Tough on counterfeiters, easy on the eyes, the chips, plaques and jetons crafted by Gaming Partners International still lead the way.
TITO [ticket-in, ticket-out technology] brought serious benefits to slots, making life easier for both operators and players, but attempts to bring cashless gaming to tables have generally stalled. Of course, there would be significant upfront technology costs involved in making the switch and disruption during the installation. That could explain why many smaller and low-performing casinos are averse to taking the plunge. But that doesn’t explain the reluctance to switch among Macau’s casinos, which are among the most deep-pocketed in the world and desperately in search of labor-saving technologies to cope with an acute citywide manpower shortage. Surely they’d jump on the chip-less bandwagon if they were confident it wouldn’t cut into revenue?
Well, the prevailing opinion seems to be that it will be bad for revenue, because handling physical chips is an integral part of the ritual for table games players. There are any number of explanations for how that might work, and it works in different ways for different players. For some, chips function to support whatever fantasy they harbor while gambling. The use of a money substitute perhaps helps convince them they’re not recklessly risking real money. The manipulation of a plastic token might even evoke memories of carefree childhood board games, enhancing calm and lowering inhibitions. Chipsserve the other side of that, too, as iconic accessories to all that is dark and mysterious and alluring. Thus, handling them could heighten the thrill of indulging in a taboo activity. For renowned casino architect Paul Steelman, it’s one of the fundamentals of casino design that mirrors should never be placed on casino floors because you don’t want gamblers suddenly seeing themselves mid-session and realizing they’re not James Bond. “Because,” Mr Steelman explains, “casinos are all about illusion.”
The idea of chips functioning as symbolic elements seems to ring true to many in Asia, where there’s a whole mythos surrounding gambling and casinos. In an extreme but not unreasonable scenario chips could even reinforce the perception of a casino as almost an otherworldly place—with its own stylized currency—that players enter to test their fates (preferably wearing red underwear if they’re superstitious), the chips their weapons in their battle against fortune.
Such theories aside, as with so many things, nobody can really know what will happen if table games go TITO until the switch actually happens, but judging by the prevailing industry mood it appears chips are here to stay.
They do, however, present a host of challenges for casinos and the companies that make them. They need to be attractive, affordable and, above all, secure. Security is a tall order these days when passable knock-offs—complete with UV markings or holographic decals—can be ordered from factories in China through the Internet. Still, would-be counterfeiters rarely get far, thanks to the chip manufacturers’ ceaseless efforts to develop technologies in response to existing and envisaged threats.
Too often, though, security comes at the expense of aesthetics. Like the metal detectors marring the entrances to Macau’s elegantly appointed battlegrounds in the war against Fate. Despite commendable efforts to gussy up the detectors to blend in with their surroundings, they can be intimidating, and they’re always obtrusive.
Fortunately, as demonstrated by the latest products from Gaming Partners International, a worldwide leader in the design and manufacture of chips, plaques and jetons, beauty and security continue to march in step.
Next time you’re idly fidgeting with your stack of chips at one of Asia’s casinos, take a moment to consider you’re holding a piece of finely tuned technology that’s been evolved over the last century by a company based in the unlikely locale of Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy, in eastern France.
In 1920s Beaune, lithographer Etienne Bourgogne and engineer Claudius Grasset, the first to master the art of plastic film printing, were working to pioneer the use of plastics for use in everyday items such as brooches, hair slides and plastic playing cards. One day in 1925, Mr Grasset read in Le Figaro that a gambler had broken the bank in Monte Carlo to the tune of 600,000 francs using counterfeit chips made of solid ivory and mother of pearl.
The partners saw an opportunity to use their specialized knowledge and technical skills to address the counterfeiting problem and got to work on producing a new generation of plaques that would offer casinos total security. They perfected an ingenious process by which the impression of the chip was protected by a thin plastic film which made it impossible to imitate them.
The partners sent some samples to the general manager of Casino de Monte-Carlo, whose reply came in the form of a chip order, and Bourgogne et Grasset was born as a gaming supplier.
B&G is the flagship brand of Nasdaq-listed Gaming Partners International, created in 2002 with the merger of three of the world’s leading casino currency suppliers. (The other two were US-based Paul-Son Gaming Supplies and The Bud Jones Company.) While the company maintains facilities in rustic Beaune, it is headquartered in the gaming capital of Las Vegas with an additional office in Macau, where feedback is assiduously gathered to drive the unrelenting product development necessary to stay one step ahead of the counterfeiters.
