Countdown to table games

May 30, 2010

If you visit one of Pennsylvania’s new casino table games this summer, you’re likely to see a lot of eights, the tables won’t be close to the door, and it may appear that whoever designed the poker room has an odd fascination with dragons.

That’s because casinos are preparing for what they hope will be an Asian invasion.

”Asians like table games,” said George Toth, president of Mount Airy Casino Resort, one of several adding tables with Asian players in mind. ”They are good clients, and we want them to feel comfortable here.”

More importantly, they want them to feel comfortable betting thousands of dollars — sometimes in a single hand — at Pennsylvania’s soon-to-open table games, such as blackjack, baccarat and craps.

Some experts estimate that 25 percent to 30 percent of new table game players in state casinos will be of Asian descent, particularly at easternmost casinos with close access to New York City, where more than 800,000 Asians live, and New Jersey, which has an Asian population of nearly 700,000, according to the most recent U.S. Census figures.

Consider that Macau, China — not Las Vegas — is now the gambling capital of the world. Unlike Pennsylvania, Macau casinos are dominated by tables, not slot machines, because that is what Asian players prefer.

And no casino operator wants the wrong gaming floor design to give cash-carrying players the impression there is no luck to be had there.

No one has more riding on attracting Asian gamblers than Toth and Mount Airy. The casino has been among the state’s worst performers almost since it opened in 2007, but Toth believes tables give him an opportunity to turn things around.

Mount Airy has brought in two designers whose sole job is to make sure the tables floor conforms to the theories of feng shui, the ancient Chinese belief that the proper design and placement of objects keeps the living and working environment in harmony with nature and the flow of energy.

When table games open in Pennsylvania this July or August, Mount Airy will have a special Asian room with 17 table games that include mini-baccarat, pai gow poker and pai gow tiles.

When players arrive they’ll see a lot of 8s — a number feng shui followers believe portrays good fortune — and probably not many 4s, a number associated with death.

They’ll see wall hangings and tapestries emblazoned with dragons and koi, and the decor will be draped in colors like red and gold, all emitters of good fortune.

The chandeliers will, of course, have eight hanging fringes, not four, and while the entrance to the room will be wide open, that opening will not continue unimpeded through the room. Screens or dividing walls will prevent the good energy entering the room from leaving too quickly.

”Feng shui followers truly believe in signs that represent good fortune and good luck,” said Mount Airy interior designer Marcella Ravell, who has visited China and made two trips to Chinatown in New York to educate herself. ”We intend to present a very lucky atmosphere.”

But the effort doesn’t stop with presenting an appearance of good fortune. Mount Airy will have eight daily buses into Chinatown, and its Asian room dealers will be fluent in Mandarin or Cantonese, said Edwin Chou, Mount Airy’s director of Asian marketing.

That’s right, Mount Airy has a special Asian marketing staff of people lured away from Atlantic City casinos.

And just as will be the case at Harrah’s Chester Casino in Delaware County, Mount Airy will have a noodle bar buffet outside the Asian poker room. Willie Wong, Mount Airy’s Asian player development director, noted the noodle bar has advantages well beyond the cultural benefits.

”It’s a light meal, so they can eat in 20 minutes and get right back to the tables,” Wong said, jokingly mimicking a motion of shoveling noodles into his mouth. ”We want players at the tables having a good time.”

Anyone who thinks casino operators like Toth are over-estimating what’s at stake need only look back to the opening of the MGM Grand Hotel-Casino in 1993.

At the casino entrance, people walked into the mouth of a mammoth lion built to resemble MGM’s corporate symbol.

Countdown to table games

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