. My answer was too long too. I prefer casino experience as it will be helpful in the long run. And then from there on just work real hard. And do what your mama told you when she raised you. And that is do what you say you’re going to do. Be honorable. Be trustworthy. Never tell anybody something’s great when it’s not. Have their best interests at heart and you’ll be successful.
(29:28– 29:47) CS: Great advice. You’ve been successful Galaxy games or in a lot of different places. Now URComped we send players all over. But a lot of our business is sending players to cruise ships which no one can play them right now. Which of your games can be found on cruise ships?
(29:47-30:31) DB: We have a certain lines that we’re really strong with than others that our competitors do better with. But certainly you’ll find our whole product line on the vessels that do carry a Galaxy products. The entire Carnival Princess. All the thought that whole fleet of a hundred vessels or so. Royal Caribbean. Celebrity. You’ll see our side bets on Blackjack tables and those latter two. On the Carnival group, you’ll see all the premium games of Poker derivatives, the dice. You’ll see everything. There’s quite a lot of Galaxy product on cruise ships.
(30:31-30:39) CS: Now while the ships are not sailing. What’s a way that players can try out all the different Galaxy games and side bets?
(30:39-31:25) DB: We’re in the middle of a nice website rebuild. But you can still go to galaxygaming.com. And there’s currently a couple little things you could click. Just click on the player. And then you’ll see another link you can follow to play in our games. And then you can play most of the poker derivatives. The good one. Actually, all of them are on there. There’s really a top five or six that I would recommend about the casino operator. But you can play those. And there’s a few side bets that you can play as well. Lucky Ladies, that’s what started our company. You’re just hoping your first two cards are a 20. And you play Blackjack. 21 + 3 is on there. So galaxygaming.com. Play our games. You can do that.
(31:25-31:50) CS: And if you do play them. And you like any of them. I would recommend… Dean’s not telling me to say this. But I’d say, go to the casinos Facebook page. Go in that chat and tell them you tried the game out and you liked it. That will get to the appropriate people. Just trust me. So Dean anything that we didn’t we didn’t cover today that you think would be interesting or I should have asked you?
(31:50-32:26) DB: For your players, you cannot find progressives everywhere. So maybe you’re suggestion you just made about going to Facebook pages and telling people what they like. We think and it’s part of our business model too. But as I said earlier, the slope of the business has changed. Players are looking for a “bet a little, win a lot” kind of opportunities. So if they’re unsatisfied with just the felt versions, ask in the progressive. And there’s many options there as well.
(32:26-32:33) CS: Excellent. Well Dean this was super interesting. I really appreciate you carving out sometime. And let’s do it again soon.
(32:33-32:36) DB: Okay. My pleasure. Thank you.
(32:36-32:41) CS: Alright. Thank you Dean.