In addition to casino currency, GPI’s portfolio includes playing cards and dice, casino furniture, table game layouts and accessories, as well as a powerful and evolving range of RFID solutions. GPI has also expanded its playing card and table layout production capabilities through its acquisition of Gemaco Inc. earlier this year.
In Asia, B&G chips and plaques reign supreme. Consistently picked “Best Table Gaming Currency” by judges for Inside Asian Gaming’s annual Supplier Awards, they get top marks for durability, security and beauty. They’re also being constantly upgraded, and at last month’s Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, GPI unveiled the new B&G V-Series line of injection-molded chips. “It’s a completely new chip line,” explains Maricela Maciel, director of global marketing. “So it’s a completely different chip material formula from the material used in any of our other injection-molded chips. And into the V-Series material we’ve incorporated ChipShield, an anti-fungal that inhibits the growth of mold and mildew on the chips so they stay cleaner a lot longer. It’s available on our other chips as well, on our B&G injection-molded JAVs and our Paulson chips. You’ve seen in casinos in Macau, how dirty the chips can get. This helps the chips last longer on the floor without them having to be taken off to be either cleaned or replaced. The new V-Series material is also a lot more durable. There’s always some potential for breakage with the chips, but this material formula is a lot more durable and sturdy so it resists breakage. Furthermore, the V-Series molds are designed to offer more versatile designs and can be produced with either an A- or B-sized decal.”
The large-denomination B&G plaques that dominate Asian VIP play continue to get enhancements, including the new culture appropriate Dragon’s Eye and Ribbon designs. These new designs can be enhanced with several new material patterns and colors, including four new “Chameleon” materials added to the lunettes on plaques that shift color when rotated. “[The Chameleon material] adds a very striking visual effect to the plaques,” says Ms Maciel. And even though they’re not intended as a security feature, they also provide casinos the ability to easily identify the plaques by sight as their own. “It’s just giving our customers more options, more designs,” she adds. “As you know, casinos in Asia always want the next, the best. Which is why we give them designs to try to stay ahead of the game.”
But, as she notes, it’s never solely about aesthetics. “As you know, in all casinos, but especially in Asia, counterfeiting and security is a huge issue. You can run an Internet search where to make casino chips, or search UVs (ultraviolet pigments), and would-be counterfeiters are trying to make their own knock-off chips. So on top of RFID, which we sell to our customers, we also need to come up with new security features that the dealers can easily see—that are very quick and easy for them to visually see—in addition to features that are a bit trickier and require tools to see.”
Because standard UV technology is getting easier to obtain, GPI developed 3-in-1 UV, a security taggant that remains invisible under standard UV wavelengths but provides easy validation with a specialized tool without having to remove the chips from stacks or racks. It’s a groundbreaking solution that offers three levels of authentication in all, including forensic verification using scanning electron microscopy.
Then there’s SecuriFilm, which came about partly in response to the ubiquity of hologram technology. It consists of a semi-transparent decal security film that produces a hologram-like effect that enables quick authentication at the table and includes an additional covert feature enabling a higher level of back-of-house validation. Ms Maciel says, “We have two standard patterns for SecuriFilm that customers can select from, or, as we used to do with holograms, they can have their own custom image or pattern designed for them, stepping up the security yet another notch.”
Indeed, the sheer variety of chip designs impedes counterfeiters. “We have 496 potential combinations between edge-spot patterns and decals A and B,” she explains, as she holds up two chips for consideration. “If you take a look at this chip, it’s a very simple edgespot pattern, but if you look at this one next to it, it’s very similar, but the way they design it, they use that same edge spot, but they put in an extra piece, and it becomes like a puzzle kit. So it’s very versatile.
” Another recently added line of security comes in the form of LaserTrack, a security pigment that can now be added to J3 edgespot inserts, offering another convenient way to authenticate chips without having to remove them from stacks or racks. Additionally, LaserTrack can now be added to the gold lace on plaques and jetons, adding another layer of currency protection.
On display at GPI’s G2E exhibit last month were a host of other high-quality casino currency options, RFID technologies, playing cards, dice and layouts. Though GPI already produces layouts itself, the Gemaco acquisition extends layout sales into Asia for the company